I'm not talking about being a part of a denomination or a member of a United Methodist congregation. I'm talking about is there a theological/spiritual identity that is Methodist? Are there a certain set of ideas and practices that form me, and others who claim the name, as a Methodist? And how does that impact an understanding of being a missionary or being missional?
I recently came across this site, www.missionalmethodist.org, that lists some pretty good ideas and is heading in a good direction (IMHO). As I think about it, I realize that my experience of Methodist is relatively short, 25-30 years of remember-able experiences. I've also been a student of Methodist history even before I went to seminary (confession: I read some of the Book of Discipline as a teenager). So, I'm no expert on the Methodist experience, but I am a product of it.
There is one part of this identity that I think impacts our understanding of being a missionary: the Methodist Movement started as primarily a renewal movement within the existing church. The Methodist movement began and has existed for most of its lifetime within the age of Christendom. It is a new era now because Christendom is over. The need for renewal is still there, but the need for missionaries is even greater. If you recall your history, John Wesley tried the missionary thing. He came to "the New World" to "convert the savages." It did not go well for him, and he returned to England probably very disappointed and feeling like a failure. Yet, he went on to preach in the open air and bring numerous people to a life-changing experience of Christ while renewing the church. I think missionary work is fairly new territory for the typical Methodist and for the movement (are we still a movement?). I think it changes how we look at appointments, what churches expect of their pastors, and how pastors lead churches, and probably many other aspects (I plan to explore some of those in the future).
I think we were pretty good at Renewal for a while, and renewal is still happening here and there, which is good. I agree with my friend, Rev. Michael Baughman's assessment that we've become dehydrated and we need the living water--a call to holiness and faith. I don't know that we're very good at being missionaries here in the U.S. We need to get better at starting new faith communities, planting churches, and empowering churches to do the same. I found this group called the Upstream Collective, and I read their vision statement. They have this idea that churches can think and act like missionaries. This quote from their strategy document captures what I'd like to see in the local church:
"In many instances, “missions” has been limited to seminary-trained, professional clergy. We believe it’s time to start emphasizing the sending of artists, business people, teachers, lawyers, nurses, coaches and Web designers: ordinary people who can relate to those around them in domestic and international settings, and who do so with the Great Commission in mind."
As a Methodist Pastor, I'm clergy bringing renewal to the church. As a Missionary, I'm an ordinary person sent to bring Christ to the world.