The Sunday after Christmas, I was browsing the religion section at a Barnes & Noble in Oklahoma City. The “Christian Inspiration” shelves were a hodgepodge of darn near anything, going light years beyond what I think of as inspirational. Some good books, I found there, several I’d like to read (e.g. Scot McKnight’s Blue Parakeet). Some other books that I’ve read (e.g Tony Jones’ The New Christians). And then, of course, a spray of all sorts of books, from smarmy sentimentalist glop to apocalyptic rants (e.g. John Hagee) to the enlightened conspiracy theories of various Dan Brown knock-offs.
Then I ran across this book, with a cover that seemed to fit, entitled Dirty Word: The Vulgar, Offensive Languages of the Kingdom of God, by Jim Walker. I scanned the back cover. “He’s the pastor of Hot Metal Bridge,” I thought to myself with some excitement. I had heard of Hot Metal Bridge, a cutting-edge United Methodist ministry in Pittsburgh, PA. Then I looked at the publisher: Discipleship Resources. “Wow!” I thought. “How unusual it is to find a Discipleship Resources book in Barnes & Noble.”
(Just in case you don’t know, Discipleship Resources is the imprint of the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship. They publish all manner of books on various – you guessed it – topics related to practical Christian discipleship.)
And then I caught myself listening to myself: “How odd to find a Discipleship Resources book in a Barnes & Noble.” How odd. How sad.
How do I say this? My little “moment” reminded me of just how out of it we United Methodists are when it comes to impact outside our denomination. I don’t know how many titles from Discipleship Resources that you have found at a Barnes & Noble. My very superficial quick-search turned up exactly zero additional ones. If anybody can show me otherwise, I’d be happy to have you change my mind.
Many United Methodists talk as if our legacy of influence (the 19th century up to the middle 20th century, mostly) were a reflection of the way we are now. But outside of United Methodists, who listens to United Methodists? Who is reading our authors? Our scholars? We have some outstanding scholars and some great church leaders who are also authors. But really, who is reading them outside the denomination? By comparison to other, national-level Christian authors, we are vastly under-represented.
We’d better wake up. We have to quit just talking to ourselves. I’m not at all worrying about denominational prominence or even survival. Frankly, I don’t care much about either. But we do have something very important to share – and to share it broadly. We have stuff to say that people need to hear. But we have to find a way to say it that connects.