What happened in Utah?

When I was a boy there were topics of conversation that came up that my parents thought I was not ready for – or had no business being a part of. They would handle this one of two ways.

1) They would tell me its none of my business

2) They would talk around the issue and say a lot of stuff that when I thought about it more did not really tell me anything.

Option two is a bit how I feel reading Adam Hamilton’s report on the gathering of large church pastors and bishops in Utah a few weeks ago. Indeed, his commentary says very little that I could not get by reading the agenda.

The only exception to that is the conclusions reached about whether John Wesley would use remote video. If I told you that 40 percent of the large church pastors already do this can you guess what answer the group came up with?

Other than this tidbit confirming what is already a hot trend among the largest of UMC churches, we get nothing about the specific ideas or conversations that took place. We learn about some interesting topics and questions, but nothing about the conversations around those topics and questions.

And – maybe this is the old journalist in me or perhaps the frustrated 10-year-old child – but I can’t help but wonder why people who are so good at projecting visions and taking bold actions and selling ideas are so quiet about what was actually said during the meetings.

I understand that the meeting was not designed to generate a report or a specific set of actions, but I assume a third-party observer might have drawn a few conclusions about the major thrust of the conversations and the issues that came up that attracted the most passion.

Maybe the only hot-button conversation was over Wesley’s view of remote video congregations. I’m guessing more than that came up, though. Until my 37-member church grows quite a bit, I guess I won’t know.

9 thoughts on “What happened in Utah?

  1. I guess we are not part of the club John. This is just a part of a change I feel coming from the UMC leaders. The small membership churches will be phased out over the next twenty or so years and a consolidation will occur to suburban or county seat churches. This is already occurring. There are very few, if any, resources for small membership churches. The money is spent for the benefit of the medium and large membership churches, i.e 100+ attendance.

    I like Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter and I appreciate their contribution to the Church. However, the fact that they have remained at these same churches for 10+ years is really unMethodist. I wonder how CoR would respond if Adam Hamilton was moved by itinerancy.

  2. I am reminded of the Congress on Evangelism a couple of years back. Mike Slaughter was leading one of the main workshops on the first day. When we came to the Q&A session, he was asked by the pastor of a small church for advice on how he could adapt Slaughter’s topic to his situation. Slaughter replied “I have no idea.” I’m afraid that few of the ideas generated at such a session could translate to the rest of the church.

    Perhaps if we would just give up on the immediate focus on institutional survival and just go out into our communities, sharing God’s love with everyone that we meet then if the UMC dies out, at least we’ll go out doing what Christ commanded us to do.

    1. yeah, I’m kind of done caring about institutional survival. I mean, I like institutions. They do really good things. But I’m not sure Jesus cares too much about the institution. And I’m a small town pastor – well, technically a county seat pastor… but in a county seat that isn’t the largest city in the county. I’m going to work on doing what Jesus wants me to do… and we’ll see where the rest falls out later.

  3. Katie and Wayne,

    I understand exactly where you are coming from about institutions, but I wonder what does that mean for our apportionment responsibilities? I understand the Connection and all that. However, I don’t know about your situation, but Apportionment payments are a significant part of our budget and in the Tennessee Conference it is a small churches who are the most faithful in Apportionment giving and yet I feel sometimes that we get the least from it.

    1. maybe I want to restate what I said. I actually think the connectional system is one of the greatest strengths of Methodism. The fact that it allows us to be in ministry all around the world is awesome. My church does pay its apportionments fully, and while I know those dollars aren’t always used faithfully all of the time, I think that what we do through them is important and does matter. And I’m on our conference ministry council, so I see it from both sides.

      I guess what I meant is that if God chooses to work outside of the institution – I’m not going to stop it. We can try to be faithful – and if we are faithful and God continues to use us in that way – awesome. But if God wants to do something different, if the institution is no longer meeting the needs of the people, then I’m not going to worry about it.

      Maybe that’s a paradoxical statement. But I never said I had my head screwed on straight =)

  4. My problem with the “let the church die” attitude is that it runs counter to the vows of ordination. It’s the same problem I get into when ministers say they don’t care about UM doctrine.

    1. I think I’m trying to say – let the church be faithful to God… and if being faithful to God in this community and in this place (and in this world) means that our membership might decline as we are doing faithful ministry and spreading the word of God – then so be it.

      After all, aren’t we called to make disciples, and not make members? Our apportionment giving even changed so that it is based on resources and giving, rather than a per capita figure. And I have a number of faithful folks in my church that have no interest whatsoever of joining the institutional church through the vows of membership. They are there every sunday, participate in studies, are growing in discipleship and outreaching to others… but they will not “join” the church. I’m not sure what to do about that, except keep encouraging them on the journey and being in ministry with them.

    2. Believe me when I say that my attitude is anything but “let the church die. However, I do believe that this focus on growing membership as being the highest goal is greatly missing the point. I firmly believe that if we go about the business of “making disciples of Jesus Christ” by sharing the love of Christ with everyone that the world will be transformed and the numbers will eventually take care of themselves.

  5. but I can’t help but wonder why people who are so good at projecting visions and taking bold actions and selling ideas are so quiet about what was actually said during the meetings.

    You know my answer.

    Because there isn’t actually a magic bullet or technique for growing large churches. I think we can do a lot to prevent churches from growing but I don’t think that there is any one formula for growing them and I think a lot of it is about “like attracts like”.

    But everyone believes the meme that if the Holy Spirit is in it, then churches will grow. And the church evaluates ministers in that way. And if they admitted all that was the case, then they might have to admit that they were good pastors who had good luck instead of phenomenonal pastors uniquely blessed by God in a way that most others aren’t.

    If this sounds like sour grapes, it’s honestly not meant to. It’s what I believe to be the truth of the situation.

Comments are closed.