“Nothing can help a church as much as a good appointment,” a Bishop once said to me.
I agree. But not in the way that the Bishop meant.
As this United Methodist appointment season spins towards its conclusion and conferences aim toward the moment when the appointments are “fixed,” there is a stronger meaning of itineracy and appointments that we should explore.
Itineracy has come to mean a commitment for United Methodist Pastors to go where they are sent to further the mission of the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. It is a good meaning, as far as it goes. But the practice of itineracy is inadequate simply because it no longer is adequately delivering the disciple-making goods in the mission fields to which pastors are being appointed.
Here is an idea that used to beautifully make disciples and is working again – where it is actually attempted.
Itineracy and appointments had a different meaning in the first 100 years of the Methodist movement. Itineracy meant moving from place to place, but not at 5 year intervals to a church building. Itineracy meant following Wesley’s example of preaching five times a day in specific places with specific people at an appointed hour. When we read Wesley’s instructions to preachers about being punctual, it was to be at the appointed place on time when the host had gathered a (usually small) body of people.
Thousands of itinerating preachers and lay servants paid punctual, fervent and diligent attention to disciple-making appointments several times a day for a hundred years. That is how the Methodist movement claimed the devotion of a third of the population of the United States.
Very few people in the United States are about this kind of commitment to daily itineracy and disciple-making appointments in the Methodist movement. It is sadly neglected in every prescription for the recovery of the North American Methodist movement.
The idea is easy to grasp. Spend our time systematically meeting people on a daily basis in our mission field with the intention of helping them find their way to Christ and the church. No one I know was trained to itinerate this way in Seminary or residency. Few are advocating this kind of intentional practice and even fewer are actually trying it.
It was a rare practice in Wesley and Asbury’s day as well. No Anglican priest was trained to itinerate but then Wesley changed the rules. Perhaps it is time for us to change the rules again.
Nothing can help a church as much as a lot of good disciple-making appointments at homes, businesses, parks, coffee shops, on the street, and, only if absolutely necessary, in a church building. Try it and you’ll see the lovely relationships that develop and the disciples that begin to grow out of those relationships. It is life giving for you and for the people with whom you are making these daily appointments.
I’m working with some great partners and a few dozen United Methodist pastors and churches who are giving it a try.
Want to join us?
Send me an e-mail – firstname.lastname@example.org