Craig Groshel (of Lifechurch.tv) is doing a series of posts this week on some of his thoughts related to the United Methodist Church. I've followed a little of Craig's stuff in the past, but didn't realize he had UMC roots himself, and served as an associate pastor within the denomination, until his desire to lead a new church start led him to leave. The posts are here:
1. Financial Resources ("People are more likely to join a new mission rather than an old denomination.")
2. The Itinerant System
3. The Ordination Process
5. Cooperation & Mergers
6. A Liberal/Conservative Split
(I'll try to link the whole series as the week progresses).
So far I'm not completely onboard with his critique, but it is important that we continue to wrestle with the points he is trying to make.
Update: As I mentioned before, I think Craig makes some important points, but I also think he is missing some big things too.
In Part 1 on Financial Resources, he is really talking about the "Rethink Church" media campaign, and while I agree completely with his point that "People are more likely to join a new mission rather than an old institution" I think he missed out on the fact that the whole point of Rethink is to focus on mission. My problem with the campaign is that it seems to be selling something that isn't present in a lot of UM congregations.
In Part 2, he does name some real problems with the itinerant system. He doesn't consider the "other side" that itinerancy represents an inherent check to congregations developing a "cult of personality" around a pastoral leader, and allows a sharing of gifts that he hints at in Part 5, but I confess that the basic critique he offers is valid.
In Part 3 on the Ordination Process, again there isn't much to take issue with. Our process is long, complicated, and can be discouraging. It doesn't always filter out those with poor gifts for ministry and can exclude those with amazing gifts. A better process is needed, but I can't begin to pretend what that "better process" might begin to look like.
Part 4 on Apportionments was a little disappointing to me, especially based on the fact that someone who served for a period of time as a UM pastor is unable to really articulate "where the apportionments go." Unfortunately "apportionments" are a very easy target - much like "taxes" - it's easy to be indignant about how WE could do more if we could keep OUR money, until they realize what the money does. Just like no taxes = no schools, libraries, police, or roads; no apportionments = no (or far fewer) seminaries, leadership development, or global mission programs, etc. It also ignores the fact that OUR money is never OURS in the first place it is God's first and foremost, and if we were really concerned about giving in the UMC and having enough money to fund local ministry let's get serious about tithing instead of the 2-3% that the average Methodist gives.
Groshel's take on cooperation and mergers in Part 5 again had some really good points to it. As someone who was involved in a conversation about potentially merging two congregations one major obstacle we have to address is our idolatry around buildings - for far too many people "church" is "bricks and mortar," those emotional attachments are normal and understandable, but they are also slowly killing us. Because of the of our connectional system I think the UM church has the potential to be in a very powerful place if we got serious about developing a "ministry commons" where resources (including buildings, staff, programs, etc.) could be better shared; but again we have the obstacle of territorial-ism by clergy who are threatened by the idea of working together in collaboration. Groshel's lifechurch.tv model of church is a very interesting one, and I really appreciate the commitment he has made to making resources easily and freely available. We would be better served moving in the direction he is pointing.
In Part 6 he argues the the church might be better served if the church divided. He contends that, "While the UMC prides itself in being open, many of my evangelical peers don’t believe that their conference is very open to them... If liberal leaders won’t support evangelicals, the denomination would be wise to allow them a way to gracefully exit." Maybe there is a regional difference, or I'm biased because of my own perspective, but I don't see "liberals" dominating the church - it seems to me that we are pretty equally divided and there is plenty of give and take on both sides. (I also would take issue of the distinction between "liberal" vs. "evangelical" - liberals can be evangelical too, assuming evangelical holds its core meaning of sharing and proclaiming the Good News). But to me the bigger point is that we are better together! I need my conservative sisters and brothers to challenge me on matters of personal holiness and I need my liberal sisters and brothers on matters of social holiness; uniting the two is what we are about as United Methodists. And make no mistake finding that balance is messy, complex, frustrating, and there are times when it would be so much easier to quit and go play in the sandbox with people who think exactly like you do, but I don't believe that is God's way. God's incarnate love revealed in Jesus took him to the very people who didn't like him, didn't agree with him; instead of retreating maybe we need to be more committed to going to the cross for each other so that God's love could be fully understood. For me the last couple pages of Adam Hamilton's book Seeing Gray in a World of Black and White really nails it, when he talks about the church of the "radical center" (unfortunately it's too long to quote), but our strength is faithfully serving God in the middle ground, and we need both sides for that to happen.
Thanks again to Craig for raising these important issues.