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.]
I notice there is nothing in here about ending the hypocrisy of stating that all are welcome etc., yet if you’re different in certain ways, it’s ok for the pastor to refuse membership. Or if you think the differences are a sin, the hypocrisy of saying that we are all equally sinners before God yet singling out certain sins for particular categorization.
Tim, I’ll be covering a related aspect of the document soon. The CTA says it is a “dream” of United Methodists to see “more work on the Four Areas of Focus and less on many worthy but ultimately sub-optimal tasks.” (Steering Team Report, p. 11)
More to your point, in late October, 2010, a UMC “Judicial Council” ruled that pastors have the right to refuse membership to gays and lesbians. http://www.umportal.org/article.asp?id=7371
The basic problem facing the United Methodist Church, today, is that the churches that are losing membership are controlled by persons who refuse to engage in ministries to those outside of the churches’ membership. Too many of our churches are consumed in activities that serve themselves rather than others. Then, pastors who even attempt to challenge this behavior are vilified and risk being labeled “ineffective.” Most pastors who find themselves in a church like this will be wise to hunker down rather than rock the boat, especially if the pastor is a few years away from retirement. There is no reward at the present time for taking a risk. Even experienced retired denominational leaders have told me that this is true.
Paul, I’m sadly afraid you’re partly right and partly wrong on this one.
I agree that the people who control churches with declining memberships are frequently self-serving. The Apex report says that the “journey of discipleship” involves “moving from inward to outward focus.” (CTA, p. 160)
The commentary you have heard from retired denominational leaders is part of the “Old Order” about to be dismantled. The culture of the United Methodist Church is under calculated attack, and for good reason. The culture of mediocrity (my phrase here, not the CTA’s) has aided and abetted the church situations you describe. Hunkering down in survival mode, hoping to coast into retirement, will no longer be tolerated.
“Therefore bishops and superintendents must:
. . . Create and implement prompt and humane ways . . . to arrange exit for persons who lack requisite skills, attitudes, and a proven desire and capacity to improve and meet established standards.” (p. 21) (emphasis added)
For clarification, one CTA solution reads, “Discontinue ‘guaranteed appointment.'” (p. 27)
The COB’s embrace of “accountability at every level” (p. 160) applies to bishops, superintendents, and pastors. District Superintendents who are unable or unwilling to arrange for the “prompt and humane . . . exit” of underperforming human assets (pastors) will be updating their own resumes a few years down the road.
The word “prompt” is significant. This project isn’t going to wait until 2020.
Amen!- If pastors do not have support and backing from the bishops, district superintendents, etc., to lead congregations into a needed change then there is no use in wasting time attempting to do this. Initiating change will cause conflict (look at almost all of the “change gurus” books and writings). In the past if a pastor tried to implement change and the church did not accept it, then the next thing was for the pastor to be moved! duhh!
Speaking of conflict, I recently found this article: “Why Your Church Needs Conflict” by Eddy Hall. It’s a really good, brief discussion of the necessity of conflict. I downloaded the PDF a few nights ago and plan to email it to some people in my congregation. http://www.living-stones.com/articles/conflict.htm
A title that comes highly recommended is Speed B. Leas’ Discover Your Conflict Management Style. I haven’t read it, but it sounds pretty good.
And there’s an interesting (and free!) little conflict management inventory put out by the Mennonites at http://peace.mennolink.org/cgi-bin/conflictstyle/inventory.cgi. It was pretty accurate for me.
A quick note from one member of the CTA Steering Team to strongly affirm your spirited engagement with the content of the report and to encourage continued clarifying dialogue that will lead to consequential actions that foster positive change.
Some minor but important clarifications include:
1. The “reforms” as stated do not sum up the recommendations (see the executive summary of the Report) and the goal of increasing benevolence “giving to the church hierarchy” is not a goal CTA proposed. Recent data summaries show that benevolence giving by UMC congregations outside of denominational structures is surpassing that within the UMC structures — and the CTA report is intended to be descriptive and not judgmental about giving for ministries outside the congregation which is one indicator of vitality.
2. Please see the discussion in the FAQs that defines the difference between indicators of vitality and measurable “drivers” of vitality. The drivers confirmed by the research are NOT the only drivers but are the ones that we had sufficient data available from across the denomination to confidently identify. Also, please see the Towers Watson report available on-line for clarification — because while there are 4 groupings, the list of “drivers” is longer.
3. For accuracy please note that the Council of Bishops did not approve the Apex or Towers Watson reports. Neither research group was asked to make recommendations. The CTA Steering Team used the reseracher’s findings to generate our own report and recommendations. What was endorsed by the COB and Connectional Table were a) the statement of the fundamental Adaptive Challenge, b) the five recommendations listed in the report and c) the establishing of an implementing team. The Apex and Towers Watson research projects were commissioned by the CTA and both informed its thinking as it independently developed its own recommendations.
Now back to the substance of the material and its implications for congregations, annual conferences and the general church! — Neil
Thanks for your input, Neil. I also believe that clarity is a virtue, especially if we hope to “assure collaboration” with a clear conscience.
You commented that the “reforms” I outlined do not sum up the recommendations. If by that you mean that the summary is incomplete, that’s fair. I said nothing about the proposed rearrangements at the level of the General Church, the Conferences, and the Agencies.
You also commented that the goal of increasing benevolence “giving to the church hierarchy” is not a goal the CTA proposed. Technically that is correct. The CTA didn’t need to propose increased, measurable “benevolent” giving as a stated goal. Increased “benevolent” giving was built into the objective, measureable Vitality Indicators from the very outset. Benevolent giving was already included in both the “Growth” factor and the “Engagement” factor as a chief measure of “church vitality” in the Call to Action graph on page 64.
Since “benevolent” giving is factored into two of the three measureable Vitality Indicators, it is twice as important as the “Number of children, youth, and young adults attending as a percentage of membership” for getting a good grade in vitality. An increase in “benevolent” giving will go a long way to improving the Vitality Index at every level of the UMC.
I would argue that increased “benevolent” giving is indeed a major goal of the CTA. What other meaning is there for the meaning of the Apex report’s phrase “acute crisis of an underperforming economic model”? (p. 131)
Increased in-Church benevolent giving is the easiest to grasp and easiest to implement of the “implications for congregations, annual conferences and the general church.”
Thanks for clarifying what the COB specifically approved and how it should be phrased. Both the Apex and the Towers Watson reports were included as appendices to the Steering Committee’s Report. I guess I assumed that the COB’s acceptance and embrace of the CTA implied acceptance and embrace of the reports upon which the Steering Committee’s recommendations were based, and were actually a part of their report.
I will soon share some thoughts about implementing the Call to Action at the local level.
In the context of the spirited discussion we trust will occur and continue throughout the denomination there is a theme that I want to raise:
We caution against focusing on or giving more importance to any single component (either “indicator” or “driver”) over the aggregate components that work in concert (to do so is like focusing only on a star vs. the constellation).
1) There is risk of giving more importance to any one indicator of vitality over another – both the indicators of vitality and the drivers are constellations – working together to create synergies that are not possible in isolation from the whole. The Towers Watson research did not indicate that any of the indicators or drivers are dominate or subordinate to the others.
2) The discussion in the Apex report about the economic model is inteded to address far more than benevolent giving – which is one of multiple components that make-up the current economic model . The existing economic model also includes the how priorities are aligned, souces and volume of income, expenditures; debt; under utilized assets, how financial decisions are made, etc.
Just as a note I’d add that the CTA Steering Team is very clear that benevolent giving (giving for ministry/mission beyond the walls of the local church) is a key indicator of vitality. What we did not do — and would not do — is equate or limit the scope of such giving with support of the denominational structures/organizations that can means of carrying out that ministry/mission. That is to say: we viewed the total of ALL beenvolent giving without regard to the recipients as a sign of vitality.
So then, even though increased benevolent giving is not a stated goal, we’re agreed that paying the apportionmentc is a key indicator of vitality. It seems to follow that any congregation that wants to improve their vitality score will do well to pay attention to this key indicator and pay their apportionment.
It is clear that many factors are discussed in the CTA report, even if their groupings are a bit misleading. I have a list of topics I plan to discuss. My original post has a six-point summary which is incomplete (as you point out), but only mentions accountability for financial giving once.
• Speed the closure of small and very small underperforming congregations. (27)
• Sell local church buildings and redirect the money to more promising/effective units. (27)
• Eliminate guaranteed placement for clergy and arrange for “humane” dismissals. (21)
• Establish strong executive leadership at every level of the hierarchy. (27-28)
• 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. (27-28)
• 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. (20)
Neil, I believe these six points accurately represent important elements of the “Call to Action.”
I don’t generally like unsolicited emails, but I’m glad you sent me a link to your blog! The information on increased “accountability” and measurement sounds like just more bureaucracy to me. As districts get larger and larger, smaller churches are feeling more and more neglected and devalued. Change is necessary, but I hope we don’t change ourselves so much that we’re unrecognizable.
Joanne, I’m glad that you’re glad!
If successfully implemented, the Call to Action will result in a massive overhaul of UMC culture. Underperforming clergy and congregations will not be tolerated, and district superintendents who are unable or unwilling to dismiss pastors and close churches will not be tolerated, either.
This new culture of authority and discipline will be, if properly implemented, top-to-bottom. The report reads:
“A unified Council of Bishops will… Set performance objectives for each other and regularly measure progress and hold one another accountable, employing sanctions when needed to address under-performance.” (22)
Church officials will “identify then redeploy underperforming assets” which includes church real estate. (27) This means that church property held in trust for the congregation will be sold, and the money used to finance more promising projects.
The report says the Church must discontinue “guaranteed appointment.” (27)
Joanne, the report does address the problem of districts and conferences being too large. The Apex report, if followed, would “Reduce Annual Conference and District Sizes.” (139)
What needs to be kept in mind is that structural changes like this will take years to implement. It will be much easier, and require far less consensus, to eliminate underperforming congregations and clergy.
I agree, smaller churches are feeling more and more neglected and devalued. But I don’t think congregations alone feel that. Many pastors feel neglected and devalued. This is certain. And their feelings reflect reality.
I attended a seminar by a group of prominent leaders in the church (Hirch, McNeal, Slaughter, etc.) and one of them stated (I think it was Slaughter???) that the current organization of the UMC was designed after the same organization of GM. Let us see!! GM just went bankrupt (or almost)–does that not say something about the organizational structure?
The CTA Steering Team decided that given the limits of time and the complexity of the issues, we would set the stage by discussing a number of the findings in the Towers Watson and Apex reports, but not try at this juncture to exhaustively address every element or make too long of a list of recommendations. Instead, we determined that identifying the fundamental Adaptive Challenge and winning support for 5 directional recommendations (see page 8 & 9 of the report) that could set in motion conversations and actions leading to dramatic change, was the wiser and more achievable objective.
That is why, for example, we also did not choose to define the precise criteria for benevolence giving. I believe that various annual conferences currently include different items in this category. Nor would we attempt to pre-determine which of an array of critical policy matters should be taken up and in what order (except as implied in the five recommendations in the report).
Your topics seem thoroughly consistent with the spirit of the directions we recommended and represent the kinds of detail that must be engaged, and hammered out in an open, forthright and prompt manner. The six points you’ve lifted up represent pertinent issues that are obviously important. They would not necessarily be the first or only matters the Steering Team would emphasize but there is plenty of work to go around and it will take multiple initiatives to envision and implement a comprehensive change management effort. So yes indeed, I for one and believe others involved would say, “Carry on!”
Interesting report and blog. As a retired United Methodist pastor, I’ve long wondered when the United Methodist Church would truly notice and care about its decades-long decline enough to do something effective about it. Until now, the discussion seems to have been more about the virtues of being a faithful remnant than going into all the world to make disciples.
In particular, there have been remarkably few interested in how closely what Willow Creek Community Church (Chicago area) aligns today with what John and Charles Wesley did to make disciples 200+ years ago, and how well all that still works in helping a church grow and thrive.
That Willow is “evangelical” has been reason enough to disregard everything God is doing at and through them, even though lately Willow has been doing a great deal more than most U.M. churches about such “liberal” interests as becoming racially and culturally inclusive and encouraging the “rich” to seriously care about and personally help the “poor.” I’ve long told any U.M. willing to listen that almost everything about Willow works just as well for a liberal church as a conservative church, and for a small church as well as a large one.
A very good way to catch up on all of this might be to have a look at Bill Hybels’ new book “Whispers.” Or make plans to attend Willow’s “Leadership Summit” at a Willow Creek Association church near you next August.
I am sorry, but I believe that Hybel’s and his followers have steered the church off course. Jesus did not call the church to create leaders, rather he asked people to FOLLOW him even to the cross. I am not the only one who has this view. Recently, I found this forward thinking theologian who shares my perspective. I recommend this book. http://extraordinarylivingbydrscotty.blogspot.com/2012/02/book-review-every-church-leader-should.html “I Am A Follower” by Leonard Sweet.
1. The suggestion to close “underperforming” churches and sell their buildings sounds as though it would generate quite a bit of money for the “high performing” churches but I’ve been in the process of selling a fine old church building for three years and the asking price – with no offers – is now only $90,000. If the reason for selling those churches is so that they don’t drain our talented young clergy of their enthusiasm then I’m more for it – but I think the ordination process has as much to do with slowing those clergy down as the stuck in the mud churches.
2. I’m 59 and so I could care less about guaranteed appointment – I could retire comfortably tomorrow – and all my churches have always grown; and except for one year always paid their apportionments in full – but it had nothing to do with “strong executive leadership” from the denomination or setting goals for growth. They grew because they changed people’s lives. All the reports affirmed strong preaching and great small groups – because those are major factors in changing people’s lives. Attendance and giving are INDICATORS of vitality – but they are not the vitality itself.
3. The suggestion that the strong executive leadership focus on results rather than doing things the UM way – or the Bishop or D.S.’s way is a helpful caveat. But you talk about that only in regard to closing and selling churches. Encouraging results rather than adherence to company policy should be the norm for everything we do. We don’t need a bunch of D.S.es running around telling their pastors to do things the way they worked back in their churches or making sure they have every committee listed in the Discipline. I like Mike Slaughter’s “Beyond Playing Church” which skewers all the meetings and boards in churches (and in annual conferences)- which have become an end in themselves – taking so much time an energy from people – just to have the meeting -that they have nothing left to do the ministry. Focus on those things in the report that changed lives and attendance, apportionments, benevolence giving and every other aspect of vitality always follow.
Thanks for your link. I will continue to look forward to your discussions. God bless…Sundar
I’ve downloaded but haven’t yet read either report, but your words are encouraging me to do so. I did a few simple text searches of both the Apex & Towers Watson reports – the results of which, to me, are highly revealing:
In the Apex Report …
1) Jesus is mentioned 15 times; 14 of which are mention of the Great Commission/the church’s purpose.
2) The Holy Spirit is not mentioned at all – while “spirituality”, “spiritual” and “connectional spirit” are mentioned 14 times.
3) God is mentioned only 4 times, one of those is lower-case ‘g’ (a typo?). Two of God’s mentions are in section headings.
In the Towers Watson Report:
1) Jesus is mentioned once
2) Neither the Holy Spirit nor God have attained any name mention in this report.
While it is prejudicial for me to state this, and while I will read the reports with as open a mind as possible, already is seems to me that this process has taken on the blatant slant of being all about the “institution”; the institution seeking to sustain itself for the sake of the institution, relying (seemingly) solely upon Jesus’ Great Commission. There is also much discussion around “protecting my career.” Does God have no role in this? And what of the influence of the Holy Spirit in our lives?
I fear the UMC continues to be the church that Wesley sought to reform. And that supports the suggestion that the UMC as a whole continues to suffer from a severe onset of pneumaphobia, fear of the Holy Spirit.
My hope and prayer is we can seek not self-preservation (of instituion and of self), but rather truly engage in the work God calls us to. Church is, afterall, about two things and two things alone:
1) love of God, and
2) love of neighbor.
EVERYTHING else is just a footnote. In the process of living into those two key factors, we ‘mysteriously’ end up changing people’s lives for the better. We should unfold and examine everything we do in comparison to such. May we all have the humility to shed God’s pure light on everything we do for honest reflection and consideration.
We won’t solve a spiritual problem with material goods and solutions. We cannot view our church’s problem as an organizational problem, for that is the problem.
I served my whole career a state where virtually all the congregations would have been listed as small and underperforming. Most communities were small and not growing, and the churches were stable. While every one of the churches I served grew, not one of them would be considered viable under the provisions of this report.
I have also observed what happens when these allegedly inferior churches are closed. Either one of two things happens. The most common is that the Methodists served by these churches cease to be Methodists and go to another church in the neighborhood, usually a more conservative one. The other is that a nondenominational church buys the building and gets a large proportion of the former Methodists as parishoners. The church often grows then, as it is no longer necessary to justify the purely political stances of the institutional church and the focus can be purely on the community. The church begins to reflect the values of the community, not the bureaucrats. Often (not always), they become much stronger than they were as a Methodist church.
The plan is a recipe for disaster for the institutional church, but sometimes means new hope for the rural communities that represented 90% of the churches in my home state. It also represents a failure of vision and mission for the institutional church, which is totally out of touch with the real lives and real needs of small town and rural communities.
In my current community of 4,000 there is exactly one mainline church, a small Methodist congregation. It is obviously one of the underperformers. If it were to close, the next nonfundamentalist or nonpentecostal church is one hundred miles away. This is not uncommon in rural areas. Unless you want to abandon most of the country to the fundamentalists and pentecostals, the United Methodist Church has a duty not to close these churches, but find new ways for them to exist and grow.
You raise some interesting points, Pastor Leon. To me the most significant one is how you put Kingdom values above Institutional values. What is bad for the UMC as an organization can actually be good for the human beings through whom God works.
Those people who leave the UMC do so because the fit isn’t right. They may be Calvinist, gay or lesbian, Emergent, Unitarian, or become Catholics. And the Kingdom of God is better off as each person is freed to be the person God made them. What John Dewey wrote resonates for me: “To find out what one is fitted to do, and to secure an opportunity to do it, is the key to happiness.” I believe that external disunity can be a very positive thing.
Having said that, I also believe that Christ’s High Priestly Prayer in John 17 expresses the heart of God the Messiah. I believe that as we 1) withhold judgment, 2) allow love to cover a multitude of sins (read: differences), 3) allow people we consider “tares” to grow up alongside the wheat–even if we have to force ourselves–that we will mature and grow up into the Head, becoming like him, transformed into his image.
“Leave or stay, it’s all okay.” I realize I sound like a politician, talking out of both sides of my mouth. If that’s the case, so be it. But I think acknowledging “diff’rent strokes for diff’rent folks” is quite Biblical.
As it says in Ecclesiastes, “There is a time for every purpose under heaven,” which includes a time to remain and a time to leave.
And for denominations, a time to remain intact and a time to split.
I would put it rather differently. People have not left the UMC– the UMC has left them to pursue strange gods. They have confused partisan politics with the Kingdom of God. They have valued certain groups of people over others. I have never heard a pastor tell racist jokes– unless you consider denunciations of ordinary people living in trailer courts, driving pickup trucks, and listening to country music racist, which I do. I have never heard a UMC pastor denouncing homosexual individuals as evil– but I have listening to a District Superintendent telling me that anyone who believed homosexuality was morally wrong to be Satanic, and that nobody who didn’t acknowledge that Jesus and his disciples were homosexuals had no business being a UMC pastor. I have never heard a UMC pastor preaching that the conservative candidate was anointed by God, but I have listened to Conference officers talking about ‘our’ candidates in elections, and oddly enough the candidates were always liberals.
One restful aspect of retirement is that I no longer have to explain why the national boards are vigorously promoting leftist causes that are anathema to the majority of the congregation, or listen to those who disagree with those causes being denounced as ‘fundamentalist,’ uneducated, or un-Methodist.
Our moderately liberal Conference was absorbed by a very leftist Conference. The humility, sense of community, and toleration for a wide spectrum of theological beliefs flew out the window when that happened. So did what was left of my belief that we were truly connectional and accepting of all Methodist Christians. In the new Methodism, some animals are more equal than others.
Pastor Leon, I mentioned this problem of how we talk about people in my book, Jesus and the Six Homosexuals. In that context, I said both sides in the debate over homosexuality need to refrain from name calling.
If we don’t understand own personal need for oppression, scapegoating, ostracism, caricature, and groupthink, then we won’t get much further than name-calling. During “No Name-Calling Week,” consider giving up the words “Haters,” and “Homophobia” (and its derivatives), as well as “Fag Enablers,” and “That’s so gay.” Let’s see if we can all give it a rest. (138-139)
Peter wrote about this in his first epistle. Here is I Peter 3:9 in two translations.
Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (NIV)
Don’t repay evil for evil. Don’t retaliate with insults when people insult you. Instead, pay them back with a blessing. That is what God has called you to do, and he will bless you for it. (NLT)
While I know that there are some people who do hate gays and lesbians (Fred Phelps being the chief example), there are many more people who don’t “hate” anyone, but whose words and actions have hateful effects, driving young people like my son to attempt suicide.
I myself have never met anyone who hates gays and lesbians, and I don’t characterize people who disagree with me as “haters” or “homophobes.” I believe that kind of rhetoric and name-calling simply perpetuates bad blood and defensiveness.
Regarding the things you’ve heard from your leadership, it is unfortunate (to say the least) that people who don’t have control over their tongues are elevated to positions of leadership and authority.
When I took a course on Jeremiah in college, I found a verse that convicted me and continues to influence me:
“If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be my spokeman.” (Jeremiah 15:19a)
I hope God will give us all grace to utter worthy words, and not words that perpetuate rancor and hard feelings.
Ron: I am thankful that you recently managed to make me aware of your blog and so come to the conversation late in the game.
As one who came to ministry from another career and have a business and organizational background as well as a D. Min. emphasizing “systems theory” I have long ago come to the conclusion that the UMC is, indeed, in a long decline which I expect will culminate in its death rather sooner than later. One of the signs of organizational death throes is when that organization attempts to centralize authority and control and exercise more restrictive measures relative to decision-making models. In other words, as the authority figures insist the larger body “toe the line” one can be sure that the end is in sight.
The most vital congregations I have served have allowed for differences of opinion, engaged in passionate dialogue and agreed to embrace differing, well thought out perspectives while at once not “condemning anyone to hell.” Those congregations grew because people realized that their views were respected even if not accepted.
My Annual Conference recently underwent a merger and while we had a reputation for being “friendly” it was nonetheless made clear by the left-of-center leadership that right-of-center opinion were not only not welcome but could not have been well conceived or considered. Over the thirty years of my ministry, that Conference lost more than a thousand members per year before merging. I resonate with Robert Leon above relative to his remark that we are moving into a time where some are more equal than others. Fortunately, there are some lay and clergy who refuse to be easily dismissed by the authority structure. That said, your blog reports that we may be moving to a time where we “obstructionists” may be more easily removed as obstacles…irrespective of our growing congregations.
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Thank you for the food for thought. I am a member of a very small congregation. I joined in November of 2009. I grew up in a Methodist church (I am 42 years old) and was very active as a youth. I am concerned that it doesn’t appear to me that congregations have much say in larger church matters (I have read the Book of Discipline recently when my church was presented with a challenge). I am looking forward to reading these reports and reflecting on them. I am sure my church has been marked as one of those to be chopped down as a sick and dying tree, but I put my trust in God, not the Methodist Church. But I will continue to pray for the Methodist church leaders, pastors and members. I have been a member of many different sized churches and they all have value to God.
I have been watching this thread and commented on a few of them. One issue that has been raised is closing underperforming churches. This hits on a pet-peeve for me. In the past, the focus seems to have been on reappointing pastors without any negative recourse to the local church. In other words, even if a particular church has a record of 5 ministers in 5 years; the pastor was once again moved. In the context of appointability I think there should be certain guidelines or criteria for churches too, instead of merely for pastors.
Excellent point! We have churches within our conferences that are “unappointable.” When do we allow them to go fallow to think about their situation?
I’m not so sure these churches were unappointable, since in my career I was appointed to several “wolf churches”. When I left, in each case after setting a record for longevity, they were working churches which paid their apportionments and were experiencing modest growth.