Agreement 'to' Rather Than Agreement 'with'

July 1st, 2018

In every decision, there are elements of disagreement. Leadership in decision-making is a process of guiding people to agree to, not trying to get everyone to agree with. For example, sometimes we do not agree with an adult child’s decision, but we agree to support and love them. The Greater New Jersey cabinet collectively has not always agreed with an appointment, but we all must agree to make the appointment. Agreement with means we all think alike and all agree with each other’s thinking about the issues and circumstances of the appointment.

Superintendents do not all see and think about pastors, congregations, communities, theology, needs, and benefits of an appointment in the same way. If we forced all to agree with, we would be challenged to finish appointment seasons. Instead, the GNJ cabinet, like other cabinets, recognizes that we are agreeing to make the appointment given a set of circumstances and issues, with which we will not all agree.

Jesus was more interested in to than with. Jesus was about action, intent, and mission. He could say to one person, the best way to love God and be a disciple is to sell all you have and follow. Yet, in another situation, the best way to serve was to use expensive perfume and oil to wash feet. In agreement with, the focus would be on wealth and expense. In agreement to, the focus is on how your mind is fixed on God through your actions.

Agreement with means that there is an attempt to get everyone to agree with all aspects of a plan. The plan inevitably must be watered down to reach final agreement. Agreement with focuses on what individuals want:

  • I want to be a part of a denomination that agrees with me about homosexuality.
  • I want the Book of Discipline to change so that we can fully be in ministry with gays and lesbians so that gays and lesbians can marry in our churches, be ordained, and participate fully in our churches.
  • I want the Book of Discipline to stay just like it is because I agree with it.

When people focus only on what they prefer, the only option is all or nothing. There will be no agreement by the extremes if any change focuses only on what people want.

Instead, helping people focus on agreement to reorients the conversation.

  • I agree to focus on the mission so that it is central and all have the opportunity to participate in the mission.
  • I agree to stay in relationship with each other and focus on a common mission together, even though the change is not perfect for everyone.

Leading toward to

Agreeing to calls for leadership to understand United Methodist disciples well enough to know their deeper desires, which, if met, will allow them to live with different beliefs and opinions. It is safe to say that there will not be agreement with any plan for a way forward. We will risk continued division if we seek agreement with a plan. Instead, inviting people to agree to actions for the good of the witness and mission of The United Methodist Church may provide a path for reason and passion to come together.

Overall, General Conference delegates seek to be faithful to the core teachings that make us United Methodist and seek to make changes that allow us to live our core teachings/beliefs/values. Agreeing to doesn’t undermine what we believe. Rather, it provides a path to further enhance and live out our core teachings/beliefs/values.

Core values, beliefs, and commitments that move the mission forward

As United Methodists, we value these core beliefs and commitments:

  • God’s grace is evidenced in and through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • All are called to be followers of Jesus Christ.
  • Christ’s example is loving God completely and loving our neighbor.
  • John Wesley taught disciples to love by engaging disciples to regularly practice the means of grace: works of piety and intentional acts of mercy and justice.
  • The means of grace call disciples to:
    • read, study, and follow the scriptures.
    • gather in congregations, so the body of Christ deepens their faith through the means of grace, which can mature believers and send disciples out to engage in transforming the world.
  • The Bible is primary for our understanding of faith. We use the lenses of tradition, reason, and experience to understand how we live scripture in our daily living.
  • Local congregations are connectional through the sharing of:
    • a clear set of core values.
    • a common mission.
    • a unified structure that is applied contextually.
  • Resources through apportionments build up the body of Christ and advance the witness and mission of Jesus Christ.
  • The mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Congregations that practice these core values, beliefs, and commitments are Wesleyan in nature and in mission. They recognize the importance of our mission and that the mission strengthens as we serve together. Ultimately it is a common set of core values, beliefs, and commitments that holds us together.

The current reality

United Methodists are fractured by our focus on getting people to agree with a particular idea, and as a result the mission ultimately suffers. Our Book of Discipline thus becomes prescriptive in forcing compliance. Over the years, the Book of Discipline evolved to the point that it does not entrust United Methodists with the freedom and responsibility to interpret and live out our core values, beliefs, and commitments in different contexts. In other words, we are requiring agreement with rather than calling people to a posture of being and doing the great commandment, love God and love your neighbor. We are forcing agreement with rather than agreeing to fulfill calling, discipleship, and mission.

I hope for a General Conference that calls us to a renewed mission. I believe, even with its challenges, the One Church Model invites us to a way forward missionally, in part because it does not ground our mission in seeking agreement with one another.

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