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The following commentary is by Joe M. Whittemore, a member of the United Methodist Church’s Connectional Table.

Joe M. Whittemore

Mr. Whittemore, a delegate to the 2012 UM General Conference, has chaired Committee on Episcopacy for the Southeastern Jurisdiction and has served as the Lay Leader of North Georgia Annual Conference.

This opinion piece was originally published in a different form in the United Methodist Reporter.

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

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The United Methodist Church has never been willing to give the Council of Bishops authority to run the church. The job of the Council is to support the Book of Discipline and to carry out the polity and mandates established by the General Conference.

And yet the Connectional Table/Interim Operations Team legislation scheduled to be brought before the 2012 General Conference in April amounts to turning the general church over to the bishops.

This is exactly the opposite of what needs to be done. Our episcopal leaders should be devoted almost exclusively to their respective annual conferences.

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A bad idea resurfaces

Several years ago, the Council of Bishops (COB) proposed that one bishop not be assigned to an episcopal area, but rather be set aside to handle the affairs of the Council, including the evaluation and accountability of individual bishops. The idea did not gain traction before or during the 2008 General Conference.

Now, a similar idea has come forward. Affirmation #2 of the Aug. 2, 2011, Interim Operations Team report (PDF) called for the adoption of performance standards for bishops. Jurisdictional committees on episcopacy would implement annual assessments.

To support this request, the report then called for a bishop without residential assignment to guide the UMC, support and assist residential bishops, and chair the body that could hire and fire a new 15-member board of directors for the church that would control the vast majority of all net assets other than pension funds.

This idea runs counter to the UMC’s long-standing unwillingness to “turn things over to the bishops.”

Our UM culture is well acknowledged in the operational assessment project done by Apex (PDF), which states that “the church has the opportunity to strengthen its existing leadership structures without altering power or authority (emphasis added)…. This strengthening could be achieved through renewal of purpose, goals and role clarity, better accountability, courageous leadership and better capabilities to support leadership.”

Note that the Apex research called for strengthening “without altering power or authority.” However, the final Interim Operations Team recommendations place power in the hands of a 15-member group (the board of the Center for Connectional Missions and Ministry) subject to considerable influence by the set-side bishop and the Council of Bishops generally.

Further, the Interim Operations Team has called for the Council of Bishops to institute and maintain an effective executive management operating function that strategically and practically aligns the resources of the general church.

In other words, let the COB take over and operate the church, agencies, budgets, everything!

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A better approach

A lay executive of the Council of Bishops to facilitate the accountability of individual bishops may be to the benefit of the denomination. An experienced, strong executive who is not clergy may bring a fresh and reasonable approach.

Envision the changes we could quickly experience if that lay executive had the authority to recommend to the College of Bishops and the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy the removal (or placing on leave) of the ineffective or non-responsive episcopal leader as currently provided in paragraphs 16.5, 408.3 (PDF) and 410.1 (PDF) of the Book of Discipline.

But to adopt the recommendations of the Interim Operations Team would interpret the Apex research to indicate that the Council of Bishops should have huge political, financial, and organizational power and authority. Such an approach would significantly alter our polity.

Many believe the Council of Bishops already does not function well. Why put more authority there?

With few exceptions our U.S. annual conferences are dying. Perhaps if our bishops were fully focused on their annual conferences, the likelihood of turnaround would be increased. Diluting each bishop’s time with additional operational responsibilities for the entire church is folly.

Yes, we desperately require restructure and reorganization of our general church to focus on the development of vital congregations and leadership. The starting place is in devoting all our bishops to the ministry and mission of their own annual conferences, and evaluating in transparent ways the fruits of their ministries.

Let’s “set aside” all our United Methodist bishops for their most important ministry, namely, leading their annual conferences and developing vital congregations.


Related posts
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?
‘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
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)
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)

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A member of the United Methodist Church’s Call to Action Steering Team says the team’s task was to be “prophetic” and to avoid the “terminal niceness” that has long inhibited realistic discussion of the challenges facing the denomination.

“We were asked to do a deep study of the church,” the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, lead pastor at Grace Church (UMC) in Cape Coral, Fla., said in a recent address to the Wesleyan Renewal Movement, a group of North Georgia Conference clergy.

Jorge Acevedo speaking last month in N. Georgia

Part of the Call-to-Action team’s work included a research project aimed at gauging the “relative health” of the UMC’s 32,000 church in North America.

It was a relative study in that we only had the information that we commonly gather across all 32,200 churches…. And there are only certain categories we [measure] across the connection — things like membership, worship attendance, professions of faith, adults in Sunday School, children in Sunday School….

I think it says about United Methodism what we don’t measure…. [Y]ou know what we don’t measure consistently across our connection? We don’t measure mission…. So that’s why you will not see in our report very much that has to do with mission….

[The research team we were working with] took the conglomerate materials…for all 32,000 churches and — after we gave them some measures of vitality [based on the things the denomination measures] — we were able then to come out and say that about 4,500…of our 32,000 United Methodist churches would fit in the category of being “vital.”

Now what that means is 27,500 of our church are not vital…. [This is] not an indiscriminate line in the sand [but] a very statistical line in the sand that says, “Is there growth in membership or in worship attendance or in professions of faith?”…

[O]ur fundamental conclusion…at Call to Action is that the focus of the church needs to be on vital congregations — period, end of story, nothing else matters…. If we’re not vital on the corner of Main and Maple, nothing else matters…. And if we do not have [— as the Call to Action report (PDF) says —] “an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations [effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ]” — if we don’t do that, we do not have a future with hope.

This is what matters — the local church…. [E]verything has to serve to the end that we have vital congregations in every community.

To listen to an 11-minute excerpt from Jorge Acevedo’s remarks, click the arrow on the audio player below, or download an mp3 file (5MB).

Before Mr. Acevedo spoke, attendees at the Wesleyan Renewal Movement meeting viewed this five-minute video, which was produced for the UMC’s General Council on Finance and Administration:


Related posts
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
‘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
Rev. Jorge Acevedo: 2009 Distinguished Evangelist of The United Methodist Church | Foundation for Evangelism
Letting Jesus build his Church (a profile of Jorge Acevedo and Grace Church) | Elizabeth Glass-Turner, Good News (November-December 2009)
UMC renewal demands vital local congregations | Andrew C. Thompson, UM Reporter (June 7, 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)
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)

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On this edition of the MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, Dr. Stephen P. Wende, senior pastor of First United Methodist Church–Houston, Texas, urges the election of delegates to the 2012 UMC General Conference “who will represent God-honoring, Kingdom-focused, Christ-first, biblically strong positions.”

Steve Wende addressing N. Ga. clergy in Jan. 2011

He says that the outcome of this year’s elections will determine whether or not the future of the United Methodist Church will “be built on the path of orthodoxy, the primacy of Christ, and the advancement of the kingdom.”

Delegate elections for General Conference 2012 are occurring now across the denomination, at annual-conference sessions that began in March. Most annual conferences in the U.S. hold their yearly gatherings this month (full schedule here—PDF).

To listen to the podcast (5 min.), click the arrow on the audio player below — or download an mp3 file (5MB).

Steve Wende, a native Texan, is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary. He has served as the senior pastor at First Methodist Houston since 2001.

He is a board member of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church and has been a delegate to several UM General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

The audio of Steve Wende used on this podcast was recorded at a January 2011 meeting of the Wesleyan Renewal Movement, a group of clergy in the North Georgia Conference. Dr. Wende’s full remarks at that event are posted here.

To subscribe to the biweekly MethodistThinker Mini-Podcast, use the “Subscribe to Podcasts” link near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Podcast — George Hunter: Can the once-great Methodist movement become a movement again?
GC 2012 delegates set at 988 — Philippines gains delegates despite large membership loss
Steve Wende: Doctrinal orthodoxy should be deciding factor in choosing GC delegates
Billy Abraham on United Methodism: ‘There is no common faith among us’
Podcast — Randy Maddox: ‘Methodist Doctrine, Spirit, and Discipline’

Related information
Schedule of 2011 United Methodist Annual Conferences (PDF) | General Council on Finance and Administration (Feb. 28, 2011)

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During February, while MethodistThinker is on hiatus from new postings, we’re showcasing podcasts from our fall 2010 season. This podcast features an address by Bishop Alfred Norris.

Bishop Alfred Norris in 2005 (via UMNS)

Born in Louisiana in 1938, Alfred Lloyd Norris was educated at Dillard University in New Orleans and Gammon Theological Seminary in Atlanta.

After serving for 16 years as a United Methodist pastor and district superintendent in his native state, he was named president of Gammon in 1985.

In 1992, he was elected to the UM episcopacy and assigned to the New Mexico and Northwest Texas conferences. Later, Bishop Norris moved to the Texas Annual Conference, where he served until his retirement in 2004.

In 2006, he was asked to return to the active episcopacy to fill the term of North Texas Bishop Rhymes H. Moncure, who had died in office. After leading the North Texas Conference for two years, Bishop Norris retired again from active status in 2008.

Last year, he returned to Gammon Theological Seminary when asked to serve as the school’s interim president and dean, a position he held until Jan. 1, 2011. Gammon, founded in 1883, is the United Methodist part of a consortium of six historically African-American theological schools in the Atlanta area collectively known as the Interdenominational Theological Center.

This podcast features Bishop Norris’ address, edited for length, presented at the 2005 ordination service of the North Georgia Annual Conference.

Listen using the audio player below (18 min.) — or download an mp3 file (8.2 MB; on a PC, right click and choose “save as”).

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 near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Podcast: Maxie Dunnam on ‘The Pastor as Prophet, Priest, and Evangelist
Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’
Podcast: Bishop James King on ‘Preaching Authority’
Podcast: Tom Atkins — ‘We Need the Power of the Holy Spirit’
Podcast: Bishop Robert E. Hayes on ‘A Long Fight with a Short Stick’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’

Related articles and information
Interim president-dean for Gammon Theological Seminary appointed | General Board of Higher Education & Ministry (March 22, 2010)
Bishop Alfred Norris to lead North Texas Conference | United Methodist News Service (Sept. 13, 2006)
Biography of Bishop Alfred L. Norris | Council of Bishops Gallery, United Methodist Church

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The pastor of one of the United Methodist Church’s largest congregations is urging those casting votes for delegates to the 2012 General Conference not to allow personal friendships to carry more weight than theological orthodoxy.

“[If a brother or sister wants my vote] and yet they don’t believe the same things I do, all I can say is ‘I love you, but I’ve got to vote my conscience,’” said the Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Wende, pastor of Houston’s First United Methodist Church, in a Jan. 8 address to a clergy group in the North Georgia Annual Conference.

Dr. Steve Wende at North Georgia's Mt. Pisgah UMC

Wende urged the the election of General Conference delegates “who will represent God-honoring, Kingdom-focused, Christ-first, biblically strong positions.”

The elections will occur at annual conference sessions across the UMC this year. The General Conference will be held April 24-May 4, 2012 in Tampa, Fla.

The outcome of this year’s elections, Wende said, will determine if the United Methodist Church will “be built on the path of orthodoxy, the primacy of Christ, and the advancement of the kingdom.”

Wende spoke to a gathering of North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement, held at Mt. Pisgah UMC in suburban Atlanta.

The Texas pastor noted that the North Georgia Conference, the largest annual conference in the United States, plays a unique role in the overall direction of the United Methodist Church.

“We need North Georgia involved at the highest levels of the [UMC], helping the church keep its weight on scriptural authority and the apostolic tradition. And if North Georgia won’t [do that], then we’re all in trouble.”

According to the Wesleyan Renewal Movement’s December 2010 newsletter, the group seeks to “promote the election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences who are committed to ensuring [that] the Book of Discipline and the election of bishops reflect [the] principles of [John] Wesley and the Bible.”

WRM clergy are “unified in our belief that the actions of [the] General Conference are key to revitalizing our church or to sending it further into decline,” the newsletter said.

In his address, Steve Wende said he is encouraged by many things happening in the United Methodist Church, believing that the denomination made a positive turn in the early 1990s.

Our numbers are not great because we are [not doing well] in certain parts of this nation. We are hemorrhaging members and ministry. But in other parts of this nation and in Africa…the Holy Spirit is moving in dramatic ways.

I think the best days of this denomination are absolutely ahead…. But I also believe that those good days are not automatic — and that if the corner has been turned, which it has, we now need to make sure that the ship keeps going in a healthy direction.

Wende urged his audience to recommit to “thinking theologically.” He noted that his own preaching has become much more doctrinally focused in recent years because “the most important challenges being launched against…the church today are not about ‘practical’ issues.” Instead, those challenges are focused on “what orthodox Christians believe,” he said.

Our ministry to the poor and service to others…is not what offends the culture. What offends the culture is Jesus…. It’s Jesus [who is] being attacked. And if we are not willing to defend at the point of attack, we have betrayed our Jesus.

We have to be willing ourselves to learn again how to think and speak theologically about the basics of the faith.

The Houston First pastor also said United Methodist pastors need to focus on building “healthy, caring, authentic Christian relationships” with each other as well as with lay people. “All healthy [church] politics grows out of people who first understand what healthy relationship looks like and who [build a] community of healthy relationships,” he said.

To listen to Steve Wende’s address to the Wesleyan Renewal Movement, use the audio player below (35 min.), or download an mp3 file (12.5MB).

A native Texan, Steve Wende is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin, Yale Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary.

He is a board member of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church and has been a delegate to several UM General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

Dr. Wende has served as the senior pastor at First Methodist Houston since 2001.


Related posts
GC 2012 delegates set at 988 — Philippines gains delegates despite large membership loss
Four things the UMC must do ‘to serve the present age’
Bishop Scott Jones: Rethinking the path to a worldwide UMC (address to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC (address to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference (address to North Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)

Related articles and information
Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: The Hitchens Transcript: An exchange between Christopher Hitchens and Marilyn Sewell | The Portland Monthly (January 2010)
Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: A west coast lament (comparing growth trends in the North Georgia and Cal-Pac Conferences) | Steve Beard, Good News (October/November 2010)
Mentioned in Dr. Wende’s address: Statement in opposition to Structure Study Commission Report | Albert C. Outler, from the Journal of the 1972 General Conference (April 17, 1972)
Wesleyan Renewal Movement | Steve Wood, pastor of North Georgia’s Mt. Pisgah UMC (June 14, 2010)
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)

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The latest MethodistThinker Podcast features an address by Bishop Alfred Norris, currently interim president of Atlanta’s Gammon Theological Seminary.

Bishop Alfred Norris in 2005 (via UMNS)

Born in Louisiana in 1938, Alfred Lloyd Norris was educated at Dillard University (New Orleans) and Gammon Seminary.

After serving for 16 years as a United Methodist pastor and district superintendent in his native state, he was named president of Gammon in 1985.

In 1992, he was elected to the UM episcopacy and assigned to the New Mexico and Northwest Texas conferences. Later, Bishop Norris moved to the Texas Annual Conference, where he served until his retirement in 2004.

In 2006, he was asked to return to the active episcopacy to fill the term of North Texas Bishop Rhymes H. Moncure, who had died in office. After leading the North Texas Conference for two years, Bishop Norris retired again from active status in 2008.

Earlier this year, he returned to Gammon Theological Seminary when asked to serve as the school’s interim president and dean. Gammon, founded in 1883, is the United Methodist part of a consortium of six historically African-American theological schools in the Atlanta area collectively known as the Interdenominational Theological Center.

This podcast features Bishop Norris’ address, edited for length, presented at the 2005 ordination service of the North Georgia Annual Conference.

Listen using the audio player below (18 min.) — or download an mp3 file (8.2 MB; on a PC, right click and choose “save as”).

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 near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Podcast: Maxie Dunnam on ‘The Pastor as Prophet, Priest, and Evangelist
Podcast: Bishop Gerald Kennedy on ‘The Marks of a Methodist’
Podcast: Bishop James King on ‘Preaching Authority’
Podcast: Tom Atkins — ‘We Need the Power of the Holy Spirit’
Podcast: Bishop Robert E. Hayes on ‘A Long Fight with a Short Stick’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’

Related articles and information
Interim president-dean for Gammon Theological Seminary appointed | General Board of Higher Education & Ministry (March 22, 2010)
Bishop Alfred Norris to lead North Texas Conference | United Methodist News Service (Sept. 13, 2006)
Biography of Bishop Alfred L. Norris | Council of Bishops Gallery, United Methodist Church

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A prominent United Methodist layman has compiled a percentage breakdown of last year’s votes on 32 proposed amendments to the United Methodist Constitution, showing the areas of the church in which the various amendments were most strongly supported or rejected.

Although votes on the amendments took place at annual conference sessions in 2009, the totals weren’t ratified by the United Methodist Council of Bishops until two months ago. In all, only five of the 32 amendments won approval across the denomination.

Joe M. Whittemore

The breakdown, compiled by former North Georgia Conference lay leader Joe M. Whittemore, shows that opposition to the controversial “Worldwide Nature” amendments came largely from Africa and from the U.S.’s Southeastern Jurisdiction (SEJ). Those 23 amendments — all soundly defeated — would have restructured the UMC into a series of regional conferences, including a likely U.S. Conference.

“The two largest areas (SEJ and Africa, which have 53.4% of total membership)
voted overwhelmingly against a U.S. conference,” Mr. Whittemore wrote in a brief companion analysis released along with voting results breakdown.

The failure of the restructuring amendments was “a resounding defeat for the idea of having [a single] U.S. area,” Mr. Whittemore wrote. Currently, the U.S. is divided into five semi-autonomous jurisdictions that elect their own bishops.

“This should put to rest not only the idea of a consolidated U.S. area but also any thought of electing and assigning bishops at the U.S. area level,” he wrote.

The breakdown of the overall vote (see table below) shows that less than 3 percent of United Methodists in Africa supported the restructuring amendments. In the U.S.’s Southeastern Jurisdiction, those amendments received only 15 percent support.

Click to enlarge

The full text of all 32 amendments is here (PDF), showing the proposed deletions (stricken text) and additions (in bold/blue) to the UM Constitution. Because amendments relate to constitutional changes , a super-majority vote (at least 66.7 percent) is required for an amendment to be affirmed.

The idea of segregating the church into regional conferences (effectively “national churches” in some cases) received its strongest support from United Methodists in Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S.’s Western Jurisdiction. Together, these areas account for less than 6 percent of the total membership of the denomination.

Across the entire United Methodist Church, the restructuring amendments garnered only 39.5 percent support. “The negative vote on [these] amendments was confirmation of the lack of trust the annual conferences have in giving power to the general church establishment without the implications being clearly stated,” Mr. Whittemore wrote.

Opponents of the Worldwide Nature amendments had warned that the restructuring plan was ill-defined. They argued that passage of the amendments could empower a small, unrepresentative group to make significant changes in denominational structure and areas responsibility.

Europe, the Philippines, and the U.S.’s Western Jurisdiction were also the three areas of the church to give strongest support to Amendment I, an amendment dealing with eligibility requirements for membership in the local church.

Amendment I opponents had argued that its passage would restrict a pastor’s ability to offer spiritual oversight regarding an individual’s readiness to take membership vows.

That amendment, originally authored by a Texas-based group pushing for denominational approval of homosexuality, garnered 47.8 percent of the total vote, far short of the 66.7 percent required for approval.

Even though the 32 of the proposed amendments had won super-majority (i.e., at least two-thirds) approval from the 2008 General Conference, the larger church rejected the General Conference’s recommendation for all but five amendments.

“That 48,000 interested United Methodists could sift through 32 proposed amendments and affirm five positive actions is a confirmation in the combined wisdom of our process and people,” Mr. Whittemore wrote in his analysis. “It causes one to wonder how in tune [the] General Conference is with [the] pastors and laity of local churches.”

Joe M. Whittemore is a member of the 2008-2012 Connectional Table of the United Methodist Church. He has served in many capacities within the UMC, including as chair of the Southeastern Jurisdiction Committee on the Episcopacy and as a member of the Committee on Audit and Review of the General Council on Finance and Administration. Mr. Whittemore has been a delegate to multiple General Conferences.


Related posts

Bishop Scott Jones: Rethinking the path to a worldwide UMC
Riley Case: Approval of Amendment XIX a ‘positive development’ for evangelicals
Maxie Dunnam: Amendments outcome reflects ‘sense of the faithful’
Bill Bouknight: Methodists are saying ‘No’ to their leaders
North Georgia overwhelmingly disapproves restructuring amendments
Leaders in North Georgia, Holston urge defeat of re-structuring amendments
A ‘procedural’ argument against Amendment I
Ed Tomlinson: Proposed amendments would ‘decimate connectionalism’
Update on the ‘Church and Society’ court case
Joe Whittemore: ‘Enough is enough’

Related articles and information
Voting on 2008 Constitutional Amendments: Summary and observations (PDF) | Joe M. Whittemore (May 2010)
UM Bishops announce defeat of global church and open membership amendments | Connor Ewing, Institute on Religion and Democracy (May 12, 2010)
Study Committee responds to constitutional amendment rejections | Stephen Drachler, Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church (May 11, 2010)
Study Committee begins shaping report; focuses on ordained ministry standards | Stephen Drachler, Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church (April 30, 2010)
Confessing Movement speaks to Worldwide Nature Study Committee (PDF—see page 5) | Patricia Miller, We Confess newsletter (November/December 2009)
Presentation to the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church | Paul Stallsworth, Lifewatch (November 2009)
Letter to the Worldwide Nature Study Committee (PDF) | Karen Booth, Transforming Congregations (November 2009)
Which way to a Worldwide Church? (PDF) | Andrew Thompson, Gen-X Rising blog (May 31, 2009)
The worldwide Methodist movement | Eddie Fox, Interpreter Magazine (Web-only article—March 31, 2009)
New group will study church’s Worldwide Nature | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (March 3, 2009)
African Power: How 192 delegates saved Methodists from madness & other stories from the General Conference | Mark Tooley, Touchstone (November 2008)

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Following the defeat of proposed constitutional amendments aimed at restructuring the United Methodist Church into a series of more-autonomous regional conferences, the bishop who heads the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the UMC is appealing for help in finding a restructuring approach that will gain approval across the denomination.

Bishop Scott Jones

Speaking last week at a breakfast sponsored by the Wesleyan Renewal Movement, a group of clergy in the North Georgia Conference, Bishop Scott J. Jones said the defeat of the amendments shows a different approach is needed.

“There is lots of conversation going on, especially within the study committee which I chair, as to why they were rejected. But the most important question is how to move forward,” Bishop Jones said.

“The problems which gave rise to the [series of restructuring amendments] have not gone away,” he said. Those problems, the bishop noted, stem from an increasingly out-of-date structure designed for “a U.S. church with a few foreign outposts.”

In recent years, the United Methodist Church has grown rapidly in Africa and the Philippines, even as membership in the U.S. and Europe has been shrinking. At the next General Conference in 2012, 40 percent of the delegates will likely be from outside the United States.

Source: General Council on Finance and Administration

Even so, the denomination’s Book of Discipline and the work of its general boards and agencies remain U.S.-focused.

“Can you understand the frustration experienced by…non-American delegates?,” Bishop Jones asked.

“They come all the way to the U.S. for a meeting and spend 12 days working on U.S. issues and paying little attention to things that matter [to] their own home conferences,” he said.

Bishop Jones said one task facing the Worldwide Nature committee is to make recommendations regarding which parts of the Book of Discipline should apply to all United Methodists and which parts should be “adaptable to local contexts.” The Discipline allows central conferences to make certain “changes and adaptations,” but the language is imprecise (see paragraphs ¶31.5 and ¶543.7) regarding the types of alterations that can be made, the bishop noted.

Our current situation is this: All of the Book of Discipline applies to [conferences in] the United States, [while] central conferences [i.e., outside the U.S.] can adapt portions of it…. I am going to ask four questions to which I do not know the answer….

  • Can a central conference — on principle — refuse to ordain women?
  • Can a central conference decide to ordain “self-avowed practicing homosexuals”?
  • Can a central conference amend the Social Principles?
  • Can a central conference ordain deacons only as a transitional stage toward ordination as a elder?…

[The Worldwide Nature study committee has determined] that a few things are so crucial to the worldwide unity of the church that they must always be decided on by the General Conference and that no variation among central conferences should be permitted.

The list begins with the Constitution, our Doctrinal Standards, doctrinal statements including the Social Principles (PDF), the mission statement, and basic descriptions of episcopacy, ordained ministry, and annual conferences….

We’ve agreed that issues of human sexuality, including ordination, must remain the responsibility of the General Conference. Further, we’re not proposing any new layers of bureaucracy….

[W]e’re working toward deeper connections throughout the church, greater local authority, and more equitable sharing of power and representation around the world…. But to claim this future we must remove a long list of blockages that are preventing us from moving forward….

It’s clear from the votes on the constitutional amendments that there needs to be a lot more conversation across the church to discern how best to live into that worldwide nature.

Bishop Jones argued that what that should tie United Methodism together around the world should not be an abundance of structural rules, but rather a relatively small number of requirements that directly relate to core doctrine and common mission.

Imagine a copy of the Book of Discipline that had only those things in it that would truly be applicable to every United Methodist conference in the world. What if we went back to the old name as the Doctrines and Discipline of the United Methodist Church?

You can listen to Bishop Jones’ 20-minute presentation, “The Worldwide Future of the United Methodist Church,” below — or right click (Windows users) to download an mp3.

The text of his remarks, as prepared for delivery, is here (PDF).

Bishop Scott J. Jones, formerly a professor of Evangelism at the Perkins School of Theology at Southern Methodist University, is the episcopal leader of the Kansas East and Kansas West Conferences. He was elected to the episcopacy by the South Central Jurisdictional Conference in 2004.

His books include:

Bishop Jones posts material on United Methodist doctrinal and theological issues at ExtremeCenter.com. The website of the Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church is WorldwideUMC.org.

The Wesleyan Renewal Movement, the group to which Bishop Jones spoke, describes its purpose as seeking “to promote the election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences who are committed to ensuring the Book of Discipline and the election of bishops reflect [the] principles of Wesley and the Bible.”

The group sponsors a breakfast each June, concurrent with the yearly gathering of the North Georgia Annual Conference, the largest U.S. annual conference in the UMC.

Previous WRM breakfast speakers include Dr. Bill Bouknight, now an associate director of the Confessing Movement Within the United Methodist Church, and Dr. Jimmy Buskirk, founding dean of the School of Theology and Missions at Oral Roberts University.


Related posts

Maxie Dunnam: Amendments outcome reflects ‘sense of the faithful’
After feedback from Bishop Palmer, UMNS revises amendments story
Ed Tomlinson: Proposed amendments would ‘decimate connectionalism’

Related articles and information
UM Bishops announce defeat of global church and open membership amendments | Connor Ewing, Institute on Religion and Democracy (May 12, 2010)
Study Committee responds to constitutional amendment rejections | Stephen Drachler, Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church (May 11, 2010)
Study Committee begins shaping report; focuses on ordained ministry standards | Stephen Drachler, Committee to Study the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church (April 30, 2010)
Confessing Movement speaks to Worldwide Nature Study Committee (PDF—see page 5) | Patricia Miller, We Confess newsletter (November/December 2009)
Presentation to the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of The United Methodist Church | Paul Stallsworth, Lifewatch (November 2009)
Letter to the Worldwide Nature Study Committee (PDF) | Karen Booth, Transforming Congregations (November 2009)
Which way to a Worldwide Church? (PDF) | Andrew Thompson, Gen-X Rising blog (May 31, 2009)
The worldwide Methodist movement | Eddie Fox, Interpreter Magazine (Web-only article—March 31, 2009)
New group will study church’s Worldwide Nature | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (March 3, 2009)
African Power: How 192 delegates saved Methodists from madness & other stories from the General Conference | Mark Tooley, Touchstone (November 2008)
2010 Lifewatch sermon: The once and future church (PDF)| Bishop Scott J. Jones, Lifewatch newsletter (March 1, 2010)
Presentation on the United Methodist Way (PDF)| Bishop Scott J. Jones, Convocation of Extended Cabinets (November 10, 2007)
Ten things every Christian ought to know (from a United Methodist point of view) (PDF) | Bishop Scott J. Jones

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The final podcast of our spring season features one of the most prominent United Methodist leaders of recent decades: Dr. Maxie Dunnam.

Maxie Dunnam was born in Mississippi in 1934. After earning a Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Southern Mississippi (1955), he went on to earn a Master of Theology from Atlanta’s Emory University (1958). Later, he earned a Doctor of Divinity from Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Kentucky (1977).

Dr. Maxie Dunnam in 2008

Early in his ministry, he served as the organizing pastor of three Methodist churches: Aldersgate UMC in Atlanta, Ga. (1956), Trinity UMC in Gulport, Miss. (1958), and St. Andrews-by-the-Sea UMC in San Clemente, Calif. (mid-1960s).

Maxie Dunnam then served in several capacities at The Upper Room, eventually becoming World Editor of the ministry’s flagship devotional publication. He also helped launch the Upper Room’s spiritual-renewal ministry that became known as The Walk to Emmaus.

From 1982-1994, Dr. Dunnam served as senior pastor of Christ United Methodist Church in Memphis, Tenn., which grew from 2,000 members to almost 6,000 members during his pastorate.

In 1994, Maxie Dunnam was elected president of Asbury Seminary. Ten years later, he was named the Asbury’s chancellor, and the school’s Orlando, Fla., campus was christened the “Dunnam Campus” in his honor.

Dr. Dunnam is the author of several dozen books and workbooks, including That’s What the Man Said: The Sayings of Jesus (Kindle Edition, 2009), Going on to Salvation: A Study of Wesleyan Beliefs (revised edition—Abingdon, 2008), and The Workbook on the Christian Walk (Upper Room, 2004).

Maxie Dunnam is a past president of the World Methodist Council, and he currently serves on the board of directors of the Confessing Movement Within The United Methodist Church.

The address on this podcast was presented at the Ordination Service at the 2008 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference.

To listen, use the audio player below (28 min.) — or right click (Windows users) to download an mp3 (13.2MB).

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 near the top of the right column.


Related posts
Why the United Methodist Church cannot condone homosexuality
Maxie Dunnam: Amendments outcome reflects ‘sense of the faithful’
Maxie Dunnam, Eddie Fox release videos on proposed amendments
Podcast: Bishop James King on ‘Preaching Authority’
Adam Hamilton: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’
Podcast: Bill Hinson on ‘The Making of a Minister’
Astonishing preaching
Preaching for a response

Related articles and information
MaxieDunnam.com
Former Memphis pastor Maxie Dunnam will air ‘positive’ TV, radio spots | The (Memphis, Tenn.) Commercial Appeal (June 1, 2010)
Renewing hope: UM evangelicals gather to focus on critical issues | Robin Russell, United Methodist Reporter (Nov. 2, 2007)
Confessing Movement issues statement on unity | Daniel R. Gangler, United Methodist News Service (Sept. 28, 2005)
42 years later, clergy who fought racism to reunite | Associated Press (June 6, 2005) — Related: The “Born of Conviction” statement, published in the Mississippi Methodist Advocate, Jan. 2, 1963 (PDF)
Truth getting distorted about ‘amicable separation’ | Maxie Dunnam, Good News magazine (July/August 2004)
Helping others answer the call: An interview with Maxie Dunnam | Leadership Journal (Oct. 1, 2003)
History of the Walk to Emmaus | Robert R. Wood, 20th anniversary gathering of Emmaus (April 1997)
Placing Christ at the center of all | Maxie Dunnam, Good News magazine (March/April 1996)

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Dr. Richard Hunter

This post is by Richard Hunter, senior pastor of Snellville United Methodist Church (North Georgia Conference). He holds a doctorate in parish revitalization from McCormick Theological Seminary (Chicago) and teaches on the adjunct faculty at both Asbury Theological Seminary and the Candler School of Theology. — Ed.

I want to be a part of renewing our Methodist movement for faithfulness in the 21st century.

Renewal requires facing facts — namely that reversing our downward spiral of membership losses and evangelistic ineffectiveness calls for dramatic changes and creative innovations across the church.

I suggest four areas where we need to embrace a different way of doing things:

  • We must bring an emphasis on church planting into every district and place it in the DNA of every church.

After 20 years of existence, the average United Methodist congregation brings one new believer to Christ for every 85 members (an 85-to-1 ratio)! In contrast, our new churches reach new believers at a 2-to-1 ratio. After five years, they are still reaching new people, 3-to-1.

The future of our denomination depends on starting new churches every week just as we did at the beginning of the 20th century, yet we put far more resources in serving ourselves rather than church planting.

We must welcome innovative and “out-of-the-box” church plants. To reach today’s culture, we must be starting churches in coffee houses, in warehouses, in homes and movie theaters. Not all church plants can succeed with the UM label. We need to insist on UM theology and accountability but not require these new starts to carry a label that is a huge hurdle for some people.

  • We must recognize that growing churches of the future will be multicultural.

Thirty years ago I was taught that fast-growing churches were homogeneous. Not anymore! Many thriving churches are multicultural, especially in our cities.

Most of our conferences are behind the time on this trend. We need to educate, place, and promote pastors who are bilingual and effective in developing these churches.

  • We must encourage and embrace innovative and contemporary worship.

This does not mean churches like mine should stop offering “traditional,” main-sanctuary worship services. Our traditional service is still relevant and growing. Yet the trends tell us that innovative worship is here to stay.

We must be wiling to use modern media to 1) reach the unchurched, 2) teach the Gospel to a visual culture, and 3) communicate with people through the modes of communication that they use daily. We must require our seminaries to respect this trend and teach how to be effective in using communication technology.

Virtual churches will be common in the next decade. Will the UMC be a part of this movement or leave it to non-denominational churches?

  • We must offer sound doctrine and serious discipleship.

People may choose a church based on the style of worship, the preacher, and the programs. But they stay and commit to a church that disciples them to a cause and a movement that is changing the world. Therefore, we must embrace our Methodist roots and bring scriptural holiness to every community we serve.

People are drawn to high-commitment churches. So let us clearly state the membership expectations of prayer, worship, tithing, and servant living.

Thirty years in ministry have demonstrated to me that God’s Kingdom-design for a community will be served by faithful churches and visionary leaders.

The future of our movement depends on our willingness to be committed to change and innovation regardless of the hardships. May God find many United Methodist churches that will be faithful to His call.

To serve the present age, my calling to fulfill:
O may it all my powers engage to do my Master’s will!

—Charles Wesley

A version of this column previously appeared in the newsletter of the Wesleyan Renewal Movement.

The WRM is a group of North Georgia clergy seeking “to promote the election of delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences who are committed to ensuring the Book of Discipline and the election of bishops reflect [the] principles of Wesley and the Bible.”

Bishop Scott Jones (Kansas Area) is scheduled to speak at next month’s WRM annual breakfast (June 18) in Athens, Ga., concurrent with the 2010 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference.


Related posts
Podcast: Randy Maddox on Methodist ‘doctrine, spirit, discipline’
Adam Hamilton: ‘We are in desperate need of excellent preaching’
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC (address to N. Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)
John Ed Mathison: Six ways for a pastor to make a lasting difference (address to N. Georgia’s Wesleyan Renewal Movement)
Bishop Robert Schnase on ‘The Five Practices’
Bishop Lindsey Davis: ‘The primary task of the Church’

Related information
Planting new congregations (PDF) | Bishop G. Lindsey Davis (chapter one of The Future of the United Methodist Church: 7 Vision Pathways — Abingdon Press, May 2010)
United Methodists seek 250 to start new churches | Jeanette Pinkston, United Methodist News Service (June 2, 2009)
UMC Path 1 (Collaborative UMC leadership for church starts in the USA)
High expectations: How to raise the bar so people will stay | Sam S. Rainer, BuildingForMinistry.com (April 6, 2009)
The Spirit and the holy life (PDF) | Bryan Stone, Quarterly Review (Summer 2001)
Richard Hunter’s blog
Sermons by Richard Hunter

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By an average tally of 94% to 6%, delegates to the 2009 session of the North Georgia Annual Conference voted disapproval of five amendments aimed at restructuring the United Methodist Church into “regional” conferences that would have greater national autonomy.

The 2009 Session of the North Georgia Annual Conference, meeting in Athens, Ga.

The 2009 Session of the North Georgia
Annual Conference, meeting in Athens, Ga.

Final approval or disapproval of the amendments, all of which received a two-thirds majority endorsement at the 2008 General Conference, will be based on the aggregate vote of delegates throughout the 135 annual conferences of the UMC (62 in the U.S., 73 outside the U.S.). More than half of U.S. conferences have already voted.

The North Georgia vote is particularly significant because the North Georgia Annual Conference is the largest annual conference in the United States. The lopsided outcome in North Georgia will have a large impact on the final aggregate total.

Although the aggregate vote will not be officially announced until the Council of Bishops meeting in November, vote totals already released by various annual conferences suggest that the restructuring amendments are not likely to win the two-thirds margin needed for ultimate approval. Indeed, it now seems doubtful that the amendments will even win a majority of the votes cast by annual conference delegates.

Here are the raw vote totals from the North Georgia Conference for the five restructuring amendments:

Amendment IV
yes 88
no 1262
Amendment XXIII
yes 86
no 1400
Amendment X
yes 84
no 1402
Amendment XXVI
yes 85
no 1399
Amendment XIII
yes 83
no 1403

At a gathering of conservative North Georgia leaders earlier this year, Dr. Ed Tomlinson, district superintendent of the conference’s Atlanta-Roswell District and vice chair of the North Georgia’s 2008 General Conference delegation, argued that implementation of the restructuring amendments would “decimate connectionalism as we know it today.”

The Rev. Diane Parrish urges no vote on Amendment I

The Rev. Diane Parrish urges a 'No' vote on Amendment I

Delegates to the North Georgia session also voted disapproval of Amendment I — by 64% to 36% (958 to 544).

Amendment I would alter Article IV of the United Methodist Constitution, an article dealing with eligibility for membership in the local church.

During the debate on the amendment, several clergy members of the conference voiced concerns that passage of Amendment I would make it more difficult for pastors to give spiritual oversight regarding the readiness of individuals to take the vows of membership.

Use the audio player below to listen to that debate (13 min).

North Georgia delegates gave strong support — 86% to 14% — to Amendment XVII, which would convey voting privileges to lay members serving on a committee of investigation.

By an 88% to 12% tally, delegates approved Amendment XIX, which would empower qualified “local pastors” to vote on delegates to General and Jurisdictional Conferences.

Full amendment results from the North Georgia Conference are here. To listen to Bishop Mike Watson announce the results of the voting, use the audio player below (8 min.)


Related posts
Ed Tomlinson: Proposed amendments would ‘decimate connectionalism’
Maxie Dunnam, Eddie Fox release videos on proposed amendments
African UM leader on amendments: ‘We should have been consulted’
Proposed amendments would separate UMC into ‘national entities’
John Ed Mathison: Seven concerns about the UMC
Bill Bouknight: The bad news from General Conference ‘08
A ‘procedural’ argument against Amendment I

Related articles and information
Full text of all 32 amendments, showing how each would alter the current language of the United Methodist Book of Discipline—material stricken through would be deleted; material in bold/blue would be added (PDF)
Voter guide from Concerned Methodists (PDF)
Worldwide decision: United Methodists to vote on amending constitution | Bill Fentum, UM Reporter (April 10, 2009)
Which way to a Worldwide Church? (PDF) | Andrew Thompson, Gen-X Rising blog (May 31, 2009)
Amending away our global church? | Riley Case, Good News (March/April 2009)
Constitutional Amendments | John Ed Mathison Leadership Ministries blog (May 21, 2009)
A rationale to oppose proposed constitutional changes | Tim McClendon, Columbia District Superintendent, South Carolina Conference
The worldwide Methodist movement | Eddie Fox, Interpreter Magazine (Web-only article—March 31, 2009)
Conferences to consider church structure | Linda Green, United Methodist News Service (March 10, 2009)
Constitutional Amendments 2009 | William J. Abraham, Outler Professor of Wesley Studies, Perkins School of Theology (Southern Methodist University)
Transcript of the brief General Conference debate on Amendment I (PDF—see pages 2705-2707)
Amendment I (without the baggage) (PDF) | Andrew Thompson, Gen-X Rising blog (May 18, 2009)
Inclusiveness and membership decline (on the possible implications of Amendment I) | Riley Case (March 23, 2009)
Coming soon to your Annual Conference (article on Amendment I) (PDF) | The Kindred Connection (Winter 2009) (This is a publication of an arm of the Reconciling Ministries Network — “We envision a United Methodist Church which…accords all persons, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity, full participation in the life of the church.”)

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