Saturday, December 13, 2008

Is The United Methodist Church Like the Big 3?

Working in campus ministry my university students have taught me that an advantage of Facebook notes is dialogue rather than monologue. So, I have an off day, stray thought which is totally incomplete and which needs your input.

As we continue to watch the economic fallout and the necessary restructuring of our economy (and the major entities) it strikes me that many of the institutions of the last 50+ years MUST now figure out how to survive and thrive in this new world. Some will retool while many will likely disappear in the next year or two. What does this mean for retooling a religious denomination such as the UMC? The inherent danger in all of this is that while some groups saw the warnings, and had discussions, they just didn't move quickly enough. Will the fate of some of the Big 3 be the fate of the similarly institutionally obese UMC? By extension we could just as easily talk about a local congregation. Are we GM or Toyota in our community?

Some questions in comparison:
  • Can these institutions undo their growth, management style, and culture of the last decade/s quickly enough to gain their footing in these times?

  • Will they move past talk to quick, strategic action? Or do we wait a Year or, worse yet, FOUR YEARS! (This could be a discussion for another time)

  • Salaries & expectations of the institution by the administration & workers seem to be a major issue with the Big 3. This seems comparable to the UMC. How can we "undo" this and refocus on the consumer or potential consumer? Or will it be an impasse that causes our demise?

  • Are there basic steps common in such institutional retooling- other than establishing more committees?

  • Or is this merely a part of an institutional life cycle to be expected? Perhaps the option is that we merely serve as the clergy officiating the last years of a dying institution and this is our role.-Change IS going to happen. Will the UMC have the (what word should we use?!) resolve to do what is necessary to retool. If a for profit group can't do this and is hampered by a self inflicted hamstring injury (NOTE: from obesity not activity!) what are the odds a religious institution will survive?

We live in a time with an accelerated pattern of institutional change. But instead of fear I think there are many opportunities for us to follow the Living Christ in new and exciting ways. Can this even occur in a large institution or is best lived out in smaller groupings? Perhaps we might have opportunity to quickly lead the institutions we've served for these past years into a vibrant present and future.

What do you think?



I believe it all boils down to our FOCUS. Much of what I hear in the denomination FOCUSES on preservation and growth of the institution. In my opinion, this can never work. It does not allow for creativity, openness to change, etc. The future of the UMC, instead, depends on us having a Kingdom FOCUS. Being willing to do whatever it takes to enlarge God's Kingdom in this world and see it missionally make a difference. This is difficult for an institution to deal with. Institutions are almost always unwilling to let this thing become whatever it will become. We want to have a "handle" on things. But the Spirit of God will not be bound by us controlling Him. He will work where He wants to make His Kingdom a reality. Bottom line, I don't believe God is interested in saving our institution - this is the wrong focus. He is interested in us participating in the missional work of His Kingdom.

David said...

Loved this so much I am linking to it in my posts on Visioning

Bob Hoeller said...

I agree with John, but I would also say that when organisms become organizations we lose a great deal of our relational nature. Jesus began a revolution that stated from the bottom and moved up, but never lost sight of the people at the bottom. The denominational church, (like the big three did with the dreams of their pioneers) has completely turned that revolution upside down and structured it quite nicely and did the worst thing they could do; made us all comfortable. We have become “humans doing” instead of “human beings.” Organizations are places to get things done, organisms are beings who do things. Organizations are places to go and do things, organisms are things going places. We have created an atmosphere where we pride ourselves on our connectionalism and yet we seem to be very disconnected. Our focus has to be a Kingdom focus, one like Jesus had. We have taken on a big business big government model and applied it and presto, we became an organization. John says the Spirit of God will not be bound, and indeed He will not. But it is human nature to keep on going as if we have Him right where we want Him, right where we left Him. If we look at scripture we can see the departure of the Spirit presence of God from the temple in the book of Ezekiel. The interesting thing is the Israelites continue to bring their sacrifices, continue to make their pleas, continue their rituals as if His Spirit presence never left. I think the danger in going our own way is that we might find ourselves without the unbound Spirit leading the way. As to the comparison to the Big Three auto makers: the irony is that we expect the CEOs or Congress, or the Unions to get them out of this mess, but those groups are the ones who benefit most from the way things always were. If we are to keep from falling into that same trap those of us who benefit the most from the current structure must completely change the way we think about everything. This includes our deacon system, elder system, local pastor system, apportionment system, and of course our general board system. God is a fast mover, and God is always on the move. Organizations cannot turn on a dime to meet the Kingdom in its forward motion, a loving relational missional, worshiping body of Christ that is truly connected can.

Pamela said...

God will work where there are people who will let Him. If we shut Him out He will work through others in other "denominations". God's will be done on earth as it is in heaven, not the UMC's.