#GC12book Study 01: Focus by Lovett Weems [Discussion]

Lenten Book Study

Hello and welcome to our Book Study for Lent. We are reading through the books suggested to General Conference delegates to get an idea of what will be in the delegates’ minds and to help us make sense of the meta-and-local issues facing the United Methodist Church. Read more about this book study here.

Guiding Framework:

  1. Try to reference the books by CHAPTER not by page number. Some of us are on Kindles and Nooks and page numbers do not always translate across devices. So try to reference the chapter titles rather than the page numbers ie. ‘In the “Local Church” chapter near the end, Lovett Weems says…’
  2. Feel free to comment and reply to other’s comments.
  3. This conversation is cross-posted to the UM Clergy Facebook Group where other UM clergy will have conversations. You can read these conversations by clicking the link.

Guiding Discussion:

This our first conversation about ‘Focus’ by Lovett Weems

This is an open thread, meaning you can post your thoughts, musings, and respond to others’ posts as well.

Here’s some questions that you can respond to or :

  1. The adaptive challenge for The United Methodist Church is “To redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” How does Weems best approach this challenge in your view?
  2. What comments or recommendations were most shocking to you? What comments or recommendations did you find yourself ‘nodding your head’ or ‘shaking your fist‘ at?
  3. Weems focuses on the task of reaching young people. But there’s been several conversations that I’ve had with other clergy whose large churches are fine focusing on 35-45yo families as they have the financial means to support a church. How do we move churches to reaching young people as a mission against the wisdom of reaching middle-aged persons as institutional support?

Next Step: Synchblog on February 28th

  • On Tuesday, February 28th, we invite bloggers to synchblog (that is, everyone blog on the same day about ‘Focus’) together. I’ll blog as well, and if you send your links either as comments or as emails to ‘umjeremy@gmail.com’ we will include a list of all the blogs so we can read each other’s writings (and get good cross-publicity!).

Thoughts? Post below!

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  1. says

    A few thoughts.

    First, some praise for book. This is very accessible. Weems, I think does a great job making our predicament understandable and, in particular, his “New Context” opening chapter explains how we got here and how we’ve been able to keep going. He relates it to the tough decisions being made at the local church. And, as a pastor in a missionary conference who has been moved to 3/4 time due to insurance costs, I thought I had an appreciation of the tough decisions that the denomination must make. It is also appreciated that he looks at changes needed from General Conference, to Annual Conference, to Local Churches. It’s not just a matter of one of these making changes.

    One of the ways I think Weems best addresses the “adaptive challenge” is to focus on context. This is how our congregation has defined itself…missional, rooted in community, making a positive/Christ-like impact on those around us. And I think many congregations have been moving in this direction across the US. It’s “hip” to be missional. I think this breaks down the higher up the system we go. In particular, I think there is a real aversion to granting more autonomy to conferences outside the US to address more contextual issues. But, also, I think my sisters and brothers in the Western US might believe that our issues of inclusivity and diversity have trouble gaining traction in the larger church when our voice is pretty limited as is (I think the Western Jurisdiction will for the first time in several years have more delegates to General Conference than the Virginia Conference). What Weems and others are proposing has the potential to limit the voice of the West more. I think we need to question how contextual we really want the church to be.

    In terms of “nodding my head” I couldn’t nod fast enough to Weems’ section on “Connect with your community” in the “Congregations” chapter. I pretty much circled two whole pages there. I guess, being pretty isolated and serving in Alaska for 15 years has made my understanding of ministry as one which is very local.

    Where I struggle is recognizing that someone, somewhere, (maybe everyone, everywhere! ) is going to have to loose their grip on power to make the changes needed. Someone is going to give permission for others to be contextual. Someone is going to have to reassess their calling to full-time, full-benefits ministry. Someone is going to have to give up their control of their pastor so that the pastor can move from being a chaplain to being a missionary. People don’t give up power very easily.

  2. says

    I’m still reading my way through this one right now but find myself agreeing and disagreeing with a lot of the content in chapter two on resetting the financial baseline,

    There’s a number of things he raises about the general church and annual conference that have direct examples in Deaf ministry in The UMC. I’ll be blogging about those. Namely smaller boards led by specific mandated outcomes. Also the Elijah church concept of passing the mantle from dying congregations to emerging ones.

    Yet, while Weems mentions what I feel is a proper conceptualization of outcome based planning when saying it aimed at how ministries are planned rather than evaluation of performance, doesn’t tying outcome based tracking to funding in a hard manner create a de facto performance evaluation?

    Also the notion of putting hard limits on missional grants from annual conferences bothers me from a Deaf point of view. When 85 to 90 percent of your congregation is below the federal poverty line, it’s not going to be able to be entirely self sustaing. Yet there’s nothing more Methodist than doing ministry with the poor who can’t afford it!

    Lastly, I dislike the metaphorical use of tsunami to explain the Inveitable effect of an ever aging denomination. While I understand his desire to find a word that causes alarm and foreboding that earthquake, etc. don’t seem to have anymore, there’s something about using tsunami that doesn’t work for me.

    Whether its a natural disaster like Indonesia or Japan or the political tragedy of the Zimbabwean ‘tsunami’ of Operation Murambatsvina, those events are talking about lives cut short with suddeent violence. The very terror Weems wants to evoke in using the word tsunami is created by this sudden, wrenching, ‘gone before its time’ sort of death.

    While one can play metaphorically with a UMC gone before its time, the actual human deaths of his ‘Death Tsunami’ are largely natural results of the aging process.

    It seems to play the tsunami card metaphorically cheapens those actual human lives cut short. I’m not comfortable with it from a pastoral theology point of view. And even when discussing polity, we cannot forget we are pastoral caregivers as well in all we do.

    • says

      Kirk, “outcome based planning” takes on a different kind of understanding when serving in a missionary conference as well. We, as a conference, are not self-sustaining and never have been. Perhaps a big part of the issue is determining what “outcomes” we’re looking for.

  3. says

    This is the “good news” of the new report by UMNS. Found it interesting that it confirms some of what Weems noted — increased giving but fewer people. …

    Giving in 2010 to the Advance, which includes contributions to the United Methodist Committee on Relief, increased a whopping 146 percent from 2009 to more than $44.9 million, in large part because of contributions for Haiti.

    Direct giving to United Methodist-related causes increased by more than 29 percent.

    Seventeen annual (regional) conferences paid 100 percent of their general apportioned funds for 2011, up from 15 conferences in 2010.

    The United Methodist Church remains the third-largest religious group in the United States, and its membership trends — decreases in the United States and increases in other countries — mirror those of other mainline denominations.

  4. Kirk VanGilder says

    Jim, yes. I entirely agree as someone trained in missiology and has worked in a mission church, setting outcomes will be quite different than in other contexts. I intend to go into detail on that when we syncblog with musings on my experience with a non-profit agency who was switching to outcome based reporting for state funding. Its a very different vibe than what I get from reading what’s coming it of the Vital Congregtions stuff.

  5. says

    I am only a couple of chapters into this book at the moment although I have seen and followed up on some of Weems’ that lead to this book. It is complelying and what strikes me is the amount of change that will be forced upon the UMC system in the next couple of decades. The Death Tsunami that Weems discusses will have far reaching effects. I have looked at the age of the Elders in my conference on my blog and noticed that in about a decade we may have an Elder shortage because so many will have retired/died and there are not enough coming up to fill the gaps. The leadership in my conference will drastically change because of it.

    Visionary leaders are needed. Looking forward to reading the blog posts on Tuesday and I will include one on mine.

    Thanks Jeremy for getting this started.

  6. Tom says

    Comment #1

    From page 29 (Nook)
    “Doing everything possible to maintain giving at current levels of above will permit the church to survive in the short term, but not in the long term. The church faces two major challenges at the same time. One is reversing the drawing down of the United Methodist witness among the people of the United States. The other is the coming death tsunami. So our question is, What is required to survive the death tsunami and return to the growth of our witness at the same time?”

    I think this paragraph sums up the dilemma. For some reason as a church we have not been good at starting new churches so now we’re caught trying to teach the ‘old dog’ a trick it wouldn’t do when it was young. The United Methodist’s aren’t the only fish in this basket, the Presbyterians, the Disciples of Christ, and even the Baptists are stinking up the place as well.

    There was a video link the conference office sent out where different folks in the general agencies were asked “what will the church look like in 80 years?” Maybe we should ask what do we want it to look like today?

    I like Lovett Weems book — I like the way he thinks. I’m not convinced that any top down solution will solve our institutional problems, without addressing some on the institutional issues of lack of discouraging pastoral/congregational risk taking in making NEW disciples.

  7. Tom says

    Comment #2

    Page 42 (Nook) Reset: Congregation

    “To reset the financial baseline in congregations, laity and clergy must first assess what is the current status of the local church. They must name their reality.”

    I’m not sure most pastors have the capacity to do this and most lay people who can don’t want too. I’ve pressed for ‘realistic’ budgets in the last two churches. It meant painful cuts to staff and program (the program budgets were funded in alternative ways) and people got angry. All church programming needs to be done with the goal of “Making Disciples of Jesus Christ.” If it’s not revenue neutral then it has to have a plan to become revenue neutral. This is just good asset management. It also interferes with apportionment payouts that are seen as important but not urgent.

    The bottom line from the local church point of view is that the conference and general church aren’t worth what we pay for them. If the general church is going to hold the local church to a performance standard why can’t the local church hold the governing bodies accountable as well. Okay you are now saying that we send a representative to Annual Conference, blah blah blah it’s not working. What we send is our money. Let the churches make pledges to their Annual Conference and General Conference instead of it being assessed from above and I think change will happen.

    I’m saying reorganizing and eliminating guaranteed appointments shouldn’t be the only things on the table. Appointments should as well.

  8. Tom says

    Comment 3:

    Page 56 (Nook) Focus: Steward and extend the United Methodist Witness

    “The calling of an annual conference is different from that of a congregation. A distinctive task of an annual conference. . . is to steward and extend the United Methodist witness within the geographical bounds of the conference.”

    This is where I see our denomination failing most significantly, at the Annual Conference level. Now that institution that has been the source of many of the problems is passing the blame down to the local church level. They have become places of politics and power grabbing rewarding the most adept at institutional bureaucracy and allocating funding to the most impactful ministries. Shame, shame, shame. All annual conferences should institute a week of prayer and fasting in repentance for what they have done. That said I’m a member of an annual conference so I call shame on myself as well.

  9. says

    The Coming “Life Sea-Change”

    The claims of a “death tsunami” about to hit the US and consequently our congregations are a bit problematic to sustain statistically.

    Let’s look at the numbers. According to the most recent Congressional Research Service report, “The Changing Demographic Profile of The United States” (March 2011, http://www.fas.org/sgp/crs/misc/RL32701.pdf) the death rates are projected to “remain low through 2050 in the narrow range of 8.6 to 9.7 deaths per 1,000 persons in the population” (page 10). You may have seen charts which depict a larger range (up to 10.2). These charts were based on 1996 projections. Even there, however, the rate is per thousand, not per cent. And this latest report adds that this projection is based on “crude rates,” a statistical model that has consistently returned higher than actual mortality projections for the past 50 years. That is why the report goes on to say, “Research
    suggests that current models may be too pessimistic in their assumptions about mortality and
    survival probabilities, i.e., Americans may live longer than currently projected.”

    In other words, the Congressional Research Service states there is no dramatic change in the death rates projected. Some upward change, in a narrow range, yes; dramatic, no.

    But there are two other demographic trends detailed in this report that will have a dramatic impact on life as we know it– if not as a tsunami, at least as a sea-change.

    1) The percentage of persons of Hispanic origins will more than double to 30.2% of the US population by 2050 (p. 23). Likewise, the percentage of persons of Asian origins will nearly double to roughly 7.8 of the US population (p. 21). In other words, roughly 40% or more of the US population will have primary languages other than English and primary cultures other than “European-heritage.” Meanwhile, at the current moment, the UMC is over 90% Anglo/white in the US, only 0.9% Hispanic, and 0.2% Asian-Pacific (source: http://www.gcfa.org/sites/default/files/u3/Lay%20Membership%20-%20RacialEthnicGender%202004-2010.xls).

    So… unless we wish to cede these dramatically growing populations to other groups, we have some real work to do, beginning now. Two primary barriers to reaching these populations are language and culture. So, here’s a dramatic proposal that requires no legislation, but may require quite a lot of investment of time and financial resources– All US United Methodists will be given the opportunity to become at least bi-lingual and bi-cultural, including intensive language and culture training programs as part of youth and adult curriculum in congregations, offered at least at a district level– and preferably. If we need legislation for this, it would be about coordinating and mandating the structures needed to pull off a task this large– but also, as you can see in terms of the make-up of the US population over the next decades, this essential for ANY church to be in mission in the US context.

    2) The percentage of persons 65 or older in the US population will increase to 20.2% by 2050 (p. 14). For comparison purposes, the average in 2000 across the US was 12.4%, and the “oldest” state in the US was Florida, with 17.2% of the population age 65 or older (p. 18). So, with the exception of places like Florida, the average US town or city is likely to see its older adult population nearly double in the next 4 decades. So with only mildly increasing death rates, but dramatically increasing life expectancies, perhaps it is not the deaths of our older adults we need to be focusing on– but what it means to be in active ministry with older adults when they make up almost as large a percentage of our population as persons under the age of 19 will come 2050.

    If we are to “Remember the Future” as Bishop Schnase’s upcoming blog series will call us to do, perhaps we need to start planning now for what it means to become a multi-lingual and far more multi-culturally competent people in the US, and to start building the fiscal and ministry platforms, now, so we can be in a position to reach and engage these dramatically changing shares of the US population then.

    Death-tsunami– no. Life sea-change– yes. And far, far more dramatically so than any projections about death rates.

    So if we’re going to focus and re-set the baseline, let’s do so based on the most salient projections of the best research we actually have to date. And let’s do so with hope and confidence in God to equip us for what may, at this moment, seem to be a task far beyond our capacity to fulfill.

    After all, that sort of thing seems to be a specialty of our God!


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