Saturday, April 16, 2011

Bullard on the Coming Death of Denominations

Catch some insightful thoughts and questions below with George Bullard. He has other recent videos which go into more detail in case you are intrigued by his synopsis here. A few of his thoughts--put into my words and context-- are found in 5 brief videos recently posted that caught my attention:

*He contends that a denomination needs to start new congregations in a 3% proportion to existing congregations. For North GA UMC that would mean around 29-30 new congregations a year. While we had a more aggressive pace a few years ago we've backed off of that due to funding and political backlash from existing congregations. Ironic, huh?

*"If 60-90% of a denominations churches are plateaued or dying then the denomination is on the slide toward death." I can see this in the Augusta District of the UMC as it is tough to see how half of the churches will be alive in 10 years unless there is a revival, renewal, and strong outreach to the younger generations. How quickly will 94 churches boil down to 20??

Bullard pushes me even more in my thoughts regarding denominations dying due to success.

*He points to denominations that are dying due to success in demanding or hoping for loyalty rather than earning it.

*Further, he talks about dying due to the success of a system of clergy education and support that has more control yet lacks success and lacks a "farm system" for engaging young clergy. Serving on a conference Board of Ordained Ministry I'd really like to see what he proposes which walks that tight rope between a cohesive denominational approach and a system which promotes effectiveness & a variety of clergy rising through the ranks in effectiveness.

*I'm also intrigued by Bullard's thought of denom's dying due to success in driving away congregations and constituents by explosively dealing with moral and theological issues. How might we be creating an "ensmallment rather than an enlargement" movement in the UMC and with upcoming conferences?

*The last major point is perhaps the most profound in terms of the UMC with upcoming conferences. Bullard says that some denominations are dying due to success as we "restructure or retask national agencies and denomination thinking that is the same as renewing the spiritual strategic direction" of the denomination. Such a move is actually "preparing for another restructuring which will happen in another 5-7 years." Perhaps if we do both-- follow God and seek to restructure in faithful ways--then maybe we find the right balance? With so many agendas, campaigns, and personalities in any denomination it would take a miracle of some sort to get us on task with a sense of shared unity and ministry purpose!

As I'm preparing for Easter I'm thinking of my personal salvation, and Bullard helps me to consider what resurrection means for the church and denomination that I love. A spiritual renewal, a transformation of clergy and laity, and obedient acts of faith are called for as we seek to be useful to the work of the Kingdom of God in our world today. Bullard certainly pushes in ways that call us beyond the norm in our denominational life. Surely God calls us to something we can act upon and can hand to the next generation in better shape than we found it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Methodists in Mission & Some Questions

The General Board of Global Ministries General Secretary, Thomas Kemper, offers an interesting spring report to GBGM. He makes note of doctoral research out of The School of Theology at Boston University which will soon be released in The Methodist Review. Professor Dana Robert and PhD candidate David Scott have done a comparative study of Methodism and sister denominations in various countries. Sadly the word "anemic" pops up and a number of questions and conclusions are developed. See the link below for the full report from Kemper, and ponder the section of his report that includes the Robert/Scott material. I've copied this section as it offers some strong observations and questions for GBGM and the UMC.

"In looking at their statistical data, Robert and Scott reflect on ecclesiological, structural,sociological, cultural, and theological reasons for the anemia; they raise several 'tough' but highly relevant questions for United Methodism and this agency. I want to cite just four of these questions, making minimal comments. You as mission board directors will get the points. Remember that these questions are in relation to comparative growth rates alongside sister denominations in various broadly scattered countries:

 Do 'bureaucratic, unwieldy, outdated structures' hinder the 'type of flexibility and indigenous initiatives necessary for strong growth?' I simply note that at Global
Ministries we observe greater growth in Mission Initiatives where the forms of
mission are most closely aligned with indigenous social and cultural structures.

 What about the efficacy of 'one size fits all' theories and practices 'in which
North American middle-class culture is a normative value imposed on United
Methodism outside the US?' I ask: Do we need to look again at the vitality of
mission-founded, now-autonomous Methodist churches that have modified
American and European norms? I am thinking especially of Latin America.

 Has a culture of dependency created 'over-reliance on American resources' by
some parts of the church and 'neo-colonial attitudes on the parts of others?' May
I point here to the impressive struggle of our congregations and annual
conferences in Eurasia to achieve both spiritual and organizational maturity,
including an increasing degree of financial self-sufficiency? In his leadership in
this pilgrimage, Bishop Hans Växby is a missionary pioneer and prophet.

 'Could it be possible that the efforts of leadership elites to create a so-called
'global' United Methodism are wasting energy and resources that could be better
spent in paying more attention to local needs, lay mobilization and regional
partnerships?' This is a question with which we as a denomination have
struggled for years and will again in Tampa.

In summing up their questions, Robert and Scott asked whether it might be that the
United Methodist culture is inadequate for the challenges of the 21st century. They
wonder, 'Have we made a decision as a denomination to sacrifice church growth in
order to maintain other important commitments? Or is it the case that holistic ministry (including numerical growth) gushes from a deep well of confident faith that United Methodists lack, relative to the stronger theological or liturgical identities of sister denominations?'"

GBGM Spring 2011 Report

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

If You Could Create a Methodist Denomination from Scratch What Would It Look Like?

With all the talk of a Call to Action, the exciting Annual, Jurisdictional, and General Conference season soon upon us, with some talking of denominational death and others of new life & resurrection, I've had a lunch time curiosity. What if we could start a Methodist denomination from scratch? What would it look like? What elements would you want in it?

For me, I'd like to retain the very best of our theological heritage, yet create a dynamic organization (local congregations and ministries and the Church) and resources (the supporting cast of players that should support church) which would best share those distinctives today. Think of the rediscovery and reappropriation of Francis Asbury and circuit rider zeal and commitment. Think E. Stanley Jones missionary savvy and enthusiasm expressed in many nations. Imagine we are stepping into our Wesleyan glory days as we find ourselves in that intersection of the needs of the world and our availability to God and expression of the Kingdom today. I truly believe this is a possibility though we need to reinvigorate the dream and reform our ways in order to do what God requires. Rather than totally trash the old I find it easier during my lunch break to consider a new Methodist denomination that might allow this. Here are my somewhat random thoughts (in no particular order) as I finish my lunch. These are "raw" thoughts, and not polished in the least, but may provide something to "chew on" in future lunch thoughts.

*Every church and every member focus on the Wesleyan way of Christian salvation and the means of grace. This shared goal of laity & clergy, of local church and conference, of conference and denomination provides the framework for the goals, expectations, and accountability of the system.

*We would continue the fine Methodist tradition of conferencing, but would not have petitions or resolutions (which always makes me think of a United Nations approach!).

* Bishops & "helpers" would spend their time inspiring, encouraging, equipping, & directing the work in bullet #1. Any "out of district or conference" time would be very limited. Being "out of the office," i.e. your appointed area of responsibility, would be unusual rather than the norm. Bishops would not hold such a title for life, & would most likely be appointed to a region of "people and place" that they know and that knows them. The giftedness of the individual by God would be the priority in the use of the person in the work of the Church.

* There would be no "agencies" in this new denomination though there would be a Methodist headquarters that would include all the groups. There would be ministry offices in many regions/nations which would focus on issues most relevant to the accomplishment of the first bullet, e.g. worship, discipleship (including all the "age and stage" areas, small groups, prayer, etc.), evangelism, church leadership & vision (including communication), clergy training & development, new church development, evangelism, mission, etc. These would be housed in a central office and would interrelate to one another, just as they must in any congregation, for a holistic approach to congregational life and the Christian life. Thus, all the continents would have a "central office" which might also find expression in many countries, then in jurisdictions & conferences, and so on. There would be a leader at the central office who would direct the work in vision, supervision, coordination, and communication. Any existing entities (perhaps from a previous denomination or a group merging) would be moved into this umbrella of ministries & all the assets would be used for other ministries or sold. The "connection" then would work in both directions from local to national & from national to local in this continual link that effectively supports every element of the denomination, allows for strong 2 way communication, and allows for certain national or regional nuances that could retain the Methodist emphases while allowing for subtle distinctives necessary for the ministry in varied contexts.

*There would be strong emphasis in training on the variety of specialized ministries needed including preaching, worship & music, discipleship, teaching, age level ministries, evangelism, mission, communication, etc. for laity and clergy.

*The main books would be the Bible, a print or electronic hymnal/music book consistent with bullet #1 and relevant to each nation where this ministry is expressed, a Book of Discipline would be a concise, "slim" 200 page guide, and perhaps a current book of theology, doctrine, or of biblical or faith importance.

Ah well, lunch break is over at my desk, so time is up for now. What would your Methodist denomination look like?