Thursday, April 26, 2012

Do We Believe It Is Possible?

Four years ago, we stood before the 2008 General Conference talking about shared vision and a unified direction for The United Methodist Church.  We didn't know what it would look like or what it would be called, but we all felt the need and urgency to make changes to ensure the relevancy of The UMC in the world moving forward.

As I listened to the Call to Action presentation last night at the 2012 General Conference, I am reassured that God's loving presence and wisdom has been a part of this journey for the Church.  One of the most important questions presenter Adam Hamilton, senior pastor of the Church of the Resurrection and member of the Interim Operations Team, asked was: "Do we believe it is possible?"

I simply say yes.

This quadrennium we have seen the great minds of the denomination come together, engage each other in heart to heart conversations and holy conferencing.  We agreed to disagree at times while still finding ways to pursue the ultimate goal of creating lasting positive change for the denomination.

Connectional Table Member, Benjamin Boruff, described a road map to start the change process:
  1. A 10-year focus to create and sustain vital congregations;
  2. Annual Conferences organize themselves to create and sustain vital congregations;
  3. To ensure that our denominational boards are working together, in a nimble, responsive and streamlined structure; and
  4. To raise up a new generation of Christian leaders.
No matter where you land on the spectrum of support for the Call to Action plan or the Connectional Table legislation, we can all agree that change is needed.  Because of the sincerity and care taken by the members of the Connectional Table in this evolution process, I'm certain we have already started a new paradigm in the life of The UMC. The conversations we have had over the past four years have changed us all.  The nature in which we have come together around mission, money and vision has taken us into a new phase of
operating as the church.  No matter how the denomination chooses to vote, I am grateful to have been a part of  the process and I simply say thanks to all of you who have struggled with these important issues on behalf of the denomination.

Twenty years from now, the General Conference of 2032 will look back at this time and I hope they recognize it as the turning point which led to renewed vitality within The United Methodist Church.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

A Response to the Statement by the Africa United Methodist Movement

The Africa United Methodist Student Movement issued a statement in response to the Connectional Table's legislation on restructuring the general agencies. Click here to read their statement (PDF).

Two students, Ben Boruff and Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, who have served on the Call to Action Steering Team, responded to their statement. Their response is posted below.


Mr. Albert Otshudi Longe, Interim President
Student Representative Council
Africa University

Dear Mr. Longe,

Greetings of peace in the name of Christ!

We want to express our appreciation for the important points you raised in the statement responding to the Connectional Table proposal to restructure the general agencies, and offer some clarifications and alternative young people’s perspectives.

One of the most important clarifications we must make is that no portion of the proposal suggests reducing or eliminating current agency programs in Africa. Rather, the proposal is a first step toward creating a more effective governance structure that will allow us to increase and better coordinate our programmatic focus on fostering and sustaining vital congregations, including support for the growing church in Africa.

We have witnessed how our current systems can sometimes act as obstacles in our mission to make disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world. Our commitment to the Four Areas of Focus—combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally, engaging in ministry with the poor, creating new places for new people, and developing principled Christian leaders—is constricted by an outdated structure. Globalization and technology are shaping the framework of our communities, and the United Methodist Church must adapt. The general level of our church is crucial to the connectional aspects of our denomination, and the connection is a key tool with which local communities can create vital congregations. Without an effective structure, our connection will struggle to meet the needs of those in our communities. We agree with your assessment that we need to develop new strategies for evangelism and expansion of the ministry of Christ. We also feel that these new strategies, together with a more coordinated structure, will help us create more vital congregations for the Kingdom of God.

We are encouraged by the CT’s proposal to establish an Advisory Committee on Ministries with Young People that will include three members who will sit on the proposed General Council for Strategy and Oversight (GCSO). The Advisory Committee will be made up of 54 young people from across the UMC, with seven youths and seven young adults from central conferences as well as three central conference adults. In addition, there are five seats for additional members which could be central conference members. The Advisory Committee will work alongside the GCSO and gives a strong voice to young people throughout the denomination. In addition, the GCSO continues the model of the current Connectional Table with a seat for a representative from each central conference. As young people, we appreciate the openness with which the proposed structures—one constituency-based group and one task-based group—will hear our voices and the intentionality with which they will respond.

The current representational model of our general church is not the only way to ensure diversity within our denominational leadership. Through a system of accountability and oversight, the recommendations ensure that the voices of all United Methodists, including young people, will be heard, and they offer a system with which these voices can make an effective impact. We don’t view this proposal as following only a corporate or “industrial” model of governance, but rather, a model that brings all of our current programmatic and administrative functions together into one coordinated body that can better serve the body of Christ. Our vision is that this unified body will free up more resources (staff, money, etc.) to be allocated toward the expansion of programs such as evangelism, leadership development and church growth.

Lastly, we must acknowledge the stark realities about the UMC in the United States when we talk about sustaining general church programs. Currently, the local churches in the United States fund most of the work of the general agencies through apportionment giving. The church in the US continues to grow older and membership is declining rapidly. Our current structure is not financially sustainable in the long-term. Therefore, this restructuring proposal is one of several recommendations by the Call to Action that seek to change some structural aspects, but more importantly, cultural aspects of our church to bring focus on increasing and sustaining the number of vital congregations in order to reverse the current trend of rapid decline. We believe this proposal will lead us toward a healthy, vital, missional church, which will continue to offer the much-needed support to the growing church in Africa.

In Christ,

Ben Boruff, Indiana University student, Connectional Table member and original member of the Call to Action Steering Team

Rev. Amy Valdez Barker, doctoral student at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary and original member of the Call to Action Steering Team

Thursday, April 12, 2012

A Closer Look at Connectional Table Legislation

The 2012 General Conference begins in less than two weeks! In preparation for our time together, the Connectional Table has prepared three briefing papers which take a closer look at three key points in proposed legislation to fulfill to the goal of creating vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Click on the titles below to read the PDF versions of these resources.

The UMC Non-Residential President of the Council of Bishops (COB) PDF

The proposed constitutional amendment calls for the President of the COB to be relieved of residential responsibilities during the time of holding office; the term would be increased from two to four years. The president would also be designated as the Ecumenical Officer of the COB. This briefing document explains the key role of the President of the Council of Bishops and the benefits to the church.

More Effective General Church Program Support by Consolidating Several Boards for Governance and Executive Administration PDF

The Connectional Table proposes to consolidate nine program and administrative agencies into one organization. The new Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry (CCMM) would be governed by a diverse and representative board of 15 directors. This briefing document outlines the proposed changes and the benefits of a smaller governing board.

An Increase in the Number of Vital Congregations PDF

This briefing document explores the Key Drivers of Vital Congregations, the importance of measuring vitality and how proposed Connectional Table legislation is critical in fulfilling the mission to create vital congregations over the next 10 years.

I invite you to review the documents and share them with your annual conference and church leaders as well as members of your delegation. More information is also available at www.umccalltoaction.org.

As Easter people in the service of the Risen Christ, may we be open to the Spirit’s leading! Please join me in daily prayers for the 2012 General Conference and United Methodist Church.