Numerous study groups and task forces have been convened over the past four years to explore various aspects of the United Methodist Church and its ministries. These brief reports offer a glimpse of recommendations to come at General Conference 2012.
Church Systems Task Force
Health impacts the vitality of the UMC mission—it affects our clergy, congregations and communities. As we respond to the “health crisis” among clergy and work together to address it, we will witness the effects of long-term positive change across the connection because health affects us all.
A focus on denominational health led General Conference 2008 to charge the GBPHB and GBHEM to jointly convene a task force to look at the Church systems that may impact clergy health and deliver a report and recommendations to General Conference 2012.
Church Systems Task Force Report
The 21-member Church Systems Task Force (CSTF), convened in 2009, was chaired by Bishop Hope Morgan Ward (Mississippi). The 2011 CSTF Report is the foundation for legislation to address Church systems and practices with the long-term goal of improving the health of clergy and, by extension, that of congregations and the Church itself. The importance of health in the Wesleyan tradition guided the efforts of the CSTF.
The CSTF employed a rigorous research approach in examining the employment systems and culture of the Church that affect clergy health; thirteen health factors were identified that differentiate clergy who are healthy from those who are unhealthy. The CSTF work resulted in General Conference 2012 legislation from GBPHB, GBOD, and the CSTF to address:
- itineracy and the appointment-making systems and improvements that support clergy health;
- improvements to supervisory systems;
- processes for entering and exiting ordained and licensed ministry; and
- guidelines for sustaining a healthy work/life balance during ministry.
Wesley linked the health of the Church with the health of its clergy. Healthy leaders are essential for local church vitality and vibrant ministry in the world. It is time to address the intersection of Church systems and clergy health, making needed changes to strengthen our ministry. A denominational appreciation for the value of healthy ministry, and the resolve to change what negatively impacts it, underlies our ability to continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
The complete CSTF report is available at www.gbophb.org/cstf.
—Barbara Boigegrain is General Secretary, General Board of Pension and Health Benefits
Sustainability Advisory Group
The economic collapse of 2007-09 did not cause the financial challenges now facing the UMC, but it did bring to the forefront financial practices and considerations which threatened the very existence of the Church and its ability to fulfill our mission.
Conferences were challenged with pension plan funding concerns and looked closely at UMC benefits, compensation and infrastructure that may not be sustainable. The GBPHB brought financial questions into the open with conference benefits officers on March 19, 2009, triggering a Church-wide financial conversation that continues today.
Volunteers from fifteen conferences met the challenge to establish a “sustainability advisory group” (SAG) to examine financial implications inherent in sustaining our mission and ministry, and to openly share conference financial information, discussing what, as a church, we can afford and what is sustainable. GCFA and conference CFAs joined us in the discussion; together we educated UMC leadership with the goal of reversing trends over time.
The SAG started with a narrow focus on benefits—one thing led to another—they took a broader, deeper perspective, examining short- and long-term financial considerations, which led to suggestions in three areas: Ministry, Infrastructure and Systems; Future Workforce Compensation; and Current Compensation and Benefits.
In May 2010, the SAG Report documented for the first time financial research demonstrating the current state of the Church, which seeded open, denomination-wide conversation. Among the issues and suggested actions: identifying conference financial best practices; changing the administration of the UMC through consolidation; identifying someone to lead the general church between general conferences; eliminating guaranteed appointment, addressing the issue of excess clergy; and a defined contribution-only pension plan because, for many conferences, the current pension plan is not sustainable. The Call to Action, the Interim Operations Team, general agencies and the GBPHB took these and other suggestions under consideration for future action. The GBPHB responded by bringing to General Conference 2012 two pension plan options (a reduced benefit CRSP plan and a DC-only plan) both of which lower plan costs to conferences by 15 percent.
The complete SAG report is available at www.gbophb.org/sag.
—Barbara Boigegrain is General Secretary, General Board of Pension and Health Benefits
Ministry Study Report
The Ministry Study Report is a direct follow-up to the 2008 Ministry Study Report, the directions of the 2008 General Conference, and our listening broadly across the global church. What we offer to the General Conference is a full consensus of the members of the Commission from all over our global church who represented every segment of ordained ministry and the laity of our church. Further, we believe if the church is to turn from an institutional focus to a missional focus these recommendations will be crucial.
Using a theological basis for our work, we propose a process to develop a culture of call. Instead of waiting to see who appears before the Board of Ordained Ministry, we are recommending that every annual conference develop a strategic plan of recruitment of the brightest and best to consider the possibility of a call from God. This would include a conference vocational discernment coordinator. United Methodist membership has been relaxed and expanded. Three years have been eliminated from the process to ordination. Requirements regarding which candidacy materials to use have been eliminated, allowing annual conferences to decide which are most relevant for their circumstances. Licensing School would be replaced with a Ministry Preparation Orientation that would be attended by all seeking licensing or ordained ministry.
We agree with the 2008 Ministry Study Report that the practice of commissioning has not been substantive, well understood, or accepted by the church. So, we recommend an earlier ordination and provisional membership. Therefore, our report recommends that certified candidates be ordained upon completion of educational and other requirements and recommends the elimination of commissioning.
For the Church to realize its mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through fruitful congregations that are transforming both individuals and communities the Church must be served by effective clergy undergirded by a system that is itinerant, open, flexible and responsive. In order to create a more nimble system that will facilitate a more missional appointment process, we recommend modifying the appointment process. While adding the words to paragraph 338 of the current Discipline, “bishops and cabinets shall commit to open itinerancy” appropriate paragraphs of the Discipline would be adjusted to read, “Ordained elders and persons who have been granted a license for pastoral ministry and who have been approved by vote of the clergy members in full connection may be appointed to local churches.” If an elder or an associate member is not continued under appointment then steps shall be taken that involve the Board of Ordained Ministry.
Finally, we recommend that only ordained elders should preside over the sacraments. In the case of extraordinary missional need, and where collaborative ministry among Elders, Deacons, and Local Pastors is greatly restricted, the church can give sacramental authority to Deacons and Local Pastors through the Bishop.
Details of the Commission’s work broken down by the principle, the challenge, the vision and the recommendation may be found at www.gbhem.org.
—Alfred W. Gwinn is Bishop of the Raleigh Episcopal Area and Chair of the Ministry Study Committee
The Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the Church
After listening to church members around the globe, a special committee created by the 2008 General Conference concluded United Methodists around the world are committed to unity in Christ while yearning for change.
The Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the United Methodist Church has proposed four steps to the 2012 General Conference to reinforce the unity of more than 12 million members around the world and make significant changes in how the church functions in the 21st century.
The first step is to embrace a new worldwide covenant affirming unity, affirming cultural and ethnic diversity, committing to mutual love and trust, and recognizing equity in relationships, finances, structure, and mission.
Subsequent steps stem from the desire to foster a new sense of community as the church fulfills its mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world, include:
- Laying the groundwork for a global Book of Discipline that specifies what decisions the General Conference makes, and which areas of ministry and organization are adaptable by Central Conferences.
- Clarifying how general agencies function in a worldwide rather than a United States-centric church.
- More clearly modeling Wesleyan Holy Conferencing in a worldwide church. This is intended to bring greater equity between church ministries outside the United States and those within the U.S.
- Setting in motion a process for annual conferences to study a proposed new model for a worldwide church. This study process may result in petitions for greater structural change at the 2016 General Conference.
The final step recognizes the need to live into change and an understanding that effective change comes from a bottom-up rather than top-down process.
Committee members sought input from United Methodists and affiliated and autonomous sisters and brothers around the world. They visited Africa, Europe, and the Philippines in addition to meeting in the United States.
It’s likely that this report will not be the last word on our worldwide nature. More input will be needed and prayers sought as we live into a new life with Christ.
Full details of the report can be found at www.worldwideumc.org.
—Scott J. Jones is Bishop of the Kansas Episcopal Area and Chair of the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the Church
Task Force on Theological Education
Developing leaders who can live and teach the United Methodist Way is a focus area of the UMC. The Call to Action recommends we “dramatically reform the clergy leadership development, deployment, evaluation, and accountability systems.”
Addressing these important issues, the Council of Bishops is proposing several steps to strengthen theological education. A task force of bishops with additional members from the United Methodist seminaries, and the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry spent four years considering how to build upon the foundation of their 2003 document, A Wesleyan Vision for Theological Education and Leadership Formation for the 21st Century. That statement issued six calls to the church to improve its leadership development systems. (See www.gbhem.org for full text).
The Council of Bishops in 2011 approved several proposals to take the next steps in addressing those issues with four recommendations to General Conference.
- The United Methodist Church needs to work more closely with seminaries on what is an adequate United Methodist ethos in the theological education of its leaders. Additional time in seminary preparation would be spent in courses on United Methodist doctrine and polity. Courses on polity would also focus on leadership.
- The bishops also propose that the voice of the UMC in theological education be strengthened by creation of a free-standing Commission on Theological Education.
- The Council listened carefully to the needs of theological education for the church outside the United States and proposes the creation of a Central Conference Theological Education Fund with $5,000,000 in the next quadrennium. The UMC in Africa and the Philippines is growing and there is a great need for more clergy who are theologically educated.
- Noting that our leadership development system is dramatically underfunded compared with twenty years ago, the Council of Bishops called for a 10 percent increase in the Ministerial Education Fund. The increase would assist in developing United Methodist scholars to teach in theological education, strategies for reducing seminary debt for new clergy, and continuing formation of effective clergy.
—Scott J. Jones is Bishop of the Kansas Episcopal Area and Chair of the Study Committee on the Worldwide Nature of the Church
The Apportionment Study Group
The Apportionment Study Group was authorized “to explore alternative structures for the apportioned general funds of the United Methodist Church . . . that more nearly conforms to the missional focus of the denomination.”
Our Study Task Force had eleven members who represented annual conference treasurers, lay leaders, Central Conferences, and local church pastors and were assisted by staff from the GCFA, and other general agencies.
The Study Group recommended four major proposals to the GCFA. The GCFA sent three of our proposals to the 2012 General Conference for action. Our full report is found in the GCFA report to General Conference.
- Emphasize generous financial stewardship as a top priority. We have done too little at the General Church level to encourage generosity. The GCFA will guide the work of all the general agencies in coordinating their stewardship activities. A renewed focus on the spiritual discipline of giving by clergy and laity is foundational for restoring the financial health of The United Methodist Church.
- Provide organizational and financial flexibility between General Conferences. The General Conference may approve $600 million for the denomination through the year 2016. After General Conference adjourns, however, no one can make any changes to the allocated budgets to provide flexibility in ministry and mission. Our General Church leaders must have authority to reallocate financial resources between General Conferences to meet changing needs. Especially as General Conference considers new structures and new priorities, the budget should follow the mission not set the mission. This proposal will require two constitutional amendments.
- Study further an income-based proportional giving system as the method by which local congregations provide a small portion of their current financial giving for the work of the General Church. Our current model of funding our General Church looks at past expenditures (almost a four-year lag) and then allocates apportionments. Another method is to look at current income and designate a specific proportion to such work. While the Study Task Force urged this new model, GCFA instead asked for another four years to study this model of income-based apportionments with the possibility of presenting such a model to the 2016 General Conference.
—Andy Langford is Senior Pastor at Central United Methodist Church in Concord, North Carolina, and a member of the Connectional Table.
Reinvesting up to $60 Million for Vital Congregations
Pastors and other leaders know it is important to continually reassess and adjust how we employ each congregation’s time, talent and money for effective ministries.
One of the petitions from the Connectional Table focuses on how to best invest resources to build more vital congregations ready to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the future.
Most churches react when results don’t match expectations by reinvesting available resources differently. The general church also needs the ability to experiment with fresh approaches and to seize opportunities to join efforts with and reach new people.
The Connectional Table has petitioned General Conference to allow up to $60 million of funds to be channeled to support creating and sustaining more vital congregations. The CT is not asking for more money, but for flexibility to use World Service and General Administration Funds more effectively.
The Board of the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry would evaluate plans for agencies receiving funds to identify opportunities for reducing overhead, increased effectiveness and the elimination of non-essential expenditures. The Board would need approval of their recommendations by the General Council for Strategy and Oversight and the Council of Bishops before any changes could be implemented.
The CT suggests that the first $5 million be allocated for young people’s lay leadership development and the second $5 million for theological education for the Central Conference. Additional funds could be invested for recruiting and training UM ministerial students under the age of 35, and for other work to increase the number of vital congregations.
Rather than attempting to anticipate all contingencies and set in stone at General Conference how every dollar must be spent in what promises to be a dynamic time of transition and refocus, we urge the UMC to authorize appropriate groups to make the very best use of up to $60 million (just 10 percent of the total general church budget) and ensure that the directives of the 2012 General Conference are fulfilled. Providing accountable flexibility is essential, especially to achieve our vision for an increase the number of vital congregations.
—Andy Langford is Senior Pastor of Central United Methodist Church in Concord, North Carolina, and member of the Connectional Table
The United Methodist Committee on Faith and Order
The United Methodist Committee on Faith and Order (UMCFO) is one of the General Conference Standing Committees created by the 2008 General Conference. During the past twenty years, the United Methodist Church had made more than one attempt to set up a representative body that would have a mandate and authority to conduct theological reflections on issues related to order and doctrinal teaching of the church. These attempts were not successful for one reason or another. The establishment of the UMCFO has been welcomed within the United Methodist constituencies as well as by ecumenical partners.
The Committee on Faith and Order shall give leadership to The United Methodist Church in reflecting upon, discerning, and living out matters of faith, doctrinal teaching, order, and discipline in the midst of mission and ministry in the church and the world. The committee shall be a visible expression of the commitment of the United Methodist Church to carry on informed theological reflection for the current time in dynamic continuity with the historic Christian faith, our common heritage as Christians grounded in the apostolic witness, and our distinctive Wesleyan heritage. (The Book of Discipline, ¶ 1908).
The question we received during this quadrennium came from the Council of Bishops with regard to a need to study United Methodist Ecclesiology. From a theological perspective, what does it mean to be a global or worldwide church in the light of current conversations within the United Methodism? What does it mean in relation to the results of its bilateral and multilateral dialogues with the other Christian traditions? The committee has given priority to ecclesiology study. We discussed “The marks of the United Methodist Church” and how these marks are understood today within the broader context of the Wesleyan heritage and the Church as the body of Christ. But we went further. Dr. Russell Richey was asked to report on historical materials of Methodism which, among others, helped discern distinctive United Methodist approaches to ecclesiology study. We wondered if there might be value in bringing together some important teaching documents such as By Water and the Spirit and This Holy Ministry into a companion volume to The Book of Discipline and Book of Resolutions. We also realized that a doctrine of the church is interwoven with doctrines about the Triune God and God’s redemptive work in the world.
That discussion led to a proposal to consider a resource for United Methodist teaching, a brief summary of what we believe as United Methodist Christians that could be used as a tool for evangelism, in confirmation classes and for adult faith formation. This would be a teaching tool, not a creedal statement. So we continued our work at this stage in planning the following three projects: (1) “Faith and Order Resource Paper,” (2) “Discipleship in Action: a Resource for United Methodist Teaching” and (3)“ Teaching document on Ecclesiology.” In addition, the committee discussed the possibility that The Book of Discipline might be divided into two volumes Doctrine and Discipline. The Social Principles would still be a separate book. The UMCFO “Doctrine” volume might include the statement on the sacraments.
The UMCFO was established “with the authority of an independent committee.” It is, however, located in the General Commission on Christian Unity and Interreligious Concerns for practical purposes of staffing and budgeting. The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry provides its staff services. As the volume and the complexity of the work increase and given the scope of its mandate, the UMCFO will need more adequate staffing and financial resources in order to fulfill its mandate.
—David K. Yemba is Bishop of the Central Congo Episcopal Area in Democratic Republic of Congo and Chair of The Committee on Faith and Order.