The governmental structure of the United Methodist Church is broken and yet glorious ministry is still taking place (in spite of or around the broken structure).
Observing the legislative committee process of General Conference one gains a deep sense that the way we are governing ourselves just doesn’t work. Two illustrations:
1. There is a widespread strong conviction that we need to reform our organizational structure to be more effective (faithful & fruitful). Yoked with the conviction of need is passionate disagreement as to how. After confusing and convoluted debate, the Legislative Committee on General Administration brought up and then turned down every proposal for reform. Come Friday night we were back where we started and left in chaos.
2. The pension program in the United States needs change to remain fiscally sound. There is a growing (thanks in part to the wonderful work of my predecessor Bishop Chamness!) pension program for Central Conference clergy (i. e. those outside the U.S.). While bright able and wonderfully committed, delegates from the Central Conferences (40% of the total) were voting on a program that doesn’t apply to them or their churches and that they instinctively do not understand or follow. We desperately need to have regional conferences (i. e. US, Africa, Asia , etc.). The system is broken.
I cannot help but remember the famous biblical scholar Leander Keck lecturing on Paul’s letters to the churches in the New Testament. Pastors were peppering him on the problems their churches were facing. Finally the great Dr. Keck replied, “You think your church has troubles. When is the last time you read the letters to the Corinthians?”
Conversely, Sunday night we held a great plenary session of celebration for our Connectional ministry. Glorious ministry is taking place! As a sample, we celebrated the 40th anniversary of women’s ministry leadership; we learned that well over 300,000 lives have been saved through Imagine No Malaria (Nothing But Nets); we rejoiced at new churches all over the globe including 612 new churches in the United States; we lifted up significant leadership development through SBC 21 (Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century); we embraced a new initiative in young persons’ leadership called Spark 12; we highlighted incredible mission work all over the globe & great ministry with the poor. The list goes on.
The ministry is glorious! And yet, our structure is hurting not helping our outreach. Our governmental structure is broken!
The roller-coaster ride continues.