The Connectional Table has voted to endorse the recommendations of the Call to Action report, a series of proposals designed to restructure the United Methodist Church, reverse declining trends in the US, and help focus the UMC into an outcome-based denomination (I think these are fair and accurate descriptions of the report).
I will say, as these conversations have played out, I have been far less appalled than I thought I would be. As I have written before, I have been concerned that the language of crisis would give cover to those who want to make huge changes to the way the United Methodist Church functions, such that what Jeremy Smith has called "creeping congregationalism" were allowed to take place. I have little tolerance for the language of crisis, because it seems that whenever we talk about "crisis," we figure that we should make changes and evaluate later, rather than moving slowly and deliberately.
Sure, there are issues that need to be addressed. I don't think you can deny that, but there are always issues that need to be addressed. The General Conference meets every four years for a reason; the world changes, the church changes, perhaps even God changes. We need to be able to change the way we understand the church, so we meet every four years to do so.
So when I read the relatively measured steps of the Connectional Table's recommendations, I breathe a sigh of relief. I do have some issues with this analysis, though, and I do have concerns that I hope will be addressed in the actual legislation before General Conference.
1. As the General Conference looks at weakening the language of "guaranteed appointment," or eliminating the language altogether, how can the annual conference implement structure that holistically evaluate clergy effectiveness (that is, protecting clergy from, God forbid, a Bishop with ulterior motives) without creating another Methodist logistical nightmare? There are, of course, already in the Book of Discipline guidelines for dealing with ineffective clergy, but my understanding is that the guidelines are so difficult to implement and complicated that they are almost never used. Put another way, as someone new to ministry, I want to be encouraged to be effective, and I want to be dealt with if I am showing ineffectiveness, but I don't want to be kicked out of the ministry for ideological or political reasons.
2. How can the General Conference realign the General Agencies, necessarily reducing staff, without putting too much of the work of these Agencies on the local church and its pastor? As someone who has worked for a jurisdictional agency, as well as someone who serves the local church in addition to some conference responsibilities, I am particularly sensitive to the workload associated with carrying out the mission of the larger Church. Local churches, pastors, and laity ought to have a role in promoting the mission of the Church, but there are benefits to a connectional system. The UMC needs full-time staff devoted to these matters. Pastors simply do not have time to carry out their duties in the local church and spend a large segment of their time driving denominational (or conference-wide) goals.
3. As the denomination looks to evaluate how we allocate apportionments, what happens NEXT General Conference once we have spent the $60 million proposed to help restructure the church? I have seen the church, time and again, simply eliminate these resources when it comes time to put together another budget, rather than reallocate them to the mission of the UMC. Also, as we look to income-based apportionment giving, will we bring in far less money than the current system? What does that do to our mission?
4. Finally, as has been admitted by the head of the Connectional Table, where is the theological basis for any of these recommendations? To quote Mary Brook Casad's own analysis of the Table's actions:
I've heard the challenge of showing the theological underpinnings to these recommendations. I would like to thank each person who is making the effort to raise these important questions. While the Connectional Table, in collaboration with the Council of Bishops, has set the process in motion, it will take all of us in faithful conversation to discern where the Spirit of God is leading us.
I commend the transparency of the Connectional Table in all of this, but I note that what you will not find in that analysis is any kind of answer about why the language of the Call to Action report--and the work of the Connectional Table--includes nothing theological, nothing scriptural, nothing noting that the Church is any different than a big business looking to maximize its earnings. Again, I don't mean to shoot down these recommendations, nor the good work of the Connectional Table, but when you say something like "I've heard the challenge of showing the theological underpinnings to these recommendations" and then don't actually show the theological underpinnings, I begin to wonder if there are, in fact, theological underpinnings.
This is an interesting time for the UMC, and an interesting time to be a young minister. I would hope these questions help to clarify the implications of such sweeping changes.
(In the original post, I neglected to link to today's post from the aforementioned--and quite reasonable--Jeremy Smith. Obviously it was his thoughts that got me thinking today. Go read them.)