Well, what if the General Conference could be “Facebook” for the denomination as a whole?It's a bit clunky, perhaps, but I still believe that's the fundamental shift that has to happen in the United Methodist Church. Local congregations, local ministry, people seeing people, working with one another, singing, praying, sharing, helping ... that's where the church is at it's best.
Facebook is a social network that connects people, coordinates groups, promotes ideas, and pools resources. Isn’t that what General Conference at its best ought to do?
We are a global connection whose coordinated focus is to promote the mission of God in communities all around the world. Couldn’t General Conference be our Facebook? We wouldn’t have General Boards and Agencies, we would have groups and pages! We could send “friend requests” to churches all around the world through the General Conference. We could create events like Imagine No Malaria and Nothing But Nets, and contribute via our denominational PayPal accounts to make them happen.
The fundamental shift that needs to happen at the General level is from old-school, hierarchical authority to postmodern, flattened-out collaboration. If we actually believe that the most impact happens at the local congregation level, then everything we did as a broader connection would have to be geared toward equipping and empowering the church in local communities around the world.
The General Conference would stop telling local churches what they can and cannot do, and start asking local churches what they actually want to do - how they feel God is uniquely calling them to fulfill the mission – and then the Conference would work to make it happen.
We are not at our best when we are trying to legislate our ecclesial life via some kind of quasi-legalistic jargon, jamming one more amendment onto a petition that will change the seventh line of the third sub-point of of section 3 of paragraph umpteen-hundred of the Discipline.
A foundational problem, and maybe THE foundational problem, is that the people with an all-encompassing vision for the denomination cannot do anything about it, because in order to enact any big vision like that, it has to be broken up into little chunks and divvied out to various committees to read, amend, discuss, amend again, and then vote to approve, reject, or refer.
And by the time the pieces get back to the main body on the plenary floor, they rarely look like they did when they were all together in the initial vision. Unfortunately nothing will change until we figure out how to do a complete reboot of the system. Truly start from scratch. I'm pretty serious about that, too. Throw it all out and begin anew.
We will not tweak our way back into being a healthy church.