What's on your UM T-shirt?

By Jessica Connor

At Laity Convocation last month, Columbia District Superintendent the Rev. Tim McClendon talked about something I just can’t get off my mind. He called it the “T-shirt test” and wondered how, on such a small piece of cloth, we could possibly fit the message of United Methodism.

After all, T-shirts are supposed to be quick-reads. And while meaningful, let’s face it – the vision and purpose of the S.C. Conference of the United Methodist Church is pretty long:

“The South Carolina United Methodist Conference is a church of diverse congregations called, united and sent by Jesus Christ to make disciples for Jesus Christ by equipping its local churches for the ministry and by providing a connection for ministry beyond the local church, all to the glory of God.”

So in three to seven words, how can we encapsulate everything United Methodism stands for, everything we do, everything we hope to achieve on earth as Christians?

McClendon had some good T-shirt suggestions: “Connectionalism.” “Together, we can do more.” “M.D.C. – Making Disciples for Christ.”

We can add our own to his list. How about “Transforming the world?” Or “We get things done?” Or one word that really cuts to the chase: “Jesus.”

I’d wear it. Proudly.

Of course, in talking about T-shirts, McClendon wasn’t just trying to be entertaining to the packed room gathered at Lake Junaluska for his workshop, “United Methodism 101.” By breaking down the messaging as simplistically as possible, not only was he reminding us why we do all that we do as United Methodists – the mission trips, the ministries – but I think he was also subtly reminding us that we need to be aware of how our denominational messaging is conveyed.

Think about it. How many times have you sat down for a meal with non-United Methodist friends or been chatting with a stranger in line somewhere and been asked, “So, what’s your religion all about?”

How do we respond? Is it in a way that’s clear and concise, like a T-shirt, that draws someone in just enough so they have a taste and leaves them wanting more? Or do we go for the “long answer,” a little more complicated, a little, dare we say, boring?

Are we evangelizing to the heart or to the mind?

I found myself giving the “long answer” recently and realized halfway through the conversation that I was losing the moment. So I stopped, simplified, and in doing so, shed some light.

It’s something to consider.

Besides the T-shirt lesson, McClendon shared some other UM “zingers” that have stayed with me these last few weeks since his workshop. His words remind me how truly wonderful our denomination is, how effective, how efficient, how connected. I share them with you in the hopes that you’ll be as inspired as I was:

There is strength in numbers. We do things together. We do whatever it takes to be disciples for Jesus Christ. Scripture is central. We’re a denomination that preaches grace, and the best way to do it is with other Christians. If you don’t have social action, then you’re not really Christian, are you?

And my personal favorite: You can’t keep it to yourself. You’ve got to change the world, too.

Ah, there’s the rub – we can save the world. We can transform our brothers and sisters. And we’ll stop at nothing to make it happen.

The connection. The power of Christ.

That’s what I want on my UM T-shirt. How about you?

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