General Conference: Bicycles for Fish

Let me share a frustration.  Our church needs radical change.  Our church needs new structures and processes.  Our church needs time to focus on identity, purpose, and priorities.  Our church needs a serious focus on leadership effectiveness and incisive processes for evaluation and accountability… and General Conference is poorly designed to accomplish any of these critical objectives.  What is General Conference good for?  Rules, guidelines, policies, resource allocation decisions, goal setting, and the establishment of programs and initiatives for the denomination.  It is a management vehicle expected to fill leadership needs.  Vision, values, missional identity, and spiritual ethos are not best served by legislative process.  Voting on God’s will and the movement of the Holy Spirit is just wrong.  Our General Conference is about governing our very human institution and the corporate structure we call The United Methodist Church.  It deals with the administration and management of the monolith.  Yet, we try to use it to legislate spirituality, morality, ethics, relationships, and integrity.  It often feels as if our task is to compose a beautiful symphony using the equipment from an automobile factory or use a chainsaw to prepare a gourmet meal.  Bicycles for fish…the wrong tools and processes to address the real issues.

We will devote two full weeks to intensive and complex parliamentary maneuverings that will leave our church confused, conflicted and confounded with a sense that we missed an important opportunity to make a difference.  Inadvertently, we are set at odds with one another through a system founded upon the notion that in all important things there must be winners and there must be losers.  “United” goes right out the window when we have business that needs taking care of…

No, I don’t have the answer to this problem, but I do offer it as the problem we must address if we are to have a future.  Sacred community is mired in polity and politics.  Is this really what we believe Jesus had in mind?  There is a pressing urgency to separate the visionary leadership functions from the futuring and managing functions.  The essence of our functional relationships depends not on our structures and processes, but on our ability to organize around our values rather than our volume.  We are the body of Christ — everything else is details.  But we would rather debate “issues” than forge a foundation upon which to build a future.  As long as we can make something like “the homosexuality issue” our main focus, we have absolutely no time to model the kingdom of God to a dying world and a consumer culture.  We are way too busy for that.  Sadly, we are busy fiddling with our own limitations rather than embodying the abundant love and grace of God.

6 replies

  1. Quotes from others from within the UMC–and this is only a fraction of what I have collected:

    “It’s not over yet. I am hopeful for our church and for General Conference! I am reminded what John Wesley used to say about conferencing together as the church. You should leave more passionate about making disciples of Jesus Christ than when you arrived. Ask a delegate how this conferencing is inspiring them to engage in what we say we value. Are we who we think we are?” Rev. John Stephens, “Reflections on General Conference. Pt. 1: Are We Who We Think We Are?” 28SaturdayApr 2012, Reflections from the Porch: Musings on Spirituality Blog

    “So the future of the church is still largely what it has always been. We—the pastors and laity of the United Methodist Church—must repent, recommit ourselves, and so reinvigorate the life of the church in our day. We should remember this fact whatever the outcome of the proceedings at the General Conference in Tampa. Local congregations still hold key to the future” April 28, 2012 Posted by Rev. Andrew Thompson, Special Contributor, UM Reporter

    “Somewhere along the way Jesus disciples began grouping and in grouping became more concerned with adding to their group than in fulfilling Jesus’ mandate.” Bryan Collier, “Denominations as a Starting Place”, The View from Here Blog, November 3, 2011

    “We’ve done very little in the Church to distinguish Christianity as something unique and different. We’ve been comfortable in our perch as an American institution and we’ve done our parts to ensure that remain our place in society. Unfortunately the 21st Century has awakened us to the reality that were knocked out of that perch a while ago. We’re just now waking up to that reality.” Rev. Ben Gosden, “General Conference 400 miles away: The Danger of Unasked Questions”Covered in the Master’s Dust Blog, April 28, 2012

    “But I’m hopelessly in love with a vision of God in which He confounds the wisdom of the world and all the best-laid plans of mice and men. I don’t want the reason for our success to be that we came up with the perfectly worded mission statement and had chic-looking logos to correspond to each key word within it on state-of-the-art websites. I want to believe that we will not be delivered by God until we despair of our self-reliance, and that our present predicament can be healed only by a turn away from worldly consultant-based strategies back to the kingdom foolishness that the Wesley brothers instigated 250 years ago”. Mercy not Sacrifice, “How will you avoid creating a CYA culture, #GC2012?” Rev. Morgan Guyton

    “Keep us focused on The Main Thing–making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Make us willing to lose our lives for your sake and the sake of the gospel. Free us from the insanity of doing the same old things and expecting different results. Give us holy boldness to follow you in new ways and places. Let the fullness of time come wherever we serve you. Let people see Jesus convincingly and unmistakably through our lives and our life together. That embodied (incarnational) love of Jesus will look very different in our different circumstances. How will it look where you live your life and follow Jesus?…Don’t just sit there and study. Identify a step you feel called to take. Start with a very small step. Now give one another the gift of mutual encouragement and accountability. Dare to ask God to form you into people and a church that looks and acts like Jesus. What a concept!” “What a Concept”, Ancoraimparo87 Blog, March 28, 2012

    “Methodism has often strayed from what Wesley called the “scriptural way of salvation.” But whenever we have recovered our voice, enjoyed the quiet confidence of saving grace, and folded assurance into discipleship, Methodism has had a vital message, seen lives changed, and greatly influenced societal culture. Therefore, we must look anew at who we are, what we believe, and what God is calling us to be and do. If so, in the words of William Sangster of London—’Methodism can be born again’.” Donald Haynes, On the Threshold of Grace: Methodist Fundamentals

    I want to see these people sit down together, with you included!

  2. This–“But we would rather debate “issues” than forge a foundation upon which to build a future. As long as we can make something like “the homosexuality issue” our main focus, we have absolutely no time to model the kingdom of God to a dying world and a consumer culture.” Yes. and the UMC is hardly the only group mired in this. This we need to repent of, and get on to the real task.

  3. Dan, I understand the process is frustrating. You are asking WWJD in these circumstance? Most likely, no, he would NOT do what we are doing with the “process.” That is why HE is the King and we are the subjects. Nevertheless, the disciples had much discussion amoungst themselves. They developed questions (as we, today, pray for guidance) and asked the King, who was physically present, by sending their leaders (Peter, John and the vocal minority – Thomas). While not perfect, it is the best system the Holy Church has developed when compared to other denominations. I want to assure the readers…Holy Conferencing is happening. There is proof of this. I am so happy to be a believer in Jesus Christ and a Meth-o-dist! Grace, Peace and Towels to you all, Gregg Graening

    • Hey, Gregg, I hope we can connect this week. I actually don’t think our processes are the best for our time. We took Christian conference and have systematically moved away from prayerful discernment to modern business practices, but have not essentially changed our methods in the last 40 years. We don’t get the results we want or need, but we don’t take the time to change. As we are becoming more global, what worked for us in a U.S.-centric model is less and less appropriate with every passing year. I agree we need face-to-face conference… for the important things. Administrative legislation can be handled much better. We have both a host of techniques and processes as well as amazing technology. Just getting churchy people together to talk about churchy things doesn’t make our conversation “holy,” and I think we have a long way to go to get to a place that honors WWJD.

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