Wednesday, January 13, 2010

The Connectional Table Affirms Plans for Holistic 21st Century Church


As the new year begins, I am excited to share with you how God is truly doing a new thing in the life of The United Methodist Church. Leaders across the church worldwide –lay people, clergy, and bishops – are laying the groundwork for much-needed change in our denomination. For years we have heard grim reports about our membership decline, primarily in the US and Europe, and our inability to do anything about it. Today, however, leaders across the United Methodist Church are awakening to a new sense of purpose and possibility, a new vision of collaboration and change, and most importantly, awakening to the need for bold and decisive action. In the coming year, our leaders will be drafting the blueprints for the new architecture of The United Methodist Church.

Last November, members of the Connectional Table affirmed the Call to Action Steering Committee’s provocative proposal calling for a “holistic 21st century method for being and doing church around the world in radically new ways.” It stirred our collective imagination and garnered support from our leaders spanning the diversity that comprises our denomination.

The seven recommendations of the proposal include:
1. developing metrics for effectiveness and accountability across the church;
2. rebuilding a leadership development system with special attention to young people;
3. eliminating the guaranteed appointment;
4. recasting the quadrennial General Conference;
5. reordering the life of the church;
6. establishing a “global office” or central organizing center for coordination and efficiency; and
7. constructing a viable financial future.

The Call to Action Steering Committee was formed last spring in response to the global economic crisis and the need to build on the successes of aligning our mission and ministries across the church. As you may recall from General Conference 2008, United Methodists embraced our renewed mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We also affirmed the Four Areas of Focus as expressions of how we live out our faith as the body of Christ. In the four focus areas, we work to: combat diseases of poverty by improving health globally; engage in ministry with the poor; develop principled leaders; and create new places for new people and revitalize existing congregations. The Call to Action work seeks to make adjustments to our systems and structures so we can live our mission to its fullest.

The Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops named eighteen United Methodist leaders to serve on the steering committee. Their task was to discern concrete steps the denomination must take to adapt to a rapidly changing world and to reverse the decline of the UMC in the US and Europe. These seven recommendations are a result of their hard work.

What will this mean for our church? It will mean making our collective ministry more effective in living out God’s hope for humanity by engaging younger leaders, improving our ability to respond to the needs of a changing world and assessing and changing the ways in which our institution no longer serves us in our disciple-making mission.

Most importantly, these changes will create more doorways to discipleship for you and for those who have yet to walk through our doors, called by God to serve. These changes will support your call to bring the presence of Christ to those in need, in your own community and beyond.

The overall success of the Call to Action strategy will depend on collaboration with other groups established by the 2008 General Conference also considering significant changes in our connection. These groups include the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church, the Ministry Study Commission, and the Committee on Faith and Order. They have already begun to engage in open and ongoing dialogue to foster an unprecedented level of collaboration with an eye toward General Conference 2012. This will undoubtedly bear much fruit for the Kingdom of God.

The CT approved $500,000 for the steering committee to continue the next phase of its work, which includes naming a new 12-person steering team, conducting listening sessions in annual conferences and performing an operational assessment of the entire denomination. Stay tuned to learn how our leaders take these recommendations in the next phase. To read the full report from the Call to Action Steering Committee, visit: www.connectionaltable.umc.org.

In that same spirit, CT member Bishop John Schol led discussions at our November meeting about how to align local churches, annual conferences and general agencies in the Four Areas of Focus to strengthen the mission of the UMC. Aligning mission and ministry at all levels of the denomination is one of the CT’s ongoing conversations. Our meetings serve as a time when the members can become a learning community around the Four Areas of Focus. Presentations from general agencies as well as local churches and ministries in the community where we meet help inform the conversation of how we help provide a network of Four Areas of Focus ministries across the denomination. UM Communications has launched an online survey through January 2010 to gauge how local churches and annual conferences have embraced the Four Focus Areas for mission and ministry. To participate, visit: www.umc.org/focusareas.

Friends, I also want to highlight an important appeal throughout the UMC. We heard from our bishops in the Philippines about the devastating effects of the recent typhoons that ravaged several communities, and approved a churchwide appeal proposed by the Council of Bishops to provide aid for people of the Philippines who suffered tragic losses. To contribute to this relief effort, visit www.umcappeal.org. We look forward to being with our sisters and brothers in the Philippines in April for the spring Connectional Table meeting, as we strengthen our connection as a worldwide church.