Saturday, November 23, 2013

Hotbed, Deathbed, or Seedbed

It's been a very busy fall in ministry with work in the local church and the larger Church.  Recently I spent time in Moscow, Russia as part of a North Georgia Annual Conference UMC delegation establishing a 10 year partnership with the Eurasia area of the UMC with focus on the Moscow seminary and the area UMC congregations.  What a challenge to think of Methodist Christian principles that will work in that context!  I followed the UMC Council of Bishops during their week long meeting at Lake Junaluska.  What a challenge as they lead a global church even while struggling hot topics found in some national/regional issues! 

All of this is percolating in my mind today in a curious way as I'm in a reflective mood working on Thanksgiving.  #COB2013 reinforced for me that the UMC family has incredibly different agendas in various regions, different expectations, values and ways of interpreting/communicating Scripture & faith, and seem to be defining "vital church" in all sorts of ways.  We seem to be in quite a mess that's been well blogged, opined, and reported upon.  Are we a divided house, a dysfunctional family, or just a big family reunion that's very diverse with a lot of history?!

This ruminating has me wondering where United Methodism is currently doing well, where we are in ICU or dying, and where new life is springing forth.   

My sense is that most of us don't self evaluate and communicate the truth on these matters too well.  We don't do well with that regarding ourselves, anyone, or any group we love.  Who wants to admit they are dying?!  Is the script we operate on rooted in reality?  Even in our interactions with one another we'll typically think/know we are right, think we know what's right to say and do, and are the exemplars of Methodist Christian faith.  It seems to me there should be someone, some agency, that would clearly and definitively say one conference or region is dying, one is thriving, and another is a seedbed that is birthing a new church or experiencing a resurrection of an old church.    

In personal interactions the dialogue and communication is different with someone early in life, someone growing rapidly, and someone who is dying.  Shouldn't communication among various churches in these different states/regions also be appropriately nuance?  Wouldn't we of necessity have different agendas, different concerns, and perhaps markedly different ideas on what the priorities are?  Or maybe this is the way we think about one another when we are tweeting or on our soap box as we assume our superiority of knowledge and that if the other will just listen and do as I say we'll make progress. 

In my mind I confess I tend to think the UMC is vibrant in some places in the southeastern US, declining in the US northeast and west, and being birthed and in the early years in a number of international settings.  But I wonder if that's dated information and merely my bias!  What if the picture is really that the UMC is declining in the US, vibrant in some of the existing forms in Africa, South America and Asia, and being born in some of the countries or regions of those vibrant conferences?!  Perhaps you have the same trouble.    

Today I find I'm even more curious about the state of Methodism, and in particular United Methodism, across the globe.  By that, I'm wondering where we are being birthed, where we are thriving, and where we are dying.  Now, I'm looking for more than anecdote or rhetoric, but reasonable facts, figures, in addition to the narrative of a UMC conference and churches that represent the Wesleyan doctrine and practice.  Wouldn't this be a compelling and a clear view of quantity and quality that could assist us in knowing how we are doing?  It might also help us to know in our communication with one another in a different region or in a global setting how we might better understand each other.         

Related to this, I'm also curious what sorts of folk we need elected as delegates to GC2016.  More than ever I think I'll be looking for people who have a global view, solid Wesleyan perspective, able to communicate well with a global church (meaning they listen more than they talk), and are more future driven in their thinking and decision making.  So, if you want my vote know that I'll want to see that you help us build a church for the next 40 years- in North GA, the US, and the world- that you can communicate well with people whether you are sharing the story in Augusta, Georgia, USA or in Moscow, Russia. 

If you are comfortable in a seedbed we're thinking in similar ways.

Friday, November 22, 2013

The Global UMC As a 100 Member Congregation: Only Questions

So, what would the global UMC look like if boiled down to a 100 member congregation?

While we can struggle to understand the dynamics of a large, global denomination, most of us have experience with congregational dynamics.  Even a group of 100 can get messy as you work with past/present/future, deal with varied expectations, work on communication, and seek to follow God AND stick together for the work of Christ today. 

I think I've seen this somewhere approach- either narrative style or infographic style- or was that related to another topic and I've merely overlaid it on the UMC?  Maybe it was just a dream after this wild week of UMC news.  I hope to get my hands on current numbers to quantify some of this, but for now, it's an interesting exercise.  Here are a few of my questions that most of us are asking:

We are multi-ethnic, diverse ages, & mixed in all the "ologies"- theologically, socially, politically, economically, etc.  Is this a strength or weakness?  What holds us together?  Can we continue to find strength in the diversity or will the fracture lines give way to separation or divorce?

We have a mix of feelings in the congregation of some who are optimistic about the future, some who are deeply troubled as they feel their particular issues are not playing out the way they desire, and some who are realistic yet concerned.  Most will be passionate and opinionated!  What will the Church look like?  Does doctrine or theology hold us together?  Polity?  Money?  Or something else?  How do we best try to encourage and challenge each other in healthy ways that aren't escalating conflict?  Or is it best to push the battle and let it all "play out" as we stand for God and what is right? 

As a congregation we might have a sense of loss of numbers from one part of town, but growth from another part of town.  Some who help leadership in the past have a diminishing voice.  Some who are newer to the church are exerting their influence and thought as their numbers grow.  We have people, but will we continue to have funding?  What ministries are essential to all in the church?  What missions and ministries are most effective to reach our neighborhoods?  Are there issues that are important to "one part of town," yet either unimportant or divisive in another area?  Is there a practical way to have input from the small groups who might then come together as an executive committee? 

In our church, which is getting larger and more complex even while dealing with conflict, how do we help folk to communicate in healthy ways?  Is this even possible with the size and complexity of the church now?  It's likely that blogging, tweeting, and some forms of talk only add to the entrenchment of camps, the demonizing of one another, and the continued escalation of hostility.  How do we break apart our "soap boxes" in order to get beyond small groups fighting?  Or, if we accept that ongoing conflict is part of our body, are these birth or death pangs or something else?

In a form of church that doesn't have "a" leader, but functions more by committee, how do we push forward during times of change, times of conflict, and times that require we pull together as a team or some form of unity that helps us get beyond an impasse.  How do we do that in our large church where no one is going to get everything they want or expect?  Is there a consultant or leader that all would follow?  Are we held in the impasse by the committees?  What is the best way beyond political gridlock and onto action and living in the Kingdom of God?  Does our polity, at this point, best reflect the doctrine and practical needs of the various "neighborhoods?"

How are we following Jesus today in ways that are vital, alive, and true to the Gospel and the Wesleyan way?  Are we handing off a denomination to the next generation that they can continue to sustain and grow? 

If we don't arrive at some shared, common answers to these questions GC2016, and the committees, COB meetings, and events leading up to it will merely follow the pattern we've been stuck in.  Let's avoid "more of the same" and the build-up/let down of GC2012.