The Methodist denomination is on the verge of some major shakeups. It’s hard to say for sure what that will look like, or how it will all play out, but if you do a search for the #nextmethodism you’ll see a barrage of articles about what the future of the church may, or may not look like.
There are some very smart people weighing in on this conversation, and most of them have some thoughts on what theological reform in the church should look like. I respect the time it takes to put together their arguments and the vulnerability of posting a blog like that.
As for me, most of my questions are super practical. As I look at the future of the denomination I wonder how it will impact the local church in the practical sense. Are there ways that we could push the denomination, to a place that makes it easier to carry out the mission? I don’t know the answer to that, but as I think about the topic here are the top five questions that come to mind:
1. Is there a better way to govern ourselves?
Don’t get me wrong; I love annual conference as a way to reconnect with people throughout the connection. The struggle for me is that in our current system the mob seems to rule. For example, this year at annual conference we spent ninety minutes talking about whether or not vacation should be four weeks or thirty days. Talk about mind numbing and painful. And after those ninety minutes, we decided to defer the topic to yet another sub-committee (the recommendation had just come from another sub-committee). And the annual conference is just one example. I watched the General Conference and kept asking myself the question: Really? Is this what the church is supposed to look like?
2. Is itinerancy working?
I love the mission of the church: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This mission is the reason we do what we do, and yet a lot of days it feels like itinerancy is in opposition to that. Making disciples is a long and arduous task. It takes years to do it well, and moving pastors around every 3-5 years seem counterintuitive to the mission. I wonder if it isn’t time to start thinking about longer stays, or a commitment to the pastor (as well as the congregation) that we will keep you at your appointment for as long as both sides feel like it is working. A simple look at the larger churches in the denomination and it is easy to see that all of their leaders haven’t been there for years, but rather decades.
3. Is it time to do away with guaranteed appointments?
The longer I’ve been around Methodism the more clearly I’ve seen the trend; a pastor who is struggling to make it gets moved around the conference leaving a wake of hurt churches. I appreciate the need for job security, but maybe it’s time for us to start coming up with a more cut and dry way to weed people out of the system? This is certainly the exception more than the rule, but the reality still exists: Ineffective clergy are still appointed, not because anyone wants to, but because they are required. Feels like in this season of the church we can do better than required.
4. Can we come up with a better way to close churches?
Okay, so this one is going to be touchy for some people, but I have talked to far too many pastors who are serving a two or three point charge where one of the congregations is less than thirty people. At some point, we have to just close the church, but because there isn’t enough of a church vote we can’t seem to make that happen. The church is the only institution I can think of that allows a small group of people to hold others hostage. Can you imagine how much more freedom that pastor would have if he/she didn’t have to serve a two point charge? In situations like these, we’ve let the church become the building rather than the mission, and I would suspect it is going to take the larger church to make the decision on behalf of the mission.
5. Can the local church be in charge of the business while the larger church is in charge of the theology?
Do you remember that comment on vacation from earlier in this writing? What if that is something that could just be dealt with at a local level? Maybe it is time for us to start letting the local church run the business of the church and the larger church be the compass for our theology. A great example is the idea of mandatory health insurance. Conference health insurance is expensive, and the cost can be a barrier to bringing in a full-time pastor. Do we really need minimum salaries for clergy? If we didn’t have guaranteed appointments then if someone couldn’t afford to take a salary cut then they wouldn’t have to. It could be a negotiation between the two parties so that when the pastor arrives the budget isn’t stuck by the forced financial requirements. I think it is a hard request to ask the conference or the larger church, in general, to try and manage what is happening at the local level.
So, those are my questions for #nextmethodism. I’ll admit that I didn’t provide answers on what the systems could look like, but if we are talking about reform than everything could be on the table.
My prayer for the future of the denomination is that as we are looking at the theological reform of our church we look at the practical reform as well. What a great opportunity we have to update some things that would be otherwise difficult to change. Please join me in prayer for what the future looks like!