December 10, 2009

Stuck in the Middle

The United Methodist Church has, at various times, been described as the via media or the "middle way" when it comes to its place on the denominational spectrum. With its emphasis on grace it often times finds its ministry dwelling in the gray rather than the black or white. I believe this is one of the main reasons people are attracted to the ministry of the UMC (I know this is true for me as a pastor in it) because it creates a sense of openness and inclusiveness but I can also see where the emphasis on the "middle ground" could become a curse.

There are times when I wonder if the UMC has gotten stuck in the middle causing us to lose connection to some of our foundational beliefs, which is where the via media might become a curse. Has our focus on the middle made it seem as though we have no beliefs we are not willing to compromise on? Is it possible that one of the reasons for our decline in membership and worship attendance is that we've gotten lost in the gray as a denomination?

Having spent a considerable amount of time over the past few months reading a large number of John Wesley's sermons I can't help but see that he was clearly passionate about a number of issues which he saw as being black and white. It would be difficult to deny Wesley's emphasis on the presence of grace in an individual's life and the power of the Holy Spirit moving believers along in the process of sanctification and yet, how often do we talk about these things? Grace takes the "black" of accountability and the "white" of the expectation of holy living and mixes them together to make gray...but gray cannot exist without some black and white.


marty morrow said...

I can't help but think of the "great recession" we are in. This is the worst economic recession since the great depression in the 30's. People are staying home - hoarding cash. afraid to go anywhere that might cost money. Churches, Casinos, the lottery, all organized "religions" are seeing major drops in attendance. :-)

DavidT said...

Warning: I'm going to completely make light of the "great recession" concept, then eventually get back on the main topic.

It's a joke, a scam, a farce. The banking industry had a lending hiccup, and everyone's running henny-penny because the news media told them to. Hoarding cash is bad in real and imaginary recessions for two reasons: Inflation reduces the value of the cash (Govt won't allow deflation, so buy durable goods if you want lasting value), and loss in spending worsens the recession (or creates a real one in the case of imaginary recession).

Churches might be seeing a reduction in giving, but not necessarily a reduction in attendance; sitting in a pew is free.

Back on topic... If your focus is on the gray, trying to bring the gray to the white, then you need to shine bright. Purposefully trying to be gray to convince gray that there is a path to the white allows the black to define your "grayness" (assuming that white is a static pure state and black can have infinite levels of darkness).