Focus: The Real Challenges That Face The United Methodist Church (Adaptive Leadership Series)
Many love to quote St. Literally and factually speaking, there is joy in the journey. Both in Scripture and in the words of Jesus we are given an invitation to celebrate the joy, to enter into the discipline of joy. Yet as a matter of faithful living they go together. Consider the powerful example that comes to us from the eighth chapter of the book of Nehemiah. Let me set the context for you. The book of Nehemiah comes at the point in which the Hebrew people have returned to Jerusalem from exile.
They have seen their nation destroyed. The Holy Temple where God is said to dwell is in ruins. They had been driven from their homes and lived in foreign lands as, at best, second class citizens. Now at last they return home. If Hollywood were to film the scene that opens before us in the eighth chapter, the picture would pan across a sad heart-wrenching tableau. As the chapter opens, the Law of Moses is read to them. After living through devastation, they encounter again the Holy Scriptures in a scene of covenant renewal. These are a people who ought to be joyless but instead, as the word of God comes to them afresh, Nehemiah speaks for the Lord.
Did you catch the focus in the last part of that verse? In the tumult of our time those are words we need to hear. Intentional faith develop leads to joy in the journey. Such is the ultimate aim of intentional faith development: a growing maturity in Christ that results in crazy love for God and others, immense joy in service to all, deep peace that passes understanding and true discipleship in daily walk with God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What more could anyone want from life?! So I invite the reader, lay or clergy, to reflect on the path to discipleship in your community of faith. Do you have a clear path that members and visitors alike can readily grasp and comprehend? Does your path to discipleship engage in critical behavioral change? Are demons faced and confessed with forward movement in holiness of heart and life moving on to perfection? Is there joy in the journey and the fruit of peace which passes all understanding?
May 21, in personal holiness , social holiness with Comments Off on Facing the Demons. The words are rightly well known. They are oft uttered in heartfelt worship.
Any genuine life of intentional discipleship rides on the wings of its application. What words are those? Most of us choke because we think confession is something others need to do. The universality of sin is widely disputed in our comfortable existence. Where evil as a concomitant expression of sin is encountered it is usually done so in the extremes of a group like Boka Haram.
However discarded, sin is still around and still present in our lives. By inference, I remember on a summer vacation, we found ourselves hiking in Yellowstone National Park, one of our favorite places on earth. We were hiking in the north central part of Yellowstone in a beautiful forested section with a small pristine lake.
Bear Sightings in the Area. We held a debate on whether we should continue down the trail or not. Come on! They can get you there. I was lost metaphorically up a tree with no way to get out of danger. No offense is meant or intended, but I submit so are you, so are we — individually and collectively. By way analogy at some time or another we have shinnied up a tree that breaks under our weight or plunged into water that threatens to drown us.
Consider another image from the Boston Marathon tragedy. In the film clip of the first explosion, one of the runners was literally blown to the ground by the shock wave. We pray that may never happen again, but metaphorically we know the reality of being blown to the ground in the living of our days, sometimes because of what we have done and many times through no fault of our own. Sin is real in our lives and in our society. It must be confronted. A crucial aspect of intentional faith development is not to lie to ourselves about our lives or the reality within which we live.
The biblical advice is right on target. If we confess our sins … then through Christ we can climb down the tree or get out of the water. Facing the demons of our lives is a necessary element of intentional faith development. A part of the genius of Methodism was its conviction of holiness of heart and life to such a degree that intentional sin sins of commission could actually be dispensed with.
Methodists call this moving on to perfection. The question is still firmly lodged in our ordination service. The list continues. The thrust is clear. We are to be engaged in ongoing continual faith development. Along with critical behavior change, we have to face the demons that trip us and our society up. Through this relatedness all other relationships of a man — to God, to himself, to other people — are transformed. Common wisdom is that we change our beliefs, then our actions follow. Reality is often different.
Most of us act our way into a new way of thinking and believing. Neither can be separated. So it is with intentional faith development. What we believe is crucial and critical; yet, belief alone is not the whole story to faith development. As important as belief is, as critical as truly orthodox theology is, we learn by acting ourselves into a new way of living out our faith. I invite the reader to look with me at three critical behavior changes that are central to intentional faith development: Devotional and quiet time with an emphasis on scripture reading ; Hands-on missional engagement especially with the poor ; and Faith sharing with those who are non- or nominal Christians.
Quiet time with the Lord and with Holy Scripture in silence, prayer, reading and reflection is essential! It is non-negotiable if we wish to grow in intentional faith development. Stanley Jones. He is widely read and celebrated for being a Methodist missionary theologian. But I admire him for another reason: he was a great artist of stillness.
A few years ago the Willow Creek Association participated in an in-depth study of spiritual formation, growth and maturity. It involved over 80, people and some churches including a few from the Central Texas Conference of The United Methodist Church all across the denominational and theological spectrum. Yoked with quiet time is the crucial need to be personally engaged in hands on ministry. Missional engagement with the poor by itself is not enough, but when linked with devotional quiet time and biblical reflection , walking with Christ takes on a whole new greater!
Just before she graduated from college, our daughter took a one night course her college offered on professional deportment. The class was designed around teaching skills of public etiquette for a business lunch or dinner, proper professional dress, etc. I remember she came home and instructed us that you are never to pass the salt and pepper shakers separately. They go together! Devotion, prayer, quiet time and scripture are married to hands on missional engagement especially with the poor! The third critical behavioral change is perhaps the most neglected and forgotten part of intentional faith development.
Faith sharing with those who are non- or nominal Christians: There is something amazing that happens in the interchange between faith sharing including witnessing with others, especially those who are non- or nominal Christians. The sharers own faith is strengthened and grows in grace-filled maturity. Many who participate on a mission trip report that they got much more out of the mission work than did those they were helping. So it is with witnessing and faith sharing. In the amazing spiritual economy of God, faith sharing witnessing becomes a critical behavioral change whereby the sharer grows in the love of Christ and the love of others.
I cannot help but recall D. Niles famous definition of evangelism. It is one beggar telling another beggar where to get food. The Christian does not offer out of his bounty. He has no bounty. I can still recall the thrill of listening to Bill Hybels, the Senior Pastor of Willow Creek Community Church, describe their mission well over two decades ago.
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With amazement she reported that it was their intention to take atheists and turn them into missionaries! Here in the Central Texas Conference we describe our mission in similar terms. What stood out for me was not the declaration of purpose or mission; after all, that is given by Christ! Rather, I was then and still am now deeply impressed by the clarity of their strategy for making disciples or if you prefer, FDFers. Clarity is often a forgotten, critical element in the path of discipleship. Ironically in the United Methodist Church we have been exceptionally clear about the central elements of intentional faith formation raising up disciples.
The challenge for many churches is to get clear about the pathway for making disciples.arerarnegoodw.ml/map47.php
This is harder than it looks at first blush. Intentional faith development swirls, ebbs and flows. The context and missional situation can vary greatly from person to person and from congregation to congregation. A linear path, however imperfect, is better than no clearly delineated path. At our upcoming Annual Conference meeting, we hope to look at different models for faith development in making disciples.
Bishop Jones will offer an outline with The Wesleyan Way. Our other three presenters will share different models with written material for any church pastor, lay leader, Sunday School teacher, etc. We have a tendency to make this all overly complex. The early Methodists were clear and simple. The challenges of clarity and communication are once again squarely before us. What is your path of discipleship?
Can you lay it out in 25 words or less in a manner that can readily be understood by a non- or nominal Christian? Do the members of your congregation understand and share your path of discipleship? Underneath that theme we try to have a focused teaching piece usually two or three major presentations that will guide us as an Annual Conference through our local churches to better accomplish the mission of making disciples.
Sometimes the best laid plans go astray. I typically work a year and a half ahead in scheduling Conference teachers. About 18 months ago, I asked Rev. Rudy Ramus the Sr. Pastor of St. My intent was that he would lead us in a focused teaching on how we might be more culturally and ethnically sensitive. Ramus graciously agreed to come lead us. However, he recently found out that his daughter will be graduating from medical school that day! We celebrate for her and for the whole Ramus family but have had to scramble to change our plans.
Rasmus has consented to come lead us in the same teaching piece in instead. I had planned to have us focus on intentional faith development — how we in fact grow and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ in Instead we have flipped the two subjects. We will focus on discipleship development the path of disciple-making in and receive Rev. For those interested, our Conference teaching in will be on evangelism and witness.
I am pleased to announce, with great appreciation for their willingness to come on short notice! Phil Maynard , a noted pastor, consultant and leader in the church, will share a path to discipleship based on his book Shift. Sue Engle , a leader in the field of intentional faith development, will use the material developed in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference called Charting the Course of Discipleship as a model for how local congregations can set out a clear and cogent path of discipleship.
They are designed to help pastors, lay leaders and congregations work on drafting their own plans for discipleship formation in their respective ministry settings. It is our intent to give every congregation some very practical tools by which they may think through and enact a path of discipleship from a new Christian to a deeply committed discipline-follower of Christ. They will have components that involve education, Bible study, spiritual formation and applications in practice.
Over the next 5 or 6 blogs I intend to write on intentional faith development. My material will hone in on elements of a path for discipleship that move us beyond vague assertions in to practical applications. What do we mean by a disciple of Jesus Christ? Arguments about definition which clergy tend to love and laity tend to have their eyes glaze over! While we may quibble about the words, the essence is straight forward. We have great pastors, some on the left, others on the right, and many, many in the middle.
We have almost , wonderful laity. We all want to remain in dialogue and communion with one another. The property of local congregations are held in trust for whom? Not the general church but the annual conference. The UMC does not have a legal presence. Pensions are not the property of the general church but are held in trust by the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits for annual conferences and the clergy who hold their membership within the annual conference. Now is the time for local congregations to distance themselves from the general church and general agencies and the loss of focus on making disciples.
The proposal to allow annual conference autonomy on some subjects such as around the issue of sexual ethics opens the door, but it should also include autonomy around finances, social principles, and all other issues. We must focus on our Western North Carolina Annual Conference and its focus on making disciples here.
We can give those monies to our own annual conference for congregational vitality, new church starts, missions regional and global, and more. If you want to be United Methodist, I encourage you to join my congregation and reallocate your monies away from a general church that will get uglier and more divided. Will we divide? What then shall we do? Focus our attention and money on this annual conference and be faithful to our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
February 13, by Pastor Andy. Initially, my paper stands in full agreement with the essential principles of the Call to Action report, as endorsed unanimously by the Council of Bishops and the general church Connectional Table. That call urges the UMC to realign the structure and resources of our denomination to focus on creating and sustaining vital congregations.
Our denomination cannot sustain financially the current general church structure and emphases! I agree passionately with that focus. So did the majority of delegates to the General Conference! Yet, not one part of the Call to Action made it into our Discipline. That is a major tragedy that bodes ill for our denomination. In , the UMC in the US suffered its largest percentage decline in membership and worship attendance in our history; will probably be worse. What are we as pastors, laity, and local congregations doing about these realities?
I am a non-conformist. Will Willimon and I introduced these ideas and more in ! I celebrate that many of our ideas then, also understood as controversial, are now in our Discipline. This denomination still needs more reformers than supporters of the status quo. I am theologically conservative and politically liberal. None of this argument has to be with the current denominational fight over sexuality or a particular position of the General Board of Church and Society or World Council of Churches or anything else.
Do not read into the document what is not there. I am a sixth-generation United Methodist. I have been and continue to be active throughout the connection. I yearn passionately for our connectional denomination to be healthy. But, the answers for healthy congregations will not come from above but from below. We are sponsoring a new congregation. We are deeply committed to sharing our financial blessings with others. Essentially, the paper offers a strategy that reforms our denomination from the bottom up. It does not ask permission from the top down! I am despondent about the ability of our denomination to change from above.
Let us trust the laity. This paper fundamentally supports the position of our Discipline that annual conferences, not the general agencies, are the essential connectional body in our denomination. Since , that position has been turned upside down. I am asking us to discontinue a system that in Albert Outler predicted would corrupt our essential Wesleyan tradition.
Outler was correct. I want us to return to our true Wesleyan heritage as known for our first years. I have had encouragement for this position from some conference treasurers and bishops some of whom added to the document before it was released. Most do not want their names used. I have thick skin. I am simply willing to say publicly what others are thinking privately. Do not attribute words to me that I do not use. I suggest that local congregations redirect the amount of money apportioned in ways that create and sustain vital congregations, locally, regionally, and internationally.
Essentially, let us rebuild healthy United Methodist congregations from the ground up; versus strengthening general agency work that often but not always is not focused on vital congregations. For example, my congregation is contributing more to our district mission fund and the conference vitality and congregational development teams. When we have healthy congregations then we will have healthy general agencies. I do believe that it is possible for units of the general church to support the work of vital congregations. For example, my congregation has had recently very fruitful conversations with staff of the General Board of Discipleship and United Methodist Communications.
For the first time in years, they may be able to assist our work, and at that time I will reconsider my position, and support those who support vital congregations. Next to last, get the first things first: what can pastors, laity, and local congregations do to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? That is our true mission. The answer from the Call to Action, the Connectional Table, and the Council of Bishops, supported by the most extensive research in our history, is to focus on strengthening existing congregations and starting new congregations.
I absolutely agree. My paper suggests one strategy to make sure that local congregations use their money most effectively for the current and future health our entire denomination to fulfill our mission. An invitation to Jeremy and all the readers of his blog, answer this question: what are you doing in your local setting to strengthen congregations and create new congregations? How does the use of your money help or hinder that effort? I look forward to your answers. How may you help the Western North Carolina Conference fulfill its vision to strengthen vital congregations? Each year, your congregation is notified about the total financial apportionments for your District, our Western North Carolina Conference, the Southeast Jurisdiction, and the general ministries of The United Methodist Church.
Most congregations consider all these separate apportionments as one lump sum. The apportionments, however, consist of at least fifteen separate funds from four different levels of our denomination. The District budget is set annually in each District and includes several separate funds.
The Annual Conference budget is set each year at Lake Junaluska and includes four line items. The Southeast Jurisdictional budget is set every four years and includes one budget line item. The general United Methodist Church budget is set every four years at General Conference and includes seven separate items.
Each of the apportionments must be asked from your congregation. Most congregations are not aware of the differences between the two and the implications. For decades, the financial remittance form from the Western North Carolina Conference has offered both options to every congregation.
When a congregation chooses Proportional Allocation or makes no choice , the Conference Treasurer then pays each fund its designated proportion or percentage of the total amount. For example, if your congregation chooses the Proportional Allocation model, the Conference Treasurer sends in automatically Church-Directed Allocation Yet, your congregation has the right to direct your apportionments. When a congregation chooses Church-Directed Allocation, the Conference Treasurer then pays each fund only what the congregation has designated.
For example, if your congregation chooses to give more to one fund and less to another, the Conference Treasurer follows the designation of your congregation. No other person or body in the denomination can dictate how your local church pays its apportionments. This is a local church decision. Which model of giving is best for your congregation? If your congregation supports every fund of the District, the Conference, the Jurisdiction, and the General Church at the percentage set by each level of the denomination, simply use Proportional Allocation. This way allows others to direct your apportionments.
If, however, your congregation supports some ministries more than others, select Church-Directed Allocation and designate your giving. The Finance Committee asks which of these funds best fulfill the mission of your congregation? Every congregation may reach different conclusions. Your Finance Committee may then recommend that your congregation pay different amounts to different funds. For example, your congregation may decide to pay more to its District Mission Society and Annual Conference Vision and Goals , and less to the General Church funds This action does not require a Charge Conference and requires only a majority vote by your church leaders.
This action does not need to approval of your pastor or district superintendent. This vote may happen at any time, but ideally before the first apportionment payments are made in any calendar year. When the Western North Carolina Conference Treasurer receives your payments, the Conference Treasurer then pays the funds designated by your congregation.
If a fund receives more funds than requested, the Conference Treasurer will remit the additional funds to an authorized body, such as the District Finance Committee or Conference Council on Finance and Administration. Each body has its own policies about how to use the additional funds. I encourage every congregation to consider Church-Directed Allocation, with a focus on district and annual conference funds, as your method for paying all apportionments! The above statement is the personal perspective of the author. He has also worked closely with all the general agencies of our denomination.
This paper was written in consultation with past and present conference and denominational leaders, especially persons knowledgeable about our financial policies and procedures. Following the General Conference of The United Methodist Church, many local congregations must seek better ways to use their financial resources to fulfill the mission of The United Methodist Church.
In addition, local congregations must reassert that the annual conference is the basic body of our denomination Article II of our Constitution by providing more financial resources to their annual conferences. The General Conference rejected a new focus on creating and strengthening vital congregations and empowering annual conferences. Not one petition concerning local congregations was even voted on by General Conference.
Focus: The Real Challenges That Face the United Methodist Church by Lovett H. Weems Jr.
Organizational flexibility for annual conferences was rejected. Instead, our denomination maintained the primacy and status quo of its general boards, agencies, and general church programs. For over forty years, over three billion dollars have been spent supporting the general agencies and other endeavors of our global connection. And for over forty years, our denomination in the United States has been in decline.
In addition, the annual conferences, not general agencies, are the primary arena for equipping local congregations. The Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table petitioned General Conference for new emphases on local congregations and annual conferences. Yet, the General Conference, influenced greatly by the general agencies, minimized any change in our current organization and how it is funded.
United Methodist congregations in the United States must use the monies donated to God through them in better ways. Does a congregation in the United States have the financial flexibility that is now used by United Methodist congregations outside the United States? Is there a way for local congregations to reform and renew our denomination from the bottom of our organization? Today, United Methodist congregations have the responsibility to use their own wisdom and dollars in ways to transform individual lives, local congregations, annual conferences, and the world.
Local congregations, where disciples of Jesus Christ are made, lead the denomination! United Methodists in local congregations must now learn how to set their own priorities. Churches in the United States should no longer continue to contribute to a failing general church denominational bureaucracy that is a waste of money and faithfulness to God. Congregations should use monies in ways faithful to our Wesleyan tradition. Increasingly, many congregations believe that their monies are better spent on district missions and conference ministries and benevolences, the essential connectional ministries.
These ministries are led by people known and trusted. These monies focus more so on creating and sustaining vital congregations and empowering annual conferences. The following description of the problem, and solution, are one option for congregations to consider as they pay their apportionments to The United Methodist Church. Apportionments are the way each local congregation in the United States contributes its fair share to the connectional ministries of our denomination for the past 40 years.
For the first years of our denomination, all local congregations throughout the world were asked to contribute to the larger church for distinctively connectional ministries, such as the salaries of bishops, conference expenses, and global missions. There were no general agencies other than the publishing house and mission units. At times, specific goals were set. Sharing a common vision of mission, voluntarily and with joy, congregations responded generously.
Beginning in the s, as the bureaucracy of the general church grew to historic number and size financial apportionments became mandatory in the United States. Through legislation written by the general agencies, apportionments were declared to be the first missional giving of local congregations in the U. For the past forty years, many leaders of our denomination in the United States have insisted that paying apportionments is the clearest sign of being United Methodist.
General church agencies and programs have become the primary connectional ministries. This emphasis denies the very constitution of our denomination that the annual conference is the primary connectional body of our church. With the decline in members in the United States, our denomination has reached the point at which fewer dollars will be available every year for ministry. Over the forty years, however, more and more of the apportionment dollars have gone not to districts, annual conferences, or jurisdictional missions and structure but to the general church agencies and programs.
Local churches appear to exist to support the general agencies, not the other way around. Because annual conferences may not reduce any of the general Church apportionments allocated to congregations, over the past years, jurisdictions and annual conferences have cut back significantly missions and ministries. Over a third of all district superintendent positions have been eliminated in the last twenty years.
District projects, conference institutions, and jurisdictional ministries have been cut. In , one-fourth of all conferences had to cut their budgets. Bluntly, districts, annual conferences, and jurisdictions are being squeezed between the rock of high general church apportionments and the declining income of local congregations. For a comparison, the Presbyterian Church, U. In other words, our general church bureaucratic expenses are four times larger than the next largest Protestant denomination.
And our denomination continues to decline in the United States. These amounts are set by the preceding General Conference. The general church funds then become part of the total annual conference budget. This percentage is different in every annual conference. The annual conference may not make any revisions to general church askings. Annual conferences then allocate the monies for the districts, annual conferences, jurisdictions, and general church in their own manner. Each of these seven funds must be asked from local congregations in the United States.
The Southeast Jurisdictional budget, cut by one half for the next four years, goes directly to pay off the debt of Lake Junaluska Assembly, a valuable resource for our own annual conference. In the WNC annual conference budget, I am not suggesting that monies be reallocated to pay a higher salary to a pastor or put new carpet in the sanctuary. I believe that United Methodists want to be generous to others.
But, United Methodists should be more direct in how their apportionment monies are spent. Can a congregation realign apportionment payments to the district, conference, or general church anyway? Please note, the Discipline does not say payment in full of each individual fund allocated must be paid, only payment in full. The Charge Conference of the congregation does not take action on the apportionments. The Charge Conference receives the request. There is no vote to accept, amend, or reject the amount. There is no dialogue or negotiation. Again, The United Methodist Discipline does not specify full payment of each fund, only full payment.
All United Methodists want to be generous in their giving for ministries and missions beyond their local congregations. Our denomination has regional and global connectional ministries that are essential to sharing the love of God with others. We cannot focus only on our own congregations. Our Wesleyan tradition is to be extravagant in our financial giving for the transformation of the world.
How to Be Generous? Three-fourths of all conferences in the United States act this way already. All of the United Methodist conferences outside the United States give nothing to the general church except for the Episcopal Fund. There are at least two models by which United Methodist congregations may pay their full apportionments. It is up to each congregation to determine which model best fulfills their understanding of connectional ministry.
For example, when a congregation in the WNC annual conference pays all its apportionment dollars in one sum, The church treasurers then pays the designated amounts on those specific fund line items. For example, a congregation may choose to pay more monies to a district or conference or jurisdictional fund and less money to a general Church apportionment.
Especially, local congregations should choose not to pay the two general Church funds that are the least effective in the task of making disciples by strengthening local congregations: World Service and General Administration These two funds primarily support the status quo of continual decline of our denomination.
Who in the local church makes the decision about how much to pay their apportionments? The Charge Conference does not vote on the apportionments, that is not the place. The Charge Conference is simply notified of the total funds requested. Pastors unilaterally cannot reallocate funds.
Pastors are not in charge of congregational finances. Pastors must allow the laity in their congregations to make such decisions. Pastors, however, may share this paper with their church leaders. By action of the Church Council, the church treasurer would then send in payments as designated. Continue to design all payment forms to indicate clearly the two options of giving.
Encourage congregations to choose the method best suited to each congregation. Establish policies to handle over-payments to districts and the conference. The annual conference structure depends on the role of the resident bishop. Each district should emphasize their funds, such as District Missions, that may receive additional monies. Instead of just four unified funds, the WNCC should consider adding several more funds to help congregations focus their giving.
Such funds would encourage local congregations to increase their giving for missions. United Methodist congregations must be faithful and generous stewards of their financial resources to fulfill the mission of The United Methodist Church. United Methodist congregations must help re-establish the role of the Annual Conference as the basic body of the denomination?
Every United Methodist congregation in the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, and in the United States, should seriously consider Church-Directed Allocation of all apportionments and designate more monies away from the general church and more to district, conference, and jurisdictional funds.
May 15, by Pastor Andy. I reflect on General Conference with deep and profound sadness. Many persons are now offering their own opinions about what happened in Tampa. Instead of replaying all the details about what happened, however, a more fundamental question is how does The United Methodist Church move forward? With the increasing decline of congregations in the United States and impending collapse of our general church structures on the near horizon, how does our denomination live into the future?
Which new leaders will emerge? Is there hope? Even as we soon celebrate the th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation, our church needs passionate laity and clergy at the local level to be advocates for fundamental change, in order that our denomination might fulfill the call from Jesus Christ to make disciples for the transformation of the world. No doubt, these advocates would include pastors from our leading congregations. In addition, members of the Council of Bishops, perhaps in conversation with the Connectional Table, are needed to join in the discussion and guide us toward clarity and wisdom.
Currently, we are a denomination without a rudder; we need strong leadership to steer us towards a hopeful future. I offer this document as one of many invitations from leaders throughout our beloved denomination to join in conversation with prayerful hope and expectation that God will give us the courage and insight we need for this time. Money is the fuel that powers our denomination. Many United Methodists assume that the financial resources and governance we have had in the past will continue into the future. All the evidence indicates otherwise.
Closing our eyes and hoping for the best is not a strategy forward. We should instead follow the money and see where our monies lead us. Let me share some history that shapes my views. Going into General Conference, two mentors informed my perspective. Wesley sought to reform.
As a denomination, too many United Methodists have come to love our established institution and have forgotten the spirit of personal and social holiness that gave us birth. In , Dr. Albert Outler, our most significant Wesleyan theologian in the 20 th century, spoke against the general church organization we now have. Outler believed that the proposed and adopted organizational model would not be faithful to our Wesleyan tradition, would scatter power, and would cause us to lose focus on making disciples.
Our crisis is most clear in the United States and Europe. We have less than 70, United Methodists in Europe. We have older members, fewer members, and less money for ministry and missions. In , the United Methodist churches in the United States saw the largest ever decline in membership and worship attendance. Our General Council of Finance and Administration economists anticipate that The United Methodist Church will receive less money in the next four years for the general church than it received in the last four years.
Many United Methodist leaders have seen this crisis coming. Many others have joined this chorus, including those authors in the new Abingdon Press series on the adaptive challenge facing our denomination. Over the past three years, our Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, leading pastors and laity, and many other people invested thousands of dollars, thousands of hours, and countless prayers preparing to lead our denomination forward. Many powerful options for reform were offered.
Was to be the year to reclaim the Wesleyan movement for our denomination? At General Conference, we had significant leadership from many of our bishops. Laity and clergy, female and male, young and old, Central Conference and United States delegates joined in the conversations. Many, many people gave of their time, skills, and prayers. After the Call to Action report at the opening of General Conference, however, United States congregational decline was never mentioned again in the plenary. The powers and principalities of institutional self-survival were too entrenched.
Many of our caucuses, most of our general agencies, and particularly the Judicial Council of our United Methodist Church have proven unwilling and incapable of significant reform. General Conference reduced the size of the governing boards of the general agencies, including a significant reduction of the number of Central Conference members, yet preserved most the positions of the independent general agency executive staff. Rearranging the deckchairs of a sinking ship, General Conference tossed the paying passengers overboard and saved the lives of the crew.
At the end of two weeks, not a single petition from the Local Church Legislative Committee had made it to the plenary floor. General Conference debated divestiture from Israel, homosexuality, rules and mandates, and other topics for hours. But annual conferences were again forbidden any flexibility for achieving mission. Strategies to strengthen local congregations were not discussed on the plenary floor.
The goal to redirect resources to increase vital congregation was not added to our Discipline. For any movement of redirection to continue, the movement will have to be on a church by church, conference by conference level, not at the general church level. What a loss. As we look toward the future, major financial and governance issues lurk just below the surface. How are general church funds raised and spent, and who makes those decisions? I increasingly question the financial support by thousands of local congregations in the United States of our dysfunctional denominational agencies.
The emperor has no clothes. Before General Conference, I spoke with a group of young clergy fearful about the future of our denomination in the United States. I reminded these passionate young women and men that change rarely comes from the top but from the bottom. The General Conference proved this point. These leaders believe that the general agencies now understand the depth of the problems and will voluntarily change. I honor that perspective but believe it to be far too cautious and optimistic. Yet, the only institutional response from our denomination has been to encourage the aging and declining members in the United States to be more generous financially to the existing system.
Continuing to fund our existing system, however, only encourages the status quo and inhibits efforts for renewal. While Jesus Christ will never abandon the Church universal, I believe that ultimately much of our current United Methodist system must die before the Wesleyan movement can be resurrected. The easiest and fastest way to hasten this death of many parts of our general institution is by the withholding of monies. The single greatest institutional problem that hinders effective congregations is our general church agencies. All of these agencies are filled with good people doing useful ministry.
But, we have thirteen different agencies with thirteen different governing boards with thirteen different executives with thirteen different agendas. Most of the general agencies do most of their work only in the United States. No one is in charge; the ruling of the Judicial Council indicates that no one should be in charge.
There is almost no focus on vital congregations and not enough attention paid to our global connection. Agencies have little accountability. We are like small kayaks paddling in different directions versus a crew of disciple rowers moving together toward a goal. Why, therefore, are United Methodists in the United States continuing to support those disparate agencies? The only way that many of our institutional leaders may listen is to deprive them of money from local congregations through annual conferences. By the adjournment of General Conference, our denomination chose to protect the status quo, the existing general agencies, mandates that focus beyond local congregations and annual conferences, and those persons and institutions supported financially by our current organization.
The next four years will witness continuing decline among congregations in the United States and thus declining finances. These two funds primarily support the institutional status quo that resists focus on making faithful disciples and vital congregations. While monies are needed for vital missions nationally and globally, are the general agencies the most appropriate avenue of giving?
Concurrently, United Methodists should continue to support the missions of our districts and annual conferences. Districts and conferences are the primary building blocks of our connection. Annual conferences, by our Discipline, must send a large percentage of their receipts to the general church. Who loses in this model? The annual conferences are stuck between a rock of general church apportionments and the hard place of declining congregational monies. In the last 20 years, annual conferences in the United States have lost almost one-third of all District Superintendents and even a higher level of annual conference staff due to budget cuts.
The trend indicates that in the near future the annual conferences will exist only to transfer money from local congregations to the general church. They still deserve financial support. All of us still want to be part of a connectional system. This decline reflects the declining number of vital congregations in the United States. What if World Service and General Administration collapsed? Would anyone in local churches or annual conferences notice any difference?
Would anyone in the world notice? For such a financial realignment to work, this reformation would require a significant number of congregations and conferences to participate. Unfortunately, many clergy live under fear of clergy misconduct charges for non-payment of apportionments has this ever happened? Especially with the loss of clergy guaranteed appointments, does non-payment of apportionments give additional power to the leaders supporting the status quo? Are there enough pastors and congregations willing to speak up and act?
Can the pastors of our leading congregations lead? Are some bishops willing to support this shift? Every pastor, every lay person, every congregation, every annual conference, every bishop must ask such questions about general church apportionments. Do our financial investments in the general church encourage or inhibit the fundamental change that our denomination needs?
An even larger crisis will face our denomination possibly in four years and certainly no later than eight years: the financial and governance relationship between The United Methodist Church in the United States and our Central Conferences in Asia, the Philippines, Europe, and Africa. Central Conferences contribute to local funding, local missions, and a little to the Episcopal Fund. This giving simply reflects that while United Methodists in America and Europe have monies to give, United Methodists in Asia, the Philippines, and Africa have very little financial resources.
Almost all of the general church money comes from the declining congregations in the United States. All of these delegates together shaped the general church budget and other financial matters. For example, all delegates, both inside and outside the United States, voted on the revisions to the pension plan for clergy and church professionals in the United States.
Central Conference delegates will have the majority vote on how the general church budget will be set, how it will be apportioned, and how it will be spent. Will Central Conference delegates vote to lower a budget to which they do not contribute? Will Central Conferences be apportioned funds? Please note, the Judicial Council at General Conference also forbade the General Council on Finance and Administration from even discussing apportionment allocations with Central Conferences.
Will more of the budget be spent outside the United States? In the corners and hallways of the General Conference, many delegates inside and outside the United States wondered about the implications of such a global shift of power. Everyone celebrates the growth of United Methodist membership, especially in Africa. But will United Methodists in the United States still fund a system in which they have a minority vote? Will persons in the United States conclude that they are being apportioned without adequate representation?
The most probing questions deal with what will happen to pensions within the United States and the expenditures of the Ministerial Education Fund. I sense real fear from many in the United States. Is the fear warranted? What is the Christian obligation of the wealthy for those without major resources? Should we have regional budgets and regional governance?
Are certain financial issues distinct to certain regions and to be determined there? Everyone knows a fundamental change in global financial governance is coming. How will the change be handled? Who is leading this conversation? Will this shift finally end or strengthen our global connection? On another side note, General Conference voted down legislation, which would have allowed the Council of Bishops to select a non-residential bishop to guide their leadership on this issue and others.
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While the church cries out for leaders, we also restrict the ability of our temporal and spiritual leaders to lead. Unfortunately, neither the Council of Bishops nor any other body has the ability, nor authority according to the Judicial Council, to lead on such significant issues. To the best of my knowledge, no group within our denomination has even begun to have conversations about what happens next regarding the general church budget and financial governance.
This lack of attention reaffirms the lack of leadership from the general church. We have only a few years to make important decisions. Who will lead the dialogue within our Wesleyan connection? I write out of deep anguish, but I am not without hope. I love The United Methodist Church, but am mourning what we have allowed ourselves to become. Our historic commitment to payment of apportionments has fostered and entitled a dysfunctional system. The possibility of global church division and conflict is real. More than ever before, we need leaders who will lead. I hope that such leaders will emerge.
We need a system that raises monies appropriately from every part of the church to be spent by one other with true collegiality. Most importantly, we should listen to our living God. During worship at General Conference, we heard Jesus Christ calling us through Scripture to leave our boats, to stop fishing in old ways, and to follow him to a new mission field. Unfortunately, General Conference chose not to do so.
January 15, by Pastor Andy. Today, you and I live in a culture without strong moral leaders or clear moral values. So many voices are speaking from so many different perspectives that we are unable to understand how we should think, speak, and act. How do we determine what is right or wrong? How can we decide to do this or do that?
On what foundation do we build our lives? For example, everyone in our nation has the constitutional right to speak their opinions. The rhetoric has become intense. In public, on the internet, on talk shows, everyone has every legal right to say whatever they wish about anyone or anything. Yet, does this public leader or his critics have the moral right to speak words that are factually untrue? Homosexuals are not sexual predators. Illegal aliens are not drug runners. Blacks do not live in a moral sewer. And the one who says all these things is not a Nazi.
Does anyone have the moral right to lie and wound real men and women? Does hate speech lead us to a more just and whole society? How do we, followers of Jesus Christ, determine for ourselves and judge others about what is appropriate to think, say, and do? On what foundation do we determine what is right or wrong? How can we decide to do this or that? For those of us who follow Jesus Christ, we do live under a higher moral system. For people who claim Jesus Christ as their friend, our thoughts, our words, and our actions are judged by a standard established by Jesus Christ.
Within the Church, we are not autonomous individuals, who can think whatever, say whatever, and act however we want. Instead, we Christians are citizens of the Kingdom of God. We are called to imitate a teacher who lived two thousand years ago. Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email. Sign me up! Pastor Andy Langford's Blog. Feeds: Posts Comments. Contact: andy concordcentral. He wrote: We are all sinners, and, as sinners, none of us stands as final judge of other sinners.
A little humility would serve all of us well. Why Write? Overall General Conference is a tragedy of our own creation. The new Traditional Plan direction has been set. Where the journey takes us is unknown. What Passed? Wespath our Pensions Board petitions passed. If churches do exit from the UMC, exiting churches must pay their fair share of past pension liability.
Exiting clergy retain their pension but it is converted to limit further liability. The process of exiting is not yet certain, but should not affect the pension obligations of the denomination to retired persons or persons now under the pension program. The possible transitions should not be hurtful to clergy and professional lay. Current language around sexuality and restrictions on same-sex weddings. Pastors who perform weddings and are convicted by trial will have a one-year penalty without pay 1st offense and surrender of credentials 2nd offense. Bishops can only dismiss complaints for reasons of law or fact.
Just Resolutions must acknowledge all harm done and be agreed to by the person bringing the complaint. Although the Traditional Plan passed, there will be no required certification by annual conferences and bishops that they will follow the Discipline nor a method for annual conferences to leave the denomination. The policy cannot be enforced at the annual conference and episcopal level. This is the most troubling part of the Traditional Plan by its supporters.
The definition of self-avowed practicing homosexual now includes those who are in a same-sex marriage; the definitions, therefore, are clearer. Bishops cannot commission or ordain lesbian or gay pastors or consecrate them as bishops. Boards of Ministry must do a full examination of clergy candidates including whether they are a self-avowed practicing homosexual. The Traditional Plan requires that all members of Boards of Ministry certify they will follow the Discipline. This requirement was just rejected by the Judicial Council as to its constitutionality.
An amended exit plan for churches passed and affirmed by Judicial Council. The Gracious Exit Plan would allow for local churches to exit with their property and assets if two-third of the members vote to do so and they pay for pension liabilities and one year of apportionments. As a result of all the above, traditionalists hope that the progressives will leave. The traditionalists are not fundamentalists but Wesleyans with a distinctive perspective.
The liberals are not secularists but Wesleyans with another distinctive perspective. Both extremes believe themselves to be biblically correct and morally superior. I never heard Wesley quoted on the floor of the conference. Only a few Wesleyan hymns were sung.
Cultural Divide on Display The global direction of Christianity was on full view. The vibrant, evangelical global south Philippines, Africa showed passion and energy. The graying, more secular global north US and Western Europe showed decline. Which Leaders Were Not Followed?
The Council of Bishops could not carry the debate. Young people signed petitions and spoke, while not changing any votes. The General Conference continued united on one theme: We do not trust bishops. What Will Larger Congregations Do? Will their financial support continue at the current level? The financial stake of the entire institutional system is at stake. I doubt it. We have conferences in the South more liberal and conferences in the North more conservative. Watch for realignment based on theology not region.
Role of Bishops in Any Realignment? Watch for much confusion. How Long Will the Realignment Take? The UMC is now on course to become a more conservative, Bible-centric denomination. Candidates for ministry must be certified to in compliance with UMC standards. Restrict the membership and role of Boards of Ministry. Ecclesial Disobedience? Is Division a Bad Thing? The JC opinions are opaque.
They offer limited time to debate. The conversations are private. There is need for major reform to the Judicial Council. Role of Judicial Council: The new chair of the Judicial Council is an African woman who in a dissent ruling favored allowing congregations an exit option. All the members of the Judicial Council will be elected anew in The vote to undo the Traditional Plan will not be close: 20 more delegates from Africa and other Central Conferences 40 additional delegates from global church may finally receive travel visas and attend 22 fewer delegates from the United States The Traditional Plan will be strengthened.
Gracious Exit The most progressive and most conservative congregations may well leave. Financial Implications The immediate hit will be financial at local, district, conference, jurisdictional, and general church levels. Implications for our 13 seminaries? A Reminder Fundamentally, nothing has changed on the ground among our pastors and in our congregations as the official policy of our denomination.
Both before and now: All persons are welcome in the UMC irrespective of sexual identity or orientation, age, sex, race, or any other thing that separates persons from one another. All persons are of sacred worth. Persons ordained are only those committed to celibacy in singleness and fidelity in a heterosexual marriage Same sex weddings may not be observed in our local congregations. Charges of disobedience still carry consequences. Pray for the UMC denomination in its way forward.
Stay calm. Much is in flux and the next year will be a time of turmoil and mixed reactions. Keep your head on while everyone else seems to be losing their head. It will take months and years for all the fallout to be understood. Refuse to take any votes by anyone about sexuality or exiting.
Continue to serve all people in all congregations. Again, all people in all congregations. Do not assume you understand why other people think differently from you. Do not demonize the other. We are one in Jesus Christ. Again, stay calm. A Way Forward? New Birth? Initially, the COB will proposed: A model that allows annual conferences to determine their own choices about the ordination of LGBTQ persons and local congregations the option of allowing same sex marriages The CB initially wanted not to support two alternate proposals: A conservative model to affirm the current Book of Discipline with more accountability A liberal model to remove restrictive language regarding homosexuality and ordination Now, correctly, the COB has withdrawn from the discussion and will let the General Conference enact its will with even more options expected.
No outcome is certain. The Holy Spirit, we pray, may also be involved! Three Foci Every option has at least three facets. The third and equally important focus are fundamental issues of polity, property, and finances. Strategies and answers will be needed soon. Connectionalism The UMC is a connectional system that requires a common understanding of doctrine, discipline, and polity.
Decline and Division Has Begun Parallel to these debates, the great majority of congregations in the US have been losing members for the past 50 years. Personal Note I have attended 8 General Conferences since