The goal of the CTA-sponsored Apex Report is not revival. The goal of the Apex Report is the power to eliminate underperforming assets (clergy, church property, and agencies).
The Call to Action is not a single document, but combines two separate reports that have two separate goals. One report gets the lion’s share of attention from pastors and laypeople: Towers Watson. The other report seems to be getting considerably less attention from pastors and laypeople: Apex. At its simplest, Towers Watson is is aimed mainly at a pastoral audience on a popular level, while Apex is aimed at all levels of leadership, both clergy and staff.
The goal of Towers Watson is to increase congregational vitality, which gets translated by the rank and file with words like revival, church growth, etc. The goal of Apex is nothing less than to restructure the entire United Methodist Church, bypassing the authority of democratic bodies (e.g. annual conference) with new lines of hierarchical executive power.
In the new lines of hierarchical executive power, individuals wield the agency and personnel axes in the name of accountability, quantifiable and measurable results, and sustainability and viability.
Two of the most significant uses of Apex’s hierarchical axe are 1) the responsible stewardship of assets and 2) “distance” reduction. “Stewardship of assets” refers to 1) the speedy, proactive liquidation of church properties and 2) the accelerated “humane” exit of marginal clergy. “Distance” reduction refers to the elimination of “liberal” features of UMC life which are a continuing source of irritation and embarrassment for certain United Methodists. High-profile examples of irritants include the General Board of Church and Society and the Claremont School of Theology. Embarrassment applies primarily to conservative pastors and laypeople who are ashamed of having to explain to friends and prospective members why they remain affiliated with such a liberal denomination.
John Harnish commented:
I am really confounded by a proposal that assumes giving the Bishops more power and authority will somehow create revival. What organization in the world is moving to a “top-down” system rather than away from it?
No where in the Call to Action is the goal characterized as revival. The word “revival” does not appear in any of the three PDFs available for study. The closest phrase used in Towers Watson is the well-known “Congregational Vitality.” Churches of all theological persuasions and sizes can be “vital,” which is carefully defined in terms of quantifiable measures (increasing attendance, giving, apportionments, baptisms, and professions of faith). For example, both conservative evangelical churches and Open and Affirming congregations are among the congregations evidencing high “Congregational Vitality.”
Revival is one legitimate and popular way of describing a situation where such quantifiable results will be seen, and is very likely one favored by the Towers Watson people.
But while Towers Watson is focused on Congregational Vitality, Apex aims to completely refashion the UMC into an authoritarian structure. “Authoritarian” is probably not the word they would prefer, but the complaint is mentioned twice on the same page that the UMC “has a systemic allergy to authority” (p 168, Apex, emphasis added).
This colorful disease metaphor is, literally, incorrect. Authority does exist in the United Methodist Church. To argue otherwise is simply absurd. The anti-democratic Call to Action Steering Committee is unhappy with who exercises that authority and how it is exercised, that it rests with pastors and lay representatives, and gets bogged down in debate and discussion.
The drastic overhaul of the UMC’s governing structure may be necessary. To call it an overhaul may be an understatement. The authoritarian reforms requested by the Council of Bishops and reflected in the proposed by the Apex Report may be necessary to prevent the wholesale collapse of United Methodism. This is certainly the degree of alarm that will be necessary to relegate the UMC’s democratic structures to irrelevance.
To put this all another way: “Congregational Vitality,” revival, and healthy churches are not directly connected to increasing the power of the Bishops. Congregational vitality and centralized lines of power are both elements in UMC culture, but are, in a sense, moving in opposite directions. Congregational vitality depends on broader lay participation, but centralized power depends on narrowing lay participation, and narrowing pastoral participation in conference governance.
The primary goal of Apex-style authority and accountability is negative, to slash costs and eliminate underperforming assets (clergy, churches, and agencies).