What’s in a name? Our names convey not only a sense of identity, but of heritage and distinctiveness. As a member or guest of First Methodist Church of Shreveport, LA, you have likely spoken and written our church’s name countless times. But I wonder how many of us have paused to reflect on what it means to be a Methodist, how that name defines our church and why it even matters. As we discern our denominational affiliation, we believe now is the time to remember our Methodist heritage as we seek God’s wisdom for the future of our ministry together.
When our church voted to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church on April 16th, 2023, we did so to uphold the traditional Christian doctrines and Methodist disciplines that we view as non-negotiable:
- The Authority of Holy Scripture
- God’s Grace for All
- Discipleship as Essential
- Service to Others in the Name of Christ
Methodism Then and Now
The Methodist movement began as an 18th century revival movement within the Church of England, led primarily by two brothers — John and Charles Wesley — who wanted “to reform the Continent, and especially the Church, and spread scriptural holiness across the land.” This desire has led the people called Methodists to structure our churches in a certain way, sing certain songs, and have certain theological beliefs that are different from our brothers and sisters who are Presbyterian, Lutheran, Baptist, etc.
But how does the name “Methodist” describe and define our church? The mission of First Methodist Church of Shreveport, LA, is to “embrace and extend God’s grace while passionately growing servant leaders.” The way we do this is by making disciples of Jesus Christ who Connect, Grow, Serve, and Lead. Let’s consider these four aspects of our Christian faith for a moment.
Methodists reach people for Jesus Christ. That is, we exist to connect people to the triune God (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit), and God’s grace. We are a people who emphasize the amazing grace of God in Jesus Christ. At First Methodist Church of Shreveport, LA, when we say we want to connect people to Jesus, we are aligning with the vision of the people called Methodists throughout the centuries. Rather than preaching a Gospel of wrath and condemnation, Methodists preach a gospel of love, grace, mercy and forgiveness. John and Charles Wesley preached that the grace of God has three distinct but related facets.
First, the Wesleys taught that all people get to experience God’s prevenient grace. This grace is a free gift to all — Christians and non-Christians alike — and is meant to draw us closer to God. Prevenient grace is experienced in a beautiful sunset, in the eyes of a newborn child, and in our bodies when they are healed. Prevenient grace is meant to bring us to a place of Justifying Grace, which is the grace that saves us. When we receive Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and repent of our sins, we receive His atoning sacrifice for our sins and are made right (we are justified) with God. As Methodists, we know that our Christian journey does not end when we are justified. Instead, John Wesley taught that we should all be striving for sanctification, or growing in the grace, knowledge and love of God in Christ Jesus. We believe that this journey is available for all people, not just God’s so-called “elect.” That’s why, along with the Wesleys, our church seeks to connect all people to Jesus Christ and lead them to a lifelong journey of following God.
The primary way for the early Methodists to grow in grace according to the Wesleys was through a smaller group of believers. John and Charles Wesley did not seek to begin a new denomination. Instead, they wished to reform the Church of England by creating small groups of believers called Societies, Classes, and Bands. Societies were regional gatherings of 50 or so members. Classes were comprised of 10-12 Methodists who wanted to grow in their faith. Bands were small, same-sex groups of no more than six believers who held each other accountable for their walks with Christ. The Wesleys believed that true discipleship and life transformation happened not just during Sunday morning gatherings, but all throughout the week. At First Methodist Church of Shreveport, LA, our desire is to see 100% of our church family growing in their Christian faith by being involved in a discipleship program.
Our church understands that Christ calls us to heal the sick, feed the hungry, and help those in need. John Wesley once wrote, “There is no holiness but social holiness.” In other words, Wesley knew that our evangelistic efforts to make disciples of Jesus Christ include being the hands and feet of Christ. Early American Methodists took this call seriously and founded countless hospitals, schools, and orphanages across the country and the world. First Methodist Church of Shreveport, LA continues this mission in the Ark-La-Tex and around the globe.
As the Wesley brothers and the people called Methodists led a movement long ago to renew the church and promote holiness of heart and life, First Methodist Church of Shreveport, LA has a long history of leadership. At the head of Texas Street, our church has and continues to be central to the life of the city of Shreveport. When other churches moved from downtown to the burgeoning suburbs, First Methodist did not. Today, First Methodist Church of Shreveport, LA lifts its steeple high above the city – a symbol of the same, simple hope that marked the church’s founding: the desire to serve God, embrace the abiding love of Jesus Christ, and extend God’s grace while passionately growing servant leaders.
So What and Now What?
The decision to affiliate with another Methodist denomination or remain independent is an important one. Which option best aligns with our 178-year-old mission? When we disaffiliated from The United Methodist Church, it was clear that we needed to change our denomination in order to remain the same church. Now, we have the wonderful opportunity to decide which option going forward allows us to continue to remain true to who we are.
In this crucial decision, you have a vital role to play. We encourage you to continue exploring what it means to be a Methodist. Below you will find a list of recommended resources. We also encourage you to attend both of our Wednesday Congregational Affiliation Meetings on June 14th and June 21st in Bain Hall (dinner is at 5:30 and the presentation begins at 6:00 p.m.) that will help inform and illuminate our path forward. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we invite you to join us in praying for our church and the people called Methodists throughout the world — that we may faithfully bear the mantle of John and Charles Wesley, seeking to make disciples of Jesus Christ who connect, grow, serve, and lead.
Much of this article is attributed to Rev. Daniel Lumpee, Loft Lead Pastor at the Woodlands Methodist Church.