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.