Are we willing to really hold people accountable?

This is a post about various paragraphs of the Book of Discipline. Those averse to such topics might save themselves some trouble by clicking away now. (You have been warned.)

Dan Dick wants the church to pay more attention to paragraph 122 of the Book of Discipline. In case you don’t have that one memorized, here it is:

¶ 122. The Process for Carrying Out Our Mission—We make disciples as we:

—proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather persons into the body of Christ;

—lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ;

—nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing;

—send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and

—continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.

It is a good list. Of course, the Book of Discipline is always a problem for me because there are probably half a dozen or more paragraphs that give guidance on what it means to be the church, and while they do not conflict, they certainly are difficult to unify into a useful and narrow guide.

Dick, however, does not mince words about the importance of these five ways to make disciples.

We need to take into account that some people have limited capacity. We take into consideration such factors as age, education, cognitive capacity, years on the spiritual journey, etc. But – and this is critically important to our contemporary United Methodist Church – it is unacceptable for any full member of a congregation to be a passive spectator, a coddled customer, a Christian consumer, or a pew potato. These relationships are not aligned in any way, shape, or form with the mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The leaders and members of every congregation need to challenge anyone who comes to church merely to be served. United Methodists, by definition, are engaging in all five aspects of the core process (¶122), or they are not really Methodists!

Despite my complaints about the Book of Discipline, I think I share with Dick an admiration for it as s guide to us. I myself am challenged by the idea of holding people accountable. For good reasons and not so good reasons, I find myself uncertain what to do to make the accountability called for by our Discipline a reality.

The book itself offers some guidance.

From paragraph 128:

The Church has a moral and spiritual obligation to nurture its nonparticipating and indifferent members and to lead them into an active church relationship. … The pastor in cooperation with the church council may arrange the membership into groups. … If a professing member residing in the community is negligent of the vows or is regularly absent from the worship of the church without valid reason, the pastor and the membership secretary shall report that member’s name to the church council, which shall do all in its power to reelist the member in the active fellowship of the church. It shall visit the member and make clear that … the member is requested to do one of four things … reaffirm the baptismal vows and return to living in the community … request transfer to another United Methodist Church … arrange transfer to a particular church of another denomination … request withdrawal.

How often do we do that?

Is your church in a “static, declining, or changing population” area? You can have your congregation request the district superintendent appoint a study task force  to “do an extensive study of the past, present, and potential ministry of the local church.” (paragraph 213)

Do you have members who will not respond to pastoral leadings and counsel to amend their behavior? Turn to paragraph 2702:

A professing member of a local church may be charged with the following offenses … immorality … crime … disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church … dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of The United Methodist Church … sexual abuse … sexual misconduct … child abuse … harassment … racial or gender discrimination … behavior that underminds the ministry of persons serving within an appointment.

I once asked about whether this paragraph had ever been invoked with regard to lay members. People thought I was nuts. But – and I’m sure some people will disagree with me – if we really believe in accountability, these parts of the Book of Discipline should not be passed over.

I’m not advocating widespread church trials. But how many of our churches actually take paragraph 128 seriously? How many of our church councils – if brought a list of names by the pastor – would take actions prescribed by our Discipline? If a member refuses pastoral counsel to desist from immorality or the spreading of doctrinal beliefs that conflict with United Methodist teaching, would we consider a judicial proceeding to remove that member?


To talk about accountability requires we consider consequences. I am not sure I am ready to do that. But it seems to me that we cannot avoid it if we really believe that membership carries with it responsibility.

And if we do not believe that and are not willing to act on it, shouldn’t we just chuck the whole idea of membership?

4 thoughts on “Are we willing to really hold people accountable?

  1. John, Within the last three years I had a situation where a person was so determined to undermine my ministry and have me removed that both the Admin Board and I considered this as a possibility. An action plan was laid out with that as the final step. Fortunately the matter was resolved before it got to that point. I have long thought that part of the problem in the UM church is or our failure to hold the membership as accountable as we clergy are held accountable for our actions.

  2. Mark,

    I rejoice that you and your board were able to handle this in exactly the manner the Discipline describes.

    I am sure it was a difficult trial for all involved.

    We do seem to have a weak sense of the meaning of membership. I thought that when I was a lay member. I am struggling with it now as a part-time pastor.

  3. John, Mark, (wow! Biblical names!)

    I am Elijah, a young Pastor but a long time member of UMC. We are a global church and a perennial, prevalent, global situation or problem is stunting our church growth. As a young pastor, i thirst to see Matthew 28:18-20 & Ephesians 4:11 & 12. In the desire to help solve this in my locality, i’ve been trying hard despite of financial difficulties, to produce a local (Filipino) Confirmation Class material, to remind if not teach our basic beliefs.

    Thanks brothers! Thank you for so many insights!

  4. Elijah,

    Thank you for stopping by and commenting. May God bless your work.

Comments are closed.