Reality of Clergy, Churches and Committee Reports

Warning: This is not my typical post but some thoughts on a recent UM report.

Recently I was watching Scooby Doo with my kids. The whole gang, as usual, was looking for Scooby. Almost always, Scooby is right nearby. Which tends to be true of most answers. Sometimes, however, I wonder if we really want to know.

Let me give the h/t to John Meunier for pointing out the inconsistency as he has experienced it between starting new churches and our declining connectional church.

In the article Clergy decline prompts call for 'circuit teams', Robin Russell reports,
Ms. Fugate also found that the number of districts has decreased in all jurisdictions, from 518 districts to 488. That means there are 32 fewer district superintendents.

And that means the remaining district superintendents have to supervise more churches, Ms. Moman said.

Are we sure? The report regarding theChanges in Clergy and Church Membership states:
In 2005, there were 1,250 fewer organized churches than in 2000, a decrease of 3.5%. All jurisdictions experienced a decrease in the number of churches between 2000 and 2005.

It is certainly plausible that if we have fewer churches, fewer members, then fewer District Superintendents would be needed. For that matter, wouldn't it also mean that fewer people would be need in the administrative positions on our other boards and agencies? But I digress.

We should look to what is a truly interesting trend and what I'd like to consider namely that
Domestic net migration patterns illustrate net out-migration (loss) in the Northeast and Midwest regions and domestic in-migration (increase) both in the Southern and the Western regions over the 14 year period 1990 through 2004 (U.S. Census Bureau, Perry 2006).

I find it interesting that while the Western region grew in overall population (and at a rate similar to the Southeast), the jurisdiction showed a percentage decrease of 12.14%.

It seems to me some possible solutions have been found...

People with Passion
We are in changing times. Find the people gifted, ready and willing to learn and step out in faith. Education isn't a predictor of success in ministry, a track record of making disciples is the predictor. That is what bothers me about this statement:
"If the bishops and district superintendents were more involved in this process we might find many more creative ways to appoint deacons."
There is a time to release people to where they are called. The creative process starts most often in the field not in the office.

Closing Churches is not Closing Doors
Closing churches which are not pursuing our mission to make disciples, does not mean we're closing doors. The Southeastern Jurisdiction has closed more churches than the Western yet it still is growing. Just people coming? Not that alone, new churches are being started in areas where the population is growing.

The Main Thing
The last sentence in a study on "Changes in Clergy and Church Membership" is the following:
Further research is needed to uncover the effects of the decreasing number of districts on the work of the remaining superintendents.
I'm not sure about this is the best action step: examining the superintendents?
The mission of the church as the stated on page 87 of the Book of Discipline " to make disciples of Jesus Christ."

There are some great, innovative experiments and work being done in the United Methodist Church. Call what is happening de-regulation if you'd like, the fact is churches no longer own the monopoly in the United States on what people believe.

Personally, I think it might be the best thing for us all. Maybe we'll spend some time asking some tough questions and not being afraid of the real answers.

May I Ask: What is the main thing for you? What is your personal "mantra" or mission statement?

May I Suggest: If you've not read Jim Collins' book Good to Great, I'd say you ought to pick it up!


John Meunier said...

Thanks for the h/t.

Collins has a little book he wrote with non-profit organizations in mind - It's called something like Good to Great for Nonprofits.

It is a good companion to the book.

Dan said...

Jedi Ken,

More kudos to you for your calling-out of the overly burdensome hierarchical structures of the UMC. Although I know you and I differ theologically, we can at least agree that the Church flourishes best when its creative passions (and those of its individual members) are unleashed on the world, rather than funneled through an endless series of districts and superintendents and committees. I actually once had a member of my church say, "But our church can't grow if we don't add more committees". Inconceivable, if I hadn't heard it with my own ears.

Continue the good fight!

Ken L. Hagler said...

John - Thanks for the reference. I'll look into that.

Dan - Thanks for the kudos. What an incredible quote! If only you had an MP3 recorder on you as well. ;)

Anonymous said...


I was amused by the seeming bafflement (in the Russell piece) as to the cause of the 'Clergy Decline' in the UMC, which happens to be the same cause for the insanely high numbers of non-elder leaders in the church, which is the ridiculously frustrating and convoluted candidacy process, which gets worse every time Bishops put their heads together.

Even now there is a murmuring of a bright new idea to add in a new layer of hierarchy to the elder office which, if it is ever instituted, will prevent even MORE people from being able to administer the sacraments without another sad series of hoops to jump through.

The system as it stands is mostly pointless and almost guaranteed to let the wrong people THROUGH as opposed to weeding out those less than desirable.

Additionally outrageous is the attitude also present in the Russell piece: "Is the MDiv necessary?"

This is an echo of an emerging red-flag criteria regarding the personal debt loads of would-be ordinands. Seminary ain't cheap as you may or may not recall. Many of us poor clods had to get loans to pay for it, and now the church is using those debts against us, as if by some means getting the mandatory degree by any means necessary and as quickly as possible is evidence of present or future ineffectiveness.

(In my own view, a pastor who knows the meaning of debt becomes a much *better* servant of modern Americans.)

My own personal experience involves being pretty much blacklisted by a DS who couldn't get his brain around one of my sermons. In spite of the fact that many in the congregation learned and benefited from the sermon (I was teaching classes, by the request of the congregation, on the same subject 6 months later - such was the impact of the original lesson), the possibility that some were bored was all he needed to decide that I had no place in a pulpit. Well, I say that was all he needed, but that's not the whole story.

I hope you're lucky enough not to know first-hand that the UMC holds grudges and has as long a memory as the federal government. I recall the discussion I had with the DS in question. After he'd told me how he'd failed to understand a thing I'd said in my sermon (not in so many words, but he'd clearly missed the point) he then asked me to tell him about a particular person I'd dealt with in the past.

It struck me as strange that he had an awareness of this person at all, but I figured it must have been on record somewhere, since the person had been assigned as a mentor of mine when I was in seminary. I had experienced a distinct lack of support from this 'mentor' and I had written a letter to the DCOM to complain and to request a more helpful mentor. The result of this letter was, of course, a disaster. The old boys circled the wagons and pretty much flipped me the bird. They were more concerned that I had dared to complain than with the content of my complaint.

Well, that hung around in the file they keep on you at the UM Gestapo HQ. It followed me across the country and likewise assisted in getting be blacklisted from yet another conference. Open Hearts, Open Minds, Hey, get the hell out of here, you complainer!

And of course, I'm no oddity. This happens to tons of people seeking ordination.

So, what's the mystery? The church gnaws on its candidates and all but spits them out if they aren't cookie-cutter duplicates of the BoD model. There is no room for those called to serve from the outside in, no room for late-comers, or for people whose local church involvement has waned prior to their acceptance of the call.

The church can't even tolerate people who are overweight, for Pete's sake. It's already shot itself in both feet and is now busily taping a plastic bag over its own head. A couple more doctrinal slips toward the worldly, and the UMC is going to be a thing of the past, and it's getting really hard for people like me to think that's such a bad thing. If a youngster came to me to ask my advice about his or her call, I'd send them far from the UMC, or in fact any of the liberal denominations, for they each in their own ways have similar sorts of anti-spiritual bureaucratic quirks.

  © Blogger template Webnolia by 2009

Back to TOP