UMC Call to Action: Two Separate Reports, Two Separate Goals

Annual Conference, Apex-Style

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).  

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About Ron Goetz

Author, Widower, Grandpa, Son.
This entry was posted in Call to Action, United Methodism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

8 Responses to UMC Call to Action: Two Separate Reports, Two Separate Goals

  1. Ed Rogosky says:

    I am afraid that you are laboring under some common but unfortunately wrong apprehensions. However, it is good that you are willing to address them, as I am sure that many others also harbor some of the same misunderstandings.

    Do you really think that the UMC is a democratically oriented body? With all of the burders that democracy carries? The emphasis upon rights and so little emphasis upon responsibility, which is consistent with the idea that people so often do not see their own responsibility within the structure. Has this allegedly democratic approach really done us that much good? In light of the fact that the UMC as an organization is almost swamped in its Gospel mandate by the necessity of sloganizing the necessary movement toward the evangelization of the world? Are we really voluntarily of one mind, as certain slogans might intimate? Indeed, this self-same democratization has seen fit to get its model from the world which does so much in the name of efficiency and so little in the name of Christ and people.

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  2. Pingback: Will the Call to Action Save the UMC?

  3. UM Clergy11 says:

    There’s a lot more to the Call to Action than an attempt to revitalize the church. I believe it has much more to do with the Bishops trying to consolidate power and not address the real issues facing our church. Check out my blog site (www.rethinkumchurch.wordpress.com) and see what you think… I would love your feedback!

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  4. b black says:

    THE CALL TO ACTION SOUND SO GOOD BUT IS IT REALLY ANOTHER PUFF PROGRAM THAT THE BISHOPS CAN USE THEIR SLANT WITH? I WANT ALL BISHOPS TO KNOW THAT THE LAITY IS GETTING SMARTER AND YOUR TRICKS ARE RUNNING OUT. AS A LAITY MEMBER ITS NOT ABOUT THE TEACHINGS OF JESUS OR THE TEACHINGS JOHN WESLEY ITS ABOUT GIVE MORE TO ME AND I WILL TRY TO SAVE YOU

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  5. Ruizh Ronnie says:

    The Call to Action is a very important element in the journey of the Methodist. I definitely support its cause, but there is much need to deal with the executive powers in the office of the bishop, especially in Africa where the Polity of the church gives much power to the bishop. In Africa people are connected through tribes and regions, hence regionalism and tribalism are currently killing the mission of the UMC. There is a lot of nepotism and favoritism through the powers of appointment without a wider consultation from the Bishops in Africa.

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    • Ron Goetz says:

      So, in your situation, having a stronger bishop would help curb nepotism and favoritism.
      I’m not completely clear on this. As it is, do bishops have too much power, or too little?

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  6. KCMo HCI Victim says:

    I really appreciate the comments above. I have belonged to the UMC for quite a few years and have recently been bothered by the direction it is taking. Members do not appear to be of any value. Voting by the general membership is discouraged. Democracy appears to be unimportant.

    How can a church grow if the membership cannot, in good faith, recommend it to friends and family? I have found over the years that voting can take many forms, voting by ballot, voting with your contributions, voting with your mouth and voting with your feet.

    May God help the UMC!! Please.

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  7. solan says:

    Authoritarian system? YES! Spiritual abuse is always about the misuse and abuse of power. Some bishops really know how to demonstrate this very well. Believe me I know first hand. They are imperfect sinners like all the rest of us. They do not need to have any power when they are so stupid not to realize that God has all of it.

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