A UM Missional Future: Focus Areas and Focus Area 2

Part 18 of 21...

10 Provocative Questions
7 Vision Pathways

and now...

4 Focus Areas...

The latest language for these four focus areas, developed by the Connectional Table, is:

Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world
Creating new places for new people by starting congregations and renewing existing ones
Engaging in ministry with the poor
Stamping out killer diseases by improving health globally

Or, to put it in a bit of shorthand:
1) Leadership development
2) New church starts and revitalizations
3) Ministry with the poor
4) Global Health Initiative

But before we get to the conversation about these focus areas individually, first a word about what they are.

These four areas represent the four major priorities for work that the General Agencies of the UMC are committing themselves to do at least for the coming quadrennium. The budgets that will be presented to the upcoming General Conference will reflect how general agency work is being done in each of these four areas, primarily. (Certainly, work falling outside of these four is done and may continue to be done, as well). And the organizational life of each of the General Agencies is likely to be reformed to align more closely with these areas than it currently does. It may be less the budget, and more the re-alignments within agencies and partnerships to accomplish work in these areas across agencies, that will, institutionally, represent how these areas actually become means of focus for work they do.

But let me make this clear. The focus areas are instruments of change and organization for the general agency level of the United Methodist Church. The UMC is NOT its general agencies. The UMC has general agencies, but it is not the same as those agencies. Neither is the UMC its conferences-- which actually receive far more money, collectively, than the general agencies do. Neither is the UMC its congregations, which actually receive and distribute far more money than its conferences and general agencies combined.

I say that to say this. Often, local congregations take the view that they are at the least important part of the UM connection-- that they HAVE to have direction from annual conferences who in turn HAVE to have direction from General Conference and General Agencies to get anything done. This happens because we tend to equate power and importance with the size of budgets. The General Conference budget is far larger than that of any annual conference. And the annual conference budget is far larger (usually) than that of any congregation in it. Therefore, looked at that way, congregations tend to feel like they don't have much "pocketbook power." Individually they don't, relatively speaking. Collectively, they have by far the most power there is. That is, if the power equation relates to total dollars available.

And I say that to say this. As valuable as the work of the general agency level of any denomination may be, it pales in comparison with the importance of the distributed effect of congregations and missional groups at the local level across the US and the world-- wherever United Methodists happen to be.

In short, don't overestimate the power of centralized agencies. And don't underestimate the power of God happening in, around, and through the missional settings in which you as individual Christians, missional groups, and United Methodist congregations may find yourselves. Agencies developing more focused efforts to work together for big outcomes is a great thing-- but it's not the most important answer to a missional turnaround for the people called United Methodists.

That said, now that we are likely to have these four focus areas at the general agency level, and the four focus areas are likely to have a significant impact (though potentially not by any means the most significant impact) on how we engage mission at every level, the question for us at every other level-- especially congregations and missional groups-- is this: How can we leverage the vision and institutional power that will adhere around each of these areas to accomplish what God's mission is calling us to be and do locally-- where we concretely are, where we concretely are being called by Christ and driven by the Spirit to be, and where we are being sent in the name and power of the Triune God?

Or, in short-- what's in it for our missional future, where we are?

I'm taking these a bit out of order, starting with #2, since it's probably the more signficant new effort of its kind than #1.

Focus Area 2: New places for new people-- new church starts and revitalizations

I've already commented on both of these issues, which combine paths 1 and 2 of the Vision Pathways, here and here. There, I talked about them more or less in the abstract-- since the vision pathways themselves are intended as guideposts more than organizing principles that will be directly embodied in institutions. So here (and in subsequent posts in this series) I want to comment particularly on what will be or may be attempted institutionally by general agencies and how we might most helpfully relate to or use that toward missional ends locally.

New places for new people means a new, more intentional focus of money and resources to plant over 600 new congregations in the next decade, or less. This means there may be substantially more money available to Annual Conferences to start new churches. Annual Conferences may be more likely to be creating full-time staff positions to coordinate new church starts. It also means they may be designating more money in their budgets-- or asking more money from districts or other clusters of congregations-- to make the startup of new congregations financially possible. It also means that there may be a significantly ramped up focus on training and recruiting pastors to be planters for new congregations.

That could sound like a trickle-down to local congregations, or to you, to pay for other people to start new congregations.

Turn the hose around. And don't just trickle. Spray.

Give very generously to this work. But not just whatever little trickle may be asked of you. Do more. Do much more. And start doing it yourselves.

Consider this an invitation to take the larger concept of "new places for new people" seriously, and not think only inside the congregational box, and the usual permission systems that expect you to wait and see what you get to support doing what they tell you they want you to do. Start a missional community that is discipling folks and deploying them in mission. Keep it connected to a local congregation. And ask for the money you may need to expand this or keep it sustainable. Create the "ask" pool before dollars get "apportioned" out-- and prepare your case to do so, starting now.

But if enough of you start doing this sort of thing-- actually creating these spaces with and for new people, on your own-- not waiting around for someone at a "higher" level to tell you you are allowed to do it if you follow their way-- my strong hunch is that your collective voices will be hard to ignore when your flood of giving and asking comes.

Note-- I'm NOT talking about "arbitrarily" starting new congregations. That's actually a chargeable offense for clergy. Don't go there. Don't go anywhere close to there. I'm talking about missional groups that come alongside and stay connected with congregations-- existing ones and new ones that may be started in your conference. I'm talking about groups of vitalized Christians that are, by their activity and connection with the Spirit, also revitalizing (as a side effect) the congregations of which they may be a part. In short, I'm talking about early Methodism, revived where you are.

Do this. Get these groups going.
Create new places for new people-- by coming alongside people in God's mission. Create a track record of missional effectiveness. Ask for the Focus Area I dollars as they become available. Lots of you do this. And lots of you ask.

The worst anyone can say is no.

If they do, don't stop giving. Give more. Outdo others in your generosity. Keep multiplying ministry with more and more people where you are. Offer ministry WITH-- not at. Join WITH God's mission, in all its forms, not limited to getting more numbers into the congregational format. Follow Jesus and actively teach others how to do the same.

Keep YOUR focus on mission and ministry where you are and where you are being sent by the Spirit as you follow Jesus, worship God in spirit and truth (with an existing or even a brand new congregation!) and live the Love that is and lives in the unity of the Holy and Undivided Trinity.

Peace in Christ,

Taylor Burton-Edwards