What enables a team to win the Super Bowl or the World Cup in soccer or Ryder Cup in golf? What does it take to be a champion? While many factors come into play, a team never achieves the highest level of excellence without the players successfully working together. As for our United Methodist family, are we getting better at working together? Is that really important in today’s world? The answer is yes!
Can local churches, annual conferences, and general agencies, each on their own, fulfill the Church’s mission effectively in such a vacuum?
- Why do local churches question what they call “taxes”—the apportionments?
- Why do pastors dread calls from their District Superintendents?
- How is it that a worthwhile annual conference event has a poor response?
- Who is served by the general agencies?
These questions and others indicate concern about a disconnect between the various working parts of our denomination.
How wide is the breach in the connection, and is that gap growing? Looking at our declining U.S. statistics, many would make the case that the disconnect is increasing.
It’s easy to live in an it’s-all-about-me-and-mine world, where we each take care of only what we perceive God has placed before us. That may be one reason for the success of non-denominational megachurches. If I’m doing my job well, following all the Book of Discipline mandates, and local criticisms are few, why do I need to be concerned about anyone else? The “all about me” attitude in our denominational family can be negative. However, from the perspective of those with that attitude, they are doing what is expected. I believe most laity, clergy, local churches, districts, annual conferences and general agencies genuinely do their best to fulfill their God-given missions. But a realist must ask, “While doing all we are expected to do, can more be accomplished with greater effectiveness? Are we doing all God would have us do in the way God would have us do it?”
Perhaps in the past there have been good reasons to think it was sufficient to only take care of our designated area of ministry. Lack of trust always enters this discussion. Concern is always expressed for the potential abuse of power. We want visionary leadership from our bishops and other leaders, but we don’t trust them with the power to better enable effective leadership. Some clergy aren’t certain they want laity who are strong in opinions and actions—especially if they challenge the leadership of the clergy. General agencies compete for power over limited dollars, as do annual conference entities.
It’s all about power. The authority that should concern us is the power of God’s love for each of us, around the world, and how we should treat each other in the light of that Love. How do we get beyond wrongs suffered and think instead in terms of trust and cooperation? I think God gives hints in the 12th chapter of First Corinthians: One body—many members—one Spirit!
All are essential to the mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ as part of the one body, The United Methodist Church, following the one Spirit. All have important roles to fulfill and at their best are interdependent in living out those roles. Success depends on working cooperatively together, led by the Holy Spirit. Effective communication is the key, which includes acceptance, genuine listening, and living and acting with respect for the other parts of the body. Unfortunately these attributes cannot be legislated, but they converge in the attitude necessary to take us connected into the future, following the One. Our connection as members of the body of Christ should be celebrated.
Soon we will celebrate our connection as delegates converge from all over the world for General Conference. Once again we will have an opportunity to test our abilities to work together for God’s Kingdom. Will we be open to changes that might move us forward in this evolving world? Will we be able to trust beyond the “knowns”? Will we listen to the needs of the world? Will we keep our focus on the one Spirit and work together to further the mission of “Making Disciples for Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World”?
Let us pray that will be so!