Scouting: Some lessons for Methodism?

by Richard on October 14, 2009

For the last few weeks I’ve been helping out with the local Scouts and Cubs and I’ve got to admit it’s been fun. The next logical step was to offer to join the movement more formally as an assistant leader. Slightly scary, but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I’m still waiting to hear from the powers that be, but on the assumption that I won’t be turned down I’ve been spending some time looking at the training that’s available.

I was pleased to discover that there are some very good online training resources. These very much attracted my ‘professional’ (if I dare use the word!) attention, because a part of my job that I haven’t really got to yet is the development of online learning materials for the Methodists of Wales. Looking at how the scouts have done it has been very instructive at several different levels.

Two things have struck me as having particular relevance for the Methodist Church. First, while the history of Scouting gets a mention in the training, it does not feature heavily. Instead, what are strongly emphasized are those things that make Scouting distinctive as a youth movement. While the course is carefully ‘ecumenical’, recognizing and affirming the contribution that other youth organisations make, Scouting is upfront about its uniqueness. The course materials continually refer back to Scouting’s principles and methods. There is definitely food for thought there.

Secondly, very early in the training materials there is a module headed “Growing the Movement’. A Christian reads that and thinks “evangelism”! New members are encouraged (and expected) to think about how they can contribute to telling others about the movement. ‘Evangelism’ isn’t something for specialists: it is regarded as a core activity for the whole movement.

That makes me think too. Pick out an average ‘Methodist in the pew’: I wonder if they’d be able to articulate the core principles of Methodism? Equally, how many have received even a basic introduction to evangelism?

As I start to pull together my thoughts for online courses, I feel like Scouting has offered me some timely reminders.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }


PamBG 10.15.09 at 2:07 am

I wonder what people think *are* Methodist distinctives? I doubt the doctrinal stuff is going to appeal to most people who are unchurched.

I think Methodism has two important distinctives:

1) Prevenient grace which is seen by many Christians - even Methodists - as wishy-washy liberalism. So we back off the proclamation of the universality of God’s grace.

2) A genuine, lived-out caring for individuals who have been discarded by Society In General. We probably lost this distinctive already in the early 19th century about the time that both British and American Methodism decided that they had to be denominations instead of a movements.

Do any other Methodist distinctives matter to the unchurched person in the street?


Will Grady 10.15.09 at 7:00 am

Pam, I was thinking the same question - do we know what Methodist distinctives are? Though I was think more of the movement itself than the two you mentioned (which are very great!).

Methodism was distinctive because of the form of discipleship Wesley instilled more than theological issues (though, prevenient grace is distinctive, but I didn’t know it was wishy-washy liberalism!). The brilliance of Methodism seemed to be the way in which we enabled your point two. That’s where I think we have lost it.


Tony Buglass 10.15.09 at 8:12 am

In my early years in ministry, I dealt with a lot of applications for marriage which had already been rejected by RC or CE priests because one or both of the partners had been divorced. One person explained they had come to us (after being refused by both RC and CE) because a friend had said “Why don’t you try the Methodists? - they’re friendly.”

Things have moved on since then, since a lot more Anglicans will remarry divorcees (at least where I’ve been since then), but if we’re perceived as being friendly I don’t see that as a bad start.


Bob Gilston 10.15.09 at 8:47 pm

Until I read this blog I’d never heard the expression “prevenient grace” before and had to look up what it meant for a Methodist. I’m pleased to see that it provides people with the ability to choose or reject God. I see nothing of wishy-washy liberalism in that. When I talk about my faith with unchurched people I always start with the question “Do you believe there is a God?” If they clearly believe that there is no God they are unlikely to understand what my faith is. However I would hope as a Methodist that I have not lost the second distinctive given in Pam’s blog of a “lived-out caring” for the individual who I am talking to.


Richard 10.15.09 at 9:27 pm

Good evening Bob - nice to hear from you!

I’m hesitant to start from “Do you believe there is a God?” because often the god they believe in (or don’t believe in) has nothing to do with God as he is revealed in Jesus.

[Off topic completely: the radon pump has been fitted at the manse. The electrician is coming at the weekend. Then there'll be plumes of radioactive gas rising above our house!]


PamBG 10.15.09 at 9:31 pm

Methodism was distinctive because of the form of discipleship Wesley instilled

I’m growing in agreement with this statement. Especially having participated in a community (ironically not Methodist!) which I think is very close to the early Methodist class system. It was a huge source of growth in faith, in encouragement and in keeping centred in Christ.

The early Methodist movement was very much like what are now called “third order communities” in the Catholic world. The Benedictines, Dominicans, Jesuits, etc., have all managed to maintain their disctinctives because people join them for their distinctives rather than in spite of them. I think that one of the Methodist distinctives is “service in the world to those who the world discards”. We often joke that we are more like Martha than Mary and, whilst we can definitely do with more Mary-ness, I think we make this joke because deep down we still know who we are. Time to live it out more, perhaps?


Bob Gilston 10.16.09 at 12:32 am

Hi Richard
Great news about the radon pump. As long as it’s white plumes rising above the house and not black!

(Back on topic). I think my point was that some people have no belief whatsoever and any attempt on my part to explain God as revealed through Jesus just becomes a defence mechanism rather than an opportunity to explain. I’ve been there and it’s been a frustration. I think on those occasions I’m supposed to just shake the dust off my sandals and move on.

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