For most people in our congregations, transition feels like the only constant. We’re consistently adjusting our schedules, navigating conversations in workplaces, greeting new neighbors and seeing old ones move away. Often, we feel less like we’ve arrived at a destination, and more like we’re living in the space between. Uncertainty seems like one of the few things that’s dependable.
Sometimes, we bail on this feeling of uncertainty by looking to theology to provide a rigid view of clarity, certainty and a polished answer that can help us escape the feeling of helpless unknowing.
Good theology, though, isn’t an escape from uncertainty. It’s a wrestling with how God’s voice shows up in the space between. At its best, Wesleyan theology helps us hold together what others hold in tension. We’re from a theological tradition that believes in restorative justice and inward renewal, historic tradition and fresh innovation, spiritual formation and social witness, Spirit-filled worship and Spirit-commissioned work.
So Wesleyan churches — not just in our theology, but also in our practices — are uniquely suited to provide a space of connection with the Holy Spirit for those of us who are in-between.
Since John and Charles Wesley’s ministry in England, our faith tradition has been nimble enough to find fresh expressions of church — from field-preaching to retreat centers to band meetings and bus ministries, Wesleyans have been deeply involved in harmonizing the structure of our ministries with the needs of our communities.
That neighboring work has been furthered through load-bearing partnerships between clergy and laity, with each person in the congregation learning, listening, discipling and equipping one another for the work of mission in every domain and profession.
Collaborative effort leads to our emphasis on an ongoing relationship with God, expressed through traditioned innovation (new ways of approaching familiar practices), believing that God renews our habits, our desires and even our nature to incline toward him and away from sinful practices.
Transformation is itself a winsome witness, and so Wesleyans affirm Christ-centered testimony as a way to extend God’s invitation to others.
This evangelistic bent is enhanced by our conviction to engage in justice-oriented ministry, inhabiting the role of listeners, learners and advocates for those on the margins. These ministries move in harmony with Wesley’s notions of social holiness and personal holiness as inseparable components of Christian life.
Our social witness is compounded by our emphasis on seeing, nourishing and equipping young people to lead the church. Children, youth and family ministries have been central priorities in Wesleyan churches because we believe God often speaks to the church through its youngest members.
Almost all beliefs central and unique to The Wesleyan Church — from our founders’ convictions on abolition, women in ministry and ethical consumption — emerge from a conviction that theology is an act of pastoral care, as we approach our lives and beliefs together under the Lordship of Christ, seeking to live as he did.
Approaching theology pastorally also changes the Wesleyan approach to preaching. We understand the importance of thoughtful interpretation and proclamation of Scripture, avoiding cliches, easy answers or half-truths in search of words that connect us to the Word of Life and help us live into God’s priorities.
In the months ahead, these Wesleyan distinctives (fresh expressions of church, lay-clergy partnership, traditioned innovation, evangelism through testimony, justice-oriented ministry, social/personal holiness, emphasis on young leaders, theology as pastoral care, thoughtful proclamation of Scripture) will shape how we talk about God’s way of animating our shared values toward effective ministry during a disruptive time.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of collegians and young adults at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s division of Education and Clergy Development.