Group 1 Notes

Five Challenges for the Once and Future Church

Week 0 (Introduction)

Pastor Pam Fine explained that four reading groups were being established to read four different books. The groups will meet together at the conclusion of their studies and share what they have learned. She hopes that these books will provide ideas for Wesley leaders to use in determining future directions in which the church will move. Pastor Pam provided a summary sheet with topics to be covered.

Introduction to book notes

Members took turns reading aloud the book's introduction. There was discussion throughout the introduction, some agreeing with and some disputing various thoughts that the author introduced. Pastor Pam pointed out that this author provided a quite gloomy picture of organized religion today. Mead states that he sees extraordinary challenges lying ahead for the church, and he does not know if the church can survive. He is concerned that others are not as concerned. He listed negative aspects of today's religious institutions. Mead cited John Kotter of the Harvard Business School who listed impediments to organizational transformation as the following:

Not establishing a great enough sense of urgency
Lacking a vision
Declaring victory too soon

Members discussed the pros and cons of establishing vision and mission statements and how hard it was to make them mean something and carry them out successfully. They were impressed with the Church of the Brethren statement that Mead quoted. It was:
"Continuing the work of Jesus. Peacefully. Simply. Together."

Mead stated that two things did encourage him in facing the future. "First, the churches have a tradition of laypeople and clergy who rise to challenges. Second, the churches have solid grounds for facing hard things."
The five challenges to be discussed in this book are:

  1. To transfer the ownership of the church.
  2. To discover new structures for the church.
  3. To discover a passionate spirituality.
  4. To make the church a new community and source of community.
  5. To become an apostolic people.

Week 1

Chapter 1: Challenge 1: To Transfer the Ownership of the Church

This chapter focused on the role of the clergy in denominations. The author states that in America the church is owned by its clergy. He believes that clergy have taken over all leadership, creating a top down hierarchy, and lay people are allowed to function only as the clergy permit. Detailed chapter summary notes are available on the Wesley web site.

The study group members discussed how this chapter relates to Wesley. They agreed that Wesley generally has had pastors that encourage and support lay leadership. Evidence that Wesley has strong lay leadership was shown when Pastor Kimberly was out for surgery, and lay leaders effectively took over the leadership. However, it was pointed out that developing new church leaders needs to be an ongoing process, and that the current lay leaders must seek to encourage and empower new leaders.

Several of the study group participants had served on district committees and as delegates to California-Nevada Annual Conference. One had gone to General Conference as a spokesperson in front of a committee. These participants shared their experiences, and there was agreement that district and conference groups do tend to be clergy dominated. It was argued that clergy domination has grown over the years.

An example cited was a district committee where a person had served 20 years ago and then again within the last three years. Twenty years ago the committee was dominated by lay persons who headed subcommittees planning programs throughout the district. Recently, the committee primarily was composed of clergy who were not interested in developing programs beyond their own churches and saw the committee more as an opportunity to socialize and share stories of their individual church successes. As a layperson, this individual felt ignored and unnecessary and resigned from the committee.

The representative who spoke to a committee at the General Conference years ago said that the committee was obviously "stacked" to represent one viewpoint but that when the issue was brought to the floor of the General Conference, the California-Nevada bishop was able to state a different viewpoint and succeed in winning support for her viewpoint. This was an illustration of two clergy factions arguing an issue.

The question of why only pastors are allowed to provide communion was raised. Again, it was felt that this indicates clergy intent to dominate. The study group concluded that Wesley has been fortunate to have pastors that supported and encouraged lay leadership but that the author's thesis of clergy domination is accurate for Methodist levels above our local church. It also raised the fear that a "top down" pastor could be assigned to Wesley at a future time.

Week 2

Chapter 2: Challenge 2: To Find New Structures to Carry Our Faith

The focus of this chapter was on the need for new church structures to carry the church forward. Study group members began the discussion by stating that they were ignorant of Methodist structures, particularly in regard to the national level. They shared what they knew but felt that they needed much more information to fully comprehend how the national Methodist organization functions. They felt that most church members have little or no understanding of denomination structures from the local upward and that many members see no need to know about the structures. They agreed that a church and a denomination did need some type of structure.

The author identified three underlying problems.

The group discussed the question of merging across denominational lines as suggested by the author. There was agreement that people can move around the Protestant mainline denominations but that there are significant differences between the Catholic faith and Protestant faiths and to a lesser degree between Episcopalians and other mainline churches. The members felt that the Methodist denomination does have a unique theological perspective, and they did not agree that merging would be beneficial.

There was agreement that previous generations believed that Christianity would eventually rule the world, and today that viewpoint is no longer held. The Christian faith now needs to work with the other world religions, accepting that all are valid representations of God in the world.

Week 3

Chapter 3: Challenge 3: To Discover A Passionate Spirituality

Participants stated that they had enjoyed this chapter. The author argued that the church must discover a passionate, even charismatic, spirituality. He described traditional spirituality and charismatic spirituality and said that a church must have both elements. If a church has only one or the other, it does not effectively reach people, according to Mead’s argument.

Study group participants began the discussion by describing examples of religious experiences that they had experienced that combined the traditional and charismatic spirituality or emphasized the charismatic (everyone agreed that Wesley’s current worship format emphasized traditional spirituality). Examples cited included the Walk to Emmaus, certain sermons and teaching experiences, music, Wesley’s summer patio service, Wesley’s first service now discontinued, Women Aglow and attending a meeting where people spoke in tongues. Participants described worship services that they had attended that were very different from what they experienced at Wesley; they said that they had enjoyed the services as novelties but felt most comfortable with Wesley’s format.

There was discussion about religious experiences that people had encountered outside of worship. Phil Maxwell described working on a commercial fishing vessel and after 40 days of no fish, finding a huge school and fishing for 72 hours. Then the Portuguese fishermen had held a religious service on the ship to thank God for bringing them the fish. Evelyn Elliott described listening to Christian music by Mark Hall and how much this music moved her.

The participants debated whether the author Loren Mead preferred traditional spirituality based on the descriptive words he used in the lists on page 37. It seemed that the words for traditional spirituality were very positive while some of the words used to describe charismatic spirituality were negative. There wasn’t agreement about this.

The group did agree that Wesley appeared to have moved to a more traditional spirituality based on the demise of both the first service and the summer patio service. The worship service was more structured with less opportunity for charismatic moments. There was discussion about how pastors influenced the type of spirituality that was dominant in a church, but group members agreed that the congregation needed to become more involved in providing input into what they wanted in worship. The guest speakers who talked while Pastor Kimberly was out and the life journeys that were described during the patio services were two examples cited of ways to bring different viewpoints, make the service more authentic and provide opportunities for people to share their faith. There was discussion about needing to listen to hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us. Some said that they missed the quiet time at the end of the worship service when the organist played a postlude and people sat and listened. There was agreement that including the children in the worship service and providing weekly communion were both ways in which the worship service had been improved.


Back to Long-Range Planning Home

Wesley United Methodist Church -- Bakersfield, CA