Friday, October 01, 2010

United Methodist Metrics for Discipleship and Mission

Companions,

In 2008, Steve Manskar and I developed some new questions to be added to charge conference forms based on our United Methodist statements about membership found in Paragraphs 216-221 of the Book of Discipline and the three General Rules. We submitted these questions to the committee responsible for editing and presenting the charge conference forms (and lots of other forms) for the 2009-2012 quadrennium.

A colleague at GCFA was delighted with these questions-- real, palpable and measurable ways both to describe and to account for how local congregations are (and are not yet!) fulfilling the stated mission of the United Methodist Church in the ways the Book of Discipline already calls for us to do so.

When the committee met, it decided not to include any of these questions on the charge conference forms for this quadrennium. Committee members agreed that these questions do measure discipleship. But a concern was whether making the form any longer than one page would make pastors less likely to complete it. One comment was "These questions are too hard for most of our local congregations to answer." 

That may be true. 

But here they are. Look over them. See what you think.

The numbers in parentheses are the related paragraphs in the 2008 Book of Discipline.

And specifically-- since we plan to do this again in 2012 if given the opportunity-- share what you see that could make them (or questions like them) more likely to get taken seriously and actually incorporated next time around.


Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards
  
Membership and Discipleship
1. How is your congregation making possible “a comprehensive and life-long process of growing in grace?” (216)

2. How many children and infants (with their families) have been instructed and nurtured in the meaning of faith, the rights and responsibilities of their baptisms, and spiritual formation using materials approved by The United Methodist Church? (216.1.a)

3. How many youth have committed themselves to discipleship and been confirmed using the services of the Baptismal Covenant? How has the pastor been specifically involved in this process? (216.1.b, 216.2.a)

4.
a) How has the congregation, with the support of the pastor, instructed youth and adults not yet baptized in the meaning of the Christian faith and the history, organization and teachings of the United Methodist Church using materials approved by the United Methodist Church?

b) How many of these who have received such instruction by the congregation have been baptized, confirmed, and received into the Church during the past year?

5. How has the congregation formed all its members in the baptismal covenant and the call to ministry in daily life? (216.2.a)

6. How has the congregation provided for the preparation of all people, including adults, for profession of faith and confirmation? 

7. Specifically, how does your congregation 
a) Help all professing members live out each of the seven vows of the baptismal covenant? (217.1-7). 

b) Support those who are baptized but not yet professing members, and their sponsors, to lead persons to live into the seven vows of the baptismal covenant?

8. How has the congregation ensured that its professing members are participating in all the means of grace, including private and public prayer, worship, the sacraments, study, Christian action, systematic giving, and holy discipline? (218, also General Rule 3, Par. 103.2)

9. How has your congregation equipped its members to watch over one another in love and to confront conflict with a spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation? (219)

10. How has your congregation ensured that all members fulfill their obligation to participate in disciplined groups that help them live out God’s mission in every context in which they find themselves on a daily basis? (220)

11. How are the Social Principles used as an essential resource to guide every member in being a servant of Christ on mission? (220)

12. How are all members (baptized and professing) being held accountable to the covenant of baptism? (221.1)

13. How many members have been restored to accountable living of the covenant of baptism through the means described in Paragraph 221.2-5?

The General Rules and Missional Impact
1) What measures are in place to show that persons who participate in spiritual formation activities are growing in holiness by overcoming evil, loving God and neighbor and experiencing the transformation of natural tempers into holy tempers? (General Rule 1-- Par 103.2-- and Sermon 92, On Zeal)

2) How is your community noticeably different because people in your congregation and your congregation as a community are doing good to all, and especially to the poor, the marginalized, and persons in prison? (General Rule 2-- Par. 103.2)

3) How is your congregation doing good to the earth and all of God’s creatures by the way it functions corporately? How is the congregation helping people to live as faithful stewards of the earth and its resources individually? (160) 

4) How does your congregation ensure that all its members observe all the ordinances of God regularly and joyfully?(General Rule 3-- Par 103.2)

17 comments:

David Oliver Kueker said...

Sounds like a great beginning on a spiritual formation workbook for use in our churches.

I'd like to suggest that the questions be rewritten for a 7th grade reading level and expanded to explain background and reasoning. In 31 years under appointment the majority of my congregations have been blue collar with few people educated beyond the high school level. They would not understand the questions as they are written, much less be able to answer them.

While the questions are very clear, I think most graduate degreed UMC clergy would struggle with them in the current form without time to research and formulate answers.

At a 7th grade reading level such a resource could also be helpful with youth and confirmation classes.

journeyman37 said...

David,

A good insight-- thanks. We'll take that under advisement.

Seriously.

What I would note, though, is that these questions relate directly and often verbatim to the actual language of the Discipline itself.

So I guess we may have a bigger problem.

Maybe our pastors and congregations cannot understand the Discipline?

I've said for a number of years that we really need to think seriously about blowing up the Discipline and starting over with just a constitution (needed for legal and historical reasons), some description of our episcopacy and oversight/accountability of clergy (also needed for legal reasons), the doctrinal standards, the General Rules, and expectations of members (baptized and professing), and then put everything else in other kinds of volumes and not the Discipline itself.

But it looks like, even then, we might need to "translate" what we now have in place for our own folks to understand and actually apply it.

David Oliver Kueker said...

I have a love for the Book of Discipline and consider it an amazing way to change the cultural DNA of an institution. It is an astonishingly simple and effective means of institutional change when viewed from a systemic perspective. Seriously - it's an unconsidered reality.

What we may need is an "interlinear" version, which contains the "greek" of the Book of Discipline with a translation to ordinary language beneath it.

I spent nine years in the extreme example of a blue collar church - 135 average attendance and only one person, an RN, outside my family with anything more than a high school education. I found that I could not use any discipleship materials written for adults from our United Methodist Publishing House because the presupposed a college level ability to understand language and articulate viewpoints. This is a classic problem when intelligent and innovative writers create materials that they would love to use.

It's my understanding that Wesley was careful to do the opposite.

I'm strongly suspicious that the majority of our membership decline is in this demographic. Everyone is chasing the high income, high educated unchurched person. I am ashamed to say that I feel the same temptation.

Rather than dumb it down, we need to publish for all the segments of the socioeconomic market.

Dfambro said...

I think John Wesley would approve!

Mike Mather said...

I keep thinkin' about how the Discipline mentions that Charge Conference is a time to "bear up one another in love." The questions that you provide are fine with me. I think we could make 'em work...and I like 'em better than what we got. All those ask us to do is to know how to count and how to write people's names. In the 25 or so Charge Conferences I have attended most people have treated them as perfunctory exercises (including the D.S.'s). What questions might help us bear up one another in love? What if we took time at Charge Conference and asked mainly what you ask in question number 9 - but like this - "tell a story about a time in the last year when you prayed for, encouraged, supported someone who was discouraged, alienated, going through a tough time, or just plain miserable." After collecting some of those stories - how about celebrating what we have heard - laying hands on one another, anointing with oil, blessing each other for continuing to do this work in the next day, week, and year?

Or - here's another thought (I think of this in the spirit of Wesley's actions - but not something he, in particular, did) -- what about having a time at Charge Conference when we ask people to name the ministry they have in the world...and we invite two to three (brief) testimonies about the ministry that people have in the world and prior to sharing the Eucharist (which I think should be a part of it) we ask the D.S. to lay hands on and bless the folks in the ministries they have in the world (whether as students, in their homes, workplaces, streets...wherever)?

Or another thought - what if we had a particular focus in a charge conference -- this year we are talking about education. We ask people from our congregations - parents, teachers, administrators, students - to come and share (with the varieties of ways in which they might do that) what it means for them to be Christian, what it means for them to be United Methodist in the living out of this arena of their life.

David Oliver Kueker said...

Mike - your term is perfect - "perfunctory exercises"

I think the excess of perfunctory everything is a major problem for us. Sadder still when our leaders guide us in going through the motions rather than guiding us into what is deeply and truly meaningful.

Deborah said...

Taylor,

I agree with the questions and the intention that is behind them... it is our task as the church and as heirs of Methodism to live into them.

However, are our churches prepared to not only be asked the tough questions, but are we as clergy/church leaders prepared to tick off folks and have our membership rolls reduced significantly in number?

We are our own worst enemy - believing that numerical growth = health...ugh! And while I agree its time to get back to the basics (i.e. the General Rules and our baptism vows) I doubt we have the strength of will or conviction to truly hold one another accountable in Christian Love.

Robyn Morton said...

I agree with David Kueker's recommendation that the questions be rewritten in a simpler form, regardless of the tie-in to the Discipline. Many people have never even opened the Discipline (including people in leadership positions within local congregations.) Too many times, we tend to create "wordy" documents so that they sound important or official. Many times, everyone is better served by the KISS principle. Simple is not necessarily a bad thing! I do think the present format places far too much emphasis on numbers and not enough importance on the connections we should be forming. These questions are great for opening discussions within the local and district levels. I also liked Mike Mather's suggestion of taking one question (#9) and addressing it at Charge Conference. I cannot remember attending any Charge Conference where I came away feeling that I had been engaged or challenged in anyway. As long as our paperwork was filled with numbers, it was all good!

Cynthia Astle said...

Taylor, may I have your (and Steve's) permission to copy these questions and discuss them with my own congregation?

Cynthia Astle

PS The "don't make the form longer" excuse is pure bureaucratic bushwah!

journeyman37 said...

Robyn,

Steve, Scott and I agree that simpler is better... whatever we come up with next WILL be simpler.

At the same time, these forms are actually driven by the Discipline, and so we will need to keep the questions tied to the relevant disciplinary paragraphs, let they get challenged and Judicial Council should be invoked to overturn them.

We've seen Judicial Council invoked to do just that on membership questions before-- hence it was 2004, rather than 1996, that we actually got By Water and the Spirit AND its reconfiguring of membership actually adopted!

journeyman37 said...

Cynthia,

Yes-- by all means share them! And get feedback on ways to make them better. That's what this is all about.

And anyone else-- you can certainly always ADD questions to your charge conference forms. So feel free to add these-- or others you adapt from them (just send me a copy so I can include your ideas in revision!)-- and then tell your DS something like-- "We're glad to answer the required questions, but we're also committed to doing what it takes for us to help each other grow as disciples of Jesus in the United Methodist Church-- so we've asked and answered these questions, too, and want you to help us be accountable to continue to grow in our faithfulness to them in the years to come.

sctippens said...

Taylor, I agree with you that there is a bigger problem - in my limited layperson's view, a much bigger problem. "Church-speak" does not encourage discipleship, and the Discipline is full of it, just as any book of rules should be. But burning it and starting over would stoke out some of the higher ups. Understandably, the wording of the questions has to incorporate the wording of the Discipline until someone is willing to fully buck the system and the system decides that survival is worth the effort.
I don't think UM pew sitters by and large are interested in discipline in any form. The name of the book harks back to images of that punishing God, in this case punishing the pastor who views these questions as a test, which I believe most would fail miserably if they were totally honest. Do pastors and laypersons understand that these are measures of their performance?
If I was in charge (heaven forbid):
- Does the congregation understand what it means to “follow Jesus?” If so, what is the evidence?
- Has the church been an agent of transformation in the lives of members and associates? If so, include several testimonials.
- Have new persons been added to the congregation? If so, how many? Did they find you , or did you seek them? In what ways have they been assimilated into the life of the congregation?
- What would the pastor and congregation consider as suitable measures of a successful congregational ministry?
- What does the congregation consider to be the most important thing about being a Christian? How is that played out in the life of the congregation?
Sumpin’ like dat. As much bottom up as top down.
- To what extent has the congregation been programmed to think and talk like John Wesley? (Nope, not dat.)

sctippens said...

Taylor, I agree with you that there is a bigger problem - in my limited layperson's view, a much bigger problem. "Church-speak" does not encourage discipleship, and the Discipline is full of it, just as any book of rules should be. But burning it and starting over would stoke out some of the higher ups. Understandably, the wording of the questions has to incorporate the wording of the Discipline until someone is willing to fully buck the system and the system decides that survival is worth the effort.
I don't think UM pew sitters by and large are interested in discipline in any form. The name of the book harks back to images of that punishing God, in this case punishing the pastor who views these questions as a test, which I believe most would fail miserably if they were totally honest. Do pastors and laypersons understand that these are measures of their performance?
If I was in charge (heaven forbid):
- Does the congregation understand what it means to “follow Jesus?” If so, what is the evidence?
- Has the church been an agent of transformation in the lives of members and associates? If so, include several testimonials.
- Have new persons been added to the congregation? If so, how many? Did they find you , or did you seek them? In what ways have they been assimilated into the life of the congregation?
- What would the pastor and congregation consider as suitable measures of a successful congregational ministry?
- What does the congregation consider to be the most important thing about being a Christian? How is that played out in the life of the congregation?
Sumpin’ like dat. As much bottom up as top down.
- To what extent has the congregation been programmed to think and talk like John Wesley? (Nope, not dat.)

Charles said...

I am not clear what disciplinary questions are required at church or charge conference that are just numbers. My conference asks for statements about accomplishments related to Disciple Making Plans developed by the local church. They are to describe how the vision of the church is being accomplished. There is a great deal of potential if the members take the church conference seriously.

If you are actually referring to the statistical tables, then I am with you, but those are not a part of the charge or church conference. Those numbers serve another purpose such as use of resources and value of land, buildings, investments and charting trends without having subjective interpretation coloring the report.

journeyman37 said...

Charles,

It sounds like your charge conferences may be more interesting and relevant to discipleship (at least in some way) than many I have seen. This is likely due to leadership at your conference level, and likely from your Bishop and Cabinet.

But the conversations you are having are not required by the forms set forth by GCFA.

In other words, the UMC does not officially require conversations about discipleship-- in Wesleyan or other terms-- to happen at charge conferences.

But more than this, the statistical forms also DO matter-- whether we are discussing those at charge conference or not. More and more they are being made to matter, because an increasing number of conferences require their pastors to report some of the data on Form I weekly, and in one in particular, decisions about appointments are being made on the basis of THAT reporting-- NOT on the basis of other sorts of data that do actually measure discipleship as our Discipline describes it.

So... there is a need for better questions that all are required (or at least expected)to answer, as well as better Form I stats. That is-- if we're going to measure and incentivize improvements in actual discipleship rather than simply improvements in things like worship attendance and giving by the congregation which are, at the very best, second or third hand measurements of how people are actually growing in holiness of heart and life.

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards

Jim Nibbelink said...

Related to question 2 in the Mission section ... since most congregations are focused on financial resources, a good question might be, "What percentage of your congregation's annual spending is for ministry beyond your campus?" Question 2 would then help congregations to evaluate the effectiveness of missions spending.

Kent said...

These are GREAT questions! What a novel idea ... using the Book of Discipline as a guideline for charge conference questions to measure the effectiveness of our ministry. Perhaps they could become the agenda for our Charge Conferences and not just a form we fill out.

Interesting that a main concern was the length of the form! Guess that shows us what some people's real concern is right now.