Summary: This purpose of this sermon is to challenge laity to become involved in ministry by coming to understand that the Holy Spirit calls all Christians into ministry. It was orginally preached on Pentecost Sunday and tied in with the empowerment for ministry
Every Christian Is a Minister
In his 1786 “Thoughts Upon Methodism” John Wesley made a statement that continually sticks with me:
I am not afraid that the people called Methodist should ever
cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid
least they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form
of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will
be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit,
and discipline with which they first set out.”
[--John Wesley, “Thoughts Upon Methodism,”
Works of John Wesley, Volume 13, page 258.]
Has John Wesley’s prophecy concerning the fire of our Revival Movement been fulfilled? Elsewhere the Methodist Movement remains alive and well. In the last four years the United Methodist Church in Africa has seen a growth rate of 30 percent, and from 1995 to 2004 our Church in Africa, Asia, and Europe has increased over 68 percent to a total of 1, 880,000 with churches in the former Soviet Republics and Eastern Bloc countries growing at the rate of 3.5 percent [--http://www.umc.org/site/c.gjJTJbMUIuE/b.1568201/k.63D/Membership_dips_in_US_but_increases_in_other_countries.htm].
Basically in the United States it is a different story. In 1968 when the former Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren Churches became the United Methodist Church, we were over ten million strong. Today our membership is slightly more than eight million, and we have shown an annual decline over these past 38 years.
In the territory covered by our Illinois Great Rivers Conference from Cairo to Kankakee the picture is even more disturbing. In 1973 when I began my ministry our membership totaled 209,538. At the end of 2004 our total was only 155,264 for a net loss of 127,272 or 45.05 percent in the past 31 years. In 2004 only 16 Annual Conferences of the 63 in the United States reported any membership increase, and out of the 47 that declined our neighbor to the north The Northern Illinois Conference showed the second highest decrease in the denomination, a loss of 3.5 percent in one year [--http://www.umc.org/site/c.gjJTJbMUIuE/b.1568201/k.63D/Membership_dips_in_US_but_increases_in_other_countries.htm].
What is the picture for our local congregation at Kankakee Trinity United Methodist Church? A better indicator of spiritual vitality than total membership is the average attendance at the primary worship service each week. In 1973 Trinity averaged 217 in Morning Worship. The total number for 2004 was 83, a loss of 134 for a decrease of 61.75 percent. Do we “exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power?” Can we honestly testify that we have been faithful to “hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which we first set out?”
In all fairness, we are not alone. All mainline American denominations are on the decline—Episcopalian, Presbyterian Church USA, Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, United Church of Christ, American Baptists, and Disciples of Christ. However, let us “set in order our house” while they do the same for their own.
Today is Pentecost, the day the New Testament Church was baptized with the Holy Spirit and with fire, and as such today we celebrate “The birthday of the Church.” Peter and the other 119 that obediently had waited for the baptism of the Holy Spirit in the Upper Room had much more cause for rejoicing that day, a far more positive picture. Acts 2 joyfully proclaims: “So those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added. . . . Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.” God’s mathematical process for His Church is addition, or even multiplication, not subtraction. We are guilty of reversing the process because we have not faithfully “held fast to the doctrine, spirit, and discipline which we first set out.”
My prayer for our Church—at Trinity, in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, as a denomination, and as the Church Universal—is that God will bless us with Pentecostal fire and zeal once more so that again we experience “day by day the Lord adding to our number those who are being saved.” I hope that is your prayer as well. Important as prayer is, however, we must put feet to our prayers. I have often heard it said that as Christians we must “pray as if everything depended upon God and work as if everything depended upon us.”
I believe God wants to renew and revive the United Methodist Church—across our denomination, across our Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference, and here in Kankakee, at Trinity United Methodist Church on South Third Avenue. Methodism at heart was a lay renewal movement rooted in the Anglican Church. Most of the early Methodist preachers were lay pastors, not educated, ordained clergymen in the Established Church. The leaders of the early Methodist Classmeetings were committed laymen and laywomen, and all Methodists were actively involved in ministry. For revival and renewal to happen in our Churches today, we must regain and reclaim our lost vision that “every Christian is a minister.”