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Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #1

One of the absolutely crucial areas of concern for the United Methodist Church is leadership development.  In a real sense, this is always true for any organization (church, business, military, non-profits, etc.) anywhere, at any time.  The Call to Action report (for the 2012 General Conference) which grew out of the Towers-Watson Study commissioned by the Connectional Table lifted up leadership development (and especially developing a new generation of clergy leadership) as second only behind a sustained focus on the local church in importance for the United Methodist Church.  As I have written before (see “Steady in Purpose and Flexible in Strategy”), reforming the clergy development system will dominate our thinking but should never be divorced from the critical application of a new generation of lay leadership.  Without the two together, our efforts will be for naught.  Leadership development must be linked with an intense focus on the local church.

At the recent South Central Jurisdictional Conference Bishops’ Week event, we focused intently on this subject.  As a part of our work, in early 2013 “the Lewis Center for Church Leadership of Wesley Theological Seminary was engaged by the bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction to analyze key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.” The Center collected and studied relevant data for each of the conferences.  Over the next 3 weeks, I will be sharing the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  I will follow with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.

Finding A: Increasing impact of a smaller number of larger churches
This is not necessarily a negative trend. It often shows greater vitality and growth among some larger churches than in the conference as a whole. However, it does make the conference more vulnerable to any negative trends among this smaller cohort of large churches. These churches have the greatest potential for growth and decline in any one year.
1. Embrace a large church imperative.

We often see an emphasis in one segment of churches as detracting from another segment.  This is not necessarily so.  Currently we have a Healthy Church Initiative that is designed especially for small churches (appropriately called SCI – The Small Church Initiative).  We know one size does not fit all!  Just as we have SCI, we need a LCI – Large Church Initiative.  Such a strategy will involve:

  • Identification of churches with the greatest potential to become larger churches
  • Identification of current larger churches with the greatest vulnerability to decline
  • Specific work with appropriate staffing  as well as evangelism & mission engagement

Targeting special work with congregations over 500 in average worship attendance is a critical way we will help the entire conference move forward in accomplishing our mission.  A part of this strategy recognizes that a younger generation, socialized in larger institutions (schools, shopping, community organizations, etc.) has a marked preference for larger churches.  Done right this emphasis can be a win for everyone and most especially for the advancing Kingdom of God.




[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report

COME HOLY SPIRIT — Report from Taize 4

Today [May 25] we left for Cluny right after worship. The great Cluny Abbey fills me with awe. It once was the “major ecclesia” – the largest church in Christendom. Cluny Abbey started over 1,000 satellite abbeys. Its influence spread far and wide. In the French Revolution, it was dismantled stone by stone down to the very foundation in most places by an angry mob. A beacon of care and compassion, faith and hope, had become a citadel of despotism and greed.

And yet, it is only a short distance from Taize, a new beacon of hope and faith, reconciliation and love. This is not a mere accident of history and happenstance of geography. I believe God through the Holy Spirit is speaking to me (and to us) in the resurrection life of Christ. Rising north of the ruins of the great Cluny Abbey is the light of Christ in the simplicity of Taize.

I came to Taize in some angst, if not despair, over the state of the United Methodist Church. Eight days before leaving, I had participated in a meeting of officers of the Council of Bishops, General Secretaries, Board and Agency Presidents, and leadership from the Connectional Table. It was a gathering highlighted by a false politeness and sabotaged by wanton political maneuvering – the church at its worst. The week that followed was filled with a funeral, two days of hard work in making appointments (appointments made without good options and in facing of difficult choices), then three more days of hard digging through administrative work. I commented to a fellow bishop that the UM church was going down (meaning the image of a boxer being knocked to the ground).

Here at Taize for the second time, the Spirit clearly spoke to me. The shadow of Cluny is being erased by the light of Taize. “A light shines in the darkness and the darkness will not overcome it” (John 1:5).

Even as vast segments of the UMC and the larger Christian witness in America dissolve in a voracious black hole of enlightenment’s legacy, God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is making something new. The soaring songs in candlelight service of resurrection called me forward in commitment to Christ.

As if compelled, for I believe I was, I found myself standing and walking forward to kneel with others before the icon of Jesus at the Table with His followers. In the time of renewal, prayer, and commitment, the words of the songs washed over me as some 2,000+ faithful (mostly young people) sing our faith.

Afterward, a surprise meeting with Christoph Benn, a doctor with the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria. He drove up from Geneva because the brothers of Taize told him there was a UM bishop up here and he wanted to share appreciation and offer encouragement for the Imagine No Malaria campaign. Amazing how the Spirit intervenes …. God is at work.

“Yes, UMCOR is here!”

It is easy in our day to take the United Methodist Connection for granted.  It is easier still to view “apportionments” as taxes.  A variety of recent events not only challenge but also decisively set aside any sense that the connection is unimportant and that “apportionments” are just taxes.  Together, they allow all of us a ministry reach in the name Lord that is far greater than even the largest church could accomplish alone.

One of the early responders in West was Rev. Laraine Waughtal, the Central Texas Conference’s Disaster Relief Coordinator.  Laraine is a trained and certified disaster responder.  When she walked in to the Red Cross Center in West, her badge had UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) on it.  The Red CrosUMCORs official shouted, “Yes! UMCOR is here!” United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) has a worldwide reputation for its wonderful work sharing the love of Christ in disaster relief.  So too do many other Christian denominational relief efforts.  Together they form a magnificent witness living out Matthew 25:40 where Jesus teaches us, “Even as you did it to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me.”

Even as she was traveling to West, Conference officials (Dr. Randy Wild & Rev. Kyland Dobbins and I) were working with UMCOR on coordinating relief.  $10,000 in emergency funds has been released by UMCOR.  This is combined with the incredible generosity of our member churches in their special “City of West” relief offering taken last Sunday.  God bless you all for your kindness and extravagant generosity.

But our connectional response of love, faith and hope does not stop there.  Earlier in the week I had responded to Bishop Suda Devadhar of the New England Area with our prayers and support.  Soon, we too as a Conference were the recipients of a flood of prayers and offers of support.  The sense of the wider connection of the United Methodist Church was and is both palpable and concrete.

We are making a conscious effort to change our thinking and terminology from talk about “apportionments” with connotation of taxation to the more accurate title “Connectional Mission Giving” (CMG).  To the casual observer of those funds we divide them out, something in the neighborhood of 35% – 40% cover what business people would call overhead. (CTC’s percent of “overhead” expenses have gone down recently due to direct billing of Health Insurance and Pensions.)   All churches and church organizations face such expenses.  This includes the so called independent Bible Churches.  The remaining 60% – 65% go to direct missional spending both in the Conference (Glen Lake Camp as an example) and to the wider world beyond (missionaries, hunger relief, evangelistic outreach, etc.)

Connected together in mission and prayer, we are making a difference; even more “we are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  I thank God for your faithfulness!

Emerging from the Bubble and Coming Home

Last week it felt like we were living in a Methodist bubble during Jurisdictional Conference.  Our attention was focused on the election of three new bishops, hard decisions about the future of the church, and where bishops would be assigned.  Jolynn and I could not help but be concerned about whether or not we would be returned to Central Texas.

Friday was a night of rejoicing!  Not only was Bishop Mike McKee elected but we learned that we would be coming home, back to Fort Worth and our beloved Central Texas Conference.  Saturday morning the Central Texas Conference delegation held a celebration breakfast.  We cheered Bishop McKee’s assignment to the North Texas Conference and they wonderfully welcomed us home.  This was our personal high point for it is with much thanksgiving and praise to God that Jolynn and I return to the work we’ve begun with the good, good people of the Central Texas Conference.

The home coming is an emerging from the Methodist bubble.  News of the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado drew us to prayer and reminded us of how desperately the world needs the gospel of God’s grace and love in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.  The church of Jesus Christ, the body of Christ, lives and breathes in mission and ministry to this bruised and bleeding world.  It is to this great task that we best turn our attention and offer our most ardent efforts of love lived out in Christ.

On the Road Again

Saturday Jolynn and I flew out to Philadelphia.  We spent the Memorial holiday time with a cousin and her family in northern New Jersey.  The family R&R was a welcome joy after the hectic schedule of recent weeks and a nice rest before the next round of travels.

On Wednesday we will arrive in Valley Forge, Pennsylvania for the meeting of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.  I will be the conference preacher there.  The Greater New Jersey Conference focused on the first three vows of Methodism – prayers, presence, gifts – last year.  They have asked me specifically to address the twin themes of Service and Witness.

Next Saturday we will fly back to Fort Worth, grab a quick change of clothes and then head down to Waco for the Central Texas Conference.  It should be a great time of learning and worship with Dr. Joy Moore and Dr. Gil Rendle leading us.

The following Thursday, June 7th (the day after the CTC Conference closes), I will fly back out to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania to speak to the Susquehanna Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Their Conference theme is “the river flows through us and beyond us.”  My first address is on the transformation of the local church following the theme “The River Flows Through Us.”  The second address is on the importance of new church development and is entitled “The River Flows Beyond Us.”

All across the country, Conferences of the UMC are spending more time in worship and learning as we lean into a new future.  I look forward to sharing with and learning from our colleagues in Christ serving in New Jersey and Pennsylvania.  I’ll see you in Waco!

Guaranteed Appointment

Among the various actions taken by General Conference was an overwhelming vote (originally on the consent agenda) to end guaranteed appointments for ordained elders in the United Methodist Church.  In brief, “under this new legislation, bishops and cabinets will be allowed to give elders less than full-time appointment. The legislation also would permit bishops and their cabinets, with the approval of their boards of ordained ministry and annual (regional) conference’s executive session, to put elders on unpaid transitional leave for up to 24 months. Clergy on transitional leave would be able to participate in their conference health program through their own contributions.  Each annual conference is asked to name a task force to develop a list of criteria to guide the cabinets and bishops as they make missional appointments.  The cabinets shall report to the executive committees of Board of Ordained Ministry the number of clergy without fulltime appointments and their age, gender and ethnicity. Cabinets also will be asked to report their learnings as appointment-making is conducted in a new way.” (Taken from UMNS, May 1, 2012)

I am always surprised by the amount of anxiety this issue seems to engender.  The involvement of the Board of Ordained Ministry in conjunction with the Cabinet safeguards against misuse based on gender, ethnicity or freedom of the pulpit.  It does assist in proper placement of associate pastors and general effectiveness accountability.  It places Elders in the same accountability relationship as Licensed Local Pastors.  In reality, it will have very little effect on most Central Texas Conference clergy and churches.  Denomination wide, there is an estimated excess of only 784 Elders across the whole connection!  When you couple this with a retirement tsunami that will peak in the CTC in 2018 (we are currently on the beginning edge of that huge wave), we will actually desperately need new clergy in the next 10 to15 years.

As we wrestle with our deep need to make mission field appointments, the challenge will be to make the proper fit between pastor, church and mission field.  Furthermore, the deeper pressure we are experiencing a clergy deployment system is being driven by pensions and health insurance.

So, relax, for almost all this will make little difference.  It will protect churches and clergy from deep ineffectiveness and aid making mission field appointments.

General Conference and the NFL Draft

How is the United Methodist Church’s General Conference similar to the National Football League’s annual draft?  The answer is that, like the NFL, we won’t know for sure what we really have for a couple of years.

When NFL teams draft players, it usually takes a number of years before a team knows if a player really pans out.  Similarly, it is often (admittedly not always) difficult to discern the full implications of an action taken.  By way of example, in the 1996 General Conference comprehensive legislation on ordination of Deacons and Elders was adopted.  Sixteen years later we are still adjusting to those changes.  One change in 1996 was to adopt a 3-year probationary period.  By General Conference 2008, we had decided the residency period was too long and reduced it to 2 years.  Despite the best intentions (to raise the level of clergy competence), we made the process too complex and discouraged people from entering the UM process.

This is called the Law of Unintended Consequences. (The building of the interstate highway system and its adverse impact on small towns across America is considered a classic example of the Lw of Unintended Consequences.). Often the full consequences don’t unfold until we live with the new situation for a while.

As I write this, it is Friday morning, May 4th.  Currently we are wrestling with the budget.  We have already taken significant  action — stressed vital congregations, restructured the General Boards & Agencies, rejected a set aside bishop, created a new episcopal area in the Congo, gone through our continuing struggle on human sexuality, given annual conferences more freedom in creating their own  structure, done away with guaranteed appointments, reinforced mission initiatives taking the gospel into communist lands — the list goes on!  As General Conference draws to a close, it is important to catch our breath, pause for prayer, and remember John Wesley’s admonition:  “The best of all is that God is with us.”

Remember the Future

At recent meetings with other SCJ bishops as we looked forward to General Conference, Bishop Robert Schnase called our attention to agenda for the first (“general”) conference of preachers under John Wesley.  He noted a threefold purpose for such holy conferencing.  “The Methodists conferred on ‘1. What to teach, 2. How to teach, and 3. What to do, that is, how to regulate our doctrine, discipline, and practice.’”

It is easy to get lost in the thicket of emotional issues facing the church: war & peace, sexual orientation & practice, restricting & Call to Action, etc.  In an earlier blog I called for an emphasis in prayer-filled and Holy Spirit-oriented preparation.  It is important, vitally important, not to lose sight of what matters most, the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. Ultimately Conference is about mission and ministry; about guiding and equipping the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Amid all the noise, we need to keep the main thing the main thing!

The March 22nd Quick Notes highlights an important resource which I commend to you strongly.  “Bishop Robert Schnase’s “Remember the Future: 30 Days of Preparation,” blog series begins [March 26].  The series of daily reflections in preparation for General Conference 2012 will be a blend of daily topics from leadership and institutional challenges to Wesleyan beliefs and more. About eight of the blogs through the series will have video clips included; all will include scripture and additional reading recommendations for those who want to know more. Go to to sign-up, read a description of the series and an introductory blog from Robert Schnase.

GCFA Report on Finances and Generosity through Apportionments

Recently I received a letter from General Secretary Moses Kumar of the General Board of Finance Administration. I pass on a significant portion of that letter. It is good, for which I give you and God thanks!

“The lingering effects of the recession have had differing impacts throughout our annual conferences and local churches in the United States. But through the power of the United Methodist connection, and as harsh as the reports are about the recession and unemployment, giving to the general Church apportioned funds through September, 2011 is up 1.1% or over $770,000.

“As we approach the end of 2011, we gratefully acknowledge that by the gracious giving of the people in your conference, there has been an improvement in giving year-to-date. Our prayer is that trend will continue so that the ministries throughout the connection continue to receive funds for ministry through the remainder of the year and beyond. During these times of financial uncertainty we can, as followers of Christ, acknowledge that God provides all we need. In his book Five Practices of Faithful Living, United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase talks about the grace of giving. Among the reasons for giving graciously he lists ‘giving changes us.’

“As you consider your gifts to your local church, to ministries of your annual conference, and to global Church initiatives to ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,’ remember that all we have comes from God. When we support these ministries we are advancing the work God has called God’s faithful to do. Giving changes us. By giving, we can change our world.

Together in ministry,

A. Moses Rathan Kumar”

Clergy Age Trends

Recently a colleague passed on to me a summary of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership report on Clergy Age Trends.  You can get the report at

 Among other highlights the report noted that ….

  • For the first time ever, just over half of active elders are between age 55 and 72.
  • The median age of elders is 55, the highest in history, up from 50 in 2000 and 45 in 1973.
  • The percentage of elders aged 35 to 54 continues to shrink, from 65 percent of all active elders in 2000 to 45 percent in 2010.
  • The number of young United Methodist clergy grew in the past decade
  • There are more young elders, deacons, and local pastors than ten years ago.
  • While fewer in number than young elders, young deacons and local pastors are growing in number faster than young elders.

The Central Texas Conference had the third highest number of young elders (under 35 in age) in the United States!  10% of our elders are under 35.  Forty percent are in the 35-54 age range and 50% are 55 and above.  The breakdowns for Deacons and Local Pastors are similar.  (Deacons = 12%, 38%, 50%; Local Pastors = 3%, 49%, 49%.  Don’t ask me how the additional 1% snuck into the Local Pastor numbers.  I don’t know.)

This is genuinely good news.  Thank God for the growth in younger clergy and in local pastors.  Those groups have and are blessing us and the church as a whole.  It also notes the challenge of the next few years as one generation retires and the age cohort of those currently 35-54 struggles to fill the gap.  There is much to think and pray about here.

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