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Book Review: George G. Hunter, III – The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement

April 25, 2012

Book Review

George G. Hunter, III – The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement

reviewed by Dan Dick

This is one book that every single delegate to General and Jurisdictional Conference should be required to read.  Beyond that, every pastor, lay leader, Sunday school teacher, and church council chair should be required as well.

The United Methodist Church cannot live in the past, nor will it ever reclaim a bygone glory or success.  Our past is truly past, but this does not mean we can’t have an even more glorious future.  While we may never create by focusing on our past, remembering who we are, what we have learned, and why we exist in the first place are all of great value.  George Hunter offers such worthwhile perspective in The Recovery of a Contagious Methodist Movement.  He writes that “When everybody in a so-called Christian culture is assumed to be a Christian, this assumption immunizes people against the possibility of becoming actual followers of Jesus Christ.”  In our present reality, being a United Methodist excuses us from actually becoming Christian disciples.  The institution of the church becomes our focus.  We align all of our gifts, efforts and resources to preserve the institution instead of becoming what the institution is intended to produce.  The church is not who we are, but church is somewhere we go, or something we do when we have the time.  Hunter reflects that at no time in our glory days as a church was a passive, consumeristic Christianity the norm.  He goes on to say, “Methodists believed that it is not a local church’s main business to nurture the members, important as that is; the church’s main business is to make the new life of faith a live option for all the people who not even know what we are talking about.”  And again he reminds us, “early Methodism was driven by the conviction that it is not a Christian movement’s main business to protect the gospel for the pagans and barbarians; the gospel is entrusted to us for the sake of the pagans and barbarians.”

Hunter contends that our modern commitments to comfort, to being served, to getting our own way, and to having our needs met has undermined the power of our movement and allowed us to settle into institutional complacency and lethargy.  By professionalizing the clergy as active shepherds for passive flocks we gutted Methodism of its true power: a lay movement.  Our classes, bands and societies were fundamentally lay-based, and Hunter notes that “Methodism spread as a movement mainly through the credibility, ministry, and witness of the laity.”

To summarize the main thesis of the book, once Methodists accepted mediocrity as “good enough,” and abdicated personal responsibility for witness, service, and outreach to ordained clergy and hired staff, the movement ended and the institution became our focus.  Hunter contends that it is not too late to reenergize and enthuse our United Methodist Church to launch a new Methodist movement.  If we will merely display the wisdom to quit obsessing  structure and policy and process and turn our focus once more to identity and purpose and the discernment of God’s will, all will be well.

We may never be the church we once were in the past, but by God’s grace and our commitment we might become something even greater.  Hunter closes his book with this simple truth: “If in the future your church does not grow, then that will reflect a choice; you folks decided to do the one thing that can virtually ensure growth.”  Want to know what that one thing is?  Guess you’ll have to read the book!

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