Dwight Gibson Interview (Part II): Methodism

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Dwight Gibson, The Exploration Group
Dwight Gibson, The Exploration Group

Dwight Gibson is Chief Explorer at The Exploration Group, as well as Director of Program Outreach at the Acton Institute.  He is featured in Acton’s video series: For the Life of the World: Letters to the Exiles.  Dwight was recently on the Wilmore campus of Asbury Theological Seminary to give a chapel sermon (3/3/15)and to spend the day with a group from the seminary and from Asbury University thinking through issues related to faith, work and the Wesleyan tradition.  

Part I of the Faith and Work Collective’s interview with Dwight focused on craftsmanship. This is part II, focusing on Methodism.

Some of our previous discussions brought to my mind the Protestant Reformers’ rejection of the strict separation of clergy vs. laity.  They stressed—rightly, in my view—the priesthood of all believers, with everyone called to a certain ministry.  I couldn’t help but wonder if another sort of unfortunate separation has crept into our thinking over time: the separation of my tasks in real ministry vs. the tasks I might be doing nine-to-five.

That’s exactly right. I think there’s lots of reasons why that happened.  Let me mention something particular to Methodism.  I was in a conversation yesterday with someone who was telling me that, prior to 1865 within Methodism in the United States, there’s very much the model of the bi-vocational pastor.  Somewhere between 1861 – 1865 there was a sense that the clergy needed to be professional.  And so the clergy became a profession.  And the person telling me this said that from that point you can actually track the decline of Methodism.

Now, I’m recording here what was said to me; and you may want to verify these historical claims.  But the point that was being made to me was that once we made that separation, we were in a sense saying, “This group is doing ministry; and that group is not”.  Ministry became a profession in and of itself.  But as we think about this, I would want to say that we are all not only called.  We all have the potential to minister.  It may take very different forms, but in the fullness of the Church all the skills we’re given are necessary: the one who preaches the sermon, the one who sings the songs, the one who builds the building, we could go on and on.

If we were to focus on the roots of Methodism, it seems to me that there are various themes that might really resonate with the faith and work movement today, the kinds of integration being emphasized within this movement.

Let me mention one thing that really intrigues me, and you at Asbury may know this better than I do.  The more I understand about John Wesley and the Wesleys, they sought to hold various ideas and thoughts in tension with each other.  I do wonder as we look back in time at this tension between our work and our ministry—and these might not be the right terms to use—but the point is that things were held together with other things.  They might be held in tension, but in Wesley’s thought they were by nature to be held together.

The thinking we’ve had in recent years—and I’m thinking about the last 100 years or so—is that we’ve created categories that are somehow separate from each other and not held in tension with each other.  Going back to Wesley’s thought about holding ideas together in tension, I’ve wondered if that’s perhaps a distinctive that Methodist or Wesleyan thinking may bring to the current conversation on faith and work.

For Methodist pastors today serving local congregations—and this of course would go for any pastor—what are some ways they can honor the work, the ministries, of people in their congregations?  

A few thoughts here, though they’re not original to me.  First, we often have a prayer service to send off a missionary or someone going to seminary to be a pastor.  We lay our hands on them and send them off with prayer.  Look at the life of your church.  If there’s a group of teachers, you can have a Sunday when you pray for the teachers.  Or pray for those in the medical profession.  Or pray for the farmers.  Identify these people, celebrate their call, and pray for them that they will do the fullness of what they need to do for the glory of God in their work.  So you have a recognition in the service in praying for them that God may honor them in their work.

A second thing is for a pastor to actually visit people at their workplace—to go there, visit, tour, be curious about their work.  So the pastor doesn’t go to give a little sermon or just to offer a prayer.  But the pastor goes in order to see and understand the person’s life at work.

A third thing—and this is more of a mindset—is for the pastor to recognize that everyone in their church is called.  Not just the pastors, not just the missionaries on the board; but everyone in the church is called.  Not the same call in the sense of a vocation or a focus.  But they are all called by God, and they have to live out their call to ministry in various, different ways.  A pastor can come into the church with that mindset, recognizing that “I’m called, you’re called, we’re all called.  What does it mean for the gifts of this community to come together and made a difference?”

I think one of the reasons I feel so strongly about this is that I look at the Detroits, I look at the Clevelands, I look at the industrial cities.  Going back to our earlier discussion [part I of this interview series] about the terms ‘craftsman’ vs. ‘laborer’, I think we have churches full of people who are just laborers.  That’s what they’ve been told.  That’s how the church has acted.  And they haven’t recognized that they can make a difference in their communities, to the glory of God.

I got a call today from some people who are going to be at a United Methodist church in Michigan, where I’ll be next week.  They’re coming to the church event to understand more about creativity and exploration.  And they are thinking at a city-wide level about the difference that can be made as the church working together—as the amalgamation of all of their gifts—to be an influence in their community for the glory of God.

Dwight mentions the term “exploration” here, and we will pick up on this important theme in Dwight’s own work, as the focus of the third and final part of the Faith and Work Collective’s interview with him.

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Kevin Kinghorn serves as editor of the Faith and Work Collective blog. He is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Asbury Theological Seminary. His undergraduate work (Emory) was in economics and political science. His graduate work (Asbury; Yale; Oxford) and current teaching has focused on topics within philosophy of religion and moral philosophy. He lives in Mt. Sterling, KY, where he and his wife Barbara work toward community transformation, providing music and art opportunities for children.

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