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. Wesley was concerned about numbers… but not the numbers used in this report. He wanted to know how many people were making real progress in growing in holiness of heart and life within the Methodist societies and class meetings as measured by living out the General Rules. He was not measuring attendance in parishes or the amount of money given in parishes or anything of the sort. And he was nearly as committed to eliminating persons from membership in the societies who were not living the Rules as he was to getting more people into them.

    Making the societies bigger was not his point. Ensuring they were better and more effective was.

    • To that end, we need accept and support the ideas that “classes” should be different, that not everyone will fit into the same “class”, and that people change and might need to find a different “class” better suited to their new selves. We think of a congregation as a single “class” with a homogeneous conservative or liberal affinity. And, we think of a congregation as an exclusive geographic unit (as it is in the Anglican and Roman Catholic churches and the State of Louisiana). Leaders of organizations tend to make those organizations self-portraits, and the smaller the organization, the easier that is. So, pastors or strong lay leaders establish whether the UMC in an area is one thing or another, in effect establishing an exclusive franchise on the Word of God that demands conformity in interpretation and behavior. Conform, you are good; differ, you are bad. This was the Church of England in Wesley’s time. Speak a certain way, dress a certain way, earn your living in a certain way, live in a certain place, contribute a certain amount, and you were a good Anglican, welcomed at worship. If you were poor, not high-cultured, living in the wrong part of the parish, not paying your pew tax, you were NOT WELCOME. The Wesley’s, with missionary souls, broke out of the parish system (“The world is my parish.”) because the franchise mentality pushed people away from God; the franchise system was itself sinful. Were we to reform, though, where would we meet for study and worship, how would we celebrate with good works, and how would we pay clergy?

      • @Taylor–It’s relatively easy not to be concerned with attendance or giving when you are a part of a larger church rather than having your own church. I could go along with those who don’t want to talk about money if they also said they didn’t want to be paid in U.S. currency any more. But, you and Dan want to be paid. Paid with the dollars that people like me put in the plate.

        So, we don’t have the luxury to ignore attendance and giving.

        Instead, we should look at those churches that are growing and figure out how to replicate that.

        If a church doesn’t have good numbers AND doesn’t have a good story about Matthew 25, then what is it doing???

  2. I am a bit surprised with all the negativity. It isn’t about who is paying the bills and it isn’t about insisting on your own way. It is about preaching Jesus and respecting churches that are left or right as long as fruit is produced and folks are being reached out to and welcomed. Wesley was concerned about numbers and so should we.

  3. Sorry, Rex. Not going to buy into that one and play that game of “compare us with other denominations”.

    Confessing movement is right wing. GBCS is left wing. Both sides play off of each other, and the majority of Methodists are caught in the salvo.

    Bishops and pastors are clearly choosing sides, with the overwhelming majority in the South choosing Confessing Movement. In such congregations in the South, the more liberal Christians were pushed out during the 1990’s and early 2000’s. The move now is to call the so-called “centrists” out on the grounds they are part of the Enlightenment, Modernists, or Social Gospel era (i.e. old fashioned, out of touch).

    So, what Methodism is being left with is a more uniform type of membership in the South and likely the Midwest.

    This leaves open a case for this form of Methodism as to what to do with evangelism and the evangelical gospel. If former Methodists or “nones”, as I now am, essentially have already been pushed aside, who are the Methodists evangelizing to? What I am reading into this is that if you don’t fit our mold, we really don’t want you.

    That is what I mean by the church leaving me. I truly believe God accepts me as he created me. It is the church that is having problems accepting that I am a political moderate, and have sympathies and interests in both the conservative and liberal sides of Christianity. Why must I conform to conservatism to be a loyal Methodist member in the Alabama/West Florida Conference? Simply put, I refuse to play the game. The bishop, the D.S.’s, and pastors who have bought into Frazer Memorial’s Confessing Movement ballgame and who are implementing this into this conference are NOT going to do so with my funding.

    • I’m so sorry this is happening to you, Lawrence. The Confessing Movement seems to be more about division than about unity. It also seems to me to miss the point – that the primary issue isn’t the existence of differing (and sometimes liberal -gasp!-) theologies. The primary issue is our focus on those differences as the excuse for our failure to live out the gospel.

      Well, that and a denomination that seems to care more about self-maintenance and hanging on to property than about caring for people.

      I pray for changed hearts and a renewed sense of freedom.

    • Frazer Memorial’s got the $$$’s coming in…that is the attraction and nothing else. I’m with you Lawrence – one of the none’s, with the church leaving me! But, the best thing that could have happened to me under the current circumstances. The UMC does not want its member entering the sanctuary with an open mind – that is just too dangerous!

  4. Another solution has been proposed by a grassroots effort to revive the Epworth League. http://WWW.epworthleague.org within the UMC. it addresses many of the issues you are concerned about with a 100% focus on 18-35 year olds.

    If anyone wants to stop talking about the problems and get involved at a local and global level and make an impact on people outside the church and inside call me on my cell phone 414-807-3193. I can help you get started on a program with a vision, approach, and community of people committed to working hard to make a difference.

    Ken Rheingans
    Epworth League Central Office

  5. Yep – preserving the institution and the $$$ – this committee is nothing more than smoke and mirrors – a regurgitation of prior “think tanks.” Look at the committee membership – it consists mainly of the problem – how can this group fix it?????

    Laity voices go unheard – we must realize that the money they want and need sits in our pockets! Laity really has the power by virtue of that money – why don’t we realize it! How about a call to Laity Apartheid?

    • This group is seeing the problem clearly!!!

      Based on an earlier post I made in this string of conversations, I would propose that a number of laity begin to organize a new Wesleyan denomination that focuses on a balanced Christian way of life, not institutions and obligations to the institution.

      The model should reject the ultra liberal politicos, and the ultra right conservative politicos in the church. It should forge the middle, where the majority of people are, and love one another in Christ’s name, not reject in the name of politics.

      Starve the UMC higher-ups of offering and tithes. Shut them down. That is exactly my course of action, and I wait for the day when others see the light and reform Wesleyan faith to its true direction in a modern world.

  6. You can count me in the “people who are going to ( I feel like I am currently fighting) fight and fight hard for the reformation and renewal of The United Methodist Church.”

    • I’m one of those who feels burned out on the fight – but I still try to work for change on the local level, in the churches I serve. It seems to be more effective than taking on the Annual Conference or the denomination as a whole. Still, for those of you who can be effective at those levels, go for it! You have my voice and my vote.

  7. I’ve been doing some reading on core values. All the church development programs in the world aren’t going to work when they violate the organization’s core values.

    Note that core values are actual values, not the values the organization wishes it had, or thinks it ought to have, or wants others to think it has.

    Clearly, widespread reform, however necessary, isn’t one of our core values. Dan, you’ve touched on some of the core values the UMC really holds:

    1. The institution must survive.
    2. We must hold on to our property.
    3. We mustn’t risk offending the people who pay the bills.
    4. We will not take risks.

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