I have heard all kinds of frustration within the blogosphere, twitter, and Facebook expressed at the United Methodist Church. It began during General Conference. There, nothing of consequence seemed to happen except further division. The angst, of course, was around human sexuality and the church's stance. No matter what side you were on, you were not happy.
Oh, there was one thing of major import for clergy. Guaranteed appointment was eliminated. This shook the core of some of our clergy as they felt betrayed by the body they have spent their lives serving. Remember, if clergy is ineffective, we CAN remove them and will be able to remove them. So what was that vote really about? It doesn't matter what it was about since the decision was struck down by the judicial council. The one major decision made at General Conference is gone.
And recently, Bishop Bledsoe was deemed unfit to serve as a Bishop and removed. Then the judicial council reinstated him. They reinstated him on the basis that a fair process with appropriate time tables was not followed. Fair enough. But it brought out the latest round of bemoaning the fate of the UMC. "Will we ever change? Our structure must change or our church will die! What will become of us? The judicial council is just a bunch of people with their heads in the clouds!"
We have everything we need to create change and to grow our church-if that is Christ's desire. We have Holy Scripture telling the greatest story of the redemption of the world. We have tradition founded in a compassionate man who was not afraid to go to the people where they were in John Wesley. We have the leading of the Holy Spirit. And we have our brains that help us to put it together and find a new way.
A couple points.
John Wesley went and preached at 5:00 in the morning to the workers on the street. He went to where people were and where he was needed. He didn't wait for people to come to him nor did he demand that they enter a church building. He also advocated for reform of unjust systems such as slavery. And he visited the sick, the hungry, and the imprisoned. In fact, his first book was a book of medicine (it is hilarious, by the way.) If each church knew who they were called to serve in a hurting world and went and served them, it would be a huge step forward. I would suggest that the PACNW may be called to serve the LGBTQIA community in a way many do not and refuse to understand. So what is your church's calling to serve outside the walls of your building? What is your call to serve in the greater world? What injustice are you being called to combat? And if anybody answers, "the injustice of taxes," I will scream.
Reasonably, do we need structural change to be a success? What is success? Success would be creating disciples of Christ, no? Maybe the first step is ensuring our congregations are filled with disciples. Disciples are people who live and love like Jesus. Start there. That takes NO structural change. Then go into the world and start creating disciples by being Christ's hands and feet through service and love. Love is enough to convert the world. Start dropping seeds and let them sprout. You do not need to be responsible for the harvest. But get out and drop seeds! That takes NO structural change. Create an environment of radical hospitality within the church walls. Make sure it is a safe place for people to explore their deepest desires and fears. Even though you may have the answer for you, know that it is not a universal answer. Allow others to come to their answer. Stand in our common ground and let the other stuff go. Is it really essential to faith? Ask that question before you pass judgment. That takes NO structural change.
And a note about differences. Are you aware that the Book of Discipline, the rules of the UMC, has both the Articles of Religion of the Methodist Church AND the Confession of Faith of the Evangelical United Brethren Church? From the beginning, in 1968, we have been sitting in difference. Remember that difference is ok.
And one more point. If you are in a geography that has a contracting population, yes, you probably cannot avoid decline. Figure out how to do so with grace. One of the most poignant stories I have heard is of a church that voted to close before they used up every single dime. They decided they would create an endowment for seminary students rather than to fight against the writing on the wall. That is gracious.
Would structural change be nice? Sure. But it is NOT what is needed to grow the church and to grow in our discipleship. Shoot, how well off financially would we be if everybody who was IN our churches tithed?
We do have the tools we need. We have just left them on the floor.