A Call to Auction

Let’s just put it out there to the highest bidder.  We obviously don’t know what to do with it.  The new Call to Action report came out saying what we already know and offering the same old tired suggestions for “widespread reform.”  What a short memory we have.  We studied our church in the 80s and recommended the same thing (remember Vital Congregations/Faithful Disciples?).  We studied in the 90s and recommended the same thing.  I studied in the 00s (Vital Signs) and saw the same things (though made some different recommendations).  Now we’re in the 10s and we’re devoting tons of time and money to finding out, wait for it, THE SAME THINGS. 

Part of what is so sad about all this is that the insidious church growth, professionalism, service industry mentality that got us into this mess in the first place is at the heart of the solutions we seek for the future.  The thinking is that if we do the wrong things better, it will all work out fine.  Good luck with that. Making more of what we don’t do well is no solution.  Getting more people to connect with a dysfunctional system won’t fix the system, it will simply mess up the people. 

I have the same problem with what I am reading in the Call to Action report that I have with the Rethink Church marketing campaign — they are driven by institutional preservation, not missional transformation.  Reducing the number of agencies, realigning structures, refocusing message — these are symptoms, not root causes.  This isn’t a political campaign or the roll-out of a revamped “product” or the “positioning of a brand.”  Until we grow up and adopt a more systemic approach we will merely get a whole lot more of what we’ve already got.

Our short term future is going to be a continued loss of members.  The main decision we have to make is this: do we lose those with a heart for Jesus Christ and a desire to become Christian disciples by pandering to the less engaged and try to attract more warm bodies (hopefully will warm wallets), or do we raise the bar, get serious about transformative discipleship at the risk of losing the Sunday pew-sitters and the Christian consumers and the “what-have-you-done-for-me-lately, what-will-you-do-for-me-next” pay-as-you-go, spiritual but not religious crowd?

Harsh?  You betcha.  I am tired of being sold-out.  We have a church of one million highly motivated, giving, loving, serving, sacrificing Christian men and women propping up a dinosaur of an additional 6.5 million people along for the ride.  We do not have the courage to challenge people with a “are you serious about this or not” message, because the 6.5 million hold assets we want and need and we cannot risk losing more money.  Well, discipleship isn’t that simple.  We cannot have our cake and eat it, too.  Discipleship has costs.  If we don’t want to pay them, that’s fine, but let’s stop looking for “disciple-lite” alternatives. Watering down the Christian faith is not the answer.

Don’t get me wrong.  We need A Call to Action.  We need to Rethink Church.  But we also need Common Sense and Historic Perspective.  We need to Wake Up.  We need to stop hiring outsiders to tell us who we ought to be and what we ought to be doing.  We need to rally the community of believers called United Methodist and answer some simple questions: who are we — really?  why are we here – why do we exist as a church?  what is our witness — what are we trying to do as the body of Christ?  what is our impact — what difference are we making in the world and in the kingdom of God?  Out of this discussion we can begin to discern what our witness needs to be, what impact we want to make, and what the future of The United Methodist Church can be.

I say this with deep respect for the people I know who are involved in all the processes of research and discernment in the church.  I think many of the people involved have nothing but the best interest of the church at heart.  But I think we are missing something.  I hear the public statements, then I have the hallway conversations, and we’re not all on the same page.  The “been here before, done this before, nothing changed” attitude is pervasive.  I pray that from all this chaos a new order emerges.  I think there are enough people who are going to fight and fight hard for the reformation and renewal of The United Methodist Church.  I’m one of them, and I am in regular contact with hundreds of others who share my concerns (and hundreds of others who think I am full of holy hooey…).  I’m concerned by the latest reports, as I have been for the better part of the past three decades, when essentially the exact same report was released each and every time.  May we find the wisdom to break this cycle.

54 replies

  1. Do you remember Total Quality Management? Ezra Earl Jones led the mandatory-for-all-clergy workshop in our Annual Conference.

    Jones talked about the concept of the paradigm shift. When there’s a paradigm shift around a subject (such as the change in transportation from horses to cars), prior expertise no longer gives any competitive advantage. Everything returns to “ground zero,” and everyone starts fresh. The old ways of thinking and doing no longer apply.

    Jones said our culture had gone through a paradigm shift where church is concerned. I said, “So, if everything has returned to ground zero, then we can’t assume that the United Methodist Church can or should continue as a denomination. We can’t even assume that denominations can continue.”

    He was furious with me. How dare I suggest that the denomination should end! (Which, of course, is not what I said.)

    It was very clear that his goal wasn’t sharing Christ, it was preserving the institution. Very sad!

    • Thank you for the response Dan Dick. The CTAction is full of words, phrases and ideas about our problems but offers little in practical guides. I submit that unless the local churches rise up and become serious then the decline will continue. I question that only 3 active pastors were on the Steering Committee. Yes, the effort was one of preservation not missional goals and a re—attitude to move the church forward. Too much same ole….same ole. We need some TLC….The Local Church.

      Bert Bagley
      Galveston, Texas

  2. An addendum to the report:

    In the next General Conference, require all local congregations to make the following decision about their future:

    A. Congregation formally identifies with the Confessing Movement (UMC – Confessing) and adheres to its doctrine and principles.

    B. Congregation identifies with Social Principles (UMC – Social) and adheres to its doctrine and principles.

    C. Congregation identifies with the Quadrilateral (UMC – Wesleyan) and adheres to its doctrine and principles.

    This must be posted on signs, letterhead, and bulletins so that all who attend understand what type of UMC they are attending and to facilitate research on the subject. No hidden agendas for congregations. You can only choose one.

    Here’s my crystal ball of what would happen over a 10-15 year cycle:

    A. UMC – Confessing: Initially grows quickly, then levels out after 5-10 years and shows decline as the Millennial generation enters church for the first time, and finds the UMC – Confessing too rigid. Offers care to the needy, but with strict conditions as to what is offered and where, causing it to appear to be stiff and picky, causing some decline over time. Millennials reject the lack of openness to a multi-cultural world and see it as a white-people’s church, causing a rapid decline in membership by 2025.

    B. UMC – Social: Initial surge of energy, but is unable to maintain itself spiritually. Congregations merge where there is essentially one major UMC – Social per averaged size community. Generally becomes large-metro based. Millennial generation initially enchanted by blend of religious philosophies, but some find it little different from Freethinkers, causing steady membership decline after 2017 through 2025.

    C. UMC – Weslyan: Massive abandonment by all parties adhering to the above selections because of emotionalism and populism. Significant loss of local neighborhood congregations. Only large survive and merge with dissolved local congregations. After 10-15 years, UMC – Wesleyan begins to experience steady then rapid growth as Quadrilateral living becomes identified as a necessary way of life (spiritual and physical) as global societies adjust to declining fossil fuels and prices, global climate change, and Global South cultural/spiritual exchange via internet and joint ventures (the Global South, essentially, somewhat successfully reunites the UMC-Confessing and UMC-Social because they achieve this ahead of the U.S. without trying).

    • Good thoughts and analysis! Trust me, the Western North Carolina Conference suffers from the same symptoms with a narcisstic Bishop and egomanical pastors!

      I spent 17 years as an Administrative Assistant for 4 District Superintendents….so glad I am out of there!!! Good luck to your wife and tell her to shake the dust off her feet as she leaves! It’s wonderful out here!!

      • Debra, It is sad to hear that WNC Conference is the same as AWF Conference.

        I noticed the last time I was at Lake Junaluska, a rather large building had been constructed at the west entrance. I believe it was called the “Center for Evangelism”. On the sign was a carved white pastor pointing his finger. It looked more like a Baptist preacher screaming hell-fire at the congregation.

        Somehow, a Christ figure with open arms, or perhaps an image of a smiling or laughing Christ, or a statue with Christ leading a group of people wearing shorts, coat and tie, tank top, etc. would seem more welcoming into the church and Christianity.

        That image probably serves as the picture of today’s conservative movement in the UMC. Lots of finger pointing. Everyone’s all worried about gay/lesbian ordination, but meanwhile out the back dore are ordinary people who are moderates are getting squeezed out between the rhetoric.

        That’s what’s happened to me and my wife. Desiring a low fat diet, eating organic, and believing that Holy Communion is more holy than a quick dunk in grape juice and a few remnant words of liturgy before the next powerpoint song has blacklisted us. We’ve been laughed at for attempting to simply eat healthy at a Wednesday dinner. I was mocked for being a high school science teacher while standing in a food line. All I said was in reply to the question, “What do you do for a living.”

        You’re right, Sunday mornings are MUCH more peaceful away from the “you must be born again AND a Republican” church.

      • That bishop is from, guess where? The Alabama-West Florida Conference prior to appointment to WNC.

  3. You guys are so silly. Massive reports by consultants paid for on the backs your members (in a major recession, mind you) under the guise of tithing and offerings being for the poor and the spread of the Gospel (Malachi 4).

    Not with my money! If I want to clothe and feed the poor, 501(c)3 charities do a MUCH more effective job. Audits prove it. The UMC report itself states that most local church money is spent on salaries, benefits, insurance, and infrastructure upkeep.

    Yes, we all deserve compensation for work performed. That is biblical. But, why should a UMC secretary at a local church (a secretary!) make $90K? Triple what a local teacher makes? No telling what the pastor makes. These people cannot preach compassion to the poor while driving Cadillac Escalades!

    And, you guys are scared of accountability and performance measures? Welcome to 2010, and get real. If you want the corporate model to run the church, that’s the corporate model. Conservatives invented it, churches are conservative, and you gotta live with it. Bad, lazy pastors… go get a real job in the real world market, or join the military and go to boot camp. If you are tired and don’t like this, than retire. Carolers will drop by by December 20.

    Where are the young people in the UMC? Hey, dummies. Cancel your 10:30 AM worship and head to the mall some Sunday. All the young people are at Best Buy, Barnes and Noble, Panera Bread, and the local sports pub on Sunday morning watching MLB/NCAA highlights and waiting for the NFL games to start. Their heads are buried in their iPhones texting one another. Others are working hard on Sundays just to pay for food, fuel, and the apartment rent (my step-daughter included). They are not accepting of high-salaried pastors, secretaries, and massive expensive consultant reports saying that the most successful churches offer both contemporary and traditional services (no duh).

    You clergy in the UMC have your work cut out for you. Your egos are huge. I’m glad I no longer a member of the UMC contributing my measly salary to this nonsense. My wife is leaving her UMC job as the music director because of the constant harassment by an egotistical Alabama pastor that thinks he has all authority in his church. Tyrant! My wife and I have decided to become what you call “Nones”… no church affiliation… because of the UMC’s inability to:

    A. Be politically neutral (try getting people to live a life after the two greatest commandments of God, not after the lives and politics of famous Americans)

    B. Recognize the importance of its own Social Principles as a guide to living the Gospel of Christ (instead, there is the constant force to condemn the Principles that are not regionally popular as “liberal” or “conservative”… with the UMC relying more on populism that Biblical living

    C. Not obsess with tithing every October (Instead, why not focus on giving that is not always money based (especially for those people who attend church who are poor, or young adults)? 10% of a poor person’s income is not the same as 10% for a wealthy person’s. And, as the nation’s middle class is squeezed away, this will become more of a factor in church finance. The church makes NO recognition of that fact of this widening gap during its stewardship campaigns, and seemingly never will).

    D. Get your pastors to be Methodists (Too many follow the New Apostolic Reformation — a cult — and try to make their local congregations non-denominational, or Baptist, or ANYTHING but Methodist. There is no such thing as a Methodist Church in this conference {Alabama-West Florida}. They are any else but.)

    I miss the UMC I once knew that was more open and friendly, and that accepted people where they were and as they are. Today, everyone has to fit some mold to be accepted in the church. This type of mentality really is an attempt to put God’s Kingdom in a box.

    It’s nice to be out of the church, and living in God’s intended freedom… away from the expensive and controlling box of the church. I hope you guys get your act together… because other churches in America are simply political puppets, not churches of “Christ’s Love” as he lived it out 2000 years ago.

  4. I found an old PPRC evaluation of a previous pastor some 12-15years prior to me. He caused a church split and a spiral of decline. We’re turning things around now, but what I found fascinating was this: the “ministry goals” the pastor and church listed 12-15 years ago are not that different than what our church sees as necessary now: small group ministry, community-aimed outreach, etc.

    My question to our leaders: what happened?

    My answer: no clear steps to making the dreams a reality, no follow-up, no evaluation…in short, no accountability.

    I agree with you, Dan, that the insights don’t sound much different. But I think the problem is not the insights but the local church follow through.

  5. I also found it curious that the Call to Action team will call for ineffective pastor’s to be removed (though they fail to indicate how exactly that will be determined) but ineffective Bishops will get sanctioned. What is it to be sanctioned? Waht will be the result of sanctioning? Why the inequality? Also what are their thoughts about how to fix the seminaries and how to require UM seminaries to live out the vision statement of the UM church? Maybe they should get sanctioned too?

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