1972 No Longer

It is no longer 1972. The organization of the general agencies and the structure of connectional giving can no longer be sustained. It is time for change.

I am grateful to my friend Rev. Tim McClendon for his October 21 blog posted at http://wtmcclendon.wordpress.com/2011/10/21/united-methodist-pope-and-problems-of-consolidation. He has put into a public forum what many persons have been saying in private conversations.

And yet, I must strongly disagree with his main points.

He is concerned that “we are allowing a business model to dictate ecclesiology.” He correctly notes that the bedrock of United Methodist ecclesiology is two-fold: episcopacy and the conferences. There is nothing about our current agency structure that is essential to our understanding of the church. All 13 general agencies could disappear tomorrow and the essence of the UMC would remain intact.

The real question is whether our current general church structure is maximizing our fruitfulness for Christ.  For a voluntary organization like the UMC, we need the best insights from current management theory to organize ourselves well. One of the most entertaining histories of the UMC is Charles Ferguson’s Organizing to Beat the Devil. A key component of our Wesleyan ecclesiology, going back to the 1740’s, is a willingness to adapt our organization to accomplish our mission. We must meet the adaptive challenge set by the Connectional Table and Council of Bishops.

In 1972 we were the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. We restructured with several goals in mind, explained by Rev. Paul McCleary in his recent book Structure, Governance and The United Methodist Church. McCleary, staff person for the Structure Study Commission (1968-1972) concludes that the restructuring he helped design did not work even in the 1970’s. It has gotten worse since then.

Our decline has been continuous for over 40 years. As Dr. Lovett Weems has made abundantly clear, we are asking for more and more money from fewer and fewer people in the United States. The Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table have overwhelmingly adopted the adaptive challenge before us: “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.”

These are important questions and I look forward to participating in a thoughtful dialogue with a wide spectrum of leaders in our beloved church.  To continue the dialogue, my next two blogs at www.extremecenter.com will address deeper questions of United Methodist ecclesiology.