A Cracked Crystal Ball

I will make a prediction that isn’t much of a prediction.  It is a conjecture based on our current state of indecision, cluelessness, and self-defeating choices.  Within the next few months some well-intentioned, short-sighted “leader” in our denomination will present a proposal for the consolidation and/or elimination of the general boards and agencies of The United Methodist Church.  The reasons given will be efficiency, reduction of redundancy, elimination of waste, and concentration of focus and vision resulting in greater relevancy and value.  The real reason will be to save a few dollars, but no one will say that’s WHY we’re doing it.  The hope will be that everyone will miss/ignore the fundamental contradiction in a church wanting to “grow” downsizing its national/global infrastructure.  What will not be clear is how the proposed change will actually make us better able to serve God and the church.  What will be lacking is a clear rationale for why THIS change (whatever it might be) is the RIGHT change to make.

What such a proposal is likely to reveal is our system-wide lack of understanding of what we are trying to do in the world and why.  Where there is no vision, the house of cards will perish.  Form actually does follow function, so before we make deep structural changes, we’d better know what it is we’re trying to achieve.  Through the restructuring following merger in 1968, our current boards and agencies were primarily designed around missional objectives.  Will our four focus areas define our missional priorities for the future?  Will 2012 General Conference?  Will our Bishops?  Are we becoming a global church, a regional church, or something a little more “re-thought?”  Will we continue the current path of institutional preservation from the last century or are we serious about reimagining ourselves in the new spiritual enlightenment paradigm that is defining global Christianity in the 21st century?  Will we fixate on how many people we can get to come to us or are we going to shift focus to how many people we can mobilize to live their discipleship in the world?  Will we make reactive decisions about our boards and agencies based on current economics or will we plan to fund and support those ministries essential to resourcing the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?  Will we be less than we already are while boasting of being more or will we maximize the potential and possibility of who God is gifting and calling us to be?  Will we walk by a reasoned and informed faith or by a limited and blindered sight?  It will be interesting to see.  And perhaps I am being too cynical.  Maybe no one will offer such a simplistic and self-defeating proposal at all.  My crystal ball might not be all it’s cracked up to be…

16 replies

  1. As Bishop Palmer of Iowa pointed out, one of the main problems is that each agency is separately incorporated. So, the only means for the rest of us to affect their course is restrictions in either the Discipline or other floor action, changes in their budget or changing the way the board members are selected since the current system puts a premium on geographic and demographic “representation” rather than competency or policy direction.

  2. There is a larger question underneath all this. Is the UMC to become more centralized with stronger national controls? If so then these boards and agencies can be corralled, placed under an overarching umbrella and maybe work with each other. Or are we to remain a distributive system of local franchises with some corporate reach back capability with agencies that represent various aspects of the UMC? Then these agencies and boards will continue to operate without accountability to anyone except for the broadest guidance received from General Conference often written by the agency itself. A classic case of a self-licking ice cream cone.

  3. I think you answered me in the blogosphere anyway. 🙂

    Seriously, from my service on my conference (GNJ) CF&A I know that cutting budget requests much less cutting the actual budget number is very difficult. A lot of what I am proposing is devolution rather than a complete cut. But, there needs to be some serious discussion otherwise the number of conferences that fully pay is going to decline further.

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