Thursday, August 11, 2011

Realizing the Future of The United Methodist Church

Actions taken by the Connectional Table during its July 27-28, 2011 meeting in Nashville, Tenn. have sent a ripple across The United Methodist Church. Members voted to support recommendations made by the Call to Action - Interim Operations Team that put in place the first steps for changing denominational processes and structures. I believe when United Methodists look back in time at the 2008-2012 quadrennium, we will see it as one of the most pivotal moments in our denomination's history. Even if the plan is not fully supported by General Conference, the conversations that have erupted around clergy appointments, streamlining resources and focusing our efforts on creating vital congregations have changed us. We can no longer ignore the need for action. I believe these are very good developments.

We are no longer talking in hypothetical terms. The Connectional Table voted to recommend the following items (click here to see the full PowerPoint report):

  1. Redirect Use of Apportionments - The General Conference shall authorize the Board of Directors of the United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry to determine during the 2013-2016 quadrennium the most effective ways to fulfill the mission of the UMC including programs and spending at all levels of the church. The Board shall evaluate spending across the seven general church funds to assess work in order to identify significant opportunities for improved effectiveness and for achieving efficiencies and economies. Following this assessment and evaluation, the Board of Directors shall recommend for joint approval by the Advisory Board and the Council of Bishops a plan for reallocation of funding goals for each of the seven general church funds and for redirecting spending plans for a sum up to $60 million in the 2013- 2016 quadrennium for purposes related to the overall work of the UMC and the adaptive challenge. The first $5 million shall be allocated to young people’s lay leadership development, administered through the Division on Ministry with Young People or its successor body. The second $5 million shall be allocated to Central Conference theological education, administered through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry's Global Theological Education Fund or its successor body.

  2. Guaranteed Appointment of Clergy - Make necessary changes in policy and practice to allow for a just, reasonable, and compassionate process that provides for the transition of low performing clergy from the itinerancy. The Ministry Study Commission will be bringing legislation to this effect, which the Connectional Table affirmed.

  3. General Agency Realignment - Realign most general agency functions with an emphasis on blending key competencies. Ten of the agencies would be consolidated as the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry governed by a Board of Directors comprised of 15 people and elected by an Advisory Board (the name of the Advisory Board is not yet determined). The Advisory Board shall be composed of 45 people who represent the diversity and inclusiveness of the UMC. The Center for Connectional Mission & Ministry will be led by an Executive General Secretary elected by the Board of Directors.

  4. United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) and the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (GBOPHB) - Formation of a special study task group with expertise specifically related to the publishing and/or pension investment and health care industries appointed jointly by the Board of Directors and the Council of Bishops. Their assignment is to review the organizational structures and business models with the Boards of UMPH and GBOPHB to determine the optimal structures that will allow each to best serve the church and their respective missions while remaining viable and self-funding.

  5. Denomination-Wide Financial Analysis - Designate a General Conference task force to focus on total spending across the whole of the United Methodist Church and begin with careful examination and comparison of annual conference fundraising and spending; analyzing allocations and areas of expense at all levels of the church, looking for best practices and potential for combining activity to reduce costs and giving high visibility to best practices.

These recommendations are meant to help us fulfill our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. They are not meant to throw the denomination into chaos, but to help us understand how we make changes to be more effective in ministry. I've read blogs and comments posted online that challenge every part of this plan from evaluating clergy performance and clergy compensation, to questioning how a board of directors could be diverse enough to represent the entire denomination. I've also seen questions about evaluating bishops and guaranteed appointments. 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.

The next steps for many of these recommendations will be legislative proposals for the 2012 General Conference to consider. Yet the signs of movement toward the adaptive challenge, “To redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” are many. There is indeed a fresh wind of the Spirit blowing across our church, generating changed hearts and minds.

As I have written in the past, these are on-going conversations and the Connectional Table welcomes your input and dialogue as we move through these uncharted waters.