I was speaking with one of our retired bishops recently, who framed the current recommendations this way, “Well, it’s better than no plan at all.”  There are so many things wrong with this statement, and each one is more depressing than the last.  If the plans are poor plans, then, no, it is not better to follow them than to not.  If they are inadequate plans, then it is not better to have them.  If they are racist, it is definitely not better.  But, see, part of the problem is that we are being sold a bill of goods, and there isn’t really any place for open discussion.  Criticisms are merely deflected, and opposing views aren’t even allowed in many places.  Counter-proposals are no better than those they seek to improve, and we have whole delegations doing the “drink-the-kool-aid” mindless fall-in-line.  The deeper questions of identity and purpose are ignored for questions of structure — but all based in miscommunication and rhetoric.

I know what it is like to work hard on a no-win situation and have outsiders criticize and condemn.  I am usually on the other side.  But when a growing number of voices question our list to the dark side, isn’t that the time to step back and consider that something bigger might be going on here?  Treating huge issues like guaranteed appointments, structure, global relationships as one-dimensional is outrageous.  The implications of each are far-reaching and potentially cataclysmic.  Take away guaranteed appointments as a leverage against poor credentialing processes and lack of accountability?  Fine, but how many gifted pastors have come into UM ministry because of the perk of guaranteed appointment?  With every other negative weighing against ordained ministry — pay, hours, stress, esteem — you want to remove a positive as you recreate a “culture of call?”  And for those whom guaranteed appointment has been an incentive to work hard?  Oh, well, they’ll get over it.  And let’s downsize to grow without clarifying the missional goals and objectives that a new structure might achieve.  Who needs a Promised Land?  We’ll figure out where we can go after we gut the structure.  Just as long as we get the power out of the hands of the many and place it in the hands of the few.  And instead of casting a vision for a global church witnessing to solidarity and unity, lets fragment as quickly as possible so that we don’t lose power.  Our theological differences and the 800 pound human sexuality gorilla?  Ah, we don’t have time to address those, we have agencies to close.  Now, let’s cherry pick which agencies to exempt.  We certainly don’t want our pet agency lumped in with “those” agencies.  Everyone quickly scramble around and waste exorbitant amounts of money trying to justify your continued existence!

These are huge issues, and I am not trying to denigrate the work anyone has done — it has all been hard work.  But has it been the work to bring us where we need to be heading into General Conference?  And are we doing ourselves any favors by voting support for half-baked, non-critically thought through decisions?  It is great to vote our confidence in the intentions of those elected to serve the church.  But great effort does not equal great job.  Voices around the world are raising serious and valid questions about our various and sundry reports and recommendations.  All our websites and newsletters and press releases that celebrate the party line don’t make it true.  Preventing alternative voices from being heard may get you your own way, but it will not serve the best interests of The United Methodist Church.  Perhaps the Emperor is not completely unclothed, but he seems to be wearing rags when he could be more finely adorned.  I hope and pray our discussions cut through the rhetoric and the rah-rah and that enough annual conferences declare that they will not merely settle for a poor plan, but will come together to forge something much, much better.

22 replies

  1. I keep hearing that much of what is being proposed is not going to pass anyway so much of this discussion is pretty much a waste anyway. There are other problems afoot here. In my conference, we had 502 churches last June when we met at annual conference. This year, we will be down to around 480 unless I miss my guess. Of the 502 we had last June, only 86 were averaging above 100 people in worship on a Sunday morning. Saving everyone from doing the math, that means that 416 of our churches are averaging 100 people or less on a Sunday. We were also informed that half of that number were worshipping 50 people or less. Other statisics include that half of our churches did not have a confirmation class, and almost 2/3 of them did not have a single profession of faith.
    Then we are told that it takes at least 125 people in average worship attendance to support a full-time pastor. This is, of course, not based on ministry need, but on the fact that the laity of the United Methodist Church tend to be a rather tight-fisted bunch. Never mind the economy, these folks were not giving when things were doing good, now the economy is just an excuse for their failure to give.
    Everyone keeps talking about the problems with the clergy. In reality, it is the laity that are doing the real damage and most of our churches are just all too happy to ignore the fact that they are stagnant or in a state of severe decline. My solution is that rather than do away with guarenteed appointments for the clergy, why not do away with guarenteed appointments for churches. And no, I do not mean just let them find their own pastor, I mean start shutting down the lowest of the low performers. This may actually shake some of the marginal churches out of their country club attitude.

  2. Sadly, General Conference is not well designed or structured for Holy Conferencing. There are too many people and the agenda is far too full. Holy Conferencing takes place in small groups over an extended period of time. General Conference is structured and well desgned to be a creature of the Boards and Agencies, which are the least accountable elements of the church.
    The call for pastors to be more accountable struck me as humorous. Pastors are accountable to God, the Bishop, the DS, and the SPRC. Didn’t Jesus say something about serving two masters — but, we expect pastors to serve one in heaven and three on earth. There is no grou in the UMC more accountable than pastors. Given the painful candidacy process, I doubt that we have any pastors who do not want vital congregations that will transform the world. No all congregatiosn are vital because we often fail to give pastors the tools that they need and many congregations just don’t want to be vital badly enough to venture to out of their comfort zones.
    We had best pray for God to do soemthing exceptional, because it is extremely difficult to expect much out of General Conference. (How long did it take General Conference to implement the relatively slightly revised understanding of baptism in “By the Water and the Spirit”?) Without a miracle, the United Methodist church will change beyond recognition in the decades that it takes General Confrence to act effectively.

    • John, I have to disagree that boards and agencies are the “least accountable.” They are accountable to bishops, board members, and even GCFA to an extent. Making agencies the “bad guy” does not help solve anything. If you want accountability in the whole church than say that – don’t make anyone group a scapegoat. That does not move us forward as a church.

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