Thursday, October 31, 2013

What If We Were Serious About Being Connectional?

Or, the sad truth about consumerism and The United Methodist Church

            The past few weeks (thanks to two incredible young adults who are in leadership in our congregations) the church I serve and another local congregation have intentionally partnered on a couple of projects and it has been amazing. The combining of resources and volunteer power has allowed both events to be better. We have made a decision to strive to be truly connectional instead of competitive. When churches compete, everybody loses. Competition feeds into the
consumerist nature that has become part of the culture. There is the feeling that we have to keep up with the Jones’ church. If we were really serious about being a connectional church we would intentionally connect and act as a single body of Christ to bring about the Kingdom of God in our community. I think it is time that in one town, city, or rural area all of the United Methodist Churches actually decide to be “one body.” They need to strategically combine pastoral leadership, staffing, and resources to maximize their impact. Rather than having three or four congregations struggling with pastoral compensation, missional responsibilities, leadership deficits and financial issues, one large congregation, meeting at different locations around the community, could provide worship options, mission impact, and demonstrate a willingness to actually be “the body of Christ redeemed for the sake of the world.”

            What if three to five congregations combined resources to provide pastoral leadership for the entire city? Two or three pastors could serve three to five churches, providing preaching, pastoral care, and leadership expertise as a team far better than they could separately. Each pastor would be better rested, able to actually take a Sabbath because there would always be two others on call. This would decrease burnout and extend the tenure and consistency of pastoral leadership for the community. The gross percentage of resources dedicated for pastoral leadership for each worshipping community could drop to less than 50% with the goal being around 30% of annual budget allowing for funding additional support and ministry staff. A collaborative team would be deployed to serve the whole city, rather than just a small section or neighborhood. It is time to be connectional and quit being competitive.

            Imagine what would happen if a significant portion of the newly released funds previously used to pay a pastor could be missionally invested into the community? Children could be fed, ministries started to address homelessness and unemployment. The financial resources could be combined with the new critical mass of lay ministers to be released into the community to act as agents of change, rather than simply spending those volunteer hours keeping the struggling church ministries going. The congregation with a strong men’s organization could champion men’s ministry, a children’s ministry team could be deployed to bring Christ to the next generation of disciples. Youth ministry could expand and increase its impact across the school system. Mission impact, if lead by the new pastoral team effectively, could multiply the voice of the gospel in the community. It is time to be connectional and quit being competitive.

            Perhaps the single greatest outcome is that the unity of the congregations in the city would be a prophetic witness to the entire community. It would show that the desire to do good and bear witness to the gospel far outweighs the cultural pressure be competitive within the United Methodist Church. Isn’t that why United Methodist Churches were previously divided in to “parishes?” It was to serve a distinct geographic area for Kingdom reasons. It is time to rethink church, as we so often say around the good old UMC. This time we will reclaim our heritage to be connectional. We will unify resources, consolidate leadership, deploy clergy and lay ministers for the sole purpose of sharing the gospel to the city or community we are appointed to serve. It is time to be connectional and quit being competitive.

            I know that what I am suggesting is radical, but it is time for a radical new direction for the United Methodist Church. It is time for us to think like a team, instead of like competitors. It is time that we live out the connection we talk about. I am ready to live the connection. Are you? What do you think? Is it possible? Is it practical? Is there a city or community that is willing to say that on this day we will do everything we can do to share the gospel, and give up simply consuming religious products? I remain:

Consumed by the Call,

Dr. Marty Cauley

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