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, 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.
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.
“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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