Monday, December 24, 2007
Dr. Weems asks:
Can we shift our attention from a few ineffective clergy to the many faithful pastors who desperately need help in becoming fruitful?
Dr. Weems asks this in the backdrop of two bodies of research. The State of the Church Report on pages 10 and 11 reflects that those participating in the study, both laity and clergy, are not completely confident that clergy have received excellent training, or that they are appointed appropriately, or that they are well supervised. If you add the "agree somewhat" stats to the "strongly agree" the picture looks a little better, bringing the percentages between 51 and 78 depending on who is being asked which question (laity or clergy).
But Dr. Weems rightly notes that these are not very helpful questions to ask if what we're really concerned about is effective clergy leadership. For Weems, his own research had driven him to ask Wesley's historical questions: 1) Is there faith? 2) Are there gifts? and [especially] 3) Are there fruits? And from there, what he really hopes we may focus on is supporting fruitful clergy leadership.
If what we are hoping for is a UM Missional Future, what sort of fruits would we expect to see from effective clergy leadership?
The State of the Church study surveyed the following questions and received the following responses (combining strongly agree and somewhat agree responses):
† 57 percent agree at least somewhat with the
statement “pastors demonstrate excellence
in teaching core United Methodist beliefs
† 62 percent believe strongly or somewhat
clergy lead vibrant and inspiring worship.
† 59 percent believe they demonstrate excellence
in equipping lay leaders to help with
spirituality of the church.
† 59 percent believe they demonstrate excellence
in helping the congregation to define
its primary task.
† 68 percent believe they demonstrate excellence
in recruiting/engaging lay volunteers.
† 71 percent believe they demonstrate excellence
in organizing/managing the work of
† 61 percent agree at least somewhat with the
statement “pastors demonstrate excellence
in teaching core United Methodist beliefs
† 68 percent believe strongly or somewhat that
pastors lead vibrant and inspiring worship.
† 64 percent believe pastors demonstrate
excellence in equipping lay leaders to help
with spirituality of the church.
† 62 percent believe pastors demonstrate
excellence in helping the congregation to
define its primary task.
† 69 percent believe pastors demonstrate excellence
in recruiting/engaging lay volunteers.
† 65 percent believe pastors demonstrate
excellence in organizing/managing the
work of the church.
So what was being measured for signs of fruit?
Teaching core UM beliefs and practices, leading vibrant and inspiring worship, equipping lay leaders to help with spirituality of the church (whatever that means!), helping the congregation define its primary task, recruiting volunteers, and organizational management.
Uh, any of those missional up there? Per se, at least?
MAYBE teaching core UM beliefs and practices IF those core practices include something like basic missional units (small groups) where people function in accountability to something like the General Rules.
But does it take clergy to lead worship?
Is it the sole role of clergy or even a primary one to equip laity to help out? Isn't that sort of begging the question of where the ministry lies?
Are the clergy the only or even the primary vision keepers if a congregation is missional in its DNA?
Is missional pastoral effectiveness measured by how many people you can get out for the rummage sale? Or how well the investment portfolio is managed this year?
If that's the fruit we're looking for, and that's the fruit we're training and supervising for, well, the survey says we're more or less getting that at about a D- average level (on a generous grading scale with a curve).
Maybe the questions are the problem. Except for one thing-- these questions really DO represent how both laity and clergy are expecting clergy to provide pastoral leadership, and we really do train and supervise to get these outcomes.
We need a very different paradigm for a UM Missional Future.
Let's start by admitting the idea that any one person can do all of these things well-- even these things-- is rather more than reasonable to expect. Alan Hirsch notes in his book The Forgotten Ways (and on his blog of the same name) that there are biblically at least five major different gifts for leadership, and that these gifts are not usually all present in one person, or even two or three. His sense is you may need five or more people to form the core leadership structure of a congregation to live this out fully. He labels them as Apostleship, Prophecy, Evangelism, Shepherding and Teaching. I commend the book and the blog, and that if you haven't explored the APEST model he describes, you give it some serious thought and prayer.
I've noted in an earlier post on this blog, Methodism and the Mistake of the Solo Pastor, how early Methodism, to which John Wesley was referring with his questions about faith, gifts, and fruit, did not fall into this trap of training leaders or shepherds for small groups or whatever to be omni-gurus of all forms of Christian leadership, because in fact every Methodist would have had in effect at least three or four pastors-- the leader of the class meeting, the leader of the society of which the class meeting was part, perhaps the leader of a band (if one chose to join such a group), and one's local parish pastor/vicar/priest or staff of pastors or priests, depending on where one was. Each of these "pastors" had a different role in leadership for the people called Methodist, and none was really trying to do what the others did.
The point: We do know in our history, our spiritual DNA, as it were, how to structure and evaluate pastoral ministry differently than we are doing right now, which is far more based on current business models (pastor as CEO), university models (pastor as theological expert), and motivational models (pastor as winning worship leader)-- but all in one (which NONE of these models tries to pull off in the secular world!)-- as well as more attractional and institutional rather than missional models of what Christian discipleship and community life can be organized to do and be.
And another point: As one of the participants in emergingumc: a gathering noted, if we actually begin to live clergy life this way, it's not so clear that we could expect or be given the kinds of institutional supports we currently enjoy.
If we take these inputs seriously-- the non-missional criteria by which we currently form and evaluate pastors, what Wesleyan missional metrics look like (spiritual impression and community impact), the kind of gift-based approach suggested by Alan Hirsch and others in the emerging missional church, and if we take seriously that the basic missional unit is NOT a local congregation, but rather that the congregation represents a NETWORKING of those basic missional units, which are something rather more like class meetings (to follow the early Methodist model)-- where might we go instead?
I think... to a substantially messier, but much more missional future.
What do you think?
Peace and all good this Christmastide...
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Dr. Weems asks:
Can we learn from a cohort of large churches that have for thirty years been reaching more people, younger people, and more diverse people?
To substantiate the question, Dr Weems notes the following statistics:
Churches with average worship attendance of 500 or more make up 1% of United Methodist churches in the U.S. In 1975 (when the age of United Methodists became older than the national population), these churches represented about 9 percent of membership, attendance, and professions of faith. Today these churches represent
20% of membership
20% of attendance
24% of professions of faith
25% of youth
26% of children
29% of people of color
To answer the question most briefly, of course we can learn from the ministry and effectiveness of larger churches. The question that must then be asked is "What can we learn from these churches that helps us become more missional rather than merely attractional?"
Based on those statistics alone, the answer is nearly nothing. None of these measurements is a direct indicator of congregations being in any mission other than adding people to worship attendance or church rolls. There is nothing there that tells us directly whether or to what degree the people in attendance or on the rolls are themselves DOING anything missionally. What is the spiritual impact, other than attendance? What is the community impact where these churches and their participants are located?
Put another way, these data represent a minimal degree of INSTITUTIONAL effectiveness, but not necessarily missional effectiveness.
More to the point, perhaps, these data may actually say little more than that big churches have more people in them of all types than smaller congregations do.
The question remains what those people are actually doing in the life of the world to partner with and accomplish God's mission where they are.
What we also know is that a number of very large churches are doing a major reassessment of their ministries right now, in part because they have discovered that though their attendance figures remain very large in worship and their programming, the rate of discipleship occurring among these people is actually very low. In short, people are coming, getting what they want out of the church, but not growing all that much in their lives personally or in their actual commitment to engaging in God's mission in the world. Consumerism, rampant everywhere in our culture in the US, may be a substantially bigger factor driving large participation than commitment to the mission of God in Jesus Christ.
So can we learn from large churches? Yes, we can. But what we need to learn is about instances where they, or churches of any size, are being effective missionally, not just institutionally. Getting bigger or even more diverse is not necessarily a sign of faithfulness to or growth in God's mission, especially not in the United States. We need to know what percentage of their participants are active in DOING mission in practical, hands-on ways, not just how much money they give for others to do it, and the factors in the life of those congregations that help to encourage that kind of outcome. We need to know what percentage of people are growing in their commitment to Christ, as measured by the General Rules (in our tradition), and the factors in their life as a congregation that contribute to such growth. We need to know not just about different ethnicities being part of a congregation, but also, and perhaps more significantly, different socio-economic levels, and the factors that contribute to that. We need to know not just how many youth are attending events, but how many of them are active and growing in faith and mission as well.
If we just look to large churches, because we view them as signs of institutional success, we will not be identifying enough of the right factors for ANY current size of a congregation for missional effectiveness.
A starting place to get a handle on some of these issues, not only within the UMC but across a variety of denominations in the US, is the links page on congregational studies at Hartford Seminary, one of the leading centers for congregational studies in the world. The most extensive single study to date is the US Congregations Study.
Go look around there, and see what you learn. Some of what comes out may surprise you.
But remember, it's a starting place. And it still tends to measure effectiveness as institutional growth more than necessarily indicators of missional effectiveness (spiritual impression and community impact), though some indicators of the latter two can be found there as well.
Consider this a call to missional research, then. Anyone needing to do a major dissertation or wanting to start an important national or international project in missional congregational/group/network effectiveness, here's your topic!
Peace in Christ,
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
Can the church change to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people?
Dr. Weems notes that Methodism did well in the 19th century as it followed the people moving across the American frontier. But in so doing, it may have become a victim of its own success. It made an assumption that what it did to be successful in the 19th century should be the same things it did to be successful in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Then, as the last century unfolded, the nation changed and the church did not. Earlier generations had followed Americans from East to West, from urban to frontier, and from lower to middle and upper-middle classes. But success led to staying with practices even as they became increasingly less effective.
Today the United Methodist Church in the U. S. is not only dramatically smaller, but it is older and less diverse than the population. Thus, the premise emerges that we must learn to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people.
Actually, I would like to make a different argument, from an historical and missional perspective. In actual fact, the Methodist movement DID change in the late 18th through the 19th century, and very substantially, and not all for the good. Here is a brief listing of the most important changes.
1) Methodism became a church in 1784. Methodism prior to 1784 was NOT a church and was not trying either to BE a church or to found churches. Methodism was a movement in a SYMBIOTIC RELATIONSHIP to churches, and not all of them of one denomination. Methodism focused on intentional, accountable spiritual formation (Rules 1 and 3) and missional deployment (Rule 2), while the functions of doctrinal continuity and worship were provided by the churches to which Methodists belonged and where they received the sacraments. This meant that Methodists as such didn't need to focus heavily on institutions that could provide those two basic elements of Christian life, and so could focus much more intently on the practices of watching over one another in love.
2) Methodism LOST its multi-racial witness and community in the early 19th century. After it became clear that Africans were not fully welcome in the life of Old St. George's Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia (the legends are many, the actual history is a bit murky), Richard Allen gathered a group to found Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia in 1794, though it was not formally recognized as a church in its own right until 1815 or 1816. One story (told at Old Saint George's these days) is that Richard Allen intentionally waited until after the death of Francis Asbury, who had been a champion for full access to all persons, regardless of race, to make a formal denominational separation from the Methodist Episcopal Church. Similar events in New York led to the formation of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, Zion, formally splitting as a separate denomination in 1822.
3) White Methodism began losing its distinctive and most effective discipling structure, the class meeting. Methodism was NOT like the other churches in early America, in part because it had not been designed as a church from the beginning. Other churches tended to depend on a gathering for worship and the emerging revival practices of the early 19th century-- which were also essentially designed around an extended worship/event model-- for their growth. Methodism HAD depended PRIMARILY on the class meeting-- small groups gathering to watch over one another in love toward growth in holiness of life through works of piety and works of mercy. But as White Methodism spread and encountered other denominations, and particularly as it "settled" into church life in local communities, it tended to move the class meeting from the center to the periphery, and, by the 1850s, nearly outside church life altogether. African Methodism retained the class meeting as a core practice, and many AME and AME Zion congregations do so to this day.
4) White Methodism divided over slavery in 1844. This was the culmination of a period of conflicting responses to slavery through the early 19th century, with Southern churches generally following the Southern cultural practice of permitting slavery, even for elders and bishops, and Northern churches rejecting it to varying degrees. Mr. Wesley and the General Rules had been very clear on this point. Rule 1 ("By doing no harm, by avoiding evil of every kind, especially that which is most generally practiced") included this line: "Slaveholding; buying or selling slaves." That this was even tolerated in the South or by the North for so long was already a sign that the basic discipline of the Methodist small groups was breaking down on this point.
One could argue that this division could have made the Southern churches more culturally relevant to their context, and the North to theirs-- since slavery did exist widely in the South and rarely anywhere in the North by the time of the division. But such cultural relevance came at a price-- accommodation to what all Methodists just a generation earlier had clearly called "evil."
5) Another racial split occurred in 1870, with the founding of the Colored Methodist Episcopal Church (now called Christian Methodist Episcopal Church) when it became clear that the Reconstruction-era Methodist Episcopal Church South would not tolerate the continued integration of their churches with now freed people of African descent, and neither would the liberated peoples allow themselves to be treated as inferior members of MECS churches.
More significant changes could be documented, but these have set the plate for the major branches of Methodism in the US and worldwide through the global outreach efforts of each of these four-- AME, AME Zion, CME and what has become The United Methodist Church. The UMC has worked valiantly at overcoming its history of personal and institutional racism, and has become one of the more diverse Protestant denominations in the United States. But that history still remains, and institutional racism is still part of how the denomination thinks and operates.
Therefore, I offer this provocative historical conclusion:
The persistent witness in the 19th century is not necessarily one of Methodist success, but rather a kind of institutional success in adding churches across the frontier and building a variety of helpful institutions for the nation-- including hospitals and educational institutions-- as well as in establishing mission outposts around the world.
To be sure, this institutional success brought with it many good things for all involved. My argument, though, is that that should not be equated with Methodist success, if by Methodist success one means the kind of outcomes that early Methodism achieved-- personal spiritual transformation and growth in holiness generated in a context of the multiplication of covenanted missional communities (class meetings). Early Methodist success was about the power of many small missional groups multiplying direct personal ministry and social witness in the name of Jesus. Later institutional success for the denomination came by creating larger attractional congregations and other institutions as the primary focus of ministry. These could have a bigger initial impact, but ultimately only in an additive, rather than multiplicative, way.
Methodist success would have meant combatting slavery and racism through the power of many small groups committed to do so, rather than being overcome by these things at the larger institutional level, and multiplying accountable, missional small groups rather than just worship-centered and ultimately attractional congregations across the land.
So what must we do now if we are to "reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people" for a UM Missional Future?
Well, we could continue to do the kinds of things we have been doing in recent years. We have created lots of "contemporary" worship services to "reach seekers." Well over 1/3 of our congregations that offer at least two worship services report offering at least one service per week that they describe as "contemporary," and 73% indicate that they sing "praise choruses" (however they define that term) regularly. We can continue to advertise the denominational brand as "Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors" in hopes of interrupting a cultural vision of Christianity as closed in many ways, as well as training congregations to be hospitable when people DO come to worship or other church-sponsored programs. We can keep offering anti-racism workshops and require all clergy and other leaders at every level to attend diversity training regularly, and we can keep working on acknowledging and overcoming the institutional racism that pervades the structures of the UMC, pressing on toward the mark of full inclusion everywhere.
None of those things is necessarily a bad thing to do in itself. Most of them have some merit. But none of them is a Methodist response, much less missional. Why? Because all of them are still focused on attractionalism, on getting THEM to come to US, and maybe to stick around with US (inside the church building, or participating in our institutional programs) long enough to want to join our churches, by profession of faith or otherwise.
Early Methodism didn't wait for folks to come to them. They went out and did mission of all sorts in the world and actively invited others to join them in that way of life and service we now call discipleship to Jesus Christ-- not just at a worship service or other "programs."
The core change we need in order to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people isn't to jazz up or mellow out or otherwise "coolify" worship, or improve our hospitality, or even to end racism in our institutions. Those are second order changes at best.
The core change needed is a change in hearts and behavior by each of us-- to shift our PRIMARY focus from what someone else needs to do to what I and we here, where we are, CAN do to reach out directly, not primarily through some mediated process (whether worship, hospitality, or institutional reform).
This isn't about building the perfect "young-diverse-people snatching-machine." It's about us actually living missionally, about we ourselves reaching out to the people already around us, getting to know them, building community with them and each other, watching over each other in love, and being on mission with God in the name of Jesus Christ and the power of the Holy Spirit with them.
Can we do that?
By God's grace, and with the clear examples of early Methodism, yes, we can.
Peace in Christ,
Monday, December 17, 2007
Dr. Weems asks, regarding diversity...
Should the affirmative action and monitoring priority for the next
decade be people of color professions of faith?
This question directly affects the congregation where my charge conference relationship is held-- New Hope UMC in Anderson, Indiana, which is a predominantly African-American congregation seeking actively to be more multi-cultural. So to answer that right off the bat, my first response would be "No, anymore than professions of faith statistics are a missionally helpful basic metric for any other population." I've outlined what missionally-centered metrics for Methodism might be in two other blog posts-- Spiritual Impression and Community Impact.
The text following the question really notes other things, not necessarily an answer to the question posed. It notes, correctly, that issues around diversity as such barely made the radar screen of the State of the Church Report. There was really only one question that sort of touched on diversity-- whether United Methodists felt that elimination of racism within the church should be a top priority, to which the vast majority of laity and clergy responded positively. The other diversity notable in the SOTC Report was the difference in understandings between Europeans, Africans, and US-based constituencies. But that would not generally address the issue of diversity in specific local congreations or missional settings, which is where, I think, Dr. Weems is aiming his question.
Here is the second part of Dr. Weems' commentary on the question:
Diversity was a challenge for Wesley and early Methodists. Yet the results make clear the seriousness with which Wesley took the task. The need for a renewed spirit of inclusion of people is crucial today. The youthfulness of the growing racial ethnic diversity in the United States makes its impact even more significant for the future. Clearly the church’s vitality in the next century will be shaped largely by its willingness and ability to respond to the changing face of America.
I would agree that early Methodism did, in both England and what became the US, try to be ethnically and to some degree economically diverse. The existence of the AME, AME Zion and CME denominations, however, bears continuing witness to the degree that Anglo-centric Methodist churches in the US failed to take that challenge as seriously as they should have done.
The need for "a renewed spirit of inclusion of people" however could be problematic from a missional perspective. The notion of "inclusion" is USUALLY attractional-speak for "we want different kinds of folks in here" rather than missional-speak which would say "we're going to be active in ministry WITH all sorts of people we find around us and beyond." The results of inclusion in an attractional context tend to be homogenization, in part because the premise is we want THEM in with US, where US is already defined culturally. The results of ministry WITH whomever could be substantially greater diversity in all kinds of settings, including congregations. I just raise this as a cautionary note. Inclusion and diversity are not always compatible. Mission and diversity can be much more compatible.
Finally, I would consider modifying the final sentence to read "Clearly the church's vitality in the next century will be shaped largely by its willingness and ability to respond to the changing face of the contexts in which it finds itself."Limiting our adaptability as a church just to the U.S. would, in effect, perpetuate the notion that the UMC is essentially a U.S. church with other global "appendages." And I think we've already suggested that, for a variety of reasons, that's not a direction that is likely to survive much into the next decade or two. The key is always to be able to read, connect with, and more than that, be in mission in whatever contexts we find ourselves-- whether individually, or as groups, or as networks or as congregations or even as denominational leaders.
Would it be a good thing to see a greater number of professions of faith from all sorts of people groups showing up in UMC congregations? Certainly-- we could feel good about that. But let's remember that our first calling isn't the church rolls-- its to be in mission with Christ in the world. If we're doing that, diversity will take care of itself. And maybe, just maybe, all of us will learn what it actually takes to do the hard work of overcoming institutional racism.
Peace in Christ,
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Should we declare young United Methodist clergy as an endangered species?
Dr. Weems asks this in part in response to some of the research he has been involved with in recent years, the results of which show both a dramatic decline (from 15.05% in 1985 to 4.69% in 2005) in the number of younger clergy (ordained elders under the age of 35) in the UMC and that the UMC's younger clergy percentage is higher ONLY than The Episcopal Church's figures (4.1%) among US mainline denominations.
Dr. Weems cites several reasons these figures should alarm United Methodists.
1) Younger leaders may be in a better position to understand how to reach their own generation and potentially multiple generations.
2) Clergy entering the process at an older age have fewer years in the system, and therefore over time have less system-wisdom to contribute.
3) Younger clergy (age 24-35) may be more successful at church planting than older clergy.
Not in the provocative questions document, but in his larger study of clergy age in the UMC in comparison with other denominations, is this quote from Leander Keck:
"The impression is abroad that the church does not welcome strength since it is more a place to find a support group than a channel for energy and talent, more a place where the bruised find solace than where the strong find companions and challenge.”
The importance of this statement should not be missed. It parallels a concern that people like Bill Easum have been raising for many years-- that many of our congregations have decided or lived as if they had decided that their primary mission was to care for each other rather than to be actively involved in bearing witness to the kingdom of God in every way possible. They have in effect substituted a part of the Christian mission (care) for the whole (witness in all possible forms, inclusive of care).
A missing implication is that younger people may be more "into" transformative mission than into care as such, while older persons may be more "into" mission AS care, and that this may account for the substantially lower number of younger people becoming clergy in the last 20 years. That, of course, would need to be demonstrated, not simply asserted or, as in this case, implied.
Likewise, Keck's provocative statement would need to be tested to see if indeed there has been such a shift in understanding mission over the past, say, 30 years, across UM congregations that would account for the substantially lower numbers of younger persons ordained as elders in the UMC. To my knowledge, neither the assertion nor the data to establish it as a fact for the UMC have been forthcoming.
One of the fallacies often spoken about the emerging missional church is that it is primarily intended as a movement of 20 and 30 somethings, or as a way to reach 20 and 30 somethings-- folks who could broadly be understood as "postmodern." That notion is quickly belied by a quick check of facts. A good number of the so-called key leaders of the movement (or at least the theological conversation elements of it-- and the folks who publish a lot on the Internet and in books) are in their 40s and 50s, and it doesn't take long in reading what they say to discern that they are not postmodern themselves, but rather are modernists who are trying to describe some of what they are encountering in the US or other developed English-speaking contexts and often use the term postmodern to capture that. Still, their basic commitment is not to postmodernism, or even to helping the gospel reach postmoderns exclusively. Their basic commitment is to contextual missiology-- what the church and individual Christians can do in their specific missional contexts to be about doing what God's kingdom is doing wherever they are and among the people-- of whatever cultural background or assumption or age-- amidst whom they live.
For that reason, it becomes less clear that younger clergy will necessarily be more successful at church planting in all contexts (depending on how success is defined) than older clergy may be. At issue is not age, but cultural awareness and fluency, including fluency in what it takes to provide leadership in given cultural settings.
The one fact we have, then, is the decline itself-- from 15.05% in 1985 to 4.69% in 2005. What we still have unanswered is what exactly that signals-- either in terms of what the decline means (i.e., what the causes for it actually were) or what the decline implies (i.e., what is likely to happen in a denomination with such a low percentage of younger ordained clergy).
And of the three implications drawn, the one that remains clearly viable is the UMC may be losing wisdom, systemically, in the long run given the very low rate of younger ordained elders. A further implication along the way is that with such a dominance of over-35 leaders in the UMC, the opportunity for those under 35 to have their voice seriously considered at any table where they may sit could be almost zero. The UMC is a church of the Boomers and maybe of some of the Busters, but its capacity to hear, respond, and be formed by those of us who are younger may be seriously limited. It can form younger people in ITS mold, if they will allow it. The reverse would appear to be hardly the case. The short answer to Dr. Weems question may be more than "Yes." It may be "Yes, and in a short bit of time, perhaps a decade or two, young elders may be all but extinct."
That is, at least, if working through the established channels of the institutional church is thought to be the only or primary way to have meaningful influence in the UMC. I would argue that it is not. And certainly it is not the only or even the primary way if we are imagining and helping to build an emerging UM future. If we do take seriously that the basic missional unit of Methodism (or "primitive Christianity" or "experimental Christianity" as Mr Wesley would put it) is neither the congregation nor the conference and certainly not the General Conference or General Agencies, but rather the missional, accountable small group that is networked with other missional accountable small groups, we can have much hope of enlisting leaders (and not just managers or caretakers) of all ages and stages.
In a UM institutional future, including one that involves planting many new congregations, given the current realities, then, yes, young elders are very much an endangered species.
In a UM missional future, however, younger people-- laity and all clergy (elders AND deacons) COULD be more abundant... but that is IF we decide to head in that kind of direction.
Peace in Christ,
Dr. Weems asks:
Can we escape the approaching “tipping point” of declining income
after over thirty years of aging as a denomination?
The "tipping point" Dr. Weems refers to here is twofold-- the end of a steady influx of funds from people in their fifties and up, caused by death, and the relatively lower level of giving to denominational causes by the younger populations of the denomination.
Unfortunately, the only data from the State of the Church study that Dr Weems can cite here relate to the level of satisfaction with the apportionment system, and these data were not reported by age of the responders. (One supposes such a collation could be derived from cross-tabulations of the original data sets, but such cross-tabs have not appeared in any version of the final reports, nor have he datasets been made publicly available).
So there are problems with answering the question based on the actual data we have.
1) We do not know whether there is actually a difference between older and younger populations regarding whether the apportionment system is effective, and neither do we know based on the data cited if such a difference would show that older people are more satisfied and younger people less satisfied, or vice versa, or to what degree this may be true.
2) The question would seem to presume that the UMC in the future would be trying to organize itself for mission to accomplish about the same things in the same way we currently do-- and therefore require the same or an increased level of financial support over time.
3) The only data that can be cited refer to a single kind of income stream-- apportionment receipts-- and actually only to an opinion about whether that form of a funding stream is effective and efficient, not whether there remains actual interest in continuing it.
With all of these problems in the question as posed, let me pose an alternative question.
What might the financial future look like for a missional UM future?
Of course, in a very real way, there is no accurate way to answer that, either, other than to say something like, "It depends."
So let me put forward some provocative assumptions and see what the financial implications might be.
Scenario A: A Conservative Approach
We keep our current basic structures, including General Agencies, Bishops, Districts, and Conferences. However, like the bishops and DSes, ALL conference and General Agency staff are deployed. There are no more "offices." And unlike the current scenarios, where General Agency staff function under hierarchies of management, the organizational structure for GA staff is now entirely flat, with those serving in staff roles functioning with whatever authority they need to get things done in their area of expertise. The only "control" on their work is financial-- salaries plus expense budgets based on the work they're actually doing (not the previous year's budget, etc). This converts agency staff from "producers of content" controlled by others into "content leaders" responding to the leadership needs in the field, wherever the field may be.
Possible Results: cost savings in buildings (there wouldn't be any buildings anymore), greater flexibility to work when and where work needs to be done, a bias toward leadership rather than bureaucracy in General Agency and conference staffing.
Fiscal Impact: Could be positive or about break-even, as the costs for travel and the funding of new projects could equal or exceed costs for building maintenance, janitorial, central IT, and other costs.
Missional Impact: Leaders would clearly be SENT into mission fields of all sorts, equipped to lead there-- not SITTING in offices.
Scenario B: A Market-Model
End all centralized funding for General Agencies, and make them compete for the funding they receive based on goods and services they can sell. Survival of the smartest, those who understand and respond the best to what their market-- probably congregations-- are looking to do.
Possible results: Frankly, this is already happening to a large degree. Many General Agencies already receive a relatively small portion of their income from apportioned funds, and of course The United Methodist Publishing House receives no apportionment support at all.
Fiscal Impact: There would be no more need for a General Church apportionment, or at least a substantially reduced one. Financing for this work would devolve entirely to local congregations and individuals. Those who wanted what was being sold would buy it for themselves. Those who didn't wouldn't. Maybe there would be a net dividend from the agencies back to the churches in some way, like the Publishing House that invests its profits in the pension fund.
The danger of a consumer driven church this way lies. It's not like we aren't one already in many ways, but this could make it much worse. Or, if we build it with enough quality control-- some core values that keep us missional-- it could make things much better.
It is hard to say if this would result in any actual "freeing up" of missional dollars-- money that could be redirected into forming and sending disciples locally and globally, or perhaps could be pooled to support massive cooperative projects to end hunger or malaria or poverty. We're pretty selfish people and congregations-- we might just spend more to keep ourselves "fat and happy."
Scenario C: A Radical Approach-- Start Over
Stop all current systems that are not absolutely mission critical. We would probably need to keep in place bishops (but not DSes), a pension fund, health care and other such systems, and we would need to assess where current "missionaries" (i.e., those officially deployed by GBGM) were still needed. But everything else could be up for rebuilding on an as needed basis.
The basis for the need? Accomplishing basic unit mission or fundamental global mission. Basic unit mission is what the basic mission unit does-- the accountable small group. What systems would be needed to support that the best way possible in particular places? Build those only as needed-- not to reproduce what the old systems, based on attractional congregations, used to do-- but to support what the basic missional units need. Fundamental global mission would be in the category of things Brian McLaren is talking about in Everything Must Change-- elimination of extreme poverty and the diseases that ravage people who experience it, transformation of social and economic structures that keep people stuck and keep the earth in thrall, but perhaps above all, Christians not just calling for others to do something, but living into these new sustainable patterns of community and life and generous giving that make that possible.
Fiscal Implications: The cost to run the current denominational structures would be all but ended. It could be ended almost entirely if we can endow some of the ongoing bits (health care, retirement and bishops) with funds saved from the former structure costs. However, the costs of the new denominational structures-- if we would actually have these costs as denominational costs-- would be unknown. Basic mission unit support costs could be fairly minimal. Fundamental global mission costs could consume all the rest and more-- but wouldn't be a problem to fund if these are thoroughly supported by the basic mission units, and ideally they would be.
Missional Implications: Huge, at every level. Such a radical restructuring would already indicate and then require a thoroughly missional orientation for everything we do as United Methodists. And our distinctiveness as United Methodists wouldn't be generated from our structures doing branding exercises, but from our people living the way of Jesus in all the missional contexts in which they find themselves-- and doing so cooperatively and generously with others.
Which of these scenarios would you choose? How would you propose we work to get from where we are now to that scenario? And how do you think funding for each one could avoid running into a "death spiral?"
Peace in Christ,
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Brian McLaren's new book, Everything Must Change, comes in Tour form, too. The link to the Tour and related support info is in the title of this entry.
Peace in Christ,
Monday, December 10, 2007
Question 4: Can medical science continue to keep U.S. United Methodism alive?
What Dr. Weems notes in the first of two paragraphs commenting on this question is that from 1968-1975, the average age of United Methodists in the US was lower than the average age of the US population, and that after 1975 the average age of United Methodists in the US became (and continues to grow) older than the average age of the US population.
He adds some worse news. "The [State of the Church] report is clear that the gap between rhetoric and action appears to be as large as the age gap that some believe threatens the future viability of the denomination." Indeed, that is a direct quote from page 6 of that report, which may be read in its entirety here.
By the gap between rhetoric and action, the SotC Report is referring to two statements that laity and clergy alike were invited to indicate their agreement with in the survey behind the report.
One of the statements was:
"My church is willing to change/add alternative worship options to attract young people."
The other statement was:
"My church is willing to reallocate resources to attract young people."
The SotC Report found that 20% of clergy and about 33% of laity "strongly agreed" with the first statement, and about 30% of laity and 27% of clergy strongly agreed with the second.
As I recall, my response (clergy) was to disagree with the first and either take a neutral or slightly disagreeing position with the second.
It's the "attraction" thing-- a) that our job is primarily about getting OTHERS to COME and then b) assuming that "worship" equals the form of "church" by which young people (or any people who are not currently in meaningful contact with a Christian community) may be expected or SHOULD be expected to have "first" or ongoing contact. The whole question assumes that attractional response as normative-- that we SHOULD want to change worship as a PRIMARY means to "get" young people "into" church ... rather than BEING the kind of church that young people or ANY people would WANT to be associated with because they encounter us in community and in mission-- and in such encounters they receive what we offer as WE are on mission rather than take the bait we lay out to lure them in.
Maybe, just maybe, the low "strongly agree" responses to this statement COULD actually be a sign of hope-- a sign that we've been there, done that with attractionalism or the fixation on youth in US culture, that we're tired of trying to "gin up" our worship to some other end than actually worshiping our Triune God, and we're not going to go back there again.
The second statement was harder for me to know how to respond to. Where we allocate our finances individually and as a congregation DOES indicate at least to SOME degree what we think to be important. At the same time "attracting" ANYBODY per se, rather than being in ministry with and alongside people, is problematical to me from an emerging missional perspective. It feels like so much more marketing of the gospel-- which is an expensive and ultimately very costly excuse for not actually living as communities that bear witness to its power. So yes, I want a congregation's funding to reflect that it is serious about being in mission with people of all ages, and maybe even especially younger people whose lives perhaps fewer and fewer of us are actually engaging on an ongoing basis. Still, I don't want to be funding a process to make me as a older person (if I were one-- I'm 43, so I identify as late-GenX, early middle age) feel better for trying to "get" more younger people around me. The question left me feeling very conflicted. Clearly, it left about 70% of United Methodists feeling conflicted or less than enthusiastic for SOME reason as well.
Unfortunately, the State of the Church report does not seem to be listening or asking the deeper questions about what the low positive response rates to these two questions may mean. We aren't told (and in fact the survey had no way to measure) what less than stellar positive responses might be saying. Instead, there seems to be the presumption that we should KNOW what these answers mean-- that we just don't really care about young people, because if we really did then a) more of them would show up in our stats (i.e., worship attendance and membership data) b) we'd change our worship services to help that happen and c) we'd want to spend more money to get more of them to show up in our worship/membership stats.
So what's a missional way forward?
How about asking a group of people in each congregation, beginning with the one you may be part of, to make a list of the opportunities each person has to be in ministry with younger people every day. Wayne Schwab talks about six different relational settings nearly all of us has every day in which we can encounter people-- and he names them what they really can be for each of us, and consequently for all of us as congregations-- MISSIONAL settings: work/school, local community, wider world, leisure, spiritual health, and church life and its outreach. And then what if we helped the people in this group to decide to take on just two of these relational settings as missional settings-- that is, to see what God's kingdom was already up to or longing to be up to in these settings, and join God's action and longing in doing it with the abundant gifts and passions God has already given us AND them!-- and then helped them help each other to do this seriously.
Would that show up as an increase in worship attendance? Maybe not right away-- maybe not ever. Maybe not in the congregation where we are, but maybe in some other Christian community. Why should it matter that they necessarily worship with us if we're living out our missional discipleship with them, too? Would we change our worship if we engaged young people missionally this way? Well, if we were inviting them to worship with us, to offer THEIR gifts with us, yes, that would be a change, but it wouldn't be about GETTING THEM IN, but rather about helping THEM offer THEMSELVES to God in worship as THEY can-- which is just what all of us should be doing, right? Would that show up in an increase in the proportion of a local church budget dedicated to ministries with younger people? It might or it might not-- this could be entirely a collection of personal investments by church members/disciples in the lives of young people. Or maybe it would. There's just no way to know what the correlations might actually be.
But in either case, whether it results in increased attendance in worship in or dollars budgeted for ministries by the local church you are part of or not, if just one group of people in a congregation (say maybe 6-12 people) take on this kind of "experimental" Christian mission with young people, one can hardly say these people, or the larger congregation that prays for and endorses the work they do individually or collectively, doesn't care about young people. Quite the reverse!
And when one group does it-- with both successes and failures, and learning from each-- well, it might be a good bet that another may want to as well. NOT to attract more youth-- but to have the blessing of being on mission WITH youth, or maybe others in the settings around them.
If one of the purposes of leadership for a new UM missional future is to be asking the right sorts of questions, then maybe the right question to be asking about the "age gap" is NOT "Are we willing to change worship or funding to get young people to COME to us?"--
Maybe it's "Are we willing to live out the implications of our worship (including our baptismal vows, the teaching of scripture, our feeding at the Lord's Table and our being sent forth into ministry Sunday after Sunday and day after day in the name and power of our Triune God) by GOING OUT OURSELVES to be in ministry WITH young people in all the places God has already placed them in our paths?"
What other missional leadership questions might you ask to help United Methodists address our "age gap"?
Peace in Christ,
Sunday, December 09, 2007
Lovett Weems goes on to ask:
Can we move from a structure of control to a structure of grace?
Specifically, he means by that three things:
a) Can the UMC adopt a barebones Discipline-- across the whole church, and then in each region of it-- that addresses ONLY the basic necessary doctrinal and structural questions, and leaves most of the detail to each region, and then within each region to each entity within it that actually does the work-- to decide?b) Can we structure accountability relationships NOT around authority figures, but rather around shared vision, mission and values?
c) Can we understand the primary role of leaders as holding questions about what God is calling us to do in front of us, rather than telling us what to do?
Can we? Yes, all of these things can be done.
Is that likely?
Many of the voices in the emerging missional church are skeptical of the "Institutional Church" (or IC for short), and this question is the main reason. We have seen again and again our language being coopted and even some of our concepts being tried, but basically as "the latest thing" in what remains the same old game-- whether it's congregations adding "emerging worship services" to "attract" 20 and 30 somethings, or it's denominational leaders talking about leading by mission or vision but not actually changing the way that people are employed, or how they work together, or how judicatory and denominational agencies actually relate to or are held accountable or funded by local congregations.
I'm speaking generally and pan-denominationally here, based on reading across the emerging blogsphere. And what I read there says most of us think it's not likely at all. The current structures are simply too wed to the power and forms of influence by which they currently do what they do (whatever that may be) to be willing to let go of them without a struggle. And many of us feel like we're too much in the minority to be a force to change that-- so why bother.
I have another perspective. I agree it will be difficult for UM structures as they exist to change substantially into more missional directions quickly. But I see signs we want to.
Streamlining the Discipline will be the easy part. We could do that in two or three General Conferences. Work is already being done toward this end. Even leadership around key questions rather than authority figures should be fairly doable. Frankly, in the UMC, we already have a number of key leaders at the national and the conference level who function just this way.
It's the second one that may be most challenging-- accountability relationships. This is most challenging for two reasons. First, we're very used to accountability looking more military (and often punitive) than missional and redemptive. And second, relationships among leaders in the UMC operate by non-transparent (to the average churchgoer, at least) codes of deference and protocol that reinforce a more leader-figure-centered than a common-mission accountability model. Perhaps we need to change the language of accountability altogether (any better ideas?). Or perhaps we should spend some time considering whether there can be any bridge from where we are to where we might be going with this question-- or whether we actually have to take a significant leap into a different paradigm, and leave the other behind entirely.
Let me reflect a bit further though on accountability-- in something closer to its initial Methodist sense. Accountability for Methodists wasn't then primarily about getting things done (achieving corporate objectives) across a denomination (and not just because it wasn't a denomination!). Accountability was much more about literally watching over one another in love, and looking for signs that those being watched over, and those doing the watching, were in fact growing in holiness-- in love of God and neighbor. The role of the class leader was precisely to ask questions... questions that were aimed at ensuring that growth in holiness was occuring in the lives of those with whom the leader worked. This was all about grace-- not control.
So, we do have in our recessive Methodist DNA knowledge about how to work at accountability that does the very things Dr. Weems is asking-- at least at that very local level. When that most local level was attended to first and seen as the ultimate level of referral-- and the levels "above" it (the society, the conferences-- district and annual) were in effect reporting on the cumulative EFFECTS of the local work rather than trying to CONTROL it or even direct it from THEIR level, we didn't seem to have the problems with accountability as positional rather than missional that we seem to encounter at this point.
Why? Because then all the systems, all the institutional structures of Methodism, were aligned in effect to SERVE (not control) the smallest system-- the class meeting, and ultimately the individuals in it.
United Methodism is a far more complex set of systems than early Methodism. We are global. We are congregational (remember, early Methodism was not starting or planting churches, but rather societies of class meetings). We have bishops (the general superintendency Mr Wesley had in mind was a set of leaders for Methodism, essentially to carry on and multiply the kind of work he had been doing, not bishops for churches with all kinds of agency responsibilities). And we have agencies that do all kinds of things early Methodism might never have envisioned or necessarily desired for itself, in part because it didn't see itself as a church.
If the Council of Bishops and the leaders of the Connectional Table are serious, though, about helping us live the Methodist Way, and if by that they mean something like restoring the General Rules to some sort of real function in our midst by which we can and will watch over one another in love in small groups-- maybe, just maybe, they are saying they want to see that "old-time" alignment of institutions serving the smallest missional unit (the class meeting) come back for a try in our present age.
But there's the key, I think. The IC announcing to the basic missional units that the IC has found THE WAY that all the basic missional units need to get lined up with-- well, that's just the IC way at work.
The transformation has to happen at two levels. Those basic missional units have to exist and work. Regardless of what other structures we may have as a denomination or a congregation, without that one-- a structure for watching over one another in love that actually works-- we don't have Methodism, or as Wesley would say, we don't have "experimental [experiential] Christianity." Whatever else we do as emerging missional Methodists, let's all agree to help that happen where ever we are by whatever means we can.
THEN the IC pieces really need to WANT not to CONTROL or corral, and maybe not even to count exactly, but rather to SERVE those basic missional units. This doesn't mean we stop having something like a General Board of Global Ministries to handle all the staffing, complex travel issues, and advocacy for ministry and worship in all sorts of ways in the US and globally. The IC pieces will do what they do, too-- in all the ways they actually can-- and they need to! The difference would be that they do so understanding and actually clearly articulating HOW what they are doing either underwrites or extends what the basic missional units are actually doing-- not JUST what great accomplishments THEY (the IC pieces) have done, or how badly the denomination as a whole has done on some metrics, in the course of their reporting period.
What do you think? What does a grace-based structure for a United Methodist Missional Future look like where you sit?
Peace in Christ,