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.


  1. We need to focus on accountability especially regarding apportionments. We should celebrate the 15 conferences that met 100% particularly the four that have paid 100% for the past eleven years (Bal-Was, Pen-Del, Red Bird, Wis). However, there are another 8 conferences that haven't even paid 86% (our targeted collection rate) in any of the past eleven years. Another 6 haven't even paid 86% in the past five years or more. Another 19 conferences haven't met 100% once in the last six years. Either we have a lot of conferences with severe financial difficulties or a lot of people are voting with their dollars against the budget.

    Hopefully, we won't lose the opportunity to streamline the general agency structure which can be done at General Conference while spending time talking about the latest drivers of congregational vitality which General Conference has a very limited ability to impact.

    It would seem better to publicize the 5,000 highly vital churches and disseminate their best practices. Asking them to work with another 5,000 churches for five years might help us get 10,000 highly vital churches. If those (then) 10,000 worked with another 10,000 churches for five years, then we could give every church the opportunity to benefit from the proven best practices of our "best" churches within 15 years. Otherwise, Rev. Adam Hamilton's extrapolation of our declining attendance going to zero in the next 40 years is all too likely to come to pass.

  2. I believe we need the church to move to the center of the politcal arena rather than the far left position that it sits in now! This country is in a revolt against this, therefore our church is suffering similary. The church's position of strengthing the U.N. and doing away with as our preacher's wife calls it "As that pesky sovernity issue" is not setting well with the hole of America. Now more than ever individuals belonging to national churches are paying closer attention to the politcal leaning of the church , and ours is suffering from it. Our church needs are being met by less people during this hard economic times and the church needs to get away from having the theology of having the government tax it's people more. I agree with churches agenda for the needy but if we move this country into socialism the church will suffer greatly and it's ability to help. The people will be giving to much to the government and will have to little to give to the church. Around the world needs can be met by the members, however we don't need to team with the UN or the government to meet it. They are both failing horribly now with the money and more money is not going to make them do it any better.
    All denominations have "missions" that they hold dear.
    I would love to see the Methodist Church lead the rest of the christian denominations together in an christian intiative where all come together and take on as many of these missions possible jointly.
    God gave us this responsibilty to take care of the poor.He did not bestow it on the government. The Methodist Church needs to abandon this thought process.

  3. Methodist preachers deliver nice sermons. The content is along the order of warm-fuzzies with words like love, peace, understanding, justice, inner-self, acceptance, community awareness, outreach to others, love, social responsibility, etc, etc, etc. There is no call for forgiveness, no mention of sin, no mention of the Ten Commandments, salvation is only through Jesus, faith, hell and damnation, contrition and redemption, the suffering servant, the new covenant, eternity, etc, etc, etc. The leaders of the Methodist Church need to read about the Church of Laodicea and compare that to the UMC today. Bingo, it’s a perfect match. If the leadership of the UMC at all levels, from the laity to the bishops, want to increase growth then they need to follow the example of the Church of Smyrna.