The UMC’s Next Decade of Navel-Gazing

Call to Action Project Recommendations published

The United Methodist Church commissioned a committee to look at the big problems and difficulties in the church and issue recommendations in November 2009, building on a previous committee’s work. They’ve published their findings yesterday. I’ve read the 44 page summary over lunch (a long lunch) and you can read the basic recommendations on the UMNS article. I won’t repeat them here, you can read them there.

The basic recommendation can be summed up in a single sentence: “For a minimum of 10 years” the UMC is to commit to “sustained and intense concentration on building effective practices in local churches” (page 20). There’s plenty more, but the gist is moving connectional money away from connectional entities and to the local churches that are effective.

I agree with this in principle. In Natural Church Development classes, they use the image of a barrel filling with water. It doesn’t matter where the holes are or how big they are…it matters where the bottom hole is. If in the UMC the part that is leaking the most is the local church, then it must be dealt with before the rest. In advocacy we use a similar image: “A rising tide lifts all boats.” In principle, this is fine. The problem is balancing attention to the bottom hole with making sure the rest of the barrel isn’t on fire so there’s something left to work for.

Things I like at first glance:

  1. I enjoyed that my #1 question in my mind about retreating from the world parish to fix our own problems was a FAQ entry (page 33).
  2. I like how the CTA report takes caucus groups on both sides to task. On page 14, it says that we should “spend less time…stressing ‘renewal’ as if to restore past achievements” which is a clear reference to the conservative Renewal Groups (Good News, Confessing, IRD). On page 19, it also says that “making this change requires…setting aside many passionate causes in order to focus instead on overarching goals” which is an argument often used against Reconciling Ministries Network’s work for full inclusion of LGBT folks. So while we may disagree with their assessments, at least both sides are getting it.
  3. I like a lot of the language being used to change bureaucracy is forward-thinking and an overhaul of the systems not just incremental change.
  4. I liked the strong dedication to Wesleyan ideals, even if I worry about prooftexting them from 18th century to apply to the 21st century.

There’s more but that’s first glance.

Here’s what I’m wary of that I’ll write more about later in blog posts coming up soon.

  1. I’m wary of turning the General Agencies into grant-based entities. Any way you read it, basically they want to get rid of the staff and structure and turn them into barebones Lily Foundation-esque distributors of money that groups, missions, advocates ask for rather than pursue initiatives itself.
  2. I worry about trimming ineffective programs and giving more money to successful programs. It seems like a “No Church Left Behind” kind of model where you take money away from struggling programs rather than put more money at it to be effective. [In fact, that’s a great blog post. Look for it soon, no one had better steal that line!]
  3. I’m critically concerned with the move toward “outcome-based ministry” that is concerned with numbers at every area of the church. I know that’s a reality, I have a business education, I’m not some “peace and puppy dogs” hippie, and yes, my church is growing fine, thank you. But I’m really concerned about it. Advocacy programs and community education programs won’t have people on the “saved souls” column but they are doing the slow work of ministry. Sigh. I’m still looking for how to put it into words though.
  4. Finally, the slow creep of congregationalism is apparent. From giving more autonomy to local churches and negating the influence of the general agencies, I noted no less than 5 areas where the church will be more congregational and less connectional than before. And I don’t believe that’s a Wesleyan or Methodist way of doing things.

There’s more, but again…first glance!

In closing, I loved the final comment by the co-chair in the UMNS article:

“The Gospel and our Wesleyan view of the way God’s grace goes before us and beckons us to God is of such critical importance that it must not be ignored,” he said. “The integration of personal and social holiness is a way of being in the world that can redeem a broken and hurting world. That is no less true today than when the circuit riders set out to spread scriptural holiness across the land.”

Amen.

Thanks and blessings to the Call to Action Steering Committee, and we offer critique and concern out of connectional love and concern. You are welcome, and thank you.

Thoughts?

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Comments

  1. Carolyn says

    Regarding your third concern: I think it’s just that we need to categorize spiritual formation/ education as “outcome-based ministry.” The outcome of spiritual formation is mature disciples, and mature disciples make more disciples! Furthermore, if we want to keep members as well as make them, we had better be offering them comprehensive formation opportunities. As we have seen with Willow Creek, members leave when they’re not nourished. Our “store shelves” had better be stocked not just with baby formula, but with salads and steaks as well.

  2. says

    I read this just after reading this post by a friend talking about churches that run like businesses and vice versa: http://www.facebook.com/notes/adam-mclane/business-models-in-the-church/10150299150395198

    Your #4 point of dedication to Wesleyan ideals strikes a chord in that it is focused on the mission, the content, of what churches are about. Those are the things that I find people connecting to.Without a clear articulation of that, the rest of the efforts are clever at best and downright boring at worst.

    • Linda says

      Amen. We need to produce ministers that preach the scriptures in a way that changes lives not compete with the local social club. If the message of Jesus Christ is preached from the scriptures the energy in our churches will return. The people left because we have not been preaching the message of God, we have been preaching the message of seminary professors.

  3. Scott says

    Pouring more money into ministries that are not producing good fruit may be very wasteful. It’s like the saying, if you do the same things the same old way you will get the same old results. Of course, there is a balance between spiritual growth and numerical growth. This is something campus ministries really struggle with.

    I am definitely not concerned with creeping congregationalism. Institutions change over time. We will never be completely congregational. And the general agencies may need a radical overhaul. Having worked closely with one for a couple of years, I heard frightening things from people who said things about the people in the pews… the same people in the pews who pay the salaries of our general agency people. I have a lot of thoughts on the General Agencies. :)

  4. says

    Money is not always the best solution to the problem. I love the UM Church, having said that. I need to say I don’t believe we are unique, other churches talk the talk also, when it comes to talking we do a very good job but, I have found that we are very lethargic when we get to the action step. This is a very informative article. As I read it I noted the bold words in the article and used them to support my statement. We need more action and less of the anemic process. We exhaust ourselves with talk and have little strength for action. Ex: “For a minimum of 10 years, move toward, slow creep of.”

    Praying for strength for our journey,
    James

  5. says

    I think you’re on target Jeremy, especially with respect to turning the Agencies into grant-making entities. I tried to get a grant from UM Communications, only to learn they were more geared toward evangelism for large churches. That leaves a lot of the UMC behind, and suggests that we cannot be centers of growth for the church as well. Whither the smaller church in the grander scheme of things? If small groups are the way to promote greater spirituality and growth, why are we trying to grow megachurches?

  6. Chris says

    As a former Southern Baptist I find it ironic that the trend in United Methodism is toward congregationalism while at the same time the Southern Baptist Convention is becoming more like a denomination all the time.

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