Monday, December 22, 2008

Effective Congregations in Mission for God

My recent observations about U.S. religious denominational life in comparison to the Big 3 reorganization has had much focus on the necessary priority of a local congregation. As the years have gone by denominational advocates have lost sight of this, so that agency budgets continue to mount, administrative officers & staff continue to grow, and in general the denomination and the agencies pull more finances out of the congregations.

See Bishop Willimon's emphasis on a missional church at I think he reflects a fair expectation for a congregation and its leadership (clergy & laity), and I especially appreciate the broader sense of mission and ministry which necessarily engages the local community. If that is the appropriate expectation of the congregation then how must the bishop, the conference, and the denomination (and all of the denominational entities) encourage and advance this work of the local congregation?

This would be a true connectional denominational effort as EVERY layer of the denomination would have focus on ministry in a local context. Imagine the seminaries, the national denominational agencies, the conference bishop and ministry offices, and the district offices of a denomination all networked to encourage and facilitate such ministry as a witness to Jesus Christ! Our work would be interdependent upon the calling, the effectiveness, and the blessings of God at every level, and we'd have clear connections at every level. This would be a church model of denominational life, and not an institutional business model. Leadership at denominational levels would be adept at coaching for ministry effectiveness. Such leadership would be chosen with that ministry supervision and coaching expectation as a priority in mind.

Such effectiveness also has financial implications. A denominational emphasis on effective congregations might not ask how much the denomination or agency needs, but how much the denomination and agency could give to help the congregation be more effective in ministry. Sending 15% of the finances away from the local congregation should not be an expectation in a normal year. In a time of economic recession or depression this certainly can not be the case. A local congregation is not a franchise which must pay its dues. A denominational tithe for mission and ministry beyond the local church is understandable; anything beyond that should be seen as a voluntary offering which is received with humility and gratitude. Certainly we shouldn't expect clergy effectiveness is based primarily on institutional giving! One might be a fine "company man/woman" and supportive of the institution, but should good clergy be penalized if their church does not pay it's denominational dues?

It would be interesting to see again what Bishop Willimon might state as the duties of the district office, the conference office, the seminary, and the denominational offices to facilitate and empower the local congregation in their ministry effectiveness. I think such a reordering of our conference life and denominational life could be our own modern day reformation. Having just received The Financial Commitment of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012 & thinking about the year ahead in my local congregation I can only hope this new day comes sooner rather than later.

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