Prior to General Conference 2012 (GC2012), I was hopeful that the conference would make a lot of headway toward helping local churches be more effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Sadly, that did not happen!
Bishop Scott Jones tweeted a summary of General Conference: “death throes of a dying 1970’s establishment church, birth pangs of a missional global 21st century church. It is messy.”
Bishop Mike Coyner described GC2012 as the “do nothing” General Conference. He tweeted that General Conference “tinkered with structure, Discipline same on most subjects, same $603 m proposed budget” (and that was before the Judicial Council ruled the restructuring plan unconstitutional, eliminating most of the “tinkering” that was done, in the first place).
After Plan UMC was ruled out, general conference delegates scrambled to reduce the size of the boards of the general agencies. But that doesn’t address the real problems and needs related to focus and alignment.
While I did not see the Call to Action as the whole answer to the transformation of the UMC, I believed it (or some perfected version of it) would be a good way for the general conference to take bold action. I knew renewal and transformation wasn’t likely to happen top/down, but I thought General Conference could, at least, help the process along. Now, I am less convinced that General Conference will do much to help the renewal and transformation of the UMC!
I realize that sounds a little despairing, but it may actually be a good thing. My commitment to being part of the renewal/transformational process at the grassroots level has gone up in the process. If there’s going to be widespread transformation in the UMC, it’s going to happen at the grassroots level, not at General Conference!
Bishop Jones blogged yesterday about General Conference as Revival. He stated …
I have supported the Call to Action. At every point, the leaders of that effort have been clear. General Conference’s actions can help us focus on our resources on increasing the number of vital congregations. But the most important steps we can take for this effort are not legislative. They are changed behaviors by bishops, District Superintendents, pastors, lay leaders and individual United Methodists. Thus, the revival aspect of General Conference will change hearts and minds and further our progress to the church we need to be in the future.
While Bishop Jones is specifically referring to the revival experience of worship at general conference, the point is, our legislation and our mission must be shaped by revival (wherever it happens)!
I enjoyed following General Conference via the internet and Twitter. However, one of the challenges with the increased connectivity is the messiness of “holy conferencing” becomes more visible. But that’s a good thing because it stirs passion among those who participate in the renewal and transformation of the UMC!
Where do we go from here?
I hope we can find a way forward to streamline the structure and bring greater missional focus and alignment in 2016. However, while streamlining will help the denomination be more effective, it won’t ultimately bring transformation and renewal. The way forward always begins by returning—to God, to our theological roots, and to a passion and commitment to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!
That’s more likely to happen at the grassroots level than at General Conference!