On Wednesday night at General Conference, Rev. Adam Hamilton presented the Interim Operations Team/Call to Action Report. During the report, Hamilton, other speakers, and a series of videos laid out a dire and desperate situation for the UMC. The message: accept the IOT recommendations to restructure the UMC or die. Many believe, however, that there are alternatives to the IOT recommendations, such as those supporting “Plan B,” and others who are supporting a plan set forth by MFSA. Plans range from a drastically different restructuring of the UMC (CTA) to a closer preserving of the current structure (MFSA).
I’ve been observing the General Administration legislative committee where these proposals are being discussed and debated. As information has been put forth over the last year on these proposals, many in the UMC have voiced a number of concerns. For the sake of simplicity, I will only address the IOT/CTA recommendations, as they were the original ones and the ones that Plan B and MFSA were developed in reaction to. My concerns relate primarily with CTA’s failure to properly address the issue of reaching younger generations for The UMC. They are:
How does CTA address young adults who are statistically not interested in attractional church models? How does it address missional and non-traditional ministries? How do metrics measure those?
Who will determine how youth/young adult investment money will be spent? Can a group/task force of youth and young adult clergy/laity be appointed to best determine how to use allocated funds for their demographic’s leadership development? Currently youth/young adults are lumped onto the same committee. Can this be divided into two committees? Would campus ministry fit under this committee?
It seems that CTA has no interest in campus ministry. How do campus ministries fit under the CTA? Will CTA encourage a shift away from independent Wesley Foundation’s and toward local church based campus ministries?
How does CTA make room for creative ideas and innovation and room for failure in trying new ministries?
How does one “super agency” keep our church from being too narrowly focused?
After the IOT report the other night, some of my colleagues and I expressed these concerns to one another. We had also been following the #gc2012 Twitter feed and noticed many young clergy and laity were skeptical towards the report. As I was walking through the Tampa Convention Center lobby with two colleagues, we found Rev. Hamilton standing there talking with a member of his COR staff. I seized (errr… was pushed by Alissa Bertsch Johnson) the opportunity to meet Rev. Hamilton and ask him if he would be willing to listen to some of our concerns regarding CTA. Rev. Hamilton was extremely friendly and gracious yet indicated he needed to get to another meeting. However, he would be happy to talk with us the next day. Following this brief conversation I tweeted my appreciation for Rev. Hamilton and noted that he had agreed to meet with young adults to discuss concerns. The next morning Rev. Hamilton tweeted that he would be taking questions from young adults, regarding the CTA report, during lunch time. We were excited to see that Rev. Hamilton wanted to address concerns in a very public way that would include a number of voices and perspectives participating in the dialogue.
At 12:40 p.m. a number of young adults (I didn’t count but some report that 100-120 were present) gathered in the bleachers in the main hall of the convention center. Rev. Hamilton took questions for about forty minutes and answered each one. During this time, a number of my concerns were brought up, in addition to concerns over legal issues, diversity and inclusiveness, and concerns over who helped to draft the CtA report and what groups and demographics were consulted during its creation.
You can read a story about the conversation here: “Young Methodists React to Call to Action” and you can watch the video below.
From my perspective, it seemed that Rev. Hamilton conceded that very few young adults (possibly the two or three who served on the report’s design team) were consulted during CTA’s creation. He noted that this was because there was simply not enough time to solicit feedback from various groups about the proposal.
Many of Rev. Hamilton’s responses concerning the lack of various items in the CTA (youth and young adults, elimination of boards and agencies, missional ministries, campus ministry, and central conferences) hit on a similar note, namely that the IOT was charged primarily with addressing the decline in membership and the strengthening of “vital” congregations. Rev. Hamilton’s phrase was “this is not a silver bullet.”
Between our conversation with Rev. Hamilton and my observation of the information presented by IOT, I was able to hear their response to some of these concerns.
In response to concerns expressed by Central Conference delegates the IOT shared that the research that led to their report was overwhelmingly focused on the United States. The reason for this, apparently, is because our Central Conferences are booming, however, our US congregations are “sick” and the IOT report aimed to address the “sick” member of the body of The UMC.
Regarding the concern over a diverse make-up of new boards, executive and leadership teams, it was noted that the goal in making up these groups is to focus on building them based on experts who can help make our denomination be more “nimble” and flexible in decision making and resource management, especially in-between General Conferences.
Many of these responses suggested that we need to be running the UMC like a local congregation or even a mega-church.
Rev. Hamilton also indicated that our concerns over missional ministries and campus ministry would be addressed once the CTA proposal was passed. He indicated that there was just not enough time to include detailed information and that a more strategic direction would be developed under the new “super agency” that would be created.
In my opinion, If strengthening ministry with young people is one of the focus areas, then it is a topic that should absolutely be addressed in greater detail and with more young voices involved in its creation and implementation.
If our church is dying in part because of our inability to reach young people and because we are on the cusp of a clergy crisis and are in need of additional young clergy, then CTA should absolutely address the need for new creative and innovative ministries that will reach a generation not interested in even stepping foot onto our local church properties.
Also, if we are a global church and if this restructuring aims to reorganize the entire church then global voices and the future of the global church should have been taken into account in the IOT recommendations.
The CTA has the right idea and I affirm some of its recommendations, specifically around revitalizing local congregations, giving greater freedoms to annual conferences to do contextual ministry, and investing in youth, young adults, and young clergy. However, the rhetoric and reasoning behind CTA is so focused on the local congregation that I fear this focus will dominate our restructuring efforts, and while not mandating, will heavily influence the way annual conferences strategize for the future. I worry time, focus, and resources will go disproportionately to strengthening local congregations while campus ministries, new forms of ministries designed to reach the millennial generation, and other non-local church based ministries (present or future) will be weakened, ignored, or removed entirely as we pull in tighter to local churches.
Rev. Hamilton believes, however, that strengthening local congregations will essentially have a trickle down effect (my use of the phrase) on the demographic and forms of ministry I am concerned about. Essentially, he argues, if we strengthen local churches, our members will themselves become more missional and will lead more people to our congregations.
I have used Rev. Hamilton’s name a lot in this post. My intention is not to criticize him as a person or to disrespect the amazing work he has done in his role as lead pastor at Church of the Resurrection. He is an important leader and voice in our denomination. However, as I have seen here, folks can often be “star struck” with Rev. Hamilton. I am referring to him here in his role as a member of the IOT, specifically as the lead presenter of the IOT report, and not in his role as a pastor. I cannot thank him enough for his hard work and leadership during this process and for his willingness to listen to and respond to concerns from young adult United Methodists. He is a class act and we have much to learn from his example.
Finally, I believe the fatal flaw with the CTA that led to its (by a 2-1 margin) rejection in committee was due to groupthink. The endorsement of the proposal came primarily from The Council of Bishops and pastors of large UMC’s. It was largely opposed by the general boards and agencies, young adults, campus ministers, and many more. It seems to me that CTA was rejected because the COB and the IOT failed to open the legislation up to debate and criticism and because they failed to make the case that CTA was good for everyone else. They created solutions to our many problems and said “trust us, we know what we are doing.” I’ve tried that a few times with my congregants and with my superiors and it has never worked. They have always made me go back and do my homework: provide all the facts, answer all the questions, and provide as many details as possible. It was my responsibility to alleviate concerns and provide a clear path forward. The CTA failed because “trust us” was an inadequate reason for passing this proposal.
Those who support CTA are right, we cannot do nothing. However, whatever it is that we must do must maintain a structure of shared power that includes all the voices at the table and provides a way forward that will help us reach new generations who have no interest in institutionalized religion. We must move forward with a plan that streamlines our church but does so using incentives and a vision of hope in Jesus Christ, not solely based on metrics and quotas, and certainly not based on fear.
I don’t know what will happen over the next few days at General Conference, but I do hope that we don’t just do something for the sake of doing something. I hope we do the right thing. I hope we move forward to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world inspired by love, hope, and resurrection.
Since I first began preparing this post, the General Administration committee voted to substitute the CTA motion with what is known as the ”Plan B” or “Plan UMC” proposal. Plan B/UMC is currently being “perfected” by a sub-committee and will be brought before the full committee for debate. However, petition writers will oftentimes adopt a “minority report,” which, if it gets the requisite number of signatures can be presented to the body of the General Conference and considered for debate and adoption. It is fully expected that CTA will be brought back to the floor of the General Conference as a minority report. This will give the body a choice between the final form of Plan B/UMC, or the CTA minority report. The body could vote one proposal down and adopt the other, but probably not without one or more amendments. The body could also vote both proposals down. A post addressing the pros and cons of Plan B/UMC is forthcoming.