Needed: Paradigm Shifters ~ Great Commission Mission Installers

by Michael L. McKee

I’d be willing to wager that only 10% (or less) of local United Methodist Churches give anything but lip service to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

That’s the Great Commission mission, offered in Matthew 28 as well as paragraph 120 of the UM discipline. I imagine a key reason for making it our mission in 1996 was that it has always been the mission of every Christian anyway, according to Matthew. That, and perhaps the thirty years or so of decline we’d already experienced in the U.S. However, our context, in 1996 and now, is one of passive evangelism and that may have made the Great Commission mission idea a bit premature before first making the paradigm shift from passive to relational evangelism.

As Farr, Anderson, and Kotan have noted in their book, Get Their Name, we have raised several generations now on a passive evangelism model. We have systematically trained our congregations to abide in such a state that as Thom Rainer notes, “Any change necessary to become a Great Commission church is met with anger and resistance.”—I write about the underlying key to this dynamic here.

When folks are asked (especially if they are asked by their church and Jesus) to do something they really don’t want to do—because it’s something they have been conditioned by the very same church to be uncomfortable doing, and it’s something they have been faithful in learning to never do—then projection is the likely outcome. Hence, we see ‘anger and resistance’ projected onto leadership for an endless variety of related and unrelated reasons. This certainly matches my experience, and it left me a bit flummoxed at first, no doubt.

Given this, if our mission to make disciples means absolutely anything at all to leadership, then bishops and appointive cabinets everywhere ought to be asking themselves one question, “How many clergy do we have out there in trouble with their congregations because they work at installing the mission and calling for Great Commission disciples?”—because experience shows that when clergy actually do that, they are ‘met with anger and resistance.’

The question could serve discernment as a kind of reverse ‘canaries in the mine’ tool. With probably over 90% of UM congregations needing to make the paradigm shift to being a Great Commission church, if the clergy is not in trouble with the congregation over this, then we need to be looking into “Why not?”

But then, do we have the courage to stand with leaders who make their congregations uncomfortable with their United Methodist Great Commission mission talk and who take an Ephesians 4 equipping disciples approach to leadership?

Given my experience I am not optimistic that the question will ever even come up. My fear is our mission is seen by most as a nice ‘pep-talk’ for the clergy. Not to encourage making disciples who make disciples mind you, but to keep us pushing out here to make sure there are enough butts in the seats to keep the budget afloat.

I pray that I have somehow misread what I have certainly experienced.

Help me out. What have I missed? What do you think?

2 thoughts on “a canary in the mine?

  1. I read an article recently that suggested the decline of our denomination began when the mission statement was changed from a social justice charge to that of evangelism. That could explain some of the resistance by the older folks. They were not trained to do evangelism, because their job was focused on service and it was the pastor’s job to evangelize. I really do not believe the average person sitting in the pew understands what evangelism is, besides not knowing how to do it. It is much easier to invite someone to participate in a service project than to invite them to give their lives to God. I firmly believe that service leads to discipleship, so perhaps service is at the core evangelism. Maybe your canary in the mine is the distress among pastors who must focus on the wrong mission statement? Our focus should be on increasing the numbers of new and church attending folks in life changing service, rather than increasing the numbers of people sitting in the pews.


    • Sheila, thanks for your reply!

      Yes, most congregations have been conditioned into a ‘we pay the clergy to do that’ culture. We [i.e., leadership] have created club-communities, that in proxy-fashion, employ and deploy salvation through a professional-christian. i certainly don’t hold local churches responsible for that.

      This blog piece is aimed at being grace to a leadership system that perpetuates it.

      i’m trying to rest in looking at it as a Luke 23.34 kind of thing.

      i’m arguing the time’s come for leadership [that’s from clergy to cabinets] to end our blindness on this.


      peace <


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