April 25th Reflections

I’m too tired to come up with a title for tonight’s blog.  It is getting harder and harder to keep up with everything that is going on.  Let me just say, in my opinion Bishop James King is one of the great treasures of The United Methodist Church.  He preached our closing worship service this evening — which was a nice upbeat focus on invitation — and he nailed a key concept missing from the contemporary church: actually taking the task of discipleship seriously.  Our task is to make disciples for the transformation of the world, but HOW do we do this?  We do it by taking our own lazy tails out of the church into the world and invite others into a relationship with Christ, and to enjoy fellowship with us.  We can invest all we want in a new generation of clergy, but if the leadership of the church isn’t committed to equipping laity to be ministers in the world, it won’t make a bit of difference.  Bishop King was brilliant.

The other main features of the evening were solid, inspirational presentations by various agency heads and prominent denominational leaders, most notably Moses Kumar (General Secretary, CF&A) and Adam Hamilton (lead pastor, Church of the Resurrection).  Both did commendable jobs.  In the case of Moses Kumar, this is a great thing.  His approach was a gracious and sincere “thank you” for the 84% of apportionments we have been able to pay through a rough economy and a declining membership.  Instead of guilting us into what we haven’t done or trying to scare us about what might be lurking around the next decade, he highlighted the many ways we are transforming the world with what we have.  I was very impressed by his message and his narrative  of success and faithfulness rather than anxiety and fear.

Adam Hamilton delivered a powerful message — of anxiety and fear.  His presentation of the major proposals from the Call to Action laid the foundation of failure and imminent demise to inspire us to greatness.  His delivery is incredibly reasoned — nothing he says is untrue (nor has it been untrue for quite some time).  We’re not doing a very good job, we need to do better.  We can’t keep doing what we have done and expect different results.  We need to change.  All well and good — who can argue?  The problem is, I don’t believe the proposed solutions are appropriate to the problems identified.

We want more “vital congregations,” but the definition of “vital” is still numbers-dependent.  “More” is still a primary guiding value — more new churches, more people, more young leaders = vital.  How this aligns with getting more serious about discipleship (without watering down our definition of “discipleship”) is anybody’s guess.  Expecting more from people isn’t the most effective means of attracting large numbers.

We want to give annual conferences more freedom to organize for “vitality,” though how restructuring results in growth is not clear.  We want to downsize to reach more people, and limit leadership to be more inclusive.  We will leave fewer openings for younger leaders, but we assume we can appeal more to younger people.

To reach more people, we need more churches.  To reach more young people, we need more young pastors.  We need to invest in leadership, but this means in clergy leadership.  It was clearlycommunicated that only by turning young laity leadership into clergy leadership can our church hope to thrive.  Laity leadership, it is implied, is insufficient and inadequate.  We need clergy to lead laity — though our pastors don’t necessarily have to do anything to empower or equip laity to reach more people (which is why we are where we are today…)  Once we professionalized ministry away from the laity, we made laity dependent and complacent.  This is apparently okay, because our new recommendations don’t propose collaboration between clergy and laity anyway.  We need to make sure we have 2,000 new young clergy in a decade or our church will die.  (But, then, it is dead in 50 years anyway…)

A manipulative and depressing video ended the evening presentation — an old church dies, becoming a metaphor for all United Methodist churches.  Yep, it could happen.  The production values are great.  It grabs the heart and squeezes.  If this is the best we can do, we don’t have a snowball’s chance of attracting high-quality young leadership.  Why bother?  We’re not providing a vision for a thriving church, just wallowing in our “death tsunami” thinking and planning.  Is it any wonder where we are?  We need  Moses and at the very best we get Jonah.  Thank God our evening didn’t end with Adam Hamilton’s well-delivered eulogy.  Bishop King brought us back with a vision and gave us what the earlier presentation only talked about — a future with hope.

14 replies

  1. I have a hard time locating the indicators of vitality in the Call to Action report, and I don’t think they are the same as drivers.

    Here are my ideas for indicators of vitality:
    Positive trend in number of professions of faith
    Positive trend in proportion of tithing members
    Positive trend in proportion of members in faith formation small groups
    Positive trend in number of non-worship-attenders in church sponsored programs/events.
    Positive trend in number of individuals who identify as leaders in the church.

  2. In addition to Bishop King’s inspiring sermon on Wednesday night was Bishop Weaver’s Episcopal Address on Wednesday morning. “Amen!” to his statement that declining membership is less concerning than declining discipleship.

    I pray not that the Holy Spirit will energize us to return to our home mission fields – but that we will ALLOW the Holy Spirit to do just that ao that we may be so transformed that we can’t help but be world transformers.

  3. I’m a friend of Jack and Marilyn Gregory. We shared Cabinet time and then I was their DS for a while. They speak of you often, in a good way! We all are Retired now. Your blog comments are interesting. 2000 more clergy? Yeah, that will address the reality of 50-60 % of our churches in the outback who can’t afford ordained leadership, and quite frankly, probably would flourish with competent lay folk doing the resourcing in the future. Probably isn’t going to happen, too much power in our hands, the clergy. We won’t give it to laity, even though that is probably the next great God thing which could happen to impact lives. I’m past giving too much of hoot. it’s all about power, protecting or sustaining a failing institution, and The Body “out there” probably will go wanting until the next great spirit-thing comes along. Good ‘ol Adam is a most gifted guy, but his thing is a happening which is most unique, most likely one-time circumstance,a product of timing and a work aholic Senior Pastor. Bless his heart, he believes the stuff he says about the Big Boys vision of what the next great plan should be. We all have seen far too many of these schemes come and go. Empower the laity. Sic ’em on this thing and let’s see what might happen. If we don’t, in the next 3-4 decades we could see a third of our rural churches disappear here in Kansas, and most likely in most places. Probably more like half of them. The Big deals will bop along until the endowment generation dies off, or the charismatic leader checks out. Interesting isn’t it, that we claim to bring hope even in the face of death, but struggle so institutionally, to face the reality of death looking us in the face, and we just can’t find the key which might bring resurrection? I feel better now. Probably won’t check in with you again any time soon. Take care of yourself. Enjoy the big hoohaa in Tampa. jan hayen

  4. Actually, Hamilton’s presentation did not end with the video. It ended with the story about the olive tree.

    • Thanks for the reality check — I left off the olive tree seque to a future with hope — which Adam referenced more than once.

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