I read and hear lots of concerns about the so-called "decline" of many Christian groups, churches and denominations – including our own. Actually our UMC is growing in its worldwide membership, but it is true that our numbers (in terms of membership) are declining in the United States. Without overlooking that genuine concern, I have a slightly different sense. I believe we have too many Methodists, and not enough Enthusiasts.
Let me explain. Yesterday as I preached and helped to consecrate the new sanctuary at Taylor Chapel UMC in Fort Wayne, which was rebuilt after the fire which destroyed their old sanctuary two years ago, I found myself encouraging them to be "on fire" for their ministry and mission. On the spur of the moment (sometimes this happens in a sermon), I said something like this: "The early followers of the Wesleyan movement were not just called Methodists, they were also called Enthusiasts. They were called Methodists for being so methodical and disciplined in their approach to faith, but they were also called Enthusiasts for being filled with God's Spirit in a way which made them alive in their faith." I went on to say, "In our Indiana Conference today we have too many Methodists and not enough Enthusiasts."
I believe that. We are methodical, organized and structured to the point of putting ourselves to sleep spiritually. We need more of us to be Enthusiasts – people who are alive in the Spirit, enthusiastic about our faith, and "on fire" for the Lord. Enthusiasm is not hard to generate at a basketball game but we struggle to be enthusiastic about our churches and our faith and our Lord. Why is that? As much as I love sports and cheering for my favorite teams, sporting events are only about transient issues and not eternal values. Our Christian faith, by contrast, has ultimate significance. Why is it so hard for some people to get enthusiastic about their Christian faith? To be an "enthusiast" means literally to be filled with God's presence. Perhaps our lack of enthusiasm is an indication of our lack of openness to God's Spirit.
So, yes, we have too many people who are simply Methodists – people who love to quote the Book of Discipline, people who are skilled in Roberts Rules of Order for meetings, people who can understand our UM structure and its myriad of committees, or people who just want to debate issues. What we need are good Methodists who are methodical and enthusiastic in their faith, especially ones who are methodical and enthusiastic in their devotional life and their practice of outreach and caring.
What we need is for more of us to be Enthusiasts, too, and not just Methodists.