United Methodist Bishop’s Call to Action

I find hope from this progress report…

Progress Report

Call to Action Steering Committee

November 2009

Background and Introduction

The Call to Action as adopted by the Council of Bishops in May 2009 challenged a Steering Committee “to guide our denominational response to the urgent opportunity for further alignment of the mission of the church and the four areas of focus, and to refashion and reposition the church for the 21st century.” The Committee was charged with the task of bringing forward “…a plan of action that will lead to reordering the life of the church.” Central to that Call to Action was the resolve to be guided by the mission of the church (“to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world”) and the four areas of focus that have emerged as our way of living into that mission. The world-wide economic crisis formed the context and climate for such an undertaking.

Over the last six months the Steering Committee that was created following the spring meetings of the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table has met in Chicago on three occasions, and shared numerous emails, reports, papers, and conversations. We have been very ably assisted through this process by a consultant, Peter Gerend from Duke Corporate Education, related to the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina. We gratefully acknowledge the funding support provided through the Connectional Table.

In addition to many Biblical images and metaphors that surfaced in the course of our conversations, we grounded ourselves and our work in Wesleyan heritage by reading once again “The United Methodist Way: Living the Christian Life in Covenant with Christ and One Another” (a paper that was prepared for the November 2007 Extended Cabinet Retreat) and “The Character of a Methodist” by John Wesley. In preparation for our study, we also read two books: A Sense of Urgency by John Kotter and A Failure of Nerve by Edwin Friedman. How the Mighty Fall by Jim Collins was also a resource for several of us.

The presenting critical question that has guided the work of the Steering Committee:

Will we passively accept the reality of the continued decline of United Methodism in the United States and Western Europe OR with urgency and passion choose to move toward achieving our common mission of making disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world in creative, fresh, and bold new ways in all parts of the world?

In the course of our time together we created a vision of what the church of the future might be:

As United Methodists, we dream of a church…

  • With more accountability to Gospel and less conformity to an outdated, bureaucratic system
  • With more participation with young people and less rhetoric about good intentions
  • With more ministry with the poor and less with the privileged
  • With more expectation for growth and less acceptance of status quo
  • With more engagement with the margins and less traditionalism
  • With more work on the Four Focus Areas and less on sub-optimal tasks
  • With more positive expression of our Methodist connection in ecumenical, interfaith families and less autonomy and parochial self-interest
  • With more dreaming about what will be and less struggling to preserve what was
  • With more giving to direct ministry and less to administration
  • With more grace and freedom and fewer rules
  • With more trust and less cynicism

Process

With the framing question and dream in mind, we engaged in several exercises that surfaced numerous interventions that could become system-changing actions. Out of those we reached consensus around several processes that, if implemented, would lead to “a holistic 21st century method for being and doing church around the world in radically new ways.”

  1. Developing metrics for effectiveness and accountability across the church
  2. Rebuilding our leadership development system, with special attention to young people
  3. Eliminating the guaranteed appointment
  4. Recasting the quadrennial General Conference
  5. Reordering the life of the church
  6. Establishing a “global office” or central organizing center for coordination and efficiency
  7. Constructing a viable financial future

We have engaged in numerous conversations to gather information from a wide constituency. We have received electronic feedback from a cross-section of United Methodists in response to preliminary ideas and drafts of possibilities built around this list of interventions, and our original list was revised as a result of these responses.

These are significant issues with which we have been wrestling. In this process, we have confirmed often and in many ways, through many voices, that the UMC is a highly complex organization. To redesign and reorder the life of the church requires adaptive change, and that change requires hard work. To suggest a Biblical image, we have left Egypt and are making our way through the wilderness toward the “promised land.” We are not there yet, and there is even more hard work and disruption ahead as we design and develop a comprehensive new system that will, by God’s grace, empower us to achieve the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Easy answers may lead to quick fixes that garner popular support but may also lead to wrong choices that compromise our desire to move toward achieving the mission. We believe that what is demanded of us at this time, as a people of faith who worship and serve God through the UMC, is either to “convince the world of the reality of the Gospel or leave it unconvinced.”  (¶129, The Book of Discipline)

Recommendations

Item #1 It is imperative that clearly defined measurements, standards, and expectations be established and applied, thus providing a standard for accountability across the connection. It will be as local churches and annual conferences are held accountable for outcomes of faithful and fruitful ministry that our mission will be accomplished. We call upon the Council of Bishops to immediately begin a process of consultation, conferencing, and conversation with stakeholders and constituents that will lead to developing a comprehensive set of metrics to be applied at every level of the church: lay and clergy leaders, local churches, districts and annual conferences, and the general church.

Item #2 Our Steering Committee surfaced the need to “redesign the leadership development system” and quickly saw this in the context of and in relation to one of the Four Areas of Focus (“developing principled Christian leaders”). We urge the Vision Pathway Team of the Council of Bishops, and others working on this Area of Focus, to approach this task with urgency. We will be forwarding to those groups the papers and notes of our conversations around leadership development and formation.

We urge the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table to lead the church in prioritizing the leadership and participation of youth and young adults in all areas and at all levels of the church’s ministry, inviting youth and young adults to join in shaping the mission, worship, education, fellowship and outreach of the church.  We recognize that youth and young adults are not the “future” of the church but instead are persons with gifts and passions that can help all of us understand and relate the gospel to the cultures of today.

Item #3 Closely linked to redesigning our leadership development system is the recognition of a need to reconsider our system of deploying clergy across the church. The phrase, “eliminating the guaranteed appointment,” was a way to capture our sense that deployment and fruitfulness are linked. We know that the Ministry Study Committee is addressing the same concern and therefore refer this item to them, along with our encouragement to diligently address the many angles of this question.

Item #4 We affirm the invitation in the original Call to Action “to collaborate with the General Commission on the General Conference and the General Council on Finance and Administration to redesign the plan and operation of the 2012 General Conference.”  We call upon the Council of Bishops, the General Commission on the General Conference, and the Rules Committee to pursue this task immediately. After our deliberations over these last months, we believe that conversation must be expanded to include a total revamping of General Conference, including frequency and format.

Items #5, #6, and #7

The final three items in our list of interventions are intricately connected. Above all we believe that any reordering or reshaping of the general church absolutely must be done as a means of achieving the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” and as a vehicle for more effectively integrating the Four Areas of Focus into the connection and the fabric of the denomination, starting at the local church level. The reordering at the general church must be accomplished not as a top-down initiative, but as a way of repositioning, modeling, equipping, and resourcing the whole church for the twenty-first century.

The Steering Committee believes that this reordering includes some scenario involving a reduced number of general agencies, coupled with the creation of an executive, coordinating office for the denomination in order that our mission and ministries around the world will be strengthened. We do not believe that we can, or should, create a “central office” (whatever title it may ultimately given) as another layer of bureaucracy, simply added to what already exists.

We explored several scenarios and identified principles to guide the development of a plan that will provide flexibility, rapid response, collaboration, and energy for accomplishing the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Those principles include at least:

  • Starting with no preconceived ideas of what will continue, be changed, or be ended
  • Becoming nimble, lean, minimal and aligned and effective
  • Aligning all facets of the church with the mission, lived out through the Four Areas of Focus
  • Becoming more financially sustainable in order to assure the future
  • Analyzing all Disciplinary mandates to glean only what is essential to achieve the mission

We know that alignment is essential! However, before designing the specifics of any future scenario or system-wide reordering of the denomination, we must evaluate the whole system. In order to achieve the best alignment we are convinced of the necessity of performing an operational assessment of the structures and relationships with the current system, including general agencies, the Council of Bishops, and the Annual Conferences. To achieve this complex task, we will recommend that we contract with an outside, independent group that can lead us through this process.

We know that data regarding our current and future financial obligations at all levels of the connection must be gathered before drafting a means of assuring a viable financial future for the UMC and as part of our operational assessment. We call on the Connectional Table to work with urgency to assemble the data and give direction for the church. (¶904, The Book of Discipline, 2008)

Next Steps Going Forward

We must receive feedback and insights from a large number and a wide range of United Methodist voices, identified leaders of the denomination as well as those faithful ones who sit in our pews and who serve Jesus daily in the world. We recommend working with an organization that can design an internet-based survey instrument and can receive, analyze, and summarize the results.

We call upon the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table to create and fund a team that will lead the next phase of this journey. This team will receive and review the data gathered and generate a response based on the results of the assessments. The scenarios the current Steering Committee has developed may be incorporated as starting points for the work of this new team.

In order to move the process forward and design the reordering the life of the church, the Steering Committee recommends the following steps as the next phase of this critical work.

The creation of a new Steering Team composed of twelve (12) persons, including no more than five (5) of the current committee members. We recommend that Bishop Gregory Palmer be named the chair and convener of this Steering Team. Members of this new Steering Team will be named by the current committee, with attention given to expertise and diversity, and to passion and vision.

The creation of a four-person Project Team, led by a Project Manager with whom we will contract for oversight of the work. The Project Team will function as the day-to-day work team, interfacing with the various constituencies and with the Operational Assessment group to be selected. The Steering Team will give direction and will receive updated reports from the on-going work of the Project Team.

Every bishop will host a series of conversations in her or his area. These conversations will focus on responses and suggestions for reordering the life of the church, and for establishing metrics for use in evaluation and accountability. (See Item #1 above)

In order to adequately fund the next steps in this undertaking, we request funding support through the Connectional Table. The distribution of these funds will be for the purpose of securing contracts with an organization that will perform the Operational Assessment, including on-line surveys with analysis, and with a Project Manager who will devote full time and attention to the process. In addition, the funds will be used for the expenses of the Teams, including travel and meeting time. In consultation with those who work with such processes and assessments, we believe an amount not to exceed $500,000 will be needed.

Finally, that a progress report and an accounting will be given at the spring 2010 meetings of the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table, with final recommendations made to the COB and CT in the fall of 2010.

MEMBERS OF THE STEERING COMMITTEE

Bishops

  • Gregory Palmer, Chair
  • Larry Goodpaster, Project Manager
  • Grant Hagiya
  • John Hopkins
  • Joel Martinez
  • Sharon Rader
  • Mary Ann Swenson
  • Rosemarie Wenner
  • John Yambasu

General Secretaries

  • Neil Alexander
  • Barbara Boigegrain
  • Karen Greenwaldt
  • Erin Hawkins
  • Larry Hollon
  • Moses Kumar

Connectional Table

  • Benjamin Boruff
  • Jay Brim
  • Deborah McLeod

Support Staff

  • Diane Degnan, Communications
  • Mary Figueredo,  GBOPHB, Recording Secretary

Consultant

  • Pete Gerend, Duke Corporate Education
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3 thoughts on “United Methodist Bishop’s Call to Action

  1. Am I the only one that finds it odd that they recommend reducing the administration, but recommend only administrative tasks?

    Finally, I am getting personally frustrated with all the talk of metrics and financial planning that goes on in the church. When Jesus commissioned the seventy, he didn’t say, “Go and visit twenty towns. Tell 500 people about the Kingdom. Come back with the names of 75 converts….” He told them to preach the word and love others.

    Should the UMC mandate really be that much more complicated? And I personally believe that if we strive to make every action an act of love, the metrics and financials will work out. God will provide for those who do his work. Isn’t that what Jesus taught?

    (Note, I am not speaking for or against $10 million church buildings in this statement. Each person/congregation/distric/region/etc. has to prayerfully consider their needs and determine how to allocate their blessings.)

  2. Andrew,

    One comment sticks in my gut about some comments I read periodically. That comment goes something like this:

    “Many people say denomination no longer matters.”

    Denomination doesn’t matter squat until you or someone you love becomes a target of exclusion in a church congregation for some scriptural or doctrinal interpretive reason. For example, we could examine divorce and remarriage, or being refused Holy Communion, or not being allowed to participate in some event, ministry, or activity because of gender or race.

    When that happens… Suddenly, denomination DOES matter.

    This is where the UMC truly has an edge over many other non-denominationals and denominations. Yes, there may be controversies abrew, but overall the UMC really has its act together as far as doctrine is concerned. (Doctrine is different from administration and beauracracy, where there are significant problems due to archaic organizational structure and duplicity in governance.) We UMC members and close followers tend to focus on flash-point doctrinal controversies (and it makes headline TV and internet news). However, UMC doctrine of the trinity, of creation/evolution, the Bible, the resurrection, women in the church, race, war, military service, etc. is really well grounded and rounded.

    The problem is many UMC’s are trying to hide from being UM! Why? The denomination IS weakened when a pastor decides that they no longer like the UMC because of the hot-button issues, including administrative/governance issues (while ignoring all the positive doctrinal reasons to be UM). Also, many in lay leadership positions only get caught up in the hot-button doctrinal or governance issues.

    Getting caught up in this tends to dominate some admin councils, and ministry falls by the wayside into a bed of UM politics and policy. Who loses? People lose. Potential new members lose? The community loses.

    Leadership in our churches need to keep focused on the purpose of being a UM church. God has worked miracles throughout the history of the church, and the UMC. The difference made to people’s lives, both socially and evangelically, are astounding. In spite of ourselves, God is doing kingdom work through the UMC.

    Demographics may be an issue in the UMC, but the same demographics impacting the UMC are also at work in the U.S. and world at the same time. No one is immune. The demographics issues will need to be addressed from the halls of Congress all the way down to the church nurse as time goes on. I see that as a naturally evolving issue to be dealt with as demographics shift.

    What’s hurting the UMC are people overemphasizing hot-button topics as if General Conference, or Annual Conference, or coffee around a table on Sunday morning was a Fox News hype story… complete with screaming, rudeness, disruption, right vs. wrong, condemnation of others to their faces, and worst of all… total irrelevance and lack of authenticity as to its relationship to serving Christ’s kingdom and the myriad of needs out there.

    If young people are going to return and be welcomed into the church, they are going to have to be able to determine that identification with the UM denomination DOES matter. If our doctrine matters, then current UM members and pastors need to be well versed in and embrace the UM doctrine. We need to hold true to our well-balanced, time-tested established beliefs, avoid trying to turn controversial issues into a battleground, and use secular communication and education technologies to our full advantage.

    If there IS something the UMC does to chase off young people, I think it may be these two points:

    A. Stewardship campaigns and tithing. Although it may be as natural and inborn as bread and butter for a pastor to lead the congregation in a fall stewardship campaign (churches do need money to function), sometimes pastors and finance committees (generally consisting of wealthy individuals) really do get carried away. The concept of tithing to a household making $80,000 to $100,000 per year is not the perception of tithing to a household of twenty-somethings dependent on minimum wage with two jobs and two little mouths to feed. Churches and pastors need to do some simple percentage math, have some heart, and use common sense and qualifying language when requesting “everyone” to tithe. A $120 utility bill for a young family is not the same percentage to that budget as it would be for the higher earners. So, asking (or directly or indirectly perpetuating guilt towards) all worshippers equally on 10% tithing is a turn off, especially to young people. They’ll choose their kids every time! If salvation by guilt does not work in the UMC (and our denomination does not practice this in our doctrine… denomination matters!), why would tithing by guilt do so? Both scenarios will chase people away to choose an inexpensive stroll down by the water on Sunday, rather than to be in church worshipping God (which is the central point of the church)! When we chase people from worshipping God, something is wrong, because enabling the worship of God should be #1.)

    The second issue, in my humble opinion, that chases away young people is this:

    B. Lack of IT connectivity and one-to-one pastoral/lay interaction DURING church/worship and while on the church campus. If UMC’s do not get wireless systems up and running soon, I’m going to scream! Welcome to 2010! Hello? Wireless connect should be available for ALL Christian ed scenarios, no matter what the 85 year old Admin Board chairman says! I’m also tired of pastors having the only word on Sunday mornings at worship. What ever happened to the priesthood of all believers? Adam Hamilton’s recent addition of an optional Q & A session following sermons on Sunday evenings is an OUTSTANDING idea whose time is way past overdue in church. Pastors have hidden forever behind the pulpit as if were a bullet-proof vest. It’s time for them to be challenged by those in the congregation, and not be so passive. It’s time for congregants to not just HEAR what our pastors say they believe and what the Bible says, but also to question WHY they believe it, and to challenge some of their sermon statements or thoughts. If pastors can get the guts up to open up publicly to receiving challenging questions from their own parish members and attendees, the pastors may become stronger people and UM leaders for it! They will also be more understanding of what this generation is after with regard to the buzzword “authenticity.”

    Denomination DOES matter. Just wait until women are suppressed again to the pew by some non-denominational church somewhere, based upon some cultural utterance of the Apostle Paul 2000 years ago. Just wait until the twenty and thirty somethings start getting divorced and become condemned in their congregations and separated from Holy Communion. Just wait until some non-denominational advocates continuance of a marriage where a spouse and children are being abused and harmed, just because the “Bible says so”.

    Denomination WILL matter then. And those people will begin searching for a loving church whose doctrine reaches out in the name of Christ to touch, heal, and to allow for being reborn!

    Here’s the REAL question facing the UM pastors and members today: Are UM’s up to the challenge of defending their beliefs and carrying forward the well-founded doctrine of their denomination? That may be the REAL problem that the “Call To Action” committee might discover.

    If the UM pastors, in particular, are all up in arms over their pensions and insurance problems, or appointment problems, etc., may I suggest they reexamine their ministry (for the good of the denomination and spirtually starving laity) from the perspective of:

    — Christian servanthood
    — overall UM doctrinal beliefs (not just the above financial/personnel issues)
    — being in prayer about the future of the UMC

    Without your dedication to the now and future, pastors, the UM is a sunk ship. We need you to be well-grounded Methodists, defenders of the faith and denomination, yet willing to adjust in the rapidly changing world that all of laity have to live daily within just to make it.

    It’s not the young people avoiding the UMC. I believe Methodists are attempting to avoid Methodism, almost exclusively because of hot-button topics and admin/governance issues. Young adults feel the tension, and they are sitting on the sidelines… waiting for us to be authentic to our doctrine and personal belief in Christ as the resurrected Savior of our hearts and soul!

    Denomination DOES matter. Just wait and see. But, are we ready to truly welcome those families, singles, and children who will eventually run into the doctrinal barriers afforded by other churches? Or are we caught up looking at our internal problems as a log, when all they really are floaters in the fluid of our own eyes?

    Trying to stay focused amid the storm of the UMC, I’m

    Larry McDonald – Just plain old laity.
    Pensacola, FL

    • Larry – I appreciate your thoughts and opinions here. I agree that there is a need to reexamine ministry across many sectors of the church. Thank you for your thought and time in crafting this response.

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