01 – The Setting | 02 – The Blueprint | 03 – The Effects | 04 – The Conclusion
To the readers of the “Holding the UMC Hostage” series, we have been given a response by Rev. Andy Langford, senior pastor of Central UMC in Concord, and author of the document in question.
I’m sharing this response fully without comment and without edits in the interests of discussion. He includes an invitation for comments in his last point that I hope our readers engage. Enjoy!
I appreciate the opportunity to respond to Jeremy’s blog and other comments. Jeremy did ask permission to share my document; we are friends.
While Jeremy’s blog and some comments speak about my document, I believe that they often fundamentally mis-represent my position.
1. Initially, my paper stands in full agreement with the essential principles of the 2011 Call to Action report, as endorsed unanimously by the Council of Bishops and the general church Connectional Table. That call urges the UMC to realign the structure and resources of our denomination to focus on creating and sustaining vital congregations. Our denomination cannot sustain financially the current general church structure and emphases! I agree passionately with that focus. So did the majority of delegates to the 2012 General Conference! Yet, not one part of the Call to Action made it into our Discipline. That is a major tragedy that bodes ill for our denomination.
2. My paper is supported by the essential work of Lovett Weems in “Focus: The Real Challenges that Face The United Methodist Church” and Gil Rendle’s “Journey in the Wilderness.” Read both books for a sobering analysis of the crises facing our denomination, including financial. For example, Weems asks us to “reset” the financial baselines. Rendle expects 1/3 of our congregations to close in the next 15 years. In 2011, the UMC in the US suffered its largest percentage decline in membership and worship attendance in our history; 2012 will probably be worse. Only 15% of all UMC congregations in the US are vital. What are we as pastors, laity, and local congregations doing about these realities?
3. I am a non-conformist. Will Willimon and I introduced these ideas and more in 1992! I celebrate that many of our ideas then, also understood as controversial, are now in our Discipline. This denomination still needs more reformers than supporters of the status quo.
4. I am not aligned with the Confessing Movement, Good News, Methodist Federation for Social Action, or any other caucus group. I am theologically conservative and politically liberal. None of this argument has to be with the current denominational fight over sexuality or a particular position of the General Board of Church and Society or World Council of Churches or anything else. Do not read into the document what is not there.
5. I am a sixth-generation United Methodist. I have been and continue to be active throughout the connection. I sit on the general church Connectional Table and my annual conference Board of Ordained Ministry. I am not a “congregationalist.” I do support the Episcopal Fund (we cannot be United Methodists and not have bishops). I yearn passionately for our connectional denomination to be healthy. But, the answers for healthy congregations will not come from above but from below.
6. My congregation pays 100% of what has been apportioned to us (about 10% of our budget). In fact, we give about 30% of our total income away for missions. We are sponsoring a new congregation. We are deeply committed to sharing our financial blessings with others. There is nothing “selfish” about this proposal.
7. Essentially, the paper offers a strategy that reforms our denomination from the bottom up. It does not ask permission from the top down! I am despondent about the ability of our denomination to change from above. Therefore, in the tradition of the reformer John Wesley, let’s go to the people not in authority and create new models of ministry. Let’s be clear: the Discipline fully allows laity to make decisions about finances at the local level that may or may not be approved by the pastor or district superintendent. Let us trust the laity. They are way ahead of our “leaders” in many of these issues.
8. This paper fundamentally supports the position of our Discipline that annual conferences, not the general agencies, are the essential connectional body in our denomination. Since 1968, that position has been turned upside down. I am asking us to discontinue a system that in 1972 Albert Outler predicted would corrupt our essential Wesleyan tradition. Outler was correct. I want us to return to our true Wesleyan heritage as known for our first 150 years.
9. I have had encouragement for this position from some conference treasurers and bishops (some of whom added to the document before it was released) . Most do not want their names used. I have thick skin. I am simply willing to say publicly what others are thinking privately.
10. I strongly object to characterizations of “holding hostage” or “withholding” or “local.” Read the document. Do not attribute words to me that I do not use.
11. I suggest that local congregations redirect the amount of money apportioned in ways that create and sustain vital congregations, locally, regionally, and internationally. Essentially, let us rebuild healthy United Methodist congregations from the ground up; versus strengthening general agency work that often (but not always) is not focused on vital congregations. For example, my congregation is contributing more to our district mission fund and the conference vitality and congregational development teams. Let’s strengthen existing congregations and start new congregations first. When we have healthy congregations then we will have healthy general agencies.
12. I do believe that it is possible for units of the general church to support the work of vital congregations. For example, my congregation has had recently very fruitful conversations with staff of the General Board of Discipleship and United Methodist Communications. For the first time in years, they may be able to assist our work, and at that time I will reconsider my position, and support those who support vital congregations.
13. Next to last, get the first things first: what can pastors, laity, and local congregations do to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? That is our true mission. The answer from the Call to Action, the Connectional Table, and the Council of Bishops, supported by the most extensive research in our history, is to focus on strengthening existing congregations and starting new congregations. I absolutely agree. My paper suggests one strategy to make sure that local congregations use their money most effectively for the current and future health our entire denomination to fulfill our mission.
14. An invitation to Jeremy and all the readers of his blog, answer this question: what are you doing in your local setting to strengthen congregations and create new congregations? How does the use of your money help or hinder that effort? I look forward to your answers.
Senior Pastor, Central Concord United Methodist Church, Concord, NC