Friday, October 19, 2012

Our Methodist mess

Rev. Vicky Fleming, pastor of Bethel United Methodist Church in Bethel, Conn., has written  a column for her local newspaper, the CT Post, that I find both charming and powerful.

In maybe 800 words, Rev. Fleming summarizes the history of Methodism, what happened at the 2012 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, and the mess our denomination finds itself in these days.

Rev. Vicky Fleming
She believes the heart of the problem is that we have too many buildings. Because of the means of transportation at the time Methodism spread across the United States, the Methodist Church ended up with church buildings only a few miles apart. Now we have too many buildings that too many people love too much to let go of, even though this is not an effective way to operate a denomination.

This is a real problem.

However, my nomination for United Methodism's biggest problem is our Book of Discipline. General Conference micromanages local congregations and annual conferences and general agencies. It micromanages everything. The Discipline includes hundreds of pages of shalls, shoulds, ought tos, mays, shall nots, should nots, and may nots.

One of my favorite example of how convoluted the Book of Discipline has become is the section about how local churches should be organized. It goes on for pages and pages and pages with required committees, councils, and structures, including the number of members committees need to have and long lists of powers and responsibilities.

Then it adds that, with the district superintendent's approval, local churches can organize themselves in whatever way works best for them so long as the structure provides for the basic functions of effective programs, pastoral leadership, financial management, etc.

Why not just tell churches they can create their own structures so long as they accomplish the purpose of effective programs, pastoral leadership, financial management, etc.? Our people are not without intelligence. These days running a farm or being a public school teacher or being retired on Medicare is as complicated as running a church used to be. Our people can figure it out.

If General Conference would stop micromanaging, maybe some bad things would happen in a few churches. But creating endless rules and regulations to avoid every possible mistake just ties the hands of the overwhelming majority of our congregations. And bad things happen in a few churches anyway in spite of all the shalls and shoulds and nots in the Book of Discipline. 

Hey, General Conference, we are not incompetent! And, as Rev. Fleming subtly points out, you aren't exactly looking all that competent yourself these days.

There is a member of Foundry Church who wants to send a resolution to the next General Conference saying that the length of the Book of Discipline shall be cut in half. He says he doesn't care which half is cut out so long as it is cut in half.

Anybody want to cosponsor his resolution?

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