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The following commentary is by Riley B. Case, associate executive director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church.

Dr. Riley B. Case

Dr. Case served for many years as a pastor and district superintendent in the UMC’s North Indiana Conference (now the Indiana Conference), and he has been a delegate to five UM General Conferences.

He is the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon Press).

This opinion piece was originally published in a slightly different form in the Confessing Movement’s e-publication, “Happenings Around the Church.”

Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

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Every four years the General Conference of The United Methodist Church meets to set programs and visions for the next quadrennium (the coming four years), approve legislation that will revise the church’s Book of Discipline, accept a four-year budget for the general church, and consider the church’s position on various issues. The next General Conference will occur in less than three months — April 24-May 4 in Tampa, Fla.

Two proposals “hover near the top of the controversy list” for the conference, according to a recent article by United Methodist News Service (UMNS). One proposal (PDF) calls for restructuring the denomination by, among other things, consolidating nine of the church’s 13 general agencies into a Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry under a 15-member board. The other (PDF) would end job guarantees for ordained elders.

(The UMNS story failed to mention the elephant in the room: homosexuality. Issues related to homosexual relationships, including the church’s general view of moral standards and its understanding of family, have the potential to fracture the denomination. But that is another discussion.)

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Restructuring is sorely needed

Evangelicals have been calling for restructuring for 40 years! The 1972 restructuring of the UMC, which came about in the wake of the 1968 merger of The Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren, institutionalized the radical social agenda of the day.

Just four years after its founding, the UMC adopted doctrinal pluralism, depreciated evangelism at the expense of social action, mandated social engineering by way of quota systems (PDF), created independent superboards, and created impossibly huge and expensive boards of directors for the agencies (the General Board of Global Ministries originally had 160 directors).

The underlying assumption of the 1972 structure seemed to be that the “real” United Methodist Church was to be found in its boards and agencies and the local church existed to support those agencies.

Under the 1972 structure, The United Methodist Church in the United States has lost 3.3 million members.

As has been pointed out, if the church were a corporation run by a competent board of directors, the leadership of the church would have been fired and the corporation re-organized long before now.

Finally, within the past few years, the church is facing up to its problems. Even without restructuring, the agencies are facing a 6.5% cut in funding. Staff has already been reduced from 3,139 in 1971 to 1,384 in 2010. The average age of a United Methodist Church member is now 57.

Faced with these facts, the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops ordered independent studies (here and here—both in PDF) to assess why our present way of doing things is not serving us well. The studies came back with several conclusions. Among them: the agencies are out of touch with local churches; the boards of directors are too big (and costly); and there is much duplication of efforts.

Out of the studies came a “Call to Action” report (PDF), laying out principles and a process. Out of the Call to Action process has come an Interim Operations Team that has prepared the legislation for General Conference 2012.

The proposed legislation (PDF) calls for combining nine of the program agencies into four “ministry centers” (a new word for a general agency). Over the ministry centers would be a group — the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry — that would be directed by a 15-member board. (This body would replace the present Connectional Table which coordinates the work of the agencies.)

The four ministry centers would operate with reduced-sized boards of directors, and, presumably, with less money and probably fewer staff than they presently have. Meanwhile, the overseer body, the Center for Connectional Ministry, would be able to align and reallocate funds in order to focus on increased local church vitality. All of this will be done in consultation with the Council of Bishops.

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Battling over turf

The church seems to be dividing up sides on the restructuring proposal.

  • There is a group that thinks that something (anything!) should be done, and that this proposal is as good as can be hoped for.
  • The general agencies themselves are critical of the IOT legislation; a number of agencies are preparing alternative legislation. The agencies believe that their interests will receive less money and some present staff would lose their jobs. The heads of the agencies have made a public statement (PDF) saying that vital services to the church will suffer.
  • The Methodist Federation for Social Action (MFSA) believes the church’s social witness would be compromised.

In other words, turf battles abound. There will be winners and losers. There will be smaller boards, less money to work with, and a different accountability process.

Especially troubling for some is the proposal that the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry with its 15-member board will be able to reallocate up to $60 million in program funds during the quadrennium. For some, this concentrates too much power in the hands of too few people.

If there are winners it would appear to be the Council of Bishops. The bishops believe the church is suffering from lack of strong executive management, and that the (controversial) 15-member committee can provide that management voice.

But lurking in the background would be the bishops. The plan calls for the 15-member committee to be “in consultation with the Council of Bishops.” That troubles many people. It has been pointed out that bishops do not do “in consultation with” well. Plus the bishops will have a strong hand in deciding the makeup the 15-member board.

Would a new structure be good for the church — or does it have the potential to make things even worse? The answer to that question appears to be based on a prior question: How much do we trust our bishops?

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An evangelical view

No place in the current official structure of The United Methodist Church is particularly receptive to evangelical influence, so evangelicals are in some ways disinterested observers in this process. Because they have no real turf to protect, nothing much can be lost. But cutting the power of the boards and agencies and allowing more funds to be used by local churches for mission and ministry would be a positive outcome.

Of course, many UM evangelicals believe the foundational problem in the UMC isn’t structure, but rather theological and moral integrity. None of the restructuring proposals address the underlying issue of United Methodist doctrine.


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Should we turn control of UMC over to the Council of Bishops?
United Methodists are well-liked, but to what end?
Call to Action member: We must foster vital congregations or ‘we do not have a future with hope’
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
Podcast — Bishop Lindsey Davis: Will the UMC have the courage to do what needs to be done?
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops

Related articles and information
2012 General Conference Visitors’ Guide (PDF)
General Conference to weigh merits of adopting a New Method | Ed Tomlinson, North Georgia Advocate (Feb. 3, 2012)
2 big disputes ahead at General Conference | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (Jan. 9, 2012)
Connectional Table proposes legislation to implement the Call to Action recommendations | news release (Sept. 2, 2011)
Interim Operations Team Report, as amended by the Connectional Table (PDF) | (Aug. 2, 2011)
UMC renewal demands vital local congregations | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (June 7, 2011)
Bishops seek change in presidency | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (May 5, 2011)
Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the Church | Website of the UMC’s Call to Action Steering Team
The complete “Operational Assessment” report (PDF) and Appendices (PDF) | Call to Action Steering Team (June 29, 2010)
Tone deafness and the Call to Action | Rob Renfroe, Good News (September/October 2010)
United Methodist ‘Call to Action’ finds 15% of UM churches highly ‘vital’ | Mark Tooley, UMAction—IRD (July 17, 2010)
Call to Action offers signs of crisis and hope | Heather Hahn, United Methodist News Service (July 13, 2010)
Momentum builds for major church change | Bishop John L. Hopkins, United Methodist News Service (April 12, 2010)
Call to Action seeks to increase church vitality | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (April 9, 2010)
Church leaders seek consensus on plans for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 12, 2009)
Connectional Table OKs new plan to study church | J. Richard Peck, United Methodist News Service (Nov. 9, 2009)
Unity Task Force Meeting: Dialogue with Renewal Leaders (PDF) | Meeting with the Council of Bishops Unity Task Force, Lake Junaluska, N.C. (Nov. 5, 2009)
Committee assesses life of church | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (July 22, 2009)
Bishop Palmer says church is in ‘sweet spot’ for change | Kathy L. Gilbert, United Methodist News Service (May 14, 2009)
Methodism’s coming death spiral | Donald Sensing, WindsOfChange.net (Nov. 15, 2007)
40 years of vision for United Methodist Renewal (PDF) | James V. Heidinger II, Good News (November/December 2007)
Statement in opposition to the 1972 Structure Study Commission Report (PDF) | Albert C. Outler, from the Journal of the 1972 General Conference (April 17, 1972)
UMC realities (video–see below) | Lovett H. Weems, Jr., Lewis Center for Church Leadership (March 2011)

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Deitrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoffer

Feb. 4, 1906: Lutheran pastor and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer is born in Breslau, Germany. As one of the leaders of Germany’s Confessing Church, he opposed the Nazis.

Bonhoeffer was arrested and eventually hanged — just days before Allied troops liberated the concentration camp where he was held. His books include The Cost of Discipleship.

Feb. 5, 1736: Brothers John and Charles Wesley arrive in Savannah, Georgia. They were to be missionaries to the native Americans, and John was to be pastor of the Savannah parish. Their efforts failed. “I went to America to convert the Indians; but O! who shall convert me?” he wrote two years later.

After returning to England, each had a deep experience of God’s grace and went on to lead what became known as the Methodist movement or Wesleyan revival. Today, there are an estimated 70 million Methodist and Wesleyan Christians worldwide.

Dwight L. Moody

Dwight L. Moody

Feb. 5, 1837: Dwight Lyman (D.L.) Moody (left), the greatest evangelist of his day and one of the greatest revivalists of all time, is born in Northfield, Massachusetts.

During his lifetime, he presented his message — by voice or pen — to at least 100 million people. Like the Wesley brothers mentioned above, Moody gave testimony of a deep and transformative experience of God’s grace.

Feb. 12, 1915: Blind hymnwriter Fanny Crosby dies at age 95 after writing more than 8,000 texts. Her works include Blessed Assurance, All the Way My Savior Leads Me, and Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross.

John Bunyan

John Bunyan

Feb. 18, 1678: Puritan preacher John Bunyan (right) publishes The Pilgrim’s Progress, the second best-selling book in history (after the Bible) .

The allegorical tale, which describes Bunyan’s own conversion process, begins, “I saw a man clothed with rags… a book in his hand and a great burden upon his back.”

Feb. 22, 1906: Itinerant evangelist William J. Seymour arrives in Los Angeles to lead a lead a Holiness mission. The group grew larger as word spread of its revival meetings, which included speaking in tongues — a practice which, though mentioned several times in the New Testament, had been largely unknown in the modern church.

The revival meetings eventually moved to a rundown building on Azusa Street, and became known as the Azusa Street Revival. This revival is is often cited the birthplace of modern-day Pentecostalism.

Adapted with permission from ChristianHistory.net.


Related post
January in Christian history

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