On the connectional level, we United Methodists are in for some turbulent times. In the midst of many different forces seeking to blow us off course, it is crucial that we remember: the main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.
Some of the turbulence is coming at us from the current issues facing American culture. Specifically, a variety of forces have led our political life to be characterized by shallow posturing, inaccurate soundbites, polarized factions, demonizing insults and intellectual intolerance. Recent trends and events have led to a great deal of anxiety about racism, law enforcement, income disparity, healthcare systems, immigration, and cultural change. Americans are frequently dealing with these issues by stoking our fears and jumping to false conclusions. These traits are far too common on all parts of the political spectrum. The current presidential election contest exemplifies America at its worst.
Some of the turbulence we face is generated from within our church. Our structural deficiencies are inhibiting us from addressing our challenges in helpful ways. We are not as united as we should be. Bishops and conferences are violating the order and discipline of our church, and our decentralized system of church governance provides insufficient remedies.
How do we faithfully serve Christ in such a time as this?
Every day, as part of my private devotional time, I read Ephesians 4 which begins with these words: “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”
Paul calls us to humility. Paul calls us to gentleness and patience. He also calls us to bear with one another in love. As I read these words, I am hoping to stay in dialogue with those who see issues from a different perspective than mine. I want to honor them. I do not want to act rashly. I seek to serve the unity of the church and lead all United Methodists. I embrace our racial, geographical, theological and political diversity.
At the same time, I will only be able to faithfully serve through these turbulent times if I am also talking with those who agree with my perspective and who will encourage me in the godly traits Paul describes. Our church is complex enough that gatherings of people who share similar points of view are necessary to discerning the best way forward.
Recently several persons have expressed concern about the formation of a new group in the life of our church. The Wesleyan Covenant Association will host a gathering this week of people in Chicago. Some, reacting out of fear and stereotypes common among liberals for forty years, see this as a schismatic group. I disagree. I take the WCA’s leaders at their word when they say “We are a coalition of congregations, clergy, and laity from all jurisdictions that are committed to promoting ministry that combines a high view of Scripture, Wesleyan vitality, orthodox theology, and Holy Spirit empowerment. We encompass a broad range of worship styles and ministry practices. What links us together is our desire to witness to the transforming power of God to change and redeem human lives and societies. We have come together to support, network, and encourage one another as the future of The United Methodist Church comes into clearer focus.” This makes them comparable to other groups in the life of our church that are clearly within the boundaries of our discipline and yet gather for strategic thinking and mutual support.
In difficult times, returning to the basics of our faith and our purpose is essential. The main thing is our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. I am supportive of all efforts that focus our resources on serving that cause.
Bishop Scott Jones believes preaching is an essential part of a holistic ministry of making disciples of Jesus Christ in the local church, and will talk about how a pastor spends her/his time, crafts the sermons, and relates it to other ministries in the congregation. He will also address communication patterns in the 21st century and how the standards for fruitful and effective preaching have changed while also remaining the same in the last few decades.
A. These are times of crisis—danger and opportunity
1. In such times disciplined purpose is crucial
2. Church of the Resurrection
a. Our Purpose: To build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians.
b. Our Vision: Changing lives, transforming communities, and renewing the church.
c. Our Journey: Knowing, loving and serving God
B. Purpose—mission—is crucial
1. The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing
C. The Wesleyan Way
1. Creation in the image of God
2. Original Sin
D. Salvation by Grace through faith—the outstretched hand offering life
1. Ephesians 2:8-10
E. Means of Grace
1. Worship plus 2
2. Preaching is a means of grace
a. Hebrews 4:12 Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.
b. 1 Corinthians 4:1 Think of us in this way, as servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.
3. Through us, God is creating a sacred world where certain things just make sense
a. my friend and the OJ Simpson trial
A. Series better than lectionary
B. Engaging secular culture in topic choice
C. Solid content—not moral therapeutic deism
A. Preaching in a video age
1. use of video clips as illustrations
2. minimal use of notes
1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayTZegTQHzI 5:20 to 8:05
During the last four months, I have had multiple invitations to break my vows. Many people have suggested that, in the name of protesting against perceived injustice, I should disobey the discipline of The United Methodist Church and violate the sacred promises I have made at two key points in my life—ordination as an elder and consecration as a bishop
I decline those invitations.
I will keep my promises.
I will be faithful to God’s calling on my life as a leader in our church.
Because American culture so little values obedience and discipline today, and because too many persons in the UMC are following the culture in this direction, it is important that I explain why such a refusal to participate in disobedience is the right course of action.
When we sing “blest be the tie that binds our hearts in Christian love” we express two aspects of our life in Christ. First, it is a life of love for God and neighbor. The love of Christ shapes our minds and hearts. This leads to love for sisters and brothers in the Lord. I deeply respect and love many people who disagree about key issues in the life of our church. They are friends and colleagues.
The second aspect is the binding nature of our unity in the body of Christ. It is Christ’s prayer that followers of Jesus should be one. While the body of Christ is fractured into multiple denominations, it is important to maintain as much visible, organic unity as possible. We believe as United Methodists that we are “united by doctrine, discipline, and mission through our connectional covenant” (¶101, Book of Discipline, 2012).
The gravest threat to our mission and our unity today arises from leaders who deliberately violate our discipline. Some are elders. Some are bishops. Some are annual conference boards of ordained ministry. Violations of the covenant by leaders have consequences and result in broken relationships.
Years ago a located United Methodist elder who was also the teacher of an adult Sunday School class and chair of the evangelism committee began an affair with a woman. He wished to continue the affair, remain married to his wife, and to live with her and his children while continuing as a leader in the congregation. My conversation with him was bizarre. He did not understand that violating one’s covenantal promises carries consequences and results inevitably in broken relationships. He was removed from all church leadership positions. Eventually his wife realized the damage his behavior was doing and she divorced him. She did not want the divorce, but it was the least bad thing she could do when he refused to change his ways.
Some violators of our church’s laws will argue they are justified by allegiance to higher principles such as their view of justice. But it is the General Conference that determines our United Methodist definition of justice. Once a leader is permitted to substitute a private or even an annual-conference-wide definition for our connectional covenant, all sorts of violations of the covenant become possible. If individual leaders are allowed to violate the discipline of the church as a matter of policy, our common work as a denomination will be weakened if not destroyed. If such disobedience becomes the norm, what is to prevent the following:
• Annual Conferences from withholding contributions to the seven general church funds as a matter of principle?
• Annual Conferences from ordaining as elders whoever they find acceptable, regardless of which seminary they attended?
• Local churches from hiring whoever they wish as their pastor?
• Local churches from withholding apportionments as a matter of principle, not inability to pay?
• Bishops refusing to appoint elders who are in full connection?
We are not talking about minor aspects of our discipline that can be violated without danger. When a local church has too many or two few members of a committee there is not a wide impact on our mission or unity. The bullet points above as well as the human sexuality issues are major aspects of our connectional covenant. They cannot be broken without serious consequences following.
The General Conference and the Judicial Council have no enforcement mechanism other than bishops and boards of ordained ministry. It is our covenant along with our doctrine and mission that bind us together. Almost all of us would prefer that some section of the Book of Discipline were different. But our covenantal commitment to the mission of The United Methodist Church requires that all elders and especially all bishops uphold the key aspects of our discipline for the sake of our mission.
When people justify their actions as “civil disobedience,” they are misusing language. It is not disobedience against the government. It is ecclesial disobedience. They are violating the rules of a church they have freely joined when other, similar churches offer acceptable ways of pursuing their calling. If I ever get to the point where I cannot in good conscience obey the key aspects of our discipline—and I pray such a day never happens—it will be time to surrender my credentials as a United Methodist bishop and elder and find some other way to follow Christ.
Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church
Scott J. Jones | October 25, 2014
I have now posted a video which gives my perspective on the worldwide nature of the United Methodist Church. I did this because, in coming weeks, there will be some discussion about the worldwide nature of the United Methodist Church and what next steps are appropriate. The Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table will discuss it during the first week of November this year. The closer we get to May of 2016 the more discussion there will be. You can view the video by clicking here, or going to the video tab above.
I continue to believe that the United Methodist Church has a distinctive and important calling as part of the body of Christ. We need to remain a worldwide church united by our doctrine, discipline and mission (see Book of Discipline, 2012 ¶101). We need to live more fully into our worldwide nature, and the connectional covenant in ¶ 125 lifts up many of our core values and identifies some of our problematic issues.
We have been working on how best to organize our worldwide nature for more than 100 years, and the issues will not be resolved in the near future. We can make progress, however.
We need clarity about the commitments that unite us. Our doctrine includes our doctrinal standards (Articles of Religion, Confession of Faith, Wesley’s Sermons and Wesley’s Notes on the New Testament), our Social Principles, the General Rules, and our constitution. Our mission statement in paragraphs 120-122 bind us together. Our core disciplines including episcopacy, conferencing, itinerancy and connectionalism are essential to our unity.
At the same time, we know that different contexts require the freedom for adaptation. Local churches within annual conferences adopt different approaches to ministry in their areas. Annual conferences adopt structures that differ from others within their jurisdiction or central conference. And different central conferences should be able to adapt things like term episcopacy.
Two key issues lie before us. The first is an answer to the question, “what things are binding on all United Methodists globally, and what should be adaptable regionally?” The 2012 General Conference took important steps toward an answer by stating that Parts 1 through 5 of the Book of Discipline are globally binding. ¶101 gives the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters and the Committee on Faith and Order the responsibility for determining which paragraphs in Part VI “Administrative Order” should be included in the Global Book of Discipline.
The second key issue is how American United Methodists will have a forum for voting on matters (such as the pension plan) that apply only to them. The constitutional amendments rejected in 2010 were one answer to that. The increasingly large percentage of General Conference delegates voting on purely US matters will bring more pressure to bear on this issue. The amendments were defeated because many presumed that issues of human sexuality would be taken away from the General Conference and given to a US Regional Conference. It is now clear that those issues will always remain a question for the global church to decide. Other issues such as a hymnal, pensions, and church planting strategies should be decided by a US group acting together.
I hope that the discussion around our global nature is carried out at a high level with deep knowledge about our history and our current realities. Toward that end, my video may be useful. I pray so.
I believe that my role as a bishop in the current discussion about homosexuality in the UMC is two fold. First, I am to work for the unity of the church by helping to keep the main thing the main thing. I have an obligation to lead all parts of our denomination to be the most faithful and fruitful that we can be. As I wrote in my book Staying at the Table: The Gift of Unity for United Methodists, unity is a precious gift from God that we should embrace. Given the current culture wars in American society and within the UMC, this is difficult. Every day I read Ephesians 4 which begins, “I therefore, the prisoner in the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.”
My second key role is to improve the quality of the conversation. I can do this in part by reminding our people of our doctrine of catholic spirit, and how we may differ in matters of opinion while remaining unified on essentials, all the while working together for Christ. I will do a webcast aimed at the Great Plains Conference on Saturday, September 13 at 10:00 am CDT to talk about how we treat each other in these difficult conversations. It is my prayer that faith, hope and love abound among us.
Another way I can improve the quality of the conversation is to stay in dialogue myself with many different people who are proposing different ways forward. I have done that since January, and am now sharing my understanding of nine different proposals currently under discussion. Some of these relate to material people have published on the internet. Others represent ideas shared in less public ways. All of them are worthy of serious consideration. I have posted the document on this website in the documents section. I hope it is seen as fair to all viewpoints and helpful as we talk about these important issues.
Bishop Willimon is wrong about small membership churches. He’s not completely wrong, but he needs correction on three key points made in his article posted at www.ministrymatters.com.
First, he neglects the Gospel mandate to preach the good news “to the ends of the earth.” That includes rural communities where United Methodist churches will be small. In small towns all over America, the United Methodist Church is usually an outpost of love, joy, service and the good news about Jesus. They are strategic and need to be strengthened as much as possible.
I once knew a young man from a small Kansas church. He was working as a clerk to a justice of the United States Supreme Court. He was not planning to go back to the farm and small church where he was raised, but was headed for a distinguished legal career. What will he accomplish over time? Will he become a Supreme Court justice? If so, his values and faith were shaped by worship, Sunday School and United Methodist youth fellowship of that small membership church. If rural communities often export their youth, they are changing the world by the young people whose character they have shaped.
The second point is about clarity. Bishop Willimon has confused the issue in harmful ways by overgeneralizing about small membership churches. Both large and small churches can be characterized by “deadly, club-like interiority, insufferable triviality, and hostility toward newcomers” that Willimon decries. He says his experience is that this is present more in small churches than in large ones, but no statistics are presented and we are left with his own unsupported generalizations.
In contrast, I would offer my own experience as bishop of the Great Plains Episcopal Area. I have found missionally effective, vital, small congregations doing amazing ministry in rural areas. Some are even open-country churches working hard to engage their mission field. I have also found club-like, internally focused dying churches with several hundred in attendance located in urban areas.
Bishop Willimon’s article has certainly stirred the pot, but the question is first and foremost not about the size of churches or location. Rural churches in Nebraska and Kansas are facing the difficulties associated with demographic changes, usually depopulation as a result of the changing economics of agriculture. Urban churches face other demographic changes. All of us face huge cultural changes like new technologies and the loss of cultural support for religious practice.
The key issue is a focus on God and God’s mission to save the world. Where congregations see themselves as mission stations whose time, talents and money can be used by the Lord to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, the Holy Spirit shows up and amazing things happen. United Methodism has too few of these congregations in all locations. We need more churches with high numbers of professions of faith, growing worship attendance, increasing participation in small groups and engagement in world-changing mission. That matters more than size.
The third issue is that Bishop Willimon never specifies what he means by “subsidy.” Some annual conferences still apportion some clergy benefits such as health care and pensions. Their use of the equitable salary budget hides the true cost of pastoral services. Every congregation should bear the full cost of the pastoral leadership assigned to that congregation. No congregation should be paying for the pastoral leadership of another church, with the exception of new congregations that have a fixed number of years of declining support. Where such subsidies still exist, conferences should end them now. Subsidizing pastoral compensation, except in temporary and rare instances, is bad practice. If this is what he means, I agree with Bishop Willimon.
But perhaps Bishop Willimon is referring to the apportionments that pay District Superintendent and Episcopal salaries. In those cases, DSes and Bishops should be focused not on taking care of dying club-like congregations, but on extending United Methodist witness for Christ as much as possible. If that is how we as leaders spend our time, small churches are paying their fair share of a missionary movement that God is using to change the world. That is how I want to serve as a bishop. Such an apportionment system is not a subsidy but a fair share of mission work.
I am grateful for the vital small congregations in my area. I am grateful for the vital medium and large congregations. Vitality, not size, is the issue.
The Judicial Council cannot stop leaders from following the Call to Action’s mandate. Their recent decision 1226 has made it harder for the church to send the best clergy to serve churches. Whatever one thinks of their interpretation of the church’s constitution, their decision is final.
The question now before us is this: How shall we lead the church to meet the adaptive challenge? Remember the wording from the Call to Action: “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.”
The answer is that bishops, cabinets, boards of ordained ministry have to be focused on increasing the number of vital congregations. We must have high expectations of our clergy. We must provide them excellent education to prepare them for ministry. We must provide support systems to help them grow in their effectiveness. And we must be resolute in exiting ineffective clergy from the ministry.
After eight years of service as a bishop, I can testify that many parts of our connectional system have developed unhealthy patterns that detract from our focus on vital congregations. Bishops shy away from taking decisive action that would not be welcomed by the clergyperson. Cabinets want to be nice and compassionate to the clergyperson and not deliver unwelcome bad news. District Superintendents fail to build records in the clergyperson’s file that would support an administrative complaint. Boards of Ordained ministry function too often as the union bosses protecting incompetent colleagues.
In all of these cases, leaders are choosing to be nice and compassionate to the individual, while neglecting the mission of the church. The local congregations suffer because we do not tell the truth to those who should no longer be in the ministry.
Yet, there are effective remedies available to all of us as leaders. Bishops need to have the backbone to make the hard calls. District Superintendents need to build the documentation of ineffectiveness. Boards of Ordained Ministry need to focus on building a conference of the best clergy possible. Local church staff-parish committees need to nurture and support clergy for their growth and hold them accountable in evaluation.
If all parts of our leadership deployment system are focused on vital congregations, we can make significant progress even with security of appointment.
St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Plano, Texas launched a new worship service aimed at youth and young adults today. They did it right! They spent a lot of money to renovate a gymnasium, invested in talented musicians, great technology, and careful preparation. My son Arthur Jones is the lead pastor for a team of persons including church staff, volunteers and many supporters. At their first worship service on September 9, they had a standing-room-only crowd of 834. It was a powerful spiritual experience! Leading up to the service The Well Plano was featured on WFAA channel 8 and the Plano Star Courier. After the service a story was carried by CW Channel 33. After hearing about the secular media providing news coverage, one of Arthur’s friends sent him a message with this question: “What about this is news?” I have an answer which reflects an unfortunate situation: When a United Methodist congregation starts reaching young adults in these numbers, that is news. St. Andrew and The Well are not the only United Methodists connecting with people under 40. We can point to a number of congregations around the country that are equally successful in sharing the gospel with this slice of our culture. But the phenomenon of a mainline denomination connecting with young adults is rare enough that the secular media found it newsworthy. This should not be news. I long for the day when United Methodist congregations have more people under 40 than people over 60. I long for the day when starting new worship services with different styles of worship and high levels of technology is so standard people think it is normal. I long for the day when most of our existing congregations are prepared to make financial and scheduling sacrifices to attract the unchurched. I long for the day when vital congregations are the norm for the United Methodist Church, and no one is surprised that we are growing and increasing in every measure of vitality. I was sitting in the North Texas Annual Conference session in the early 1980’s when God stirred my heart. The Conference secretary was announcing another year of decline when the population numbers in our part of the state were growing. I decided then and there I would give my life to turning this around. It hasn’t worked yet, but we are beginning to see the pieces falling into place that will allow revitalization to take place. We are more clear about our doctrine than we were then. We have focused on our mission. The Bishops have committed to aligning our resources to increasing the number of vital congregations. Evangelism is no longer a dirty word. We are starting more new congregations. We are learning how to evangelize Hispanics and other immigrants. We are reducing our bureaucracy. I see signs of God’s power emerging in congregations of all sizes and locations. I am hopeful about the future of United Methodism. Someday, the successful launch of a United Methodist worship service reaching young adults will not be news. May God speed that day’s arrival!
I stand by my May 4 tweet from General Conference: “My summary: death throes of a dying 1970’s establishment church, birth pangs of a missional global 21st century church. It is messy.”
In the two months since that time, I have listened to many voices giving their summaries of what did and did not happen there. Almost everyone was disappointed about something that they wished had happened but did not. Many were pleased that the outcome was not worse. Few have come away believing that General Conference was the turning point in the history of United Methodism that will pave the way for a new church. General Conference may not matter much anymore.
I wish more positive change had been enacted. Yet I come away from the 2012 General Conference with real hope for the future. We are experiencing the messy birth pangs of a global, 21st century church. Here are some markers:
- The CTA’s adaptive challenge remains our priority. We must “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.”
- The Call to Action process is alive and well. It takes the General Conference two or three sessions to absorb a really big idea, and many CTA ideas were approved, even if undone by the Judicial Council later. Key leaders including bishops, pastors and laity are committed to continuing the process.
- General Agencies will be consolidated. Plan UMC was the best compromise at the time, but was significantly inadequate. We need eight general agencies combined into one with one General Secretary. We do not need siloed agencies for whom cooperation is a struggle. By January 1, 2017 GBOD, GBGM, GBHEM, GBCS, GCORR, COSROW, GCAH and UMCOM should all be one agency. We now have four years to work out the details and get the structure right.
- We are a global church. The influence of Central Conference delegates was felt more strongly than ever before. We must change the way we think and act to live more fully into our worldwide nature.
- Proportional representation is the way of the future. Growing parts of our church should have more influence and declining parts should have less.
- Bishops must lead by changing themselves. The Council took some good steps toward becoming a leadership group. We still have a long way to go. Individual bishops need to continue figuring out how to lead their conference(s) toward increased vitality.
- We must develop a clear and widely accepted understanding of our mission statement. There are too many different and competing versions of what “making disciples of Jesus Christ” means.
- We must provide significant improvements to our leadership development system. Too many stakeholders are resisting change, and so those of us involved must begin by changing ourselves.
I am reading a great deal about innovation and how you turn around declining organizations. We are attempting something rarely—if ever—done in the history of Christianity. We are seeking to turn around a declining denominational church. This is hard and will take the rest of my lifetime. But we see a new church for the sake of a new world. The world needs the kind of church we have been, that we are in some places, and that God willing, we will be in many more places soon.
Are you willing to give yourself to this kind of hard but divinely inspired mission? I am all about it and I am grateful to have so many gifted and committed colleagues on the journey with me.
I have been writing about the various ways we see General Conference. It is doctrinal authority, it is family reunion, it is business session and it is also a revival.
In the early days of Methodist Conferences in America—especially quarterly conferences—people experience justification and committed their lives to Christ. For believers, these conferences were times of spiritual renewal and significant spiritual growth toward entire sanctification.
This historic practice continues today in the form of worship services and prayer ministries that take place at our conferences. Here at this General Conference, the Episcopal Address, the Laity addresses, the Young Peoples’ address and the evening worship services have been powerful. During Bishop Weaver’s presentation, I was moved to tears and was reminded of why I accepted the call to preach and then the call to serve as a bishop.
Many persons see the actions taken in the business session or the teaching about our doctrines and feel either pleased or disappointed. However, those attending General Conference have also been influenced by the worship and teaching that will never be included in the Book of Discipline or Book of Resolutions. I think there have been many inspirational moments that have impacted the lives of all who were present and all who followed online.
I have supported the Call to Action. At every point, the leaders of that effort have been clear. General Conference’s actions can help us focus on our resources on increasing the number of vital congregations. But the most important steps we can take for this effort are not legislative. They are changed behaviors by bishops, District Superintendents, pastors, lay leaders and individual United Methodists. Thus, the revival aspect of General Conference will change hearts and minds and further our progress to the church we need to be in the future.
- World Wide Nature of the UMC 2007 report to COB
- Why We Pay Apportionments
- Becoming an Evangelistically Effective Congregation
- Council of Bishops: For the Sake of a New World, We See a New Church: A Call to Action
- Extreme Center: Living as United Methodist Today Workbook
- Thank God for Colleagues
- Extreme Center: Living as United Methodist Today