Church Without Walls

By Steve Manskar

14. Will you diligently instruct the children in every place?
15. Will you visit from house to house?

We’re getting near the end of the 19 historic questions that are asked of persons seeking ordination and full connection with a United Methodist annual conference. You will find these questions in The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church – 2008 (¶ 330). If you’ve been a regular reader of this series of articles you will recall that these questions were developed by John Wesley as the Methodist movement in Britain was growing. As the network of Methodist societies they needed people who could provide pastoral leadership when the few ordained Methodist preachers were moving around the various circuits. John Wesley soon realized that lay men and women were very able and capable of providing the needed pastoral leadership. These historic questions were developed for those leaders whom Mr. Wesley called “Helpers.”

It is very important for us today to remember that those early “Helpers” were lay men and women. They were not preparing for ordination. Wesley regarded the waters of baptism and the spirit of new birth to be their call and “ordination” to pastoral ministry. Their training was obtained through participation in the class meeting and perhaps a band. Those early “Helpers” were active members of their respective parish churches where they participated in Sunday worship and received the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper. They were also active participants in the local Methodist society meetings. The Helpers were people who worked in factories, farms, mines, shops, and schools to make a living. In the local Methodist Society they served as local preachers, stewards, class leaders, and other leadership roles.

I am reminding you of the nature of early Methodist leadership because today we reserve these questions for women and men offering themselves for ordination. In particular, regarding these two questions (14 & 15) we expect ordained and appointed pastors to teach the children of the church and to “visit from house to house.” While most congregations expect lay persons to take responsibility for teaching the church’s children, we do not commonly expect them to “visit from house to house.”

Given the missional trajectory of the Methodist Societies I suspect that these questions are not focused on caring for the education of Methodist children or visiting Methodist homes. I think these questions challenge us to think differently about church and mission. If you look closely at them you see that these questions do not direct the leader to limit his or her instruction of children to those who belong to the local society or congregation. Nor is the expectation to visit from house to house limited to Methodist homes. The question directs the leader to instruct and visit in “every place.”

Remember that part of the Methodist mission is to “spread Scriptural holiness over the land.” This is why Methodist leaders are commissioned to “instruct the children in every place” and visit from house to house.” They are not to focus all of their time, energy and resources serving the members of the local church. Rather, they are to reach out beyond the walls of the church to engage to people of the neighborhood with the good news of Jesus Christ.

Methodist leaders understand that the church is a missional community that exists to serve the world God loves (John 3:16). They know that Christ did not die for the church; he died and rose again to save the world. That is why Christ sends them into the world to “instruct the children in every place” and to “visit from house to house.”