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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 many years as a pastor and district superintendent in the UMC’s North Indiana Conference (now the Indiana Conference).

He is the author of Evangelical and Methodist: A Popular History (Abingdon Press) and has served as a delegate to five UM General Conferences.

This commentary was published in a slightly different form in the Confessing Movement publication, “Happenings Around the Church.” Links below have been added by MethodistThinker.com. — Ed.

In 2009 Boston School of Theology received $863,235 from the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF). For this investment a grand total of seven students in 2008 received United Methodist ordination at the cost of $123,319 per student.

The School of Theology at Claremont did a bit better; 10 students from Claremont were in the newly ordained elders and deacons 2008 class in the various conferences. The church’s investment per Claremont ordained student totaled $84,967.

(Claremont, of course, has declared itself to be a multi-faith seminary and has indicated that it is not in the business of trying to convert persons from other religions to Christianity.)

This situation with the Ministerial Education Fund funds points to what many of us consider a serious problem in the church: namely, the seminaries (and the colleges).

The church is presently excited about the Call to Action Report (PDF) that speaks of widespread church reforms to address decades-long membership losses. Based on two independent studies (here and here — PDF) and adopted unanimously by the Council of Bishops, the report calls for the building of vital congregations, the consolidating and eliminating of church agencies, the reforming of clergy leadership development, and for holding bishops accountable for church vitality.

However, the report and the studies preceding the report say nothing about United Methodist seminaries or the way the present seminary situation addresses the need for clergy leadership development.

Part of the problem is that the seminaries (and the colleges) are basically independent entities that go their own ways quite apart from the stated mission of the United Methodist Church, which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world (UM Book of Discipline ¶120).


A bit of background

At Methodism’s organizing conference in 1784, preachers were advised never to let study interfere with soul-saving: “If you can do but one let your studies alone. We would throw by all the libraries of the world rather than be guilty of the loss of one soul” (Discipline of 1784).

John Wesley himself was highly educated and valued education, but he understood that there is not a direct link between educated clergy and church vitality.

Between 1780 and 1829, during the period of Methodism’s most rapid growth, 40 colleges and universities were founded in the United States, mostly by Presbyterians, Episcopalians, and Congregationalists. Few were Methodist.

While Presbyterians and Congregationalists were steeping themselves in classical studies so that they could serve the cultured elite of the nation, Methodist preachers were organizing camp meetings, preaching revivals, and winning the hearts of the masses.

The Methodist message that all could be saved (i.e., unlimited atonement), that each person had value, and that — in God’s sight — the experience of the heart was more to be desired than the trained mind, made it attractive to all people, rich and poor, black and white, sophisticated and unsophisticated. Methodism was a “bottom-up” religion rather than a “top-down” religion ruled by mediating elites.

In 1832 Congregational seminaries enrolled 234 students, Presbyterians seminaries 257, Episcopalians 47, Baptists 107, and Methodists none. The first Methodist seminary opened in 1847.

By 1859 the other denominations enrolled more than 1,200 students to the Methodists’ 51. Yet Methodism, in its several bodies, claimed the allegiance of one-third of all the religious adherents in America.

In the last half of the 19th century Methodism began to establish colleges and seminaries with abandon. These were not the cause but the result of Methodism’s evangelistic success.

As Methodism grew more sophisticated, Methodists became more and more enamored with education. Education was thought to be the new means by which the world could be civilized and thus Christianized.

While many of these newly minted educational institutions sought a close relationship with the church, many others were increasingly drawn into the values of an increasingly secularized society that worshipped at the altars of academic freedom, new knowledge, and the scientific method.

The coming kingdom began to look more and more like a secular utopia and less and less like the biblical millennium. Creedalism, sectarianism, and all forms of “dogmatism” were to be resisted on the way to this earthly kingdom. Educational institutions began to believe that they were the change agents and that the church existed to serve them, not they the church.


The 20th century

In 1901 Bishop Warren A. Candler, a Methodist bishop on the Vanderbilt University board, presented a resolution that that the university should give preference to hiring Methodists, all other things being equal. The school reacted by disaffiliating itself from the M.E. Church South.

In 1908 the General Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, under the influence of its educational institutions, passed legislation removing bishops (who were instructed by the Discipline to guard the faith) from the responsibility of guarding the faith in regard to university or seminary teaching, thus effectively removing the church from intervening in university or seminary affairs.

From this point on, seminaries and colleges would be free from all church constraints. Religious tests for teaching were discarded. The only “heresy” the church now allowed was the belief that heresy could exist.

By 1925 (according to a study done by Ministers’ Monthly), of 91 seminaries in the U.S., only 33 seminaries identified themselves as “orthodox” in orientation. None of these was Methodist (four United Brethren and Evangelical Association seminaries claimed to be “orthodox”).

“Fundamentalism” (which in the modernist mind included all forms of evangelicalism) was pronounced as dead. Modernism was considered the wave of the future for Methodist schools and for the future of the church.

Fortunately, nearly 60% of the ministerial students at the time (of both the North and South Methodist churches) were trained through the Course of Study and weren’t required to attend seminary. These were the pastors who did the work in the trenches and helped to keep some kind of theological balance in the church.

By the 1960s and 70s, ministerial candidates who wanted full ordination were required to be seminary graduates. But the seminaries, at least the mainline seminaries, wanting to be sensitive to all the cultural shifts, were missing what was really happening in the Christian world.

Theological modernism and its successors were spiritually bankrupt. The evangelical renaissance was taking place. Pentecostalism was breaking out worldwide. And, not least of all, many theological students preferred to attend growing and thriving evangelical seminaries. The mainline seminaries, wanting to be relevant, were becoming irrelevant.

Source: UMCgiving.org

This would mark the beginning of United Methodism’s 43-year decline — a decline which must be placed, in part, at the feet of the official church seminaries.

The seminaries (and their friends) never admitted to their own complicity in the church’s problems. Their enrollment declines and financial problems were not of their own making. What they needed was more money.

And so, in 1968, the General Conference established the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF) — effectively a “bail out” fund that began being apportioned to the annual conferences in 1970 as one of the church’s general funds.

In recent times this fund has channeled $15 million a year to the general budgets of the seminaries with no strings attached so that the seminaries might continue to do all the things they had always done in the way they had always done them.

There is no indication that the millions of dollars that have been poured into seminaries since 1970 have in any significant way increased the quality of seminary education.

To be sure, there are hopeful signs in UM seminary education, but despite these signs the question remains: If the United Methodist Church is genuinely interested in renewal and reform, what shall be done with the seminaries?


Correction:
An earlier version of this article stated that the Ministerial Education Fund was created in 1972. The MEF was authorized by the 1968 General Conference and became an official apportionment item in 1970.


Related posts
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
United Methodist Judicial Council convenes for fall session
Renewal & Reform Coalition releases letter to Council of Bishops
Riley Case: The future of the United Methodist Church is at stake
Riley Case: Approval of Amendment XIX a ‘positive development’ for evangelicals
Podcast: Randy Maddox on Methodist ‘doctrine, spirit, discipline’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’

Related articles and information
Why Methodist seminaries are becoming irrelevant and dying | Riley B. Case, Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church (July 2009 — via Methodist Examiner)
The Ministerial Education Fund (PDF) | UM General Council and Finance and Administration, Financial Commitment of The United Methodist Church 2009-2012
Call to Action: Reordering the Life of the Church | Website of the UMC’s Call to Action Steering Committee
The complete “Operational Assessment” report (PDF) and Appendices (PDF) | Call to Action Steering Committee (June 29, 2010)
Leaning into the Future: President’s address to the Council of Bishops | Bishop Larry Goodpaster (Nov. 2, 2010)
Momentum builds for major church change | Bishop John L. Hopkins, United Methodist News Service (April 12, 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)
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)
From the margin to the mainstream: United Methodism’s renewal movement (PDF) | Riley B. Case, Good News (November/December 2007)
Seminaries in crisis | Geoffrey Wainwright, Good News (September/October 1995)
Confessions of a grieving seminary professor | Thomas C. Oden, Good News (January/February 1994)

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To reverse the United Methodist Church’s decades-long membership decline in the United States, local UM churches must embrace innovation and commit themselves to constant improvement, according to Adam Hamilton, leader of one of the UMC’s largest and most successful churches.

Hamilton, founder and senior pastor of  the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (COR) in Leawood, Kansas, was the lead speaker at COR’s 12th annual Leadership Institute, attended last week by nearly 2,000 pastors and leaders.

Even if local churches are willing to embrace innovative change, a net membership increase in the UMC is still likely to be at least 10 years away, Hamilton predicted, because the next decade will see heavy membership losses due to the deaths of tens of thousands of older members.

“If we act now, in 10 years we might actually see that we begin to reverse the decline,” he said during the conference’s Friday afternoon session. “In 10 years, we’ll actually start to see that we have a future with hope.”

He did not address the serious doctrinal disagreements or sharply differing approaches to social concerns that have roiled the denomination over the past four decades and have helped fuel membership decline.

Adam Hamilton illustrated the need for innovation and improvement at the local church level by looking at how computers have changed during the 20 years since Church of the Resurrection was founded.

I bought a computer for us four weeks before our first worship service. It had just come out…. It was a Macintosh Classic…. And this was the hottest computer you could buy in 1990….

And I want you to imagine if Apple Computer had said…, “We have just built the best computer that anybody could ever build.”… [Or maybe they said,] “We’ll make if faster, but we’re going to keep it [looking] just like this.”…

The Rev. Adam Hamilton

Instead, they developed laptops… that had the capacity to do things that nobody had ever dreamed of when [the Mac Classic] was built….

And [now in 2010 they’ve] invented a whole new way of doing computers…[with the release of] the iPad….

[T]hey studied how people used computers, they studied to try to understand…the needs of people, and then they formed a product….

And so [as the church,] part of this [is] in our hands. We have to be able to ask: “What needs to change [so that we can better speak to people’s needs today and connect with them]?”…

[M]ost of our churches [haven’t] had leaders who understood that and we [have] just kept doing the same thing over and over and over again. And we’re realizing that can’t work. It simply can’t work for the future.

You either…innovate, you improve, or you’re going to die. That’s a [Church of the] Resurrection classic principle we use around here….

[W]e’re not changing the gospel, we’re not changing the Scriptures. But we are changing how we talk about faith. We’re changing how we help people experience the presence of God in their lives.

Hamilton also focused on ways new communication technologies are improving the ability of local churches to connect with people — and with other churches.

The world is changing. Are you willing to shape the future by embracing technology?…

I think our future [in the United Methodist Church is] rooted and grounded in our past. When the early Methodists went to start churches across the United States, here’s what they did: they sent circuit riders out, and those circuit riders were given two books — they were given a hymnal and a book of John Wesley’s sermons.

And they would preach in a place and they would form a church, and after three weeks they would say, “Now, you’re in charge while I’m gone…. Here’s a copy of John Wesley’s sermons. And while I’m gone, why don’t you just read one sermon a Sunday when the people gather together for worship?” So the circuit rider would go start five or six or seven more churches and would circle back around 12 weeks later….

How do you think John Wesley would do this today? Would he give them a book of his sermons? No, he would say, “Why don’t you log on…online and then you can join me and I’ll look in the camera and I’ll say ‘Hey’ to all of you….”

Circuits were the groupings of churches that worked together and they shared one pastor and then they had lay leaders and they would work together for the discipleship of the people….

Is it possible that there are super circuits in the future where there are multiple churches, not bound geographic areas — they may be in different parts of the country — and they join together voluntarily and become connected to one another in these circuits?

Some of them [would] have ordained pastors who are overseeing. Some of those ordained pastors [might be] excellent preachers and some of them, maybe not so much. So sometimes they [would] use the sermons from another congregation…. Maybe some of them [would] only use the sermons from the largest church.

They [would] all share the IT resources of that [largest] congregation, and all of the churches [would] work together and bring their strengths to the table to help them all be more effective and stronger congregations….

There are 19,600 churches in the United Methodist denomination in the U.S. that have less than 60 people a Sunday in worship. Currently, most people say those churches have no future. They’re going to have to close because they can’t afford pastors, they can’t afford benefits, they can’t afford apportionments — they simply are going to die.

But what would happen if each of those was seen…as a place that could be [connected by technology]? And…it costs nothing to do it in this place. The building is already paid for. And if we get 25 people and over the next three years we can grow it to 30, we’ve seen a 20 percent increase in attendance in that place in three years, as opposed to closing it down….

What could you do with this? How could you help other churches in your community? Is there a way that you could create a voluntary circuit in which you are helping support and nurture one another in being healthy, vibrant congregations?

Renewing the church is going to require all of us looking at how we do share we share the resources we have so that other might have a chance to have future with hope.

Use the audio player below to listen to Adam Hamilton discussing the need for innovation and improvement in United Methodist churches (this 12-minute excerpt has been edited for length).

The purpose of the annual Church of the Resurrection (COR) Leadership Institute, launched in 1999, is to teach “practical, translatable principles” that have helped COR grow from four people in 1990 to about 17,000 today with multiple meeting locations.

DVDs of this year’s Leadership Institute will be available through The Well, the Church of the Resurrection bookstore.


Related posts
Adam Hamilton: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’
‘Assessment’ report: United Methodism faces compound crisis
Podcast: Billy Abraham on connecting doctrine and evangelism
Riley Case: ‘Operational Assessment’ shows UMC has lost its way
Four things the UMC must do ‘to serve the present age’
Podcast: Dr. James Heidinger on ‘United Methodist Renewal’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference
Bishop Robert Schnase on ‘The Five Practices’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The primary task of the Church’
Podcast: John Wesley on ‘The New Birth’

Related articles and information
The church offers ‘what’s desperately needed': A conversation with Adam Hamilton (video) | Faith & Leadership (Duke Divinity School) (March 31, 2009)
Institute gives UM churches renewed hope | Robin Russell, UM Reporter (Aug. 22, 2008)
How to grow a church: Kansas pastor offers tips at Methodist gathering | David Yonke, The (Toledo) Blade (via Google Newspapers) (June 16, 2007)
Fewer whiffs: Too many sermons are ‘swing-and-a-miss’ strike outs | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Fall 2007)
4-H sermons: Connecting with your audience | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Summer 2007)
Reaching the unchurched | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2007)
‘Should we fret the back door?’ Why the departure of church members hurts me so | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2006)
Opening closed minds | Adam Hamilton, Leadership Journal (Spring 2004)
Christmas Eve at Adam’s house: Adam Hamilton’s Church of the Resurrection enjoys the fruit of the season | Kendrick Blackwood, The Pitch (Dec. 19, 2002)
Purpose, passion drive church growth, pastor says | Michael Wacht, United Methodist News Service (Feb. 26, 2002)

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MethodistThinker.com is on hiatus until after Labor Day. In the interim, we’re highlighting podcasts from our Spring 2010 season.

This podcast features an address by Dr. Randy L. Maddox, William Kellon Quick Professor of Theology and Methodist Studies at Duke Divinity School. In his presentation, he focuses on a widely quoted statement made by Methodist co-founder John Wesley in 1786:

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.

And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast…the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out. (Thoughts Upon Methodism)

Dr. Randy L. Maddox

Dr. Maddox explores the meaning of “doctrine, spirit, and discipline” by quoting from other writings of John Wesley and hymns by Charles Wesley.

Randy Maddox is an ordained elder in the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church, and he holds degrees from Northwest Nazarene College, Nazarene Theological Seminary, and Emory University. Before coming to Duke, he was Paul T. Walls chair of Wesleyan Theology at Seattle Pacific University.

Dr. Maddox is the author of Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (1994) and the editor of Rethinking Wesley’s Theology for Contemporary Methodism (1998).

He is also the co-editor of The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley (2009), winner of the Wesleyan Theological Society’s 2010 Smith/Wynkoop Book Award.

The address on this podcast, edited for length, was presented at the 2008 conference of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the UMC, held at Lake Junaluska, N.C.

To listen, use the audio player below (31 min.) — or right click (Windows users) to download an mp3 (14MB).

For previous MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the “podcasts” tab at the top of this page. To subscribe via iTunes or other podcast software, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link at the top of the right column.


Related information
The United Methodist Way: Living the Christian life in covenant with Christ and one another (PDF) | A paper developed by a group of UM scholars led by Randy Maddox (September 2007)
A missional future — the United Methodist Way | Taylor Burton-Edwards, UM Reporter (March 24, 2008)
Introduction to The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley (PDF) | Randy L. Maddox and Jason E. Vickers, Cambridge University Press (2009)
Be ye perfect? The evolution of John Wesley’s most contentious doctrine | Randy L. Maddox, Christian History (Jan. 1, 2001)
Papers by Dr. Randy L. Maddox (on Methodism, Wesley Studies, and Practical Theology) — scroll down and click “Publications” | Duke Divinity School

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John Wesley, co-founder of the Methodist movement (along with his brother Charles), once wrote:

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power.

And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast…the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out. (Thoughts Upon Methodism, 1786)

Dr. Randy L. Maddox

This MethodistThinker Podcast, featuring an address by Dr. Randy L. Maddox, Professor of Theology and Wesleyan Studies at Duke Divinity School, focuses on what Wesley meant by those words.

Dr. Maddox explores Wesley’s reference to “doctrine, spirit, and discipline” by quoting from other writings of John Wesley and from several hymns by Charles Wesley.

An ordained elder in the Dakotas Conference of the United Methodist Church, Randy Maddox holds degrees from Northwest Nazarene College, Nazarene Theological Seminary, and Emory University. Before coming to Duke, Dr. Maddox was Paul T. Walls chair of Wesleyan Theology at Seattle Pacific University.

He is the author of Responsible Grace: John Wesley’s Practical Theology (1994) and the editor of Rethinking Wesley’s Theology for Contemporary Methodism (1998).

Dr. Maddox is also the co-editor of the recently released Cambridge Companion to John Wesley (2009), winner of the Wesleyan Theological Society’s 2010 Smith/Wynkoop Book Award.

The address on this podcast, edited for length, was presented at the 2008 conference of the Southeastern Jurisdiction of the UMC, held at Lake Junaluska, N.C.

To listen, use the audio player below (31 min.) — or right click (Windows users) to download an mp3 (14MB).

For previous MethodistThinker Podcasts, click the “podcasts” tab at the top of this page. To subscribe via iTunes or other podcast software, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link at the top of the right column.


Related information
The United Methodist Way: Living the Christian life in covenant with Christ and one another (PDF) | A paper developed by a group of UM scholars led by Randy Maddox (September 2007)
A missional future — the United Methodist Way | Taylor Burton-Edwards, UM Reporter (March 24, 2008)
Introduction to The Cambridge Companion to John Wesley (PDF) | Randy L. Maddox and Jason E. Vickers, Cambridge University Press (2009)
Be ye perfect? The evolution of John Wesley’s most contentious doctrine | Randy L. Maddox, Christian History (Jan. 1, 2001)
Papers by Dr. Randy L. Maddox (on Methodism, Wesley Studies, and Practical Theology) — scroll down and click “Publications” | Duke Divinity School

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A recent post by Southern Baptist blogger Trevin Wax has stirred my thinking about how bishops and other UM leaders can more effectively sow into the lives of younger pastors and leaders.

I continue to see articles and hear comments about the loss of young pastors from the ranks of the [Southern Baptist Convention]…. To those [leaders]…concerned about the future of the SBC: may I make a humble suggestion?

cross-mp3playerRelease your resources. Give away all sermons and conference talks for free on the internet. Let us hear your heart!

One reason [non-Southern Baptist] pastors like John MacArthur and John Piper have such a large following among young Southern Baptists is because all their sermons (audio and manuscript) for the past 30-40 years are available online for free. I suggest that Southern Baptist pastors look to these men as an example of how to invest in younger pastors….

Want to see more young people showing up at your conference?… This year’s conference resources [distributed free online] are next year’s advertising.

Want young people to listen to your sermons? Then open up the archive…. Flood the…web with your resources. Give everything away, and then watch how God blesses.

The problem Mr. Wax describes is even more pronounced in the UMC than in the SBC. For years, I have been puzzled by the paucity of material from UM leaders available online, even on Annual Conference web sites.

For people who are supposed to be “connectional,” we have made very few connections via the Web — at least in a teaching/leadership sense rather than just an “institutional” (forms, committees) sense.

I have attended some denominational events that were not even recorded, much less posted. Many events are recorded, of course, but are not available except to those who can avoid to spend ~$15 for a DVD. (That’s ~$15 for one presentation; purchasing an entire event often costs more than $100!)

The Internet offers bishops and other leaders a low-cost means to speak to pastors (and lay people) who are looking to them as role models of effective teaching, leadership, and theological reflection.

Bishop Lindsey Davis

Bishop Lindsey Davis
Kentucky Conference

The good news is that some bishops have started posting short videos (such as this one by North Georgia Bishop Mike Watson on the appointment process). A few leaders post audio on a regular basis (North Alabama Bishop Will Willimon even has a podcast).

But for the most part, UM leaders have failed to take advantage of the power of online distribution of teaching and leadership material.

To help fill the void (albeit in a small measure), next week we will launch The MethodistThinker Podcast. Each Monday, Lord willing, we will feature audio of a bishop or other church leader. Some of these recordings will be current, others may date back many years.

A related change: A Podcasts page will be added to this site, accessible via a tab at the top of this page.

We will begin next week with the founder of the movement: a sermon by John Wesley(!), reenacted in the early 1980s for the BBC.

In the weeks ahead: Bill Bouknight on “The Resurrection”; Bishop Lindsey Davis on “The Primary Task of the Church”; and the late Bill Hinson on “The Making of a Minister.”

Do you have material you’d like to submit? E-mail MethodistThinker.com.

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In his address last week to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement, Dr. John Ed Mathison focused not only on seven concerns about the United Methodist Church, but on six specific ways pastors can become more intentional about make a lasting difference in the lives of others.

Dr. John Ed Mathison addressing North Ga. pastors and leaders

Dr. John Ed Mathison addressing
North Ga. pastors and leaders

Dr. Mathison, who “retired” last year following more than three decades as pastor of Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, Ala., now heads a leadership-training ministry.

First, Dr. Mathison called on pastors to be intentional about “duplicating” themselves by mentoring young people.

“I wish I had done that more [earlier in my ministry],” he said. “Spend some time finding young people in your local church that you can help encourage and give direction to.”

A second way pastors can make lasting difference is by providing a training ground for staff people who can ultimately go on and lead ministry in other churches. “Every one of us ought to be doing something that can be duplicated somewhere else,” he said. “The largest attended worship in [the] North Alabama [Conference] — the worship leaders came out of Frazer and were trained there.”

Third, Dr. Mathison urged experienced pastors to mentor younger pastors, helping them understand matters such as how to build a leadership team. “In my opinion, friends, [the Committee on Nominations and Leadership Development is] the most important committee in the church that the pastor works with — because if you don’t nominate the right folks to be leaders…you’re not going to go very far as a church,” he noted. “A young pastor needs to know that.”

Fourth, John Ed Mathison said pastors can make a difference by being be risk takers. “Leaders are folks who’ve got to be out front,” he said. “[You’ve] got to take some risks.”

A fifth area where pastors can demonstrate intentional leadership is by not succumbing to the “you-can’t-do-that” mindset that is characteristic of modern United Methodist culture. “I’d like to see a culture of: ‘If God’s leading you to do it, try it!'” he said.

Lastly, Dr. Mathison urged United Methodist pastors to get to know pastors and leaders in other churches. “We don’t have a corner on the gospel,” he noted. “Good leaders know how to network with other folks…. If we can work with other people, unbelievable things can happen.”

Use the audio player below to listen to the portion of Dr. John Ed Mathison’s address described above (9 min.). Or download an mp3 of his entire address (6.5MB | 28 min.).

John Ed Mathison spoke to the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement at Norcross (Ga.) First United Methodist Church.

The Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement, a group of theologically conservative pastors and leaders in the North Georgia Conference, was founded in 2004 to “promote the presence of leadership within the Conference…committed to the renewal of historic Wesleyan standards and Biblical authority.”

An October 2008 statement describing the WCRM is here (PDF).


Related posts
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC
John Ed Mathison on the future of the United Methodist Church

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The man who led one of the United Methodist Church’s strongest and largest congregations for more than three decades shared his “ideas and opinions” last week about the future of the denomination.

Dr. John Ed Mathison addressing North Ga. pastors and leaders

Dr. John Ed Mathison addressing
North Ga. pastors and leaders

Dr. John Ed Mathison, pastor of Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, Ala., for 36 years, spoke at a gathering of the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement, a group of theologically conservative pastors and leaders in the North Georgia Conference.

He said the most “pressing challenge” facing the UMC is a series of constitutional amendments — to be voted at this year’s Annual Conference sessions — that would separate the denomination into multiple “Regional Conferences,” each with the ability to adapt the United Methodist Book of Discipline as it so chooses.

If passed, the amendments would allow United Methodists in the United States to structurally segregate themselves from United Methodists in Africa, Asia, and Europe.

Noting that such a change would likely have a profound effect on the ministry environment in the United Methodist Church, Dr. Mathison urged his audience to get involved with educating delegates about the amendments.

“Don’t sit back and say, ‘Somebody’s going to take care of it,'” he warned. “Be sure you talk with the folks who are delegates from your church and in your area.”

Another cause of concern is the United Methodist Church’s failure to attract young people to the ministry. “It’s appalling to see the [small number] of young people under 35 who are entering the United Methodist ministry,” Dr. Mathison said. Recent studies show that only about 5 percent of UM clergy are under 35.

Source: Lewis Center for Church Leadership

Source: Lewis Center for Church Leadership

A related problem is that “we seem to making it more and more difficult to enter the ministry,” especially for those who didn’t attend a UM-approved seminary.

“I am for strong standards,” he said, but “if we keep putting up bigger and bigger fences to get into the Methodist Church, we’re losing a lot of good people.”

Dr. Mathison, who now heads a leadership-training ministry, also noted that UM seminaries need to a better job of teaching students leadership skills. “How many of us took a course in seminary on leadership?” he asked. “And [yet] that’s what we do most of the time.”

Another concern Dr. Mathison focused on is the growing impact of the economic recession on local church budgets.

He said leaders at the Annual Conference and General Church level could help reduce the burden on local churches by cutting some of the denominational expenses local churches are required to pay. If such leaders would publicly announce specific cuts, local churches would have a sense that they are “being heard at the upper levels,” he said.

John Ed Mathison also spoke about the need for Annual Conferences to be “more intentional in starting new churches,” noting that the planting of new fellowships gave tremendous impetus to the early Methodist movement.

He rounded out his list of seven concerns by focusing on upcoming decisions facing the United Methodist Judicial Council (Spring 2009 docket—PDF).

“I think it is extremely clear [from votes at the General Conference] how United Methodists stand worldwide on human sexuality,” he said. “And I’m just hopeful and prayerful that when the Judicial Council meets they will remember that and…act accordingly.”

Use the audio player below to listen to the first half of Dr. John Ed Mathison’s Feb. 24 address to the Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement at Norcross (Ga.) First United Methodist Church (19 min.).

In the second half of his address, Dr. Mathison discussed six specific ways UM pastors and leaders can expand their influence though intentional leadership.

The Wesleyan Covenant Renewal Movement was founded in 2004 to “promote the presence of leadership within the [North Georgia] Conference…committed to the renewal of historic Wesleyan standards and Biblical authority.”

An October 2008 statement detailing the WCRM’s “foci” and “core convictions” is here (PDF).


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