Monday, October 22, 2007

Putting the "Circuit" Back into Methodism

I have recently wrestled with the age-old problem of ecclesial supply and demand: too many churches, not enough pastors.

In the case of the Cameroon Mission, the problem is particularly acute because of poor transportation and communication networks, as well as a lack of adequately trained people.

I was comforted by the fact that John Wesley had the same problem in 18th century England during the revivals. And I became intrigued by his solution – organize the cell groups and societies into “circuits” and train a team of lay preachers to visit them in a kind of rotation. On the American frontier, this idea was exploited to its fullest to reach pioneers and on-the-go adventurers.

When I served as a pastor in England ten years ago, I discovered that the British Methodists are still organized in this way. In my case, I served as one of three clergypersons in a circuit of five congregations. Every week, I preached in one of the five churches, though I had pastoral responsibilities for only two of the churches.

Ideally, I would love to have a qualified, spiritually mature, and energetic pastor placed in every village, town, and city in the country to work in the ministry full-time, but of course, that’s not practical!

Circuits help meet the basic needs of every core group of Methodists, while allowing flexibility to meet new evangelistic opportunities. It also gives us time to evaluate the progress of new, young, wannabe preachers, and offers them the opportunity to test their call.

So last week, I called together a few of our pastors, plus some of those wannabes … and we created a circuit!

The Lekie Circuit is located just north of Yaounde, and is made up of eight “preaching points,” for lack of a better word. Two of the preaching points are actually considered solid churches, with a full-time preacher: those are the churches in Monatele (Pastor Jean-Blaise Bikoy) and Obala (Pastor Lemec Nemy).

The other six points are cell groups, or struggling churches. Their Sunday services will be led by one of five preachers, all of who have been worshipping as United Methodists over the last several years, and who will rotate around the circuit during the month. We drew up a preaching plan for the first month, deciding who would preach where and when.

I also put the fledgling preachers through a short, one-day course in Methodism, salvation, leading worship, and preaching. We bought the pastors brand-new Bibles, complete with concordances and dictionaries, and gave them cell phones so they can stay in touch.

Now we begin to pray … for Lucien, Joachin, Roland, Roger, and Igance … the new true Circuit Riders of the United Methodist Church in Cameroon!

It’s still considered an “experiment”; we’ve drawn up a preaching plan for four months. After that, we’ll reevaluate, and see what new trails have been blazed!