Wesleyan Wisdom: The Dance of Conversion

Wesleyan Wisdom | Donald Haynes | United Methodist Reporter
Somehow, some way, some time before we close more doors, we must address the issue of conversion.  This is no time for caricature or stereotype or truisms. Coaching people, mentoring people, witnessing to people has been, is, and will be the heart and soul of every Christian’s raison d’etre.   As our Book of Dicipline states, the “primary mission of the local church is to make disciples….”  The hour is late, but we must not tarry in assuming the task. We cannot tolerate much longer having more funerals than professions of faith.   Jesus said, “My Father is s till working and I am working too.”(John 5:17)

United Methodism could be on the same path as Congregationalism, marked today by lovely white clapboard churches on the village green of every New England hamlet—but a building that is often  more a sacred shrine of the past than a vital congregation of the present.    United Methodism could be on the same path as the Episcopal Church which has one congregation in most towns, a few in the cities and are almost a rarity in the country or among the poor.  We can prevent repeating these sad destinies of colonial giants only if we connecting with persons, making disciples, coaching converts, and developing followers of Jesus.

Our mistaken understanding of the church’s mission is that we “take Jesus into the world.”  NO!  Jesus is in the world, calling us to be there! Have we forgotten John 3:14?  God took the initiative to give “The WORD” to the world because God loved the world so much!  Len Sweet calls the Gospel “God’s dance with Jesus as the dancer!  Our mission is to “discern where he’s dancing.”   The Lord of the Dance calls the dance and we join the dance, wherever he may be.”  In joining hands and “Do-si-do” we form community.   We touch, we whisper, we taste, we laugh—all as we keep in step with the music of the Son of God whose first miracle was at a party and whose motive was to ease the embarrassment of a host. And as we dance to God’s tune sung to the shepherd around Bethlehem, and hear the words of Jesus, the caller, we are discipled.   We read in Psalm 30: “O Lord…you changed my mourning into dancing. Forever I will give you thanks.”  We are liberated by the words of  grace if we keep in step, which means practicing.

Don’t you find this a strange way of describing what it means to be converted?  Jesus probably did dance, but he did not use that language.  He did, however, teach people of all types and “stripes” to dance to a different tune. Rather he said he was the “Good Shepherd” who knows his sheep!  A shepherd leads from behind, coaxing, quietly talking, assuring, protecting, gently bringing the wayward little rascals back into the fold.  Martin Luther said every Chrsitian is a “little Christ.”  If so, then we must be shepherds of the hills and valleys.

Re-structuring will not bring new growth.  We must make disciples; we must “beget” more sheep!  The great missing element in all that United Methodists are doing right  today is that we are not “begetting” more sheep; we are not enabling God to make more converts under the care of our shepherding.  Our flocks are getting  older and smaller.  Most pastors report that their energy and time goes to parish chaplaincy, putting salving the wounded sheep in the fold rather than saving the lost  sheep on  the hillside.

Conversion does not happen in a vacuum, but in a context, a context where people establish relationships with a message.  Leonard Sweet has entitled a book with a sad commentary on Wesley’s progeny—“the greatest story never told,”   which describes the muted voice of our UMC.

So I feel compelled to tell my story, to contextualize my evolving conversion. My story might disappoint you, but, on the other hand, you might find yourself in my story! Be watching for a special edition of Wesleyan Wisdom next week where I will share my own experience of conversion.

If nothing else, you will know in reading future columns that they flow out of what following Jesus has been for me.

UMR Columnist Dr. Donald W. Haynes is a retired pastor, an adjunct instructor at  Hood  Theological Seminary, a Church staff “visitor,” and a follower of Jesus.

Editor’s Note: Starting next week, Dr. Haynes column will be published on the first and third Thursday of each month.

Donald W. Haynes, UMR Columnist

Donald Haynes

Dr. Donald Haynes has been an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church for more than 50 years and is a member of the Western North Carolina Annual Conference. A recipient of the Harry Denman Evangelism Award, Dr. Haynes is the author of On the Threshold of Grace—Methodist Fundamentals; serves as an adjunct faculty member at Hood Theological Seminary; and is the Assistant to the Pastor in Evangelism at the First United Methodist Church of Asheboro, North Carolina. Dr. Haynes has written for The United Methodist Reporter since 2005.

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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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Give ear all you who "say" you are members of the umc. Heed the words of Dr. Haynes. The social gospel will fall in line and take care of itself–if–the Good News is shouted from the house tops and hearts are changed because they believe Jesus was born, He lived, He taught, He was Sacrificed on the Tree, He was Buried, AND He Rose on the Third Day as our Risen Savior. Thank you Dr. Haynes. I will look forward to next week and to your story……….

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