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:
- 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).
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!]
- 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.
- 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.”
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.