Logan’s Run

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Last week I talked about how the demographics of Methodism are like a pyramid sinking into the sand.

I promised some answers to the seemingly terminal decline. Here at Hexham Trinity we have seen significant growth in the last ten years. It can be done.

You might expect me to talk as I have before, about the need for modern music. John Wesley’s 1780 hymnbook contained 12 hymns by dead people, out of more than 500. If he couldn’t make a go of it without using contemporary music, why would anybody expect me to able to?

You might expect me to point out that research shows the vital importance of working with children and young people when you want to grow the church.

I could also talk about leadership, courage, risk taking and entrepreneurship.

We know what needs to be done, but most congregations don’t do it.

Instead, I’m going to suggest a completely different strategy. The problem with the pyramid sinking into the sand is that the bottom of the pyramid (the Methodists in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond) is much, much bigger than the top of the pyramid (Methodists in their 20s and 30s).

With the best will in the world, any vaguely democratic institution with this demography, will vote in favour of what’s good for people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond. It’s not malevolence, selfishness or stupidity – people in every age group know what is decent, normal and appropriate for church – it’s just that as the generations change, so does that normative view of what normal is.

So even when people in their 60s, 70s, 80s and beyond think they are voting for something which people in their 20s are bound to want, they’re not always right.

My radical solution is for those over 30 to voluntarily give up their vote on any matter to do with church.

This would disenfranchise me at 51 from voting, but I think I’m part of the problem, not part of the solution. I’m not nearly radical enough for the changes that are needed.

It could be argued that those under 31 are inexperienced, immature and might make big mistakes. However, when we consider our performance of halving in membership since 1990, it’s hard to see how they could do a worse job. Why don’t we let them have a go? They will quite likely make different decisions from us.

So what have we got to lose? Our traditions and buildings? They’re going anyway as the church dies.

Am I throwing the baby out with the bathwater? Or did the baby grow up and leave the Methodist Church decades ago, but we haven’t noticed yet?

What do you think? Would you willingly give up your say, that the church might revive?

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14 thoughts on “Logan’s Run

  1. That is a very good read. Thank you for that. I especially like the paragraph that reads:
    “It could be argued that those under 31 are inexperienced, immature and might make big mistakes. However, when we consider our performance of halving in membership since 1990, it’s hard to see how they could do a worse job. Why don’t we let them have a go? They will quite likely make different decisions from us.”

    Indeed, how much worse can they do?

    I agree with you that something needs to be done. Something radical. As a UMC minister in Norway, who recently saw the demise of the Swedish UMC church (and thus moved to Norway), I know what the picture the statistics paint for us looks like, up front and personal. It’s ugly.

    The only problem I have with your suggestion is how to make sure that the beliefs of the church remain true…that the church won’t run theologically crazy. Theology doesn’t require a minimum age limit, sure, but youth doesn’t mean “I got it”.

    Then again, maybe you’re talking about ecclesiology and on that point I whole-heartedly agree with you. Let them people who are the church today also determine how to be the church.

  2. In my late forties I have just candidates and been accepted as a presbyter and look forward to starting my formation training in September. As a twenty something I was too young and head strong, as a thirty something I was too busy with work, family and life in General. I now face the greatest challenge of my life being a minister in the church – and I depend on Gods love and grace to get me through the next stage of my journey. With all of my heart I believe in a resurrection God; what will be raised from this present body of Christ is a new church – different, as Christ was different after his resurrection but it will still be church. Let us set about making disciples so that those who believe are strong in their faith and ready to face the new challenges the church will face in the future. I have been loved by some pretty amazing Christian people, mostly over 60. If we ask them to step back then what are we going to give them to do to be a part of Gods work. I know of a number of people who pray for me everyday – how wonderful is that – they are all retired and all full of Gods love.

  3. David, really think you are right…but I think that there is little hope such a breathtaking vision would be accepted in our chapels and churches – indeed in many of them there are no under 30s whatsoever to vote in any case.

  4. I find this ‘ageism thing’ all rather distasteful. Surely the security of Christ’s church on earth – in whatever form – has to do with a personal relationship with Our Father, in Christ Jesus and guided by the Holy Spirit and that relationship shared with others who also have that relationship with the Trinity – whatever their age. All can make a contribution to its governance.

    I am amused by the analogy of ‘Logan’s Run’. Although I am not an aficionado of Sci-fi, in the film, that was loosely based on the book, Logan was a Sandman who made sure the computer controlled world in which they lived was maintained by making sure those who reached 30 obliged this controlling element by making sure they did not escape from becoming older. Having terminated a ‘runner’ Logan finds an anhk (key of life – similar to a cross) among the terminated’s possessions. To cut the story short, Logan manages to escape the computer controlled dome, in which all humanity is supposed to live, to find an old man living outside (Peter Ustinov). Logan realises that the world in which he had come from was a ‘con’ and that older people DID have life! With the old man’s help he manages to break the computers controlling spell and release mankind to live to a greater age. I prefer this outcome!

    The ‘health’ of a church – whether a single congregation or an institution – surely is based on good spiritual disciplines. Regular prayer, with fasting – when required, joyous worship and study of scripture so that God’s Word is understood and not compromised. Hexham Trinity has most of that. I do not agree that it is the ‘top of the pyramid’ that is making this happen. The ‘growth’ that is referred to has mainly come from initiatives of the more ‘mature’ members of the fellowship – especially in terms of the house fellowships. The folk who are regular in corporate prayer are in their 60’s, 70’s, 80’s and even 90’s – all those who are said to be at the pyramid’s base and ‘sinking in the sand’! I would say more like an iceberg – it is holding the visible bits up.

    Trinity IS lucky to have a vibrant work with children and young people. This was not the case 40 years ago. The couple who were invited to join a Methodist Church to take on this work said it was the determined prayers of three elderly ladies that built the Sunday School and Youth work that covered all ages with good leaders over a period of a number of years. If you want to hear the testimony of determined, spirit led prayer, by that same couple – come to the evening worship on 18th. May. I believe this legacy continues is a result of continued prayer for our young people – from birth, through their schooling and higher education on a weekly basis. These ‘oldies’ delight when they see young people making Christian commitments and being involved in worship, witnessing and continued study of scripture. They are happy to continue supporting their faith building, spiritually and financially.

    Should we be asking if Methodist Ministers take the lead in prayer fellowship in the respective churches for which they are responsible? Especially when a congregation has no formal times when they meet to exercise this most essential of spiritual disciplines. Without it a church is open to the undermining of ‘the enemy’ to weaken it. The apostles exhorted it’s exercise in scripture and made no mention which age group was the most effective. Can’t remember Jesus talking about age on this matter either.

    The founder of the ‘Methodist Church’ was no ‘spring chicken’ when he travelled the country setting up assemblies. He believed it was God that did the work and those empowered by the Holy spirit that made this movement become what it was. His main concern was that the enthusiasm of things spiritual might decline and the work of the Holy Spirit become suppressed. He well knew the elements of Spiritual Warfare. Is this taught or exercised by our young people?

    That Methodists were recently asked to contribute to a consultation paper on whether ‘the church’ should accept that now the state has endorsed same-sex marriage, that it should also be recognised as acceptable practice within its fellowship, is an indication as to how Methodism is losing its respect for Divine Law. Should this happen I don’t think the Pyramid will just slowly sink into the sand – it will find it has become quicksand.

    • Perhaps readers of this blog would be interested in the views of somebody who doesn’t belong to a church, but takes an interest in spirituality, and believes that the church can and should play an important part in the health of the wider community.

      With due respect to OyiboJohn, I don’t think this blog is about ageism, it is about the consequences for an ageing organisation that is unable or unwilling to renew itself.

      I am reminded of a Meccano exhibition that I came upon during last week’s Bank Holiday. It was wonderful to see the dedication of the members of the Meccano group, the fantastic objects that they had created (everything from steam locomotives to clocks), and above all to see the exhibitors sharing the joy of their craft with the public. These were great evangelists, and Meccano practitioners are clearly as dedicated today as they were in my dad’s generation. On the face of it, you might even describe the state of Meccano as ‘healthy’.

      But there is one problem. Not one of the exhibitors was younger than 70. Most were in their 80s. They had plenty to say about the younger generation, who have got distracted by other construction toys like Lego. One can debate whether or not Lego is just a diluted version of the ‘true faith’ of Meccano. But in the end it doesn’t matter. Thanks to the demographics of its devotees, Meccano is on the way out, and in a few years exhibitions like the one I saw last week will be a museum piece, rather than a living art.

      There has been a lot of mention of sand. This seems a relevant analogy. Because from the outside at least, it looks like that is where the collective heads of the Methodist Church are being buried.

      • ’tis true that ‘the church’ can and should play an important part in the health of the wider community. The Methodist’s certainly did in the 18th. & 19th. centuries. They had a great impact on society. Where did that motivation come from? From my reading of biographies of these effective men and women of God – it was an understanding of true biblical principles giving them great spiritual depth. That they were able to encourage others to be part of God’s plan was seen as the Holy Spirit at work.

        So what has changed? Church people still believe they should expressing their faith by ‘good works’. They are good at raising awareness and have some success in raising funds for the relief of the poor and downtrodden of the world. But have institutionalised churches lost the excitement of preaching and exercising the ‘Full Gospel’? Joe Public’s interest in spirituality he (assuming Joe is male) should have discovered that there is a realm that does its very best to ensure people believe there is no God, and those who do are deluded. Part of that strategy is to also confuse people’s understanding of religion. The church is the primary target. Maybe Joe is part of that confusion.

        As ‘the collective heads’ of the established churches seem to want to conform to the ways of the world rather than stand against the “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places”, is it no wonder the institution in the UK is in a weakened state.and no longer remains effective to society’s ills. Paul exhorts us to wield the ‘sword of the spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the spirit”. He encourages us into spiritual warfare, that is why I asked the question as to whether ministers see it as a priority within their congregations that they teach the disciplines involved, especially for prayer. Asking for God’s blessings is not enough.

        Society has also changed – and will continue to do so. Lego will be replaced. The spiritual world remains unchanged. Tactics change but God gives the spiritual discerning the means to identify the best way to ‘stand against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age’. That is why the early Methodists were so effective. My prayer is that the “collective heads of the Methodist church” fully understand this as they seek the face of the living God (rather than keeping their keeping their heads in the sand – which Joe P seems to know something about) and encourage their ministers – whatever their age – to do similarly. We can hope….but we must pray!

  5. Lego will indeed be replaced. The Methodist Church will also be replaced (rather sooner than Lego, I suspect. I give it 15 years before it implodes and becomes part of the C of E in an enforced merger. My C of E vicar friend reckons I’m being generous.)

    But construction toys will continue because they meet a fundamental human need. So will Christianity and the spiritual world, for the same reason.

    • For someone on the outside, you seem to be taking this rather personally Joe. I would not presume to know the mind of God, but I do have the confidence that if we pray earnestly into a situation in the name of Jesus – as he asks – that we accept He knows what He is doing. Even our Lord says to His Father ..”but not my will, but thy will be done” Luke 22:42b

      Perhaps there has been too much “we know better than you God” among the decision makers in His church here on earth. And I’m sure that has nothing to do with age.

  6. Reminds me of a joke I heard a few years ago.

    A town is hit by terrible floods, and the Department of Environment calls for an evacuation. But one man stays firm, refusing to leave his house.

    The authorities send a boat to his street. “Get on board sir, you aren’t safe here”.”I’m not leaving this house,” replies the man, “I trust in the Lord, and I know he will save me”.

    The next day the waters have risen, and the man has been forced to move to his first floor. Again a boat is sent round, again he refuses help.

    On the third day, the waters have reached the roof tops. The man is now clinging to his chimney. The army send a helicopter: “Please take hold of this rope, this is your last chance, we’re here to rescue you.” “No,” cries the man, “I am praying to the Lord and I know he will be my saviour.”

    Sadly, the flood claims one more victim. Our drowned man, who has led a good life, finds himself in Heaven, meeting God. “But God, I don’t understand. I prayed to you every day, yet you didn’t save me.” “That’s strange,” replies God, “I sent two boats and a helicopter, I wonder what happened to them….”

    Sorry if that’s sacrilegious in some people’s eyes, but it is what I was reminded of. I’ll now leave this blog, it’s been interesting dipping in.

    • Again, it is the lack of teaching in Spiritual Disciplines Joe. There is the discipline of guidance. If the man sitting on the roof had such teaching he would have recognised that his prayers were being answered. Not only is it a lack in individual guidance because out of this can lead to corporate guidance. It appears much of the teaching on divine guidance has been noticeably deficient on the corporate aspect. Church councils and denominational decrees are simply not of the reality of spirit led teaching.

      Joe, it seems that you have great concern for ‘the church’ – even though you say you are outside of it. I hope that in your exploration of things spiritual that you have studied the Bible – at least read one of the gospels. May I encourage you to explore it more. Last Sunday our minister said that when people are familiar with the Bible they think they know it, whereas those that are unfamiliar start exploring it some more. I do not exactly agree with him on that. It may be the case for some people, but I have found that as it is the Word of God that every time I read and study it – new insights are shown to me – even those passages with which I’m most familiar. I am not the only one. I believe that is the work of the Holy Spirit. It is a great book. I pray that in doing so that your ‘spiritual eyes’ will be opened and you will gain an understanding as to why people become such strong believers that Jesus IS the way, the truth and the life. Thanks for your contributions Joe. It has made me think about others perception of the church. God IS working His purpose out in other parts of the world where there is a springing up of a disciplined, freely gathered Spirit empowered people who know the power of the kingdom of God (even gadget free). It has happened here before. It can happen again.

  7. David, I was taken by your ‘radical solution’ that only those under 30 should vote on any matter to do with the church.

    My understanding, and correct me if I am mistaken, is that you have resigned from the Methodist Church and are planning to set up your own church. Obviously, this will free you from the shackles of the traditions you feel are weighing down the proclamation of the gospel. So, can I assume that you will be adopting your own counsel and only allowing the under 30’s to set direction and make all the decisions in this new venture? Please let us know. I think that there are many like me, working away in our local churches with all their limitations and traditions, who will fascinated to know how this develops.

  8. As an alternative suggestion to David’s radical proposal, may I suggest one that John Wesley introduced. I have just discovered in my reading that he required every minister ordained in the Methodist Church to regularly fast for two days a week. Perhaps it was this spiritual discipline that made those early pastors so effective in the outreach of the Gospel and help grow this movement. That would sort out the men from the boys ….or to avoid sexism or ageism, the more spiritually mature from those whose faith needs strengthening. A study question on that topic asks to discuss the implications of such a requirement in our day. I can think of the benefits.

  9. Pingback: New Wine and Old Wineskins | davideflavell

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