Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Building for the Future -- Steps To Realign the Work of the General Agencies of The United Methodist Church

Four short months from now, the 2012 General Conference will be voting on legislation that will be the first step in moving the denomination toward a structure that realigns money and organizes the functions of the general agencies to better support annual conferences and local churches as they fulfill the goal of creating vital congregations. As the Council of Bishops has shared in an open letter, this legislation will lead us to a new church -- "one that is renewed and clear about its mission. A new church that is always reaching out, inviting, alive, agile, and resilient. We seek a church that is hope-filled, passionate, nimble, called of God, and courageous. This new church takes risks to reach new people for Jesus Christ, and it searches continuously for creative ways to help each person grow in grace, love, and holiness."

In order to bring us closer to the vision of this new church, here is a short list of what will be before delegates:

  • Give Annual Conferences freedom to organize their structures for greater fruitfulness.
  • Permit the mid-quadrennium reallocation of money from the general church funds for a sum up to $60 million for purposes related to the challenge of creating and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations.
  • Provide for the Council of Bishops to elect a non-residential bishop as President of the Council to help reform the Council and focus its energies on the core challenges.
  • Create a Center for Connectional Mission & Ministry (CCMM) under one board of directors to combine the functions of nine general agencies. The essential functions of these entities will be organized into offices of shared services and congregational vitality, leadership excellence, missional engagement, and justice and reconciliation. It also proposes the creation of a General Council on Strategy and Oversight, a diverse, representative 45-member Council that serves the General Conference by electing board members for the CCMM and ensuring that the Board is carrying out the directives of the General Conference.
  • Move the functions of GCCUIC to an office of the Council of Bishops, clarifying what have been overlapping responsibilities and improving our ecumenical efforts.
  • Set aside United Methodist Women and United Methodist Men as self-funding official United Methodist membership-based organizations.
  • Provide a support system for collecting consistent information for all annual conferences about their financial practices and recommend to resident bishops and others strategies for reducing costs and increasing effectiveness.
While we are taking steps to reach the vision of the new United Methodist Church, we see signs of hope already in the radical hospitality greeting people in need; in the work of our youth and children engaging in communities to spread the gospel through their actions; in our missionaries who have left their families to serve God's family around the world. I also see glimpses of this new church in the UMC connection that gives us the ability to reach far beyond what a single church can do alone, particularly in the areas of social justice, evangelism and discipleship.

I want to take the opportunity to help clarify the future process should the General Conference vote to support the proposed changes by the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops. A yes vote would set several things in motion.

90 Days
First, the existing Connectional Table will be called together immediately following General Conference to name 15 persons to the governing board of the newly created Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry. Let me be clear, this is not a "super board" to govern all things United Methodist. In fact, this board is solely responsible for overseeing that the functions of the current general agencies are aligned and carried out in a way that supports the mission to create vital congregations. The new Center is mandated to hold its first meeting on or before July 31, 2012.

Once these members are named, the Connectional Table will be replaced by a new governing body, the General Council for Strategy and Oversight, which will be composed of 45 people who represent the diversity and inclusiveness of The United Methodist Church and will have oversight of the Center. Twenty-eight members will be elected during Jurisdictional and Central Conference meetings. The process will remain the same as it was for membership on the Connectional Table: 21 members from the Jurisdictions, with the number from each determined by the secretary of the General Conference, and one member each from the seven Central Conferences. Five bishops will be appointed by the Council of Bishops, including one bishop to serve as chair of the Council. Within 90 days of General Conference, the five Racial Ethnic Caucuses will each select one representative. The Advisory Committee on Ministries with Young People will elect three persons from its 54-member committee to also serve. This body will be comprised of members representing UM Youth, UM Young Adults, UM Workers with Young People, and Central Conference and Racial Ethnic Caucus representatives.

The remaining members of the General Council for Strategy and Oversight are the chief executives of the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits, United Methodist Publishing House, United Methodist Men and United Methodist Women.

Also, within 90 days of the close of General Conference, the governing boards of the nine general agencies named in the legislation must meet to transfer responsibility and property to the Center. This includes: the General Council on Finance and Administration, the General Board of Global Ministries, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, the General Board of Church and Society, the General Board of Discipleship, the Commission on Archives and History, the General Commission on Communications, the General Commission on Religion and Race, and the General Commission on the Status and Role of Women.

24 Months
Once the governing boards are in place, the work of evaluating and aligning resources begins. The Center will consider how to redirect up to $60 million of World Service Funds to support development of young people's lay leadership; Central Conference theological education; the recruiting and training of United Methodist ministerial students under the age of 35; and creating vital congregations.

The 15-member board will also be working to align the functions of the general agencies into five areas: Offices of Shared Services; Offices of Congregational Development; Offices of Leadership Excellence; Offices of Missional Engagement; and Offices of Justice and Reconciliation. These five offices would report to an Executive General Secretary who would be appointed within the first 24 months.

Working for Results
In my conversations across the Church I have heard a wide variety of responses to this proposed plan to realign the agencies. "Isn't this sudden, even rushed?" asked a young adult church leader. The reality is that the Church has been at this realignment for years. We have been studying and evaluating different aspects of the church for the past three decades.

We can't deny the proof that change is needed. We have much to gain for making this transition now and empowering the annual conferences and local churches to create vital congregations through greater resources and coordinated efforts at all levels of the church.

As the research in the Call To Action Report tells us, "Part of John Wesley's genius in founding and leading the Methodist movement was his ability to focus on what worked. In his Explanatory Notes on the New Testament for 1 Corinthians 14:5, he made usefulness a primary virtue: 'By this alone are we to estimate all our gifts and talents.'" We know the functions that our boards and agencies provide are necessary for the task of creating vital congregations; however we have outgrown the structure itself. We have the opportunity now to focus on greater fruitfulness and to better evaluate what we need moving forward.

All of the legislation coming from the Connectional Table regarding agency realignment is available online.

A New Church
Even though General Conference legislation is important, we know that it is only one part of the bigger vision and the process to truly becoming a new church. As the Hymn number 87 in The United Methodist Hymnal asks us, "What Gift Can We Bring?"

I hope that we would bring our faith and willingness to be a part of God's new creation. I hope that we "give thanks for the past, for those who had vision, who planted and watered so dreams could come true. Give thanks for the now, for study, for worship, for mission that bids us turn prayer into deed."

Our resurrection faith calls us to a new future, a new church. May we turn our prayers into deeds!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Steps to Build a Vital Congregation

Major plans for congregational development are under way for the Goromonzi Township in Zimbabwe. The community is filled with couples below the age of 40 who are African and highly literate. Church leaders there say new residential construction in the area has great potential for membership growth. Energetic church members are considered one of the strengths in this area; lack of funds presents the biggest challenge. Leaders are clear that their mission in the Goromonzi Township is to create new disciples and equip them with knowledge to continue reaching new members. Leaders hope to nearly double their average worship attendance and the number of people joining by profession of faith by 2015.

This single assessment is only a small portion of the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference Vital Congregations Strategic Plan. The Conference, led by Bishop Eben Kanukai Nhiwatiwa, is among the first to submit their overall vision to the Council of Bishops. The plan outlines how they will work within the conference during next quadrennium to meet the denomination goal of fostering and sustaining an increase in vital congregations. This is something that every conference in the denomination is being asked to do through the Vital Congregations Project. The Zimbabwe East Annual Conference used a planning tool that can be found on the Vital Congregations web site. More than 20,000 people have visited the site to find tools on setting goals, to learn about the 16 ministry strategies of highly vital congregations; and resources to set, monitor and reach five goals - weekly attendance, new believers, mission engagement and benevolent giving. If you haven't had a chance to visit the site, I encourage you to take a look.

The Vital Congregations web site shows that much is already being done to implement the Call to Action that was supported by the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops in November 2010. We agreed that focusing on creating vital congregations would be a denominational priority starting in January 2011. It's exciting to see the thoughtful vision developed out of the Call to Action Report begin to take shape in resources that will help our local congregations look to the future.

The Four Areas of Focus and Vital Congregations
The goal setting process for congregations and Annual Conferences builds on the UMC’s Four Areas of Focus – 1) new places for new people, 2) developing principled Christian leaders, 3) improving global health and 4) engaging in ministry with the poor. The Four Areas are reflected in the identified “drivers” or qualities found in vital congregations, such as engaged and competent clergy and lay leadership, disciples who are engaged in mission and who donate generously to missions. As described in the Vital Congregations Planning Guide, missional ministries are examples of Wesley’s “means of grace” – works of mercy and justice that include ministry with the poor and the marginalized and improving health globally, such as joining the Imagine No Malaria campaign. Missional justice ministries are those that seek to transform systems of injustice that create poverty and diminish people’s health around the globe. For Annual Conferences and local congregations, setting specific goals to start new vital congregations is the heart of the matter – creating new places of vitality where disciples of Jesus Christ are born and nurtured in the faith for the transformation of the world. As we move into a new quadrennium, our attention to increasing and sustaining vital congregations is a deepening of our commitment to the Four Areas of Focus. Measuring the fruits of our ministries in these areas helps us focus on bearing witness to God’s transforming love and grace through Jesus Christ in our own lives, our communities and world.

As we see in the work by the Zimbabwe East Annual Conference, the goals that are set give clarity and focus to ministry. It also has provided opportunity for church leaders to discuss the needs and kind of training they want to be successful in meeting their goals. In the Goromonzi Township, the pastors have identified the need for training on how to create new congregations and how to raise money for new places to worship as key to their success.

In the United States, most of the Annual Conferences have taken part in webinars about the Vital Congregations Project since April 2011. All of our Conferences are developing creative strategies to grow more vital congregations. This is a season of exploration and discovery for the church as we become the Church that is making disciples, growing vital congregations and transforming the world.

Conferences are demonstrating this effort to set goals and to put measurements in place regarding vital congregations is not just about numbers and denomination growth. This is about being good stewards and being effective at the call God has given us -- to be in ministry with the world.

For more information about the Call to Action and recommendations being made by the Connectional Table to the General Conference visit www.umccalltoaction.org.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Realizing the Future of The United Methodist Church

Actions taken by the Connectional Table during its July 27-28, 2011 meeting in Nashville, Tenn. have sent a ripple across The United Methodist Church. Members voted to support recommendations made by the Call to Action - Interim Operations Team that put in place the first steps for changing denominational processes and structures. I believe when United Methodists look back in time at the 2008-2012 quadrennium, we will see it as one of the most pivotal moments in our denomination's history. Even if the plan is not fully supported by General Conference, the conversations that have erupted around clergy appointments, streamlining resources and focusing our efforts on creating vital congregations have changed us. We can no longer ignore the need for action. I believe these are very good developments.

We are no longer talking in hypothetical terms. The Connectional Table voted to recommend the following items (click here to see the full PowerPoint report):

  1. Redirect Use of Apportionments - The General Conference shall authorize the Board of Directors of the United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry to determine during the 2013-2016 quadrennium the most effective ways to fulfill the mission of the UMC including programs and spending at all levels of the church. The Board shall evaluate spending across the seven general church funds to assess work in order to identify significant opportunities for improved effectiveness and for achieving efficiencies and economies. Following this assessment and evaluation, the Board of Directors shall recommend for joint approval by the Advisory Board and the Council of Bishops a plan for reallocation of funding goals for each of the seven general church funds and for redirecting spending plans for a sum up to $60 million in the 2013- 2016 quadrennium for purposes related to the overall work of the UMC and the adaptive challenge. The first $5 million shall be allocated to young people’s lay leadership development, administered through the Division on Ministry with Young People or its successor body. The second $5 million shall be allocated to Central Conference theological education, administered through the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry's Global Theological Education Fund or its successor body.

  2. Guaranteed Appointment of Clergy - Make necessary changes in policy and practice to allow for a just, reasonable, and compassionate process that provides for the transition of low performing clergy from the itinerancy. The Ministry Study Commission will be bringing legislation to this effect, which the Connectional Table affirmed.

  3. General Agency Realignment - Realign most general agency functions with an emphasis on blending key competencies. Ten of the agencies would be consolidated as the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry governed by a Board of Directors comprised of 15 people and elected by an Advisory Board (the name of the Advisory Board is not yet determined). The Advisory Board shall be composed of 45 people who represent the diversity and inclusiveness of the UMC. The Center for Connectional Mission & Ministry will be led by an Executive General Secretary elected by the Board of Directors.

  4. United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) and the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits (GBOPHB) - Formation of a special study task group with expertise specifically related to the publishing and/or pension investment and health care industries appointed jointly by the Board of Directors and the Council of Bishops. Their assignment is to review the organizational structures and business models with the Boards of UMPH and GBOPHB to determine the optimal structures that will allow each to best serve the church and their respective missions while remaining viable and self-funding.

  5. Denomination-Wide Financial Analysis - Designate a General Conference task force to focus on total spending across the whole of the United Methodist Church and begin with careful examination and comparison of annual conference fundraising and spending; analyzing allocations and areas of expense at all levels of the church, looking for best practices and potential for combining activity to reduce costs and giving high visibility to best practices.

These recommendations are meant to help us fulfill our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. They are not meant to throw the denomination into chaos, but to help us understand how we make changes to be more effective in ministry. I've read blogs and comments posted online that challenge every part of this plan from evaluating clergy performance and clergy compensation, to questioning how a board of directors could be diverse enough to represent the entire denomination. I've also seen questions about evaluating bishops and guaranteed appointments. I've heard the challenge of showing the theological underpinnings to these recommendations. I would like to thank each person who is making the effort to raise these important questions. While the Connectional Table, in collaboration with the Council of Bishops, has set the process in motion, it will take all of us in faithful conversation to discern where the Spirit of God is leading us.

The next steps for many of these recommendations will be legislative proposals for the 2012 General Conference to consider. Yet the signs of movement toward the adaptive challenge, “To redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” are many. There is indeed a fresh wind of the Spirit blowing across our church, generating changed hearts and minds.

As I have written in the past, these are on-going conversations and the Connectional Table welcomes your input and dialogue as we move through these uncharted waters.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Working Toward the 2012 General Conference

The Connectional Table made important decisions during its May 9-11, 2011 meeting in Nashville, Tenn. that take us a step closer toward significant change in The United Methodist Church. We have been focused on laying the groundwork for implementing the Call to Action recommendations that will serve us well beyond the next quadrennium. This work centers on our collective adaptive challenge to focus resources, attention, and energy toward fostering vital congregations. It is a time of great excitement as well as anxiety since we do not know yet what the future holds. But we live in the faith that God is leading us to our future with hope.

World Service Budget

I want to share some highlights from the meeting. One of our main tasks this spring was to meet with members of the General Council on Finance and Administration to make decisions on The UMC’s 2013-2016 World Service budget. Thanks to the hard work and collaborative spirit of agency executives we reviewed a unified budget proposal. The budget affirmed by the CT and GCFA totaled $603 million; down more than 6% from the current quadrennium’s apportioned budget of $642 million. The figures were based on financial forecasts from the Economic Advisory Council. It is important to note that this was not a final decision on a proposed budget for General Conference. The CT and GCFA will reconvene at the end of July to finalize budget preparations, which will take into account financial considerations to further the Call to Action recommendations.

Proposed Changes

In addition to budget deliberations, the CT’s main function is as a leadership forum for the denomination, providing a much-needed space for information sharing and dialogue on the key issues before us. We heard a progress report from the Call to Action – Interim Operations Team (IOT) to affirm their direction. Neil Alexander, a member of the IOT and the CT, presented the proposed changes requiring legislation at General Conference. The current proposals being tested include:

  1. Provide for a set-aside Bishop to serve as the President of the Council of Bishops
  2. Combine general agency functions into fewer groups
  3. Create a new 13-member Connectional Ministries Board to take place of the current agency boards of directors
  4. Create a new functional area called the Connectional Support Services (CSS) with teams that provide networking, resources and support for work in the ACs on the adaptive challenge
  5. Create a Nominating Committee – of 6 people with 3 each from the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table (later the Connectional Ministries Board)
  6. Consider changes in the funding methods and formulas for the agencies receiving general church funds
He explained that the IOT will work with the Council of Bishops, the CT and GCFA on drafting legislation and will continue developing specific proposals for the above changes as well as other areas we asked them to address. The CT gave a cautious affirmation to the IOT to move ahead with this direction, and look forward to seeing more details as the team continues its work. We are blessed to partner with the IOT, a group of committed United Methodists who are contributing their time and talent to bringing specifics to our vision for adaptive change in The United Methodist Church.

Study Group Updates

We also heard about the work from several groups and agencies working throughout the Church. Hearing these reports helps CT members stay focused on the whole, as questions of alignment arise throughout the UMC.

The Apportionment Structure Study Group updated the CT and GCFA on four concrete proposals that emerged from their work. They are to: 1) emphasize generous financial stewardship, 2) establish one general fund called “The United Methodist Fund”, 3) provide organizational and financial flexibility between General Conferences, and 4) adopt an income-based proportional giving system. These proposals will be shared with the IOT as well.

In March, the General Board of Pensions and Health Benefits and GCFA held a joint Financial Summit with 400 participants to talk about the Church’s financial state and other current realities. They have been working collaboratively to provide direct support to annual conferences on long-range financial planning.

The CT has been supporting the Vital Congregations Project, an effort led by Bishop John Schol that will introduce a churchwide approach to employing metrics using five common goals. The project has developed a planning guide for annual conferences and will be working with conference staff this month and develop a website with resources allowing churches to connect with each other.

Bishop Scott Jones joined with CT members serving on the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the UMC, explaining that they will present a covenant at General Conference and invite delegates to engage in conversation about visions for a worldwide denomination. Additional proposals include creating global Book of Discipline and examining the role and structure of general agencies.

We also heard from CT member Bishop Patrick Streiff who chairs the Standing Committee on Central Conference Matters. He explained that the committee recommends adding a fourth bishop in the Central Congo episcopal area based on criteria they developed. Praise God for the vitality and growth of the church in the Democratic Republic of Congo! In other central conference news, a CT task force is working to organize pre-General Conference briefings in the Philippines, Africa and Europe. Modeled after the briefing that takes place in the US, it will prepare General Conference delegates on important issues that will come before the General Conference.

One of the ongoing issues that arises in a denomination the size of the UMC is a consistency of our message both internally and to the world at large. At the CT’s request, United Methodist Communications did an in-depth study on how our messages are perceived and what would be more effective ways of communicating the varied messages across the UMC. We are excited about the results of their work and look forward to coordinating our message so that it can be heard amongst the many competing messages in this new communications age.

“Justice and Joy”

Throughout our meeting we were led in worship by staff of the General Board of Discipleship’s Center for Worship Resourcing Taylor Burton-Edwards, Dean McIntyre and Safiyah Fosua. These sacred times “set the table” for our worshipful work together.

One of the songs we sang together was “A Place at the Table” (Worship & Song, #3149). Each time the CT gathers, this song is sung. The verses describe many aspects of the human condition, and the chorus brings a word of hope: “And God will delight when we are creators of justice and joy!”

My prayer is that our work at the Connectional Table be blessed by God as we focus on transforming The United Methodist Church to support vital congregations so that we all may be living examples of the justice and joy of Jesus Christ, our Savior and Redeemer.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Making Disciples, Transforming Lives

In his book Five Practices of Fruitful Living, Bishop Robert Schnase tells the story of a woman named Helen who had lived her entire life in a Christian community of faith. He invites the reader to envision who this woman would be if you could take out the role the church has played in her life.

“Imagine if we could extract from Helen’s life all the formative worship experiences that impacted her,” he writes. He then lists in detail the many faith experiences and practices that composed her life. “We would not recognize her as the same person,” he concludes.

These words had a physical impact on me. In thinking over everything that takes place over the course of a Christian disciple’s life, and imagining it disappearing -- I felt as if I would shrivel up and blow away.

The Church has formed everything I am.

Holy Week begins for me with the reminder of my confirmation on Palm Sunday, the day that, at age 9, I claimed for myself the promises made at my baptism. Since that time, I have been blessed to be a member of 10 United Methodist congregations. I give thanks for each one of these faith communities, for all the many persons who have lived before me a life that becomes the Gospel.

Faithful Christians throughout the centuries have reached out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ in innovative ways, in order “to serve the present age.” The United Methodist Church, with its distinctly Wesleyan heritage, is now looking anew at this calling.

Since the Connectional Table and Council of Bishops adopted the Call to Action last fall, conversations across the church are increasingly focused on the adaptive challenge: “To redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

On April 6, the Council of Bishops, in collaboration with The Connectional Table, hosted a three-hour Leadership Summit via webcast. Bishops invited annual conference leaders to gather at different sites to view the summit together and respond to questions in small group settings. The event linked annual conferences from across the world together in worship and “holy conferencing “in an unprecedented endeavor. The Summit can be viewed at www.umcleadershipsummit.org.

To date, with 148 out of 243 sites reporting, 3,928 participants joined in the Summit at annual conference settings. Thirty of these sites were in Central Conferences (outside the U.S.); 16 of them have reported 756 participants.

Filipino United Methodists gather in the Davao Episcopal Area to participate in the UMC Leadership Summit on April 6. Photo courtesy of Bishop Leo Soriano.

Over 1,000 participants completed the survey following the Summit; results are available at www.umcleadershipsummit.org. Summit presenters received over 500 questions via email and answered many of them during the webcast; a list of frequently asked questions will be posted on the website by May 1.

Additionally, the information gathered at the sites was sent to episcopal leaders in each area, and will be shared at the spring meeting of the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table.

Since the Summit could be viewed on live stream, we know people viewed it individually and in other small group settings. Not only did they watch it, but they participated in dialogue through Twitter making it one of the top trends during the Summit time period. Those conversations can be found by searching #UMCLead on Twitter. Thanks also to the many United Methodists who have posted thoughts on blogs and through commentaries.

This outpouring of prayerful thought and reflection on the adaptive challenge is helping to shape next steps for our denomination. For me, all of this points to a movement within our church of concerned disciples who yearn for the United Methodist Church to truly live out its mission. While the Summit was an important venue for leaders to converse about future directions, the charge is to each one of us to live and lead as a disciple of Jesus Christ, wherever we may be.

“The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” (¶201, 2008 Book of Discipline.)

Vital congregations form disciples and transform lives.

What is the story of your discipleship? Who are the disciples and the faith communities who have helped shape your faith? How are you and the members of your congregation engaged in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

As the Body of Christ focuses this week on the passion of Our Lord and the true cost of discipleship, I pray that we would all be strengthened for greater service and devotion to His Church.

Monday, February 14, 2011

Understanding The Call To Action

November 2010 proved to be an inspirational month for the leadership of The United Methodist Church. Both the Council of Bishops and the members of the Connectional Table received and endorsed the Call To Action Report. The report was assigned by the Council of Bishops in 2009 and funded through the Connectional Table.

The study reveals God at work in transformational ways through The United Methodist Church. Opportunities for increasing our effectiveness and fruitfulness lie in the development and emphasis on increasing vital congregations.

The report calls for widespread reform and greater accountability at all levels of the church. The findings and recommendations are meant to guide and inspire the leadership of the denomination over the next decade. The question of "how" to increase vital congregations is still being formulated in this process. The question of "why" increase vital congregations has evolved over the past two quadrennia.

Following the 2004 General Conference leaders across the denomination were engaged in discussions around what God is calling us to do and to be today, individually and as a people called United Methodist. We have been seeking answers to the questions: What is faithful discipleship in our time? How do we as a community of faith fulfill the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?

The process that unfolded leading up to the 2008 General Conference led us to clarify our mission and center our ministry on the Four Areas of Focus:
  1. Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.
  2. Creating new places for new people and renewing existing congregations.
  3. Engaging in ministry with the poor.
  4. Stamping out the killer diseases of poverty by improving health globally.
We've learned many lessons through the work of aligning mission and ministry with the Four Areas of Focus. We have also seen and studied the impact of current realities on the life of the church, such as the difficult economy and changing attitudes toward religion.

Even now, the newly released figures from the General Council on Finance and Administration show in the United States both professing membership and the average worship attendance continue on a downward trend (note: full details will be made available in the State of the Church Report due in early May).

These realities led to the creation of the Call To Action Steering Team by the Council of Bishops and The Connectional Table, a group developed to implement an independent study to inform and recommend changes to The United Methodist Church processes and structure, so that it may be more successful in fulfilling the denomination’s mission.

This evolution has taught us that more work is to be done to live out our mission and to be faithful stewards.

We do see positive signs of hope. This week, GCFA released the 2009 statistics from United Methodist churches throughout the connection. We learned that US congregations reported nearly 280,000 persons enrolled in covenant discipleship groups, more than 1 million children participated in vacation bible schools, over 800,000 persons served by daycare or community education ministries, and over 15 million persons impacted by community ministries for outreach, justice, or mercy.

We want to build on what is working.

The Call To Action report offers recommendations to jump start the process which includes reforming the clergy leadership development, deployment, evaluation, and accountability systems, reforming the Council of Bishops, and aligning the work of program agencies with the Church priority of building vital congregations. You can read the full details online.

The Connectional Table leadership wants you to know that we have been listening and reviewing online conversations. One writer on Bishop Schnase's Five Practices blog wants to hear more about how the Call to Action will impact pastors. "It seems to describe a type of pastor leader that many don't see in themselves. If I don't fit this particular description, what happens to me?"
Another blogger writes on United Methodeviations "How is this different?" The writer makes the case that similar studies were done in the '80s and '90s. He questions whether this is about missional transformation or institutional preservation.

From being a part of this process, I can say that the intention of this report is grounded in the Wesleyan tradition and is intended to start a process to allow the Church to fulfill its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

I think the questions and dialogue on the process before us are good. We need to challenge and engage each other in order to make sure that, together, we build a strong United Methodist Church; one that is forward thinking while still holding on to the very things that make us who we are.

The first step will be to affirm and live into the "adaptive challenge” model. This is the time for leaders with questions and ideas, such as the ones already mentioned, to get involved and participate in this building process. As the Interim Operations Team is named and begins it work this month, the Connectional Table will remain engaged to make sure a process exists for input across the church.

It sounds cliché to say "change is hard" and "change is messy." Or, even "change is difficult." So I will end with these words, attributed to Goethe: “The moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves as well…Whatever you can do or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it. Begin it now.” Let us begin this bold process now and allow for Providence to move among us so that we are fulfilling the Church’s mission.