Why does the church exist? According to Matthew’s Gospel, the risen Christ made it clear: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you” (28:19-20).
Based on this “Great Commission,” our United Methodist Church has stated its purpose: “The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.”
So the mission of our congregation is to make disciples. This is a four-fold task….We could abbreviate our mission as one of welcoming-worshiping-nurturing-sending.
We reach out to people and welcome them into the church
We have a direct responsibility for people of the “world” around our church, the community in which we and others study, work, shop, play, and so forth. In this world are people with many hurts, doubts, and questions. There are some who are new in the community and feel a little lost, some who are proudly self-sufficient, and others who are in desperate circumstances. Our mission is to reach out to them, listen to them, accept them, share the gospel in word and deed, invite them into the family of faith, and joyfully receive all who will respond.
We relate people to God and help them deepen their relationship with God
The second task in making disciples is to offer people opportunities for growing closer to God. Whether they are visitors or old-time members, just beginning the journey of faith or well along the road—all are in need of God’s love in Christ. Through worship, prayer, study, and honest sharing, we help one another discover that the Holy Spirit is not far off but present with us, wanting an open and loving friendship with each of us—not only friendship but commitment as well. Through our congregation’s various ministries we encourage one another to give our selves to Christ, to ground our lives in the living God.
We nurture people in Christian living
Third, our congregation’s mission is to nurture people of all ages in the Christian faith and to help them practice the disciplines of discipleship. The church exists not to serve itself but to serve the world. We come to church not only for our own personal enrichment but also to prepare ourselves to do the work of love and to get ready to be Christ’s disciples in the community. Through worship, baptism, Communion, Bible study, prayer, and other means of grace, we’re strengthened for ministry.
We support people in their ministry
As members of the congregation, we’re sent into the community to serve those in need and to make our community more loving and just. We believe that the Holy Spirit empowers and guides us in these ministries and that wherever there’s need and suffering, we meet Christ, already at work. But still, we cannot be effective in ministry on our own. So the congregation exists, in part, to surround and support each member in his or her ministry. We do not always succeed in our efforts to be faithful disciples in the world. But with the loving support of the community of faith, we can continue to grow.
Methodists in Mission
The United Methodist faith is deeply rooted in the Scripture and in the basic beliefs of all Christians. Out of that theology and the faith have grown some specific actions that mark United Methodists as Christians engaged in ministry to the world. The early members of the groups that eventually became The United Methodist Church
- took strong stands on issues such as slavery, smuggling, and humane treatment of prisoners;
- established institutions for higher learning;
- started hospitals and shelters for children and the elderly;
- founded Goodwill Industries in 1902;
- became actively involved in efforts for world peace;
- adopted a Social Creed and Social Principles to guide them as they relate to God’s world and God’s people;
- participated with other religious groups in ecumenical efforts to be in mission.
We Are All Called to Minister
To be a member of The United Methodist Church is to be in servant ministry with and to others.
In our culture, many people use the word minister to mean clergyperson, a pastor or other ordained man or woman. But for United Methodists, all of God’s people—children, youth, and adults—are called to be ministers. Most of these people are laity—baptized Christians of all ages who minister in formal and informal ways within the church and beyond it.
In The United Methodist Church, we have two expressions of ordained clergy, who are also ministers:
- Deacons: Men and women ordained by a bishop to a lifelong ministry of Service and Word—especially in leading and supporting baptized Christians in their varied ministries in the world….
- Elders: Women and men ordained by a bishop to a lifelong ministry of Service, Word, Sacrament and Order—that is, to serve, preach, teach, administer the sacraments, and order the life of the church for its mission.
Though our gifts vary widely, we’re all called to and engaged in the one ministry of Jesus Christ. Some aspects of our ministry are easy and come naturally. Some are difficult, involving long hours, tough work, perhaps with conflict, perhaps with disappointing results. What drives us? What keeps us going? The list includes at least these three things:
- the memory of Jesus’ life of service to others, which inspires us to follow him in ministry;
- the assurance of God’s gracious love for us, which empowers us to love others;
- the promise of God’s coming reign on earth, which draws us into action directed toward this vision.
Let’s be more specific. Where does ministry happen?
It happens in our daily activity
For those who are alert to the needs of others, each day abounds with opportunities to serve. We minister with our families as we inquire about one another’s lives, as we listen and respond with care, as we touch, as we smile and offer a kind word, and as we decide questions and reconcile conflicts. We take time to listen to a friend in need and we respond; this is often the greatest gift we can offer. We minister at work, to both co-workers and those we serve. We minister in the neighborhood or the shops as we go about the day’s work.
It happens through new initiatives
We also go out of our way to minister. We hear of a need, read of a crisis, or see an opportunity to share God’s love. It may be with someone across town, someone of another racial or economic group, a person with a disability, or a person of another nation or culture. We take time to call, to visit, to write, and to ask how we can help. We also take the time to respond.
It happens through groups and institutions
Many needs are best met by joining forces with others. We take part in community groups that are trying to serve human need or trying to change social forces that cause suffering. We give our time, our energy, and our money. Though others in these organizations may not think of it this way, for us it’s Christ’s ministry.
It happens through the church
Through our support and our contributions, we participate in the far-flung ministries of The United Methodist Church—in our district and annual conference, across the nation, and around the world. Here in our congregation we take part in service groups, we sign up for special action projects, we visit, we telephone, we lead, and we teach. And we minister face-to-face in all kinds of ways, both when we gather and in our informal contacts.
Inspired by the example of Jesus and empowered by God’s love for us, we all carry out our ministry, both individually and together with others.
United Methodists share a common heritage with all Christians. According to our foundational statement of beliefs in The Book of Discipline, we share the following basic affirmations in common with all Christian communities:
We describe God in three persons. Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are commonly used to refer to the threefold nature of God. Sometimes we use other terms, such as Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer.
- We believe in one God, who created the world and all that is in it.
- We believe that God is sovereign; that is, God is the ruler of the universe.
- We believe that God is loving. We can experience God’s love and grace.
- We believe that Jesus was human. He lived as a man and died when he was crucified.
- We believe that Jesus is divine. He is the Son of God.
- We believe that God raised Jesus from the dead and that the risen Christ lives today. (Christ and messiah mean the same thing—God’s anointed.)
- We believe that Jesus is our Savior. In Christ we receive abundant life and forgiveness of sins.
- We believe that Jesus is our Lord and that we are called to pattern our lives after his.
- We believe that the Holy Spirit is God with us.
- We believe that the Holy Spirit comforts us when we are in need and convicts us when we stray from God.
- We believe that the Holy Spirit awakens us to God’s will and empowers us to live obediently.
- We believe that God created human beings in God’s image.
- We believe that humans can choose to accept or reject a relationship with God.
- We believe that all humans need to be in relationship with God in order to be fully human.
- We believe that the church is the body of Christ, an extension of Christ’s life and ministry in the world today.
- We believe that the mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
- We believe that the church is “the communion of saints,” a community made up of all past, present, and future disciples of Christ.
- We believe that the church is called to worship God and to support those who participate in its life as they grow in faith.
- We believe that the Bible is God’s Word.
- We believe that the Bible is the primary authority for our faith and practice.
- We believe that Christians need to know and study the Old Testament and the New Testament (the Hebrew Scriptures and the Christian Scriptures).
- We believe that the kingdom or reign of God is both a present reality and future hope.
- We believe that wherever God's will is done, the kingdom or reign of God is present. It was present in Jesus' ministry, and it is also present in our world whenever persons and communities experience reconciliation, restoration, and healing.
- We believe that although the fulfillment of God's kingdom--the complete restoration of creation--is still to come.
- We believe that the church is called to be both witness to the vision of what God's kingdom will be like and a participant in helping to bring it to completion.
- We believe that the reign of God is both personal and social. Personally, we display the kingdom of God as our hearts and minds are transformed and we become more Christ-like. Socially, God's vision for the kingdom includes the restoration and transformation of all of creation.
With many other Protestants, we recognize the two sacraments in which Christ himself participated: Baptism and the Lord's Supper.
- Through baptism we are joined with the church and with Christians everywhere.
- Baptism is a symbol of new life and a sign of God's love and forgiveness of our sins.
- Persons of any age can be baptized.
- We baptize by sprinkling, immersion or pouring.
- A person receives the sacrament of baptism only once in his or her life.
The Lord's Supper (Communion, Eucharist)
- The Lord's Supper is a holy meal of bread and juice that symbolizes the body and blood of Christ.
- The Lord's Supper recalls the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and celebrates the unity of all the members of God's family.
- By sharing this meal, we give thanks for Christ's sacrifice and are nourished and empowered to go into the world in mission and ministry.
- We practice "open Communion," welcoming all who love Christ, repent of their sin, and seek to live in peace with one another.