It's a common question in United Methodist churches, posed by many a congregant to his or her pastor: “Why do we pay apportionments, again?”
Many local congregations simply dislike the apportionment system because it requires paying money from their accounts for programs that appear to produce little for them directly. At best, people simply don't know what causes they are supporting. Some United Methodists know but don't approve of some of the programs that are being funded. These programs, however, are those that the broader church approved at the Annual, Jurisdictional, or General Conference levels.
At worst, many United Methodists express concern that our boards and agencies are failing to hold themselves accountable. While I believe the general boards and agencies follow carefully the directives given to them, the perception of unaccountability still surfaces, caused in part by those rare instances when misappropriation does occur. Like many other things in our world, these are what make headlines, while well-managed and worthwhile projects go unreported.
Jesus is recorded in the Bible as saying in a variety of ways that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. The apportionment process encourages local churches to become involved in ministries to the least and the last, through ministries that extend beyond the local church. Congregations often desire to be first or even the greatest, forgetting that being the greatest means being a servant to others. Congregations I have served during my ministry are among the guilty. I can say, however, that we made progress in each church and I currently serve a congregation that has a long history of being faithful in paying their apportionments.
Bishop Paul Leeland of the Alabama-West Florida Conference prefers the term “missional giving” over “apportionments.” Bishop Leeland is much closer to true the meaning of the concept, and reminds us of a powerful fact when he says, “So much of our missional giving—retirement homes, children's homes, colleges, camping ministry, evangelism, and retiree support— come through our local churches. I don't see any one church that could do all this for our conference by itself.” Consider the following benefits of apportionments:
Your congregation's apportionments help pay the cost for our United Methodist colleges and universities, with the hope that our students will become better educated and perhaps become faithful pastors and leaders within our churches. My own children received scholarships to attend a United Methodist college. That's missional giving!
Your apportionments help to afford care and support for children with AIDS, and to speak out against violence in the Middle East that is creating a new generation of orphans. Your apportionments are paying for teachers, pastors, and missionaries around the world—in Russia, Korea, and Africa, to name a few. The United Methodist Church is the only Protestant denomination allowed to maintain a permanent presence in Russia. The General Board of Discipleship's Upper Room division hosted the first ever Emmaus Walk in Russia in 2008. That's missional giving!
Africa and Korea are the fastest growing Christian communities in the world and the United Methodist Church has an active and visible presence in both of those locations. KumNon Methodist Church in South Korea is the largest Methodist congregation in the world with 112,000 members. This effort began thirteen short years ago, funded by World Service apportionments. Our funds to the World Methodist Council have made it possible for Wesleyan churches to be established in 132 countries. That's missional giving!
United Methodists gave $20.8 million to support victims of the 9/11 attacks. To date, 99% of the funds collected have been distributed with no administrative fees. The funds raised for Hurricane Katrina relief have aided 120,000 families. The 2004 tsunami relief effort was the largest ever by the United Methodist Church. That's missional giving!
When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, FEMA realized that they were not prepared to deal with the on going process. They asked (first time in history) UMCOR to take over operations within Alabama because the United Methodist Church was the only denomination with the structure and resources to take on the task. That's missional giving! And that's why we pay apportionments!
Perhaps there is a better system than apportionment for the United Methodist Church, but I stand in awe at how God has used our denomination. Together, let's work to improve it and do everything in faith that God will continue to inspire and empower our Church.
Dr. Bob McKibben is from the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference and presently serves as Senior Pastor of the Marianna First United Methodist Church in Marianna, Florida.