Let me begin by saying that, overall, I accept the recommendations contained in the two sections of the “Call to Action” (CTA). The changes are long overdue, and are necessary for the eventual flourishing of the United Methodist Church.
Many elements of the Apex report feel repugnant. This repugnance is a major cause of the UMC’s avoidance of necessary institutional reform. People who feel these pangs of conscience, myself included, have their work cut out for them.
Before addressing implementation of the recommendations, some clarity is needed, as well as some discussion of attitudes, elements, and language that, initially at least, feel objectionable and offensive.
The CTA report is made up of two reports, the Towers Watson Report and the Apex Report. Towers Watson deals with congregational reforms that should result in 1) increased membership and attendance and 2) increased “benevolent” giving to the church hierarchy. The Apex report recommends reforms of the denominational hierarchy in structure and policies. The Apex reforms focus on the creation of strong executives at every level.
Overall, the Towers Watson report is written in everyday language for congregational consumption.
In contrast, the Apex report is written in highly rhetorical language. The Apex “spin doctors” obviously worked hard on this, and achieved a carefully crafted “frame” to obfuscate obvious and unpalatable meanings. While the pertinent details are present in the text, they are buried deep within the report, hidden behind opaque language, much of which repeatedly appears in quotation marks. The language and its location are calculated to obscure its meanings from the casual reader, or even encourage non-reading. The Apex report’s intended audience is composed of ordained clergy and denominational leaders of all sorts: agency heads, district superintendents, bishops, etc.
The Towers Watson report is relatively straight forward. The four-point outline of factors that contribute to congregational vitality will appear as commonsense for many people. What is lacking in the Apex report is an equivalent outline, one that is easy to understand. Such an outline is easy enough to generate, however.
- Speed the closure of small and very small underperforming congregations.
- Sell local church buildings and redirect the money to more promising/effective units.
- Eliminate guaranteed placement for clergy and arrange for “humane” dismissals.
- Establish strong executive leadership at every level of the hierarchy.
- Emphasize accountability 1) for average attendance and membership, and 2) for funding denominational overhead. These measurable results are the primary, and virtually the only, real measures of congregational vitality.
- Elevate accountability above rules and procedures. Authorize and overtly encourage violation of rules and disregard for procedures that interfere with speedy church closures, real estate sales, and clergy dismissals.
This is the core message of the Apex report with little or no spin or framing.
The Apex report was unanimously adopted by the UMC Council of Bishops during their Nov. 2-6 meeting in Panama. www.umportal.org/article.asp?id=7340
Leaders will not need to be “legislated into collaboration,” as Bishop Palmer put it. But the bishops have committed themselves to mutual accountability. No “cooking the books” will be needed, either. Real estate held in trust by the Church will solve much of the “acute crisis” facing the Church.
Given Christendom’s essentially institutional nature (which nature is intrinsically un-reformable), the United Methodist Church and its leaders must be resigned to organizational “original sin.”
We must do the hard work of reconciling what we believe with what we must do. Some will call this rationalization, making excuses, or compromise. If we leave our deep misgivings and upset unaddressed, we will have, by definition, violated our consciences.
“By rejecting conscience, certain persons have suffered shipwreck in the faith.” (I Timothy 1:19)
“But the aim of such instruction is love that comes from a pure heart, a good conscience, and sincere faith.” (I Timothy 1:5)
[To see a complete list of Call to Action posts, click here.]