What Methodists PRACTICE Or What Methodists BELIEVE?

If you ask most people who are even remotely connected to church life — Methodist or otherwise — “what is it that distinguishes the Methodist church from any other church?” you’ll get answers that focus on the practices of our denomination as opposed to its beliefs:

They move their pastors every four years.

They have a method to their worship services.

They have pastors who wear robes.

They take communion on the first Sunday of the month.

They have United Methodist Women.

They do good works as part of their faith.

Sadly, describing Methodist distinctives in these ways misses the mark because it ignores the richness of our theological heritage . . . a theology that I believe is uniquely prepared to speak to people in the 21st Century. 

And it’s saddest of our when our own people describe our movement with these kind of phrases.  I think our real dilemma is that our churches know the practices of Methodism but not the theology of Methodism.

It’s interesting . . . I’ve served two appointments in 22 years of UMC ministry. The first appointment was a charge (pastoring two churches simultaneously) that included one church founded in 1885 and another founded in 1913.

But out of all those years and all those pastoral appointments and all the trappings of Methodism in both (UMW, hymnals, montly communion), neither church knew basic Protestant theology, much less Methodist distinctives. What had they been hearing all those years?  I’m not sure.

I’ll always remember a conversation with a dedicated church leader, one of the finest men I’ve ever met, in which he first “got” salvation by faith. Throughout his church-centered life he had assumed salvation went to the good.

I don’t know how my pastoral time at that church reversed the tide of theological ignorance, but I hope and pray we took first steps together.

The second appointment is here at Good Shepherd — as the second pastor of a congregation founded in 1991. This church has almost no trappings of Methodist practice (no UMW, no hymnals, and no acolytes) yet I inherited a body of people who had been well versed in the essentials of our thought: salvation by grace, holiness of heart and life, and the calm consideration (and rejection of) predestination.


Because Claude Kayler, the founding pastor, was theologically grounded and eager to pass on what had been passed on to him.

Whenever that time comes, I can only hope I will pass on a similar gift to the third pastor of this church.