I fly out today for the Free Methodist General Conference (GC15) in Orlando, Florida. I’ll be completely honest, I’m not looking forward to it. I’ve been struggling for months with the fact the denomination has chosen to hold the conference at a resort, which I feel is in direct conflict with the founding principles of the denomination. In the beginning, we focused on the needy. Our first churches were both rural and in the inner city, and members went into the slums to help what many considered undesirables- prostitutes, those addicted to drugs, and orphans. I can’t help but think of the story in Matthew of the rich young ruler who asks what must he do to follow Jesus and Jesus replies: “Jesus said to him, “If you would be perfect, go, sell what you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.” (Matt 19:21) Are any of doing even a tenth of what Jesus is asking in this verse?
A very reluctant prophet
I really didn’t ask to be the one to speak out against all things GC15. Each post I have written has resulted in at least a month of prayer, reflection and intensive research before I posted. I don’t claim to know everything. All I know is God put a burden on my heart to write and speak out against what I see as a sell out to main stream evangelical culture’s acceptance of fitting in with the rest of society. The concept of “let’s not worry too much about being separate or working too hard to find a way to think outside the box” is way too prevalent in evangelical society. We’ll whitewash it and call it “Christian.” That’s what I see done here- a corporate retreat made into a Christian event.
I didn’t ask to be a prophet and in the past week I have been reading and re-reading Jonah and his desire to run from his call and his constant complaining about what God had asked him to do. His story even ends with him complaining because the people of Nineveh repent and don’t suffer like he feels they should. He wants God to be vengeful. God notes to Jonah that he loves all his people and creatures (Jonah 4:2). I really am tired of being a prophet, especially knowing that the message (or in this case blog post) most likely will not be heard or brushed off. I know the bishops are now following my blog and posting instant rebuttals to what I write because they’re worried about the reaction/response that I might cause after my first post was read by so many people. Yet, I don’t think they need to worry or respond. Let it be. People will agree or disagree without an official statement.
I really do get Jonah’s frustration and complaining. Yet, I am convicted by God’s compassion. I’ve also been reading about Elijah’s time in the wilderness after he defeated the prophets of Baal and Jezebel threatened to kill him. “I have had enough,Lord,” he [Elijah] said. “Take my life;I am no better than my ancestors.”5 Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. (I Kings 19:4-5) I understand the fatigue. God doesn’t leave Elijah, instead sending an angel to feed him and allowing him to appoint a successor for his work. I am tired and feel like I’ve been talking to brick wall. No one seems to understand how much we are selling out as a denomination.
Concern for the Future
We are becoming a denomination that is led by rules and bureaucracy. If you do this wrong this will be your punishment. The new resolutions are filled with rules that were ram-rodded through the Board of Administration and sent to the General Conference to rubber stamp in direct contradiction to the spirit of the first Methodists and Free Methodists who valued conversation, discussion, and debate over the direction of the denomination. Where is the leading of the spirit and trusting our leaders to make wise decisions regarding those who serve under them? Are we a corporation or a church or has the church become a corporation? I’m not sure I want that question answered.
The end result is that we are no longer Wesleyan but generically evangelical – a hodpodge of confused beliefs. Our leaders might know what they believe, the first two sections of the Book of Discipline lay out our strong doctrine as a church in the Wesleyan tradition, but many Free Methodist have no clue what it means to be Free Methodist or the history of our denomination and why it is so crucial to understand that history to keep from the making the mistakes we make today. Slickly produced events like General Conference do not help as they continue to send the message that we are the same as every other mega-church denomination.
I am tired of being a prophet. I will meet many people who will look at me as a crazy person at GC. I frankly don’t care. I’m doing what I’m called to do. I am going to fast for the first time in my life, as well as do several other things I feel deeply convicted
1) Lodge off site at a place I found on AirBNB (it is literary a converted tool shed)
2) Fast lunch
3) Pack breakfast
4) Buy no food at the resort
5) Pray for God’s will whether it be seen at the conference or not – a tough one for me.
6) Try to not complain like Jonah (I really want to but I’m going to remain silent if I can’t say anything but complaining)