Existing Models of Wesleyan Unity

May 2, 2017
|    admin

I am hoping to expand the options under consideration by our church with regard to our current crisis. Too often people talk about a binary choice—splitting or unity. In reality there are middle-ground (extremecenter) options.

The vision statement of the Commission on a Way Forward makes a reference to “as much unity as possible.” The entire paragraph reads as follows:

The Commission will design a way for being church that maximizes the presence of a United Methodist witness in as many places in the world as possible, that allows for as much contextual differentiation as possible, and that balances an approach to different theological understandings of human sexuality with a desire for as much unity as possible. This unity will not be grounded in our conceptions of human sexuality, but in our affirmation of the Triune God who calls us to be a grace-filled and holy people in the Wesleyan tradition.

The question then arises, what are the options for “as much unity as possible?” A good starting place is to consider the four forms of unity we already practice: full communion, the World Methodist Council, affiliated autonomous churches and pan-Methodist churches.

Full communion

Paragraph 431.1(b) describes full communion as one that exists between two or more Christian churches that recognize each other as genuine churches, recognize the authenticity of each other’s sacraments, affirm the authenticity of each other’s ministry and recognize the validity of each other’s offices of ministry. We are in full communion, for example, with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. Such relationships allow for shared sacraments, easier exchange of ministers and stronger missional cooperation.

World Methodist Council

This body includes many denominations in the Wesleyan family. They have a shared doctrinal statement and engage in cooperative work around evangelism and ecumenical dialogue. A major conference is held every 5 years for mutual learning and the building of relationships.

Affiliated Autonomous

Many churches in Latin America and Asia have the status of “affiliated autonomous church” recognizing they once were part of the UMC or its predecessors and have now become self-governing. Our General Board of Global Ministries has strong relationships with these daughter churches, including the placing of a regional office in Seoul, Korea.


We have a close relationship with five other US churches which are predominantly Africa-American. The six denominations are all self-governing, but we share (for the most part) similar doctrines and episcopal governance structures. The bishops of the churches meet together every other year and there is a commission governing cooperating work. We are engaged currently in a Campaign for Children in Poverty.

Vehicles of Shared Ministry

It is important to understand that three of our general agencies are empowered to have significant missional relationships to embody this other forms of unity. The General Board of Pensions could provide pension management to any church associated with the UMC if the Board approves. The United Methodist Publishing House is already providing services to other denominations. The General Board of Global Ministries works with many partners, especially affiliated autonomous churches, to accomplish our ministry.

Principled Disobedience Requires a New Form of Unity

Apr 26, 2017
|    admin

Principled disobedience by bishops and conferences is the most significant threat to the current form of unity found in The United Methodist Church. For the first time since 1844, bishops and conferences are deliberately disobeying the will of the General Conference. This requires a new form of unity.

All parts of the UMC need to understand that the actions of these persons are principled—they are done out of personal conviction about the gospel. These bishops, jurisdictional conference delegates, and members of annual conference clergy sessions believe that some of the doctrines and discipline of our church are wrong and that obedience to Christ requires disobedience to the Church. Because we are all brothers and sisters in the Lord and because they are acting out of principle, others should respect the crisis of conscience they face.

The deep problem posed by such behavior, however, is that bishops are the executive authority for our denomination’s mission. Our polity has legislative, judicial and executive branches. The General Conference and the Judicial Council have no enforcement mechanisms other than bishops. In personnel matters, bishops are required to follow the decisions of annual conference boards of ordained ministry and clergy sessions. Our missional effectiveness is threatened when each bishop does what is right in her or his own eyes.

When bishops choose, for whatever reasons and however highly principled, to disobey the order and discipline of the church, we are in schism. That is our situation today. Some bishops face difficult dilemmas because their clergy sessions are voting to violate the discipline. They are forced to choose between competing parts of the Discipline. Yet, obedience to Christ as discerned by the whole church is their first and highest obligation.

The Book of Discipline says that bishops are to “uphold the discipline and order of the church” (¶403). The consecration of bishops requires them to “exercise the discipline of the whole church.” All elders are asked in their ordination liturgy to “be loyal to The United Methodist Church, accepting its order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline.” For these reasons, disobedience to the order and discipline of the church is a chargeable offense (¶2702.1). It normally results in repentance or surrender of credentials.

The problem we face today is that systems of accountability are so weak that the general church has no practical way to respond appropriately to principled disobedience when colleges of bishops and entire annual conferences choose that route.

The task of the special session of General Conference in 2019 is to develop a new form of unity that will give freedom for progressive bishops and conferences who cannot in good conscience fulfill their ordination and consecration vows. The whole church needs to free those people for service to Christ in accordance with their consciences. There are different types of unity in the body of Christ, and we need to craft a new way to serve God together in a Wesleyan movement that respects different practices on these issues.

The Importance of Unity for Christians

Apr 20, 2017
|    Bishop Scott Jones

Jesus prayed for unity on the night of his betrayal. His prayer that all of his disciples might be one (John 17:21) is followed in the next chapter by Judas and the soldiers arresting Jesus in the garden. The contrast is strong.

A similar contrast shows up in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians where he says in the fourth chapter, “I 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.” Yet, a few short verses later he warns that disciples should not be tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, they should not live as the Gentiles live, and then, “putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another.” Clearly the unity for which Paul was pleading included challenges from the outside culture and disagreements within the body of Christ. At the same time we must avoid errors in doctrine and practice. The contrast is strong.

United Methodists have a deep commitment to the unity of the church. Article VI of our constitution makes it clear:

Article VI. Ecumenical Relations—As part of the church universal, The United Methodist Church believes that the Lord of the church is calling Christians everywhere to strive toward unity; and therefore it will pray, seek, and work for unity at all levels of church life: through world relationships with other Methodist churches and united churches related to The Methodist Church or The Evangelical United Brethren Church, through councils of churches, and through plans of union and covenantal relationships with churches of Methodist or other denominational traditions.

We do not claim to be the whole church of Jesus Christ, but we do claim to be part of it. We also believe that the unity of the Church is God’s will and we should do all that we can to strengthen that unity.

United Methodists have always been a pragmatic people. This has been one of our traits since John Wesley sought a union of evangelical clergy in 1761. His effort was centered around the three essential doctrines of the way of salvation, repentance, justification by faith and sanctification. His 1786 sermon against schism is quite clear. Yet two years earlier he had split the American part of the Methodist Connexion into a separate church. The contrast is strong.

In the 20th century United Methodists were at the forefront of ecumenical efforts, including the founding and leadership of councils of churches, bi-lateral and multi-lateral dialogues and efforts. Lately our best thinking has turned away from organic union and toward mutual recognition of members and ministries. The fruit of this has been deeper relationships understood as full communion without the organizational commitments of organic union.

Unity is being discussed by many persons and groups in the UMC today. I have been quite disappointed in the quality of most of the conversations. Far too often leaders are using emotion-laden terms without clear definitions or deep understanding. Toward that end, I want to try to raise the level of conversation by offering greater clarity about the term “unity.”

There are various types of unity currently being practiced within the body of Christian churches. At the most broad, there is a type of unity binding together all Trinitarian churches. For example, United Methodists and Roman Catholics recognize each other’s baptisms.

There is a closer unity binding Protestants who recognize the authority of Scripture and the number of sacraments in similar ways. This would describe the relationship between the Presbyterian churches and the UMC.

There is an even closer unity among those who are committed to full communion and the mutual recognition of ministers, such as between the UMC and ELCA.

There is unity even closer than that between Wesleyan bodies that share the same doctrines and have similar organization structures. The UMC relationship with the AME, AMEZ, CME and many of our affiliated autonomous churches would fit into this category.

The unity currently espoused in United Methodist Church is expressed in paragraph 101 of our Book of Discipline. There it says, “The General Book of Discipline reflects our Wesleyan way of serving Christ through doctrine and disciplined Christian life. We are a worldwide denomination united by doctrine, discipline, and mission through our connectional covenant. The General Book of Discipline expresses that unity.” Our church is currently evaluating whether we are currently in schism or in unity and what is our best way forward. Consideration of unity is crucial in this conversation, and a nuanced understanding of it will help all participants.

Embodying Unity in Turbulent Times

Oct 6, 2016
|    admin

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.

Young Preachers Festival

Jul 21, 2016
|    Bishop Scott Jones

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.

I. Purpose
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
3. Repentance
4. Justification
5. Sanctification
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

II. Planning
A. Series better than lectionary
B. Engaging secular culture in topic choice
C. Solid content—not moral therapeutic deism

III. Presentation
A. Preaching in a video age
1. use of video clips as illustrations
2. minimal use of notes
B. personality
C. Spectacle–occasionally
1. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ayTZegTQHzI 5:20 to 8:05
D. Teamwork

Blest Be the Tie

May 2, 2016
|    Bishop Scott Jones

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

Oct 24, 2014
|    Bishop Scott Jones

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.

Improving the Conversation on Homosexuality

Aug 22, 2014
|    Bishop Scott Jones

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.


Why Willimon is Wrong About Small Churches

Aug 12, 2013
|    Bishop Scott Jones

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.

Security of Appointment and Vital Congregations

Nov 2, 2012
|    Bishop Scott Jones

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.


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