Would a United Methodist Jesus Do?
has become a tradition in the Northern Illinois Annual Conference
that each year at conference time, NICEA sponsors either a dinner or
luncheon for members of the group and their guests. Each of these
events features a well known speaker, working with a topic we
believe will be of particular interest to the group.
This year a luncheon was held on Friday June
6, 2008. Ninety five were in attendance to hear Rev. Dr. Royal
Speidel answer the fascinating question "What Would A United
Methodist Jesus Do? The text of Dr. Speidel’s address appears below.
We believe it’s a message all United Methodists should hear.
Royal Speidel was raised in North Dakota, and
committed his life to Jesus Christ as a youth. He earned the
following degrees: a Bachelor of Arts from Westmar College in LeMars,
IA; a Master
of Divinity from Evangelical Theological
Seminary in Naperville, IL; a Master of Sacred Theology from
Biblical Theological Seminary in New York City; and a Doctor of
Ministry from Bethany Theological Seminary in Oak Brook, IL.
Dr. Speidel began his pastoral ministry in the
Evangelical United Brethren Church in 1963 in North Dakota, and then
moved to Lindenhurst, Illinois in 1968 to serve Trinity United
Methodist Church. He was appointed to the Chicago Temple in 1974,
and then began serving Friendship UM Church in Bolingbrook, IL in
1987. He retired from Friendship Church in 2001. Royal and Evelyn
Speidel have four children and ten grandchildren.
Upon retirement, the Foundation for Evangelism
(affiliated with the General Board of Discipleship of the United
Methodist Church) headquartered in Lake Junaluska, NC, hired Royal
as its Staff
Minister for Illinois and Wisconsin. In
January 2004 he accepted the position of Distinguished Evangelist in
Residence with the General Board of Discipleship in Nashville. His
work has taken him to twelve annual conferences with multiple
workshops in many of them. He is the author of
Evangelism in the Small Membership Church
and 100 Days of Hope.
Would a United Methodist Jesus Do?
by Rev. Dr. Royal Speidel
you for the privilege of being part of this gathering. I am honored
to speak with you today.
United Methodists come from two great
traditions. Our Methodist history is an amazing story of how John
and Charles Wesley spawned a Christian movement that today includes
about 75 million Christians around the world. England was a more
Christian nation because of the Methodists, and the movement came
across the Atlantic so in the early 1900s one out of five Americans
belonged to the Methodist Church. The Evangelical United Brethren
Church had far less impressive numbers, but was also used by God to
bring significant spiritual change to various regions of the
country. Today as a united church instead of making up 20% of the
adult population over 14 years of age we have dropped to 2.68 %.
This bothers all of us. Walter
Kimbrough said in River Forest in January, he wants to be part of a
championship church. None of us wants to belong to a losing
But, what do we do? Jesus Christ
loves the United Methodist Church. He created this great church, and
no doubt is frustrated because of where we are today. So, what
would the United Methodist Jesus do? What does Jesus Christ want us
to do to become a vital, growing church again?
I want to suggest 6 things that I
believe the United Methodist Jesus would do.
First, he would say take
responsibility for what you alone can do. Change what you can touch.
Bryan McClaren was asked a while back what United Methodists can do
to turn us into a growing church again. He said each one can only do
what is in our sphere of influence.
The local church is what every one of
us touches, and by which each of us is touched. That is our basic
arena, which we can change.
Having said that, conference and
general church decisions are very important. The bigger systems in
which our churches operate are very significant. For example, I
believe it is very good that our conference is emphasizing new
church starts and reaching out to new people. We are giving God an
opportunity to work in our conference by investing large resources
in church development and redevelopment. Our training people in
small group ministries is crucial. Healthy churches have 60% of
their people involved in small groups.
Jesus says rekindle your passion to
bring others to God. For whose salvation are you praying? This is
the stack of prayers Evie and I have the joy and privilege of
praying for Monday through Friday mornings. It includes a slip that
says the salvation of America, another says the salvation of our
neighbors, and another says siblings. We pray for the salvation of
our brothers and sisters. How many of you have family members not
walking with Jesus Christ? Are you praying for them?
Every one of us belongs to a local
church. Some of us have influence in our districts, others in the
conference and yet others in the general church. The United
Methodist Jesus says touch and change what ever you can.
Secondly, the United Methodist Jesus
would have us remember our amazing God. The God of 100 billion
galaxies each with 100 billion stars is wonderfully able to
transform lives. God is powerful to enable laity, clergy and
churches to bring major change in the lives of people and
communities. The United Methodist Jesus reminds us of God’s power
that was seen in our past.
There are about 3200 counties in the
United States, and United Methodist Churches are found in more
counties than any other denomination. Why? Because the Circuit
Riders 200 years ago were so in love with Jesus Christ, that they
wanted others to know the joy of living in Christ. They literally
gave their lives riding in rain, snow and sleet. Temperatures 100
above and 20 below.
Questions: is the Holy Spirit less
dynamic today than 100 or 200 years ago? Is Jesus Christ less able
to change life today than yesterday? Is the power of God who led
Moses and the people of Israel across the Red Sea into freedom
diminished today? We read in scripture that God desires all to be
saved. Does God have less passion to save people today? If the God
who helped early Methodists bring people to Christ in such large
numbers that 20 out of 100 Americans were Methodist has not changed,
what has changed?
Jesus Christ who died for us is still
in the saving business transforming persons, churches, communities
and nations. I led the Red Bird Missionary Conference spring retreat
with about 125 persons. A 25 year old man was there, who was a slave
of drugs and liquor until a couple of years ago. His Kentucky mother
spent hard earned money to send him to clinics to be freed from his
addition. Red Bird mission is in one of the poorest counties of
America. The young man had rejected the witness of many Christians.
One night riding home on a four wheeler, he had an encounter with
Christ while he was drunk. He committed his life to Christ, but when
he walked in the house and told his wife, she said, "You are
stupid." She had heard his talk before. This was for real. The next
day he pulled up the marijuana plants behind the house, and emptied
several six packs of beer on the ground. He is new creation in Jesus
Christ. He spoke at chapel at the mission high school the week
before I got there, and God used him to lead a teenage mountain girl
to give her life to Jesus Christ.
Two years ago an evangelist from
Uganda about 28 years old at that time got my name from the
Internet. We communicate frequently. He and his evangelism team have
led over a thousand persons to commit their lives to Christ since
The recent Pew Research study shows
that 16 percent of Americans are unaffiliated with any religion.
Sixteen percent without a church is about the same percent as
mainline denominations. What is the fastest growing religious group
in America? You got it. The unaffiliated. Jesus is telling us to
reach out to these folks. All of them have that God shaped vacuum in
The United Methodist Jesus is telling
us that God is amazingly powerful to change lives today and to build
Thirdly, the United Methodist Jesus
reminds us to confess our sins. How long has it been since you have
heard reference to the seven deadly sins: pride, gluttony, sloth,
lust, greed, envy and anger? Pope Benedict said recently that "We
are losing the notion of sin."
How many of you have read the book,
Reveal? It tells the results of a self-study at Willow
Creek. Six thousand Creekers were surveyed and 5000 in other
Bill Hybels says their research tells
them they were mistaken at Willow Creek. They had believed that
getting people involved in church activities grew their
spirituality. And it is true. Getting people involved on the finance
committee, or Staff Parish Work Area brought small behavioral
change. However, Willow Creek wanted the barometer for change to be
based on the two biggies: the first and second commandments. What
helps people love God with all their heart, mind and soul and their
neighbor as themselves? In these two categories mowing the church
lawn, ushering, serving as a liturgist or as a soloist or choir
member brought not one iota of change. Just getting people involved
in church activities does not change their love of God and neighbor.
Their research showed that four activities brought spiritual
maturity: They are personal prayer, confession of sin, reading and
studying scripture and listening to God. These activities created
Christians who love God with all their hearts, minds and strength
and their neighbors as themselves.
Isn’t it amazing that confession of
sin changes human behavior? How can we get our people to confess
their sin more? Two things. Talk about it more. Let us find ways to
talk about sin that draws people to Christ instead of drives them
out of the church. At my age, I confess my sin more than ever
before. Not because my sins are greater, but the closer you get to
the light of God the more you see your blemishes.
Fourthly, the United Methodist Jesus
would tell us to be a fasting people. Early Christians fasted on
Wednesdays and Fridays. John Wesley observed a fast on those two
days as well, and he encouraged his clergy to fast on Fridays. Would
we be meeting at this annual conference if early Methodist clergy
had not fasted on Fridays?
God sanctifies people through
fasting. Giving up solid foods disciplines us. Refusing to satisfy
the body with solid food for a day enables us to focus more love
toward God. Loving God more enables us to love people more.
Sanctification is becoming the most loving people we can become.
I have fasted for about 30 years not
eating solids on Tuesdays and Fridays, and whatever passion for
Jesus God has in my heart is there partly because of Royal saying no
to Royal’s appetites.
In March I did four workshops for the
Griffin District clergy spring retreat in the North Georgia
conference. As we talked about fasting, I told them it would be
exceedingly interesting to see would God would do for that district
if every clergy fasted just on Friday for one year. I say the same
thing about the Northern Illinois Conference. Wouldn’t it be
fascinating to see what Jesus Christ would do in our conference if
every clergy gave up solid food on Fridays until dinner time?
A friend told me on Tuesday that his
little church of 6 families needed $100,000 for a building. They
recently agreed to fast on a Saturday, and then come together to
share their financial commitments. Six families came up with
$104,000. God blesses us in fasting. It is one of our central means
Fifthly, a United Methodist Jesus
would tell us to encourage our people and America to practice sexual
What would a United Methodist Jesus
do about the sexual situation in America? Sexual freedom is a huge
problem throughout the world, and unfortunately, much of it is being
exported from the United States through our movies, which are
watched around the globe. Reportedly, even the dictator of North
Korea is hooked on pornography from America. Most sexual discussion
in Methodism deals with homosexuality. But in my opinion
heterosexual sin is a major contributor to increased acceptance of
homosexuality. Heterosexual sin is a great problem for two reasons:
First from a statistical standpoint. A huge study of 120,000 adults
in Canada reported that 1.6% identified themselves as homosexual.
A two million dollar study at the
University of Chicago found that two percent of Americans identify
themselves as homosexual. If 98% of Americans are heterosexual, by
sheer numbers sexual immorality among heterosexuals is a far greater
The second reason heterosexual sin is
of great significance is because American Christians wink at it.
Sexual sin is not considered offensive if it is heterosexual. Movies
and TV dramas constantly show unmarried people jumping into bed, and
Christians are so immune to that kind of sin there is little or no
negative reaction. Two university students told me in a motel in
Lexington, KY in March they were going to FL for a week’s vacation.
They had no wedding bands. A couple told me on the elevator of a
motel in Orlando, FL on Mon. that he was from Connecticut and she
from NJ. Unmarried people sleeping together at Disney World
believing this is the American norm.
I had a conversation with one of our
finest young clergy recently. He had a young unmarried couple living
together. The man presented a problem to his young pastor. He told
him that his live-in has an uncle, who is gay. He is bothered by
this, but his lady is not. He asked his pastor how he could talk to
his woman about this. This man thought fornication is less a sin
than homosexuality. The United Methodist Jesus says stop the
hypocrisy. God does not look lightly upon sexual sin period. Be
honest and acknowledge sexual sin of every kind.
Pastors, teach your congregations two
new words: fornication and adultery. How many of our people have
ever heard the word fornication?
If the church does not speak about
sexual behavior, Hollywood will gladly fill the void. If our youth
do not have solid teaching about the words fornication and adultery
in the church, where are they going to be taught?
The United Methodist Jesus is telling
us there is wonderful freedom in sexual purity. Coaching our people
to practice sexual purity will help them prevent personal heartache
and serious sexually transmitted diseases. Plus sexual discipline
will help them in every area of life.
Sixth, the United Methodist Jesus
tells us to bring more young people into the clergy ranks and more
young people into the church. If we are going to become a dynamic
movement again, we need to fill our pulpits and our pews with young
clergy and young church members. United Methodist members average 58
years of age. How likely is it that Gen Exers born from ‘65 to ‘82
or millennials born from ‘83 to 2001 will gravitate to a
congregation of older people?
Or, if 95% of our clergy are over the
age of 35, how likely will our clergy be to reach young adults? When
I hit 60 years of age, I suddenly realized that reaching young
adults was a whole lot harder simply because of my age, so I
organized a young couple’s club, and recruited young adults in their
twenties and thirties to lead new small groups we were starting. If
you are over 50, you don’t naturally attract the twenties and
thirties any more, so what are you doing to compensate? What extra
steps are you taking to bring families with children into your
The Council of Bishops has Vision
Pathways, which call for starting a new church every day. Check the
United Methodist bishop’s vision pathways on the internet, and you
will see the goal to start one new church every day. That is
terrific! It is laudable and exciting, but here is a problem.
Research supposedly says that 25-35 year olds are the most effective
group at starting new churches. The twenties and thirties people
bring vision and energy into the church. With only 5% of our clergy
under 35, who is going to successfully start the new churches?
Jesus says reorganize your efforts to
fill your churches with twenty and thirty year olds. Build new
church buildings that will attract the young. Also, support
Chrysalis, youth church camps and evangelical campus ministries, so
young people called to full time service in the church are attracted
to United Methodist ministry.
May God bless us as we give ourselves
to the task of saving souls for the Kingdom of God.