I posted on Facebook recently about the need for some old-fashioned peer pressure and support to improve my eating habits. That let to a bunch of helpful comments and some private invitations to join in with others in an accountability group.
As I read these comments on my Facebook page, I thought instantly about spiritual matters. Methodism grew out of such a group. The original Holy Club at Oxford was little more than a group of spiritual seekers gathered to support each other and hold each other accountable. As Methodism became a movement, it fostered such groups across Great Britain and North America. It understood the basic truth that we need other people and external structure to help us overcome our bad habits. Our own holiness grows best side-by-side with others seeking the same holiness.
And yet in so many of our churches we think that one hour of worship a week is all the spiritual effort needed to work out our salvation.
How crazy is that?
The United Methodist Reporter has an interesting look at ongoing work to revise the administrative law in the Book of Discipline to reflect the global nature of the church.
At the end of the story, Bishop Patrick Streiff touched on what strikes me as a key goal:
Streiff hopes that one outcome of the committee’s years of work will be a more stable Book of Discipline that will invite fewer legislative revisions each General Conference.
“If we are right about the essentials,” he said, “they do not need to be changed every four years.”
The unspoken word here is “trust.” The reason why the Discipline keeps growing in length and complexity every four years has to do with trust. It is when we do not trust the structures that in place to oversee the denomination that we spawn more and more rules to try and force behaviors we want.
Worried that the church will not pay enough attention to diversity? Write rules about board membership to ensure it happens. Worried that the boards of ordained ministry will not do their jobs? Put in hard and fast rules about who cannot be ordained. Worried that bishops will run rough shod over clergy? Write rules that restrict bishop’s powers and expand clergy rights.
Rules rush to fill the vacuum created by an absence of trust.
As we all know, of course, trust cannot be decreed. It is the by-product of experience.
Good News shared this story about Mt. Bethel UMC, a huge United Methodist congregation in North Georgia, voting to withhold apportionments:
One of the largest congregations in The United Methodist Church withheld over $200,000 of its apportionments in 2014 in response to what it believes to be “wholly unsatisfactory” inaction on the part of the Council of Bishops to recent controversies within the denomination. The congregation will make no further payments in 2015 without the explicit approval of the church’s administrative council.
The story says the church will not pay apportionments in 2015 unless the Council of Bishops responds satisfactorily to a statement issued by a group of United Methodists pastors and other leaders last summer.
It will be interesting to see how North Georgia Bishop Michael Watson responds.
Tom Lambrecht has written a series of posts in response to the resolution of the complaint against retired bishop Melvin Talbert. Here are links to Lambrecht’s posts: 1, 2, 3.
Near the end of the third post, he writes this:
The supreme law of the church is no longer the Discipline or General Conference; it is individual conscience. Personal judgment is now the ultimate arbiter of our faith and practice. We are no longer a connectional church, nor even a congregational one, but an individualistic one. Every person is now clamoring to do “what is right in his/her own eyes.”
I wonder what would happen if the Council of Bishops got together like a group of Thomas Jeffersons with razor blades and cut out of the Book of Discipline every line and paragraph that they would be unwilling to enforce or insist upon.
I wonder what the resulting book would look like.
I wonder if it would not be a more honest and more effective book than the one we have.
My bishop e-mailed our conference this statement coming out of the Council of Bishop’s meeting.
As bishops of The United Methodist Church, our hearts break because of the divisions that exist within the church. We have been in constant prayer and conversation and affirm our consecration vow “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” We recognize that we are one church in a variety of contexts around the world and that bishops and the church are not of one mind about human sexuality. Despite our differences, we are united in our commitment to be in ministry for and with all people. We are also united in our resolve to lead the church together to fulfill its mandate—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As we do so, we call on all United Methodists to pray for us and for one another.
From Patrick Lencioni’s book The Advantage:
Some people find this extreme emphasis on results to be a little cold and uninspiring. But there is no getting around the fact that the only measure of a great team — or a great organization — is whether it accomplishes what it sets out to accomplish. … See, no matter how good a leadership team feels about itself, and how noble its mission might be, if the organization it leads rarely achieves its goals, then, by definition, it’s simply not a good team.
When I read this, I detect a couple problems for the United Methodist Church.
First, I’m not sure most local churches or our denomination as a whole can state what it is that we are setting out to accomplish. We have things we say, but I’m not convinced we say it with the kind of clarity we need to actually judge our own accomplishments.
John Wesley said some vague things, too. You could argue “spread Scriptural holiness across the land” is not terribly specific. But he did flesh this out with quite a bit of detail in theory and in practice. Among his more specific statements was the word to his preachers that they have nothing to do but to save souls.
What are we trying to accomplish?
The second thing that emerges for me as I read this is discomfort. I want to wriggle away from what Lencioni is saying. I want to come up with a reason to deny what he claims. I don’t want to agree when he says a team that fails to achieve its goals is not a good organization or lead by a good team.
I want to avoid this because agreeing with him calls for action.