Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Call to Action in the UMC - My thoughts

The United Methodist Church is preparing for our 2012 General Conference, at which delegates will vote on the proposals contained in the “Call to Action.” There are some specific changes being proposed, which you can read about at the Call to Action website.

I have a couple of questions. First one: Who is against these proposals? Is there any organized opposition to them, anywhere? I have read a couple of articles that expressed disappointment with the lack of young adult representation in the process and one or two that express the thought that this is a “power grab” by the Council of Bishops. But is there a group actively mobilizing to lobby General Conference delegates to vote down these proposals?

If so, please illuminate me, because I am unaware of them.

If not, then who in the world are we trying to convince with all the hub-bub about the changes? Why all the talk about “there’s no need to fear change” and “we’ve got to take some risks” and “sometimes change hurts” and so forth? Who exactly needs convincing? The denomination doth protest too much, methinks.

My second question: Why have we framed the Call to Action recommendations as necessary to save the United Methodist Church from dying? As I see it, the Call to Action recommendations are necessary, but not to save the denomination. What is recommended is necessary for no less than being faithful to what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ in the world today.

Now, if we revitalize congregations in the way that the Call to Action predicts, one of the attractive side effects may be that the United Methodist Church ceases withering away. But surely that’s not our goal, is it? I love the United Methodist Church as much as any seventh generation ordained Methodist preacher does, but my goal is not the survival of my beloved denomination.

My goal is to share the love of Jesus Christ with others so that that the world is completely transformed into the realization of the reign of God, and to inspire others to do so, as well. If the United Methodist Church survives that transformation process … bonus!

All of the language about what motivated the Call to Action’s proposed changes is great. Stuff like … creating vital congregations … a more nimble infrastructure … clarity of mission …hopefulness for the future … and so on. Everything Bishop Schnase (aka Bish Schnay-Z) writes about in his article on the subject.

But I’ll be hesitant to do any of that stuff if the goal is to save the denomination. Why can’t we just leave saving the denomination out of the picture?

Again, to be clear, I believe that if we do what the Call to Action recommends, we actually may end up saving the denomination. But that will be because our denomination is being as faithful an expression of church as it can be, not because our attempts to save our institution have been successful.

Actually I have a specific critique of the Call to Action recommendations. My biggest concern is that we do not have a consensus definition for pastoral effectiveness. I do not see how we possibly could. It will be a subjective call, no matter how you slice it.

I might think that I’m not effective because I’m not seeing worship attendance increase dramatically, while someone else might think I am being effective because there have been more than 50 professions of faith over the past two years. But still another person may think that 50 professions of faith is not effective, thinking that it comes nowhere close to the potential in our community.

What’s left is a subjective decision - which, by the way, I trust completely. I am Methodist, an itinerant preacher, and I will go where I am sent - even if that is into another occupation. But there’s no getting around the fact that pastoral effectiveness is ultimately a subjective decision. Let’s just be honest about that and proceed.

I hope the Call to Action recommendations pass General Conference, and revitalized, vibrant congregations become the norm rather than the exception. I too see a new church in the future, and am very hopeful about what God is up to these days. I just want us to stop lamenting dying churches and dying conferences and dying denominations, and start remembering what we are supposed to be about.

If we do, we may very well find that we actually have nothing to lament, and everything to celebrate!

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Online Communication - What "counts"?

Facebook has changed the way people communicate. At Campbell, we have guidelines for how staff relates with people online, similar to the United Methodist “Safe Sanctuaries” guidelines for face-to-face communication.

Because the landscape is always changing, we are continually discussing the implications of new means of communication. So, it is not a static policy; it must remain fluid in order to respond to rapid changes in the virtual world.

Our latest conversation pertains to notifying “the church” when someone has a need (an illness, surgery, the death of a loved one, etc.). Put rather crassly, the question is what should “count” for notifying the church.

If a staff member happens to read an update on someone’s timeline that says, “Surgery set for tomorrow,” or something similar, does that indicate that the person wants a pastor to show up for prayer and so the staff member should contact a pastor to make sure that happens?

If a pastor reads someone’s tweet indicating a need, but does not respond, is that a failure of pastoral obligation? What if a pastor reads the tweet and DOES respond, but the individual didn’t actually want a personal response?

Currently, we have the guideline that a Facebook post (or a Tweet, or any online posting) does not constitute an “official contact.” A phone call, email, or text message does. The reasoning is that those three are directed communications, rather than public announcements. As such, we do not do a pastoral visit for something we only learn about online.

On the flipside, someone on staff may contact a person individually to respond to something learned online, and in that conversation the staff member needs to ask, “Would you like this concern included in the prayer list?” and/or “Would you like a pastor to visit?” and/or “Could we arrange some meals for you while you recover?” or something like that, depending on the situation. Then, the church responds “officially” to the need.

Even as I re-read that paragraph, it sounds silly. But it is where we are at the moment. And so we’d like some input. What are your thoughts on these questions? And what guidelines, if any, does your church follow regarding social network posts? What should those guidelines be?

Thanks in advance for your comments!