Can United Methodists Really Adapt?



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Central Conference Organization

The Central Conferences already have authority to organize their work differently. What we have is the oddity of Central Conference delegates deciding the rules US Conferences and local Churches live by.

John more than 7 years ago

On Target

Loved this article, which gets to the heart of systems issues within the United Methodist Church at this point in time in a clear and concise way. Also found the posted comments illuminating. Thanks to all.

Raelyn Leifeste more than 7 years ago

System Change

I think this is excellent. I am not a Methodist, but a Buddhist, which probably means you will stop reading here. My profession is systems transformation in healthcare/behavioral health systems. Often I have had the experience that an existing structure was outdated and self-perpetuating and the services it provided where merely ancillary to the maintenance of the hierarchy. When the environment around these systems begins to change and "creative interruptions" are introduced in key places internally, the system will spontaneously begin to take shape. New leadership emerges out of nowhere, the instability, supported by a skilled facilitator and team can often reshape it into something surprisingly new and fresh. As Jeff Goldblum's character says in Jurassic Park "life finds a way". System flow and energy find a way, the key is curiosity, faith that what is emerging/birthed will open up things in a way that fresh energy can enter. This latter concept comes from one of the key structures I use, designed by Otto Scharmer and described in the book "Presence", which is called Theory U. Meeting change as it occurs requires practice to listen and feel what is emerging. Although I do not work in a secular environment, my longstanding belief is that a higher energy is present in all systems, it just needs to be called forward, or released from "we always do it this way". The system and the people need time for grief and loss and recovery, as all change represents the ending of something. Anyway, I thought this article was excellent - for a reading of Buddhist systems theory, look up Joanna Macy who has written on the topic.

Wendy Latham more than 7 years ago

Systems will change outcomes.

Thanks for pointing me to your article! I have a MA in Whole Systems Design and my work is to coach faith communities in how to be self-organized and utilize complex adaptive behavior. That isn’t the language that I normally use because it can sound confusing and too difficult to do, but it isn’t!

“The United Methodist Church has structured itself so it can’t act like an organic complex adaptive system. Its ills are structural and systemic.” I clearly agree 100% that the problem is “structural and systemic” because We are ending the industrial age and the systems and structures that we are still using worked then, but not now. That is why so many systems are failing around us.

What I talk about is how to stop using “thinking, patterns and beliefs” that are based on the old top-down, industrial model system. We have to use new systems to generate new results. I think we might need to focus from the ground up and begin the work at the congregational level. The primary tool that will shift a congregation is to create a framework of communication. As you write “a healthy organization mimics living organisms, allowing for communication and adaptation throughout the system.” When we teach an organization how to communicate it builds resilience, begins to adapt and emergence happens.

You point out that nature is a complex adaptive system. I like reminding people that God created nature and it operates by God’s design. I think that we people have gotten off track and are operating with a design that we made up, and it isn’t working very well. We will experience miraculous results once we do exactly what you are talking about here.

I want to know more about what you are doing? Here is my website and I look forward to more conversations.

Diane Rheos more than 7 years ago


missed linking my website for my work on systems change for congregations.

Diane Rheos more than 7 years ago

Interesting Concept

And in a way it has validity in that I agree that the UMC has become overly structured. But that is only part of the problem; the rest of the problem is a disagreement as to what parameters frames our mission as the church--if we are to stay together with a common name there has to be a common starting point; there has to be an agreement as to what unique contribution the UMC has to offer to the Christian landscape; what is our unique reason for existence. I have delved into Wesley enough to know why Methodism came into being--to bring individuals to God and help them to live a holy life centered in God 24/7. But we drifted from that message and method a very long time ago. So what compelling thing does the UMC have to offer the world? Decide that and the UMC will exist. Without it, might as well shut it all down and let others who are not struggling (Assemblies of God and The Wesleyan Church) have the field. Trying to restructure without an understanding of who we are and what we have to offer is absolutely meaningless. Wesley offered a message, the people wanted to know "What does this mean for my life?", the polity of Methodism evolved as the Wesleys sought to respond to the people's question. The mission resulted in a structure.

Orter T. more than 7 years ago

Timely Article

I believe Ann hit the nail on the head in this article.

Clara Conner more than 7 years ago

Can UMs Really Adapt

Excellent article!!! I hope Ann writes more often. She is a brilliant woman with a lot of good, reasonable things to say. I personally welcome her input.

Marti Middleton more than 7 years ago