Review: Focus

January 9th, 2012

Lovett Weems is singularly placed to comment on the challenges facing The UMC. As Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership and Director of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., pastor and former seminary president, he has been a participant, a leader, and a teacher of those offering leadership in The UMC for decades. He is, by his own admission, “a product of the church,” whose experience in the church as a youth opened him to wider horizons and new opportunities for vocation. He is both a participant in and an observer of the highs and lows of the church he loves and serves, a true participant observer. As a result, his analysis, observations, and recommendations in Focus: The Real Challenges that Face The United Methodist Church (Abingdon, 2012) are to be commended to the church as another General Conference approaches, with rather monumental recommendations before it for restructuring, reorganizing and revitalizing the denomination.

As Weems notes at the outset, the book contains much for everyone to both like and dislike. But like the irritant that produces the pearl, Weems’ book may irritate the church into more careful thinking about the choices and opportunities that await it. Weems’ primary contention is that The UMC will move forward to the extent that aligns itself in closer alignment both to God and to the people in our midst. Having begun to experience decline starting as far back as 1965, Weems contents that The UMC fell victim to its own success. Quoting Charles Handy, he observes: “The things and ways which got you there are seldom those things that will keep you there.” Living off past success takes its toll. Instead, Weems asserts, things go well when there is congruence among mission, context and structure. But as with many other large, complex institutions, the practices that made an organization strong can become the very practices that keep it from responding adequately or quickly enough to new contexts and new challenges.

Somewhat ironically, he restates the old John Wesley interrogative, no less pointed now than then: are the things you are doing bearing fruit?

Weems calls for a clear-eyed look at changing contexts, appropriate responses, and for a fundamental resetting of the financial baseline. Looking to fewer people to provide more money for ministry is a recipe for disaster, as he documents. His statistics and graphs portraying what he calls “the death tsunami” that lies ahead are sobering. Instead, the focus should remain on the basics—in Weems’ words that means changed lives and transformed communities.


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Focus is part of the Adaptive Leadership Series, a collection of books providing provocative assessments of The United Methodist Church's Call to Action. Coming February 2012 from Abingdon Press. See for free excerpts from all five books.

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