Thursday, May 17, 2012

Response to Restructure and General Conference

Joey Lopez, young adult delegate to GC and member of the restructure subcommittee  of General Adminstration legislative committee at General Conference, wrote the below post as a reflection on General Conference.

Please read it here:

Joey was responding to a letter from Andy Langford, General Conference delegate and member of Genral Administration legislative committee, which can be read here:

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Are we really empowering the voiceless, or pushing them out

(Today's post comes from Will Ed Green a seminarian, local pastor, and young adult leader in the UMC)

Several years ago, I was elected by a body of young people to serve as one of the co-chairs of the Division on Ministries with Young People (DMYP).  I want to be clear that, though I realize no one can be completely separated from the roles in which they function, the words I am writing are not written on behalf of the DMYP.  They are written from the heart of a committed and concerned United Methodist pastor and young person.  

Because of my work in the church and my presence in seminary, I have had a unique opportunity to observe the Call to Action from beginning to end.  Like the good Metho-geek (this word SHOULD be in the Merriam-Webster) I am, I have reviewed all the legislation being offered by different organizations and individuals to re-structure the church.  And, as a member of the DMYP, I have had the chance to prayerfully and critically reflect on all of these things.

The alphabet soup of the Church aside (because we certainly love our letters, i.e. DMYP of the GBOD of the UMC, etc.), the Call to Action and subsequent legislation have raised a few flags in my own reflection.  So, in an attempt to be faithful to the connection, I offer them for your consideration.

Though the theology, and I would argue the Adaptive Challenge, adopted by the Call to Action make perfect sense, it is unclear to me how those things informed the creation of the legislation being offered to the General Conference.  For instance, the Call to Action clearly emphasizes the role of connectional theology, yet the proposals were not considered by the majority of the connection.  Outside the Connectional Table and the Council of Bishops (who were not given the opportunity to discuss or debate the legislation in their meetings), the boards and agencies of our denomination, let alone conference leaders and many voices from outside the United States, went unheard.  This, to me, seems to indicate a process that was hurried and not given the necessary time (as an earlier post on this blog discusses) for people to ‘chew’ on what was being offered. 

One of the responses offered for the way the process was handled is the need for a sense of urgency in re-structuring the church.  Now, don’t get me wrong, if my alphabet soup comment wasn’t heard with sarcasm earlier, that’s how it was intended.  We have one of the most complicated and confusing structures of any denominational system I’ve studied.  Yet I’d caution us on this sense of ‘urgency’, which without careful consideration is a slightly more comfortable word for ‘anxiety.’  Truth of the matter is that when our denomination was created out of the merger of 1968, the structure was formed in back room meetings on the undersides of napkins in what was, understandably, a highly anxious atmosphere.  And we’ve been trying to clean up the mess for the last 44 years.  So tell me, how is a structure, rushed through consideration in large part due to falling global church giving and atrophying congregations, supposed to be ‘urgent’ but non-anxious?  I’d caution us, as I have my own congregation, against responding to anxious times with anxious measures lest we leave for our successors the same mess we’re trying to fix.

            Another one of the arguments I’ve heard specifically for the Call to Action is the flexibility and the adaptability it offers the church related to structure, programming, and function.  What I understand this to mean is that by not mandating certain disciplinary responsibilities, procedures, or expectations, we can be more flexible in what we do in the future. In my local church, I’m known for being more likely to ‘bend over backwards’ than stand up straight when it comes to liturgy and strategy for ministry, so I can appreciate the power that flexibility and adaptability offer.  However, I also realize after three years of ministry in a multi-cultural, multi-ethnic congregation that there’s a thin line between adaptability and marginalization.  Let me explain.  Experience teaches us that, for folk who are traditionally marginalized, there is a greater chance for marginalization when expectation, practices, and policies aren’t clearly outlined.  Example:  when expectations for diversity and representation aren’t named, groups selected for participation tend to be silenced.  Here’s a specific example from the legislation:

Page 948 of the Advance Daily Christian Advocate establishes a body called the Advisory Committee for Young People’s Ministry.  At this point, I realize I’m toeing a thin line between speaking and sounding territorial... I suppose I’ll just have to apologize.  Anyway, this body is established with no purpose or function other than annual reporting to the body called the General Council for Oversight and Strategy and the Council of Bishops.  And here’s the crazy thing, they’re given no budget for meeting, no work to accomplish (unlike current Disciplinary language for the DMYP), and no staffing.  Now, I know we live in a world of Harry Potter, but I’ve yet to discover the magic that can miraculously get 68 people (that the size of the Advisory Committee) from all over the world together for a meeting when they have no a) no budget, b) no staffing to help arrange travel, and c) have no real reason for gathering in the first place.  Was your youth group ever sent to the Church basement?  Sound familiar?  And I’ve been assured by individuals involved in writing the legislation that, under their watch, there will be no more boards, agencies, or autonomous structures created. 

My point is simply that this argument for flexibility doesn’t account or hold accountable the governance bodies of our church to ensure the diversity of age, race, experience, opinion, or age when it comes to our common work of helping create disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  

Speaking of marginalization, can we talk about our Central Conference brothers and sisters for a moment?  Now, I don’t presume to speak for anyone other than Will Green.  And I give thanks for the witness from my fellow believers in Africa.  But I am more than slightly concerned that, on the only representative body of our denomination in the Call to Action legislation, there are 21 representatives from the United States and 7 from the Central Conferences.  Certain social and theological differences aside, I think the fact that the United Methodist Church outside the United States is one of the fastest growing Christian bodies might indicate that our fellow followers from places like Africa and the Philippines, might actually have something to teach us about ministry.  

Almost finished, I promise!  And this is where I know I’m going to sound territorial.  Given the complete lack of input from young people and the argument I made in point 3, I fail to see how the Call to Action legislation legitimately empowers the church for ministry with and to youth and young people.  Does that mean our current structure has always succeeded in this arena?  Certainly not.  But what I can say is that this new structure offers, as the only intentional body for young people’s ministry, an impotent structure that has no real function and that actually lessens the impact that young people can have on a General Church level with things like Grants for Ministries with Young People, the Youth Service Fund, the Global Young People’s Convocation, or Youth 2011 (or future events).  And while it’s great that this new body doesn’t have an oversight organization that can keep it from speaking or sending legislation to the General Conference, it doesn’t even have the structure it needs (or the identified body to provide that structure) to meet.  

I share all of this not because I don’t want change to happen, and not because I have a specific alternative in mind (though I’ve thought through a couple and would love to hear what other young people are thinking we might do differently), but because I am committed to the cause of Christ and the work of the people called United Methodists.  I hope only to spur conversation.  If you’d like to have some directed conversation, feel free to comment, let me know, and I’d be glad to visit with you.   

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Leaders of Africa's United Methodist Student Movement issue clarifying statement

Available on GCORR's website is a clarification from African Student Movement leadership about their statement released in February.   The students are responding to emails and messages they received that their rejection of IOT and CTA was premature and not well thought out.  In this statement they explain their rational and thoughtfully clarify why they cannot support this proposal.

Here is an excerpt:

"So we ask you, is this not an attempt to redirect the vast resources of the church inwardly toward the church in the U.S. and to redirect the small amount of dollars that actually goes to the connectional agencies of the church, back to the U.S. church, a push to numerically increase the numbers in the church? For us as students, this appears to be counterintuitive. Reductions and eliminations of agencies that have particular and specific mandates, is not congruent with alignment.

It is simply impossible for us to believe that by redirecting $60 million USD out of $6.5 billion USD collected by the church in the U.S. each year, back toward the U.S. churches, that there will be an increase of numerical growth.

1% of the funds received by the church are invested in the connectional program agencies. That 1% is not enough but it is a start. We cannot support the logic of the CT/IOT that calls for a further reduction in funding to the agencies that do the connectional ministry of the church on the ground in Africa."

Will this realignment truly be a move that is best for the global church?  These students don't think so.

Monday, March 12, 2012

GCFA Statement on the IOT Restructure Plan

- I, Stephanie Deckard, received this report and thought it would be of interest to this blog. None of these thoughts are my own. -

A task group of members of the General Council on Finance and Administration was established to review the Interim Operations Team proposal and the legislation submitted by the Connectional Table from the perspective of the roles and responsibilities of GCFA and to make a report to the full Council. The team met in December 2011 to review the plan and then by conference call in 2012. We propose adoption of the following document as GCFA’s response to the IOT proposals.


We, the members of the General Council on Finance and Administration (GCFA) affirm the findings of the Call to Action (CTA) – and in particular the findings of the operational assessment of The United Methodist Church – and endorse that report.

The Interim Operations Team (IOT) Restructure Plan has been proposed as one way to address the findings in the CTA report. The IOT Plan was presented to the Connectional Table (CT) and the CT has proposed legislation to the 2012 General Conference to put that plan into place. The IOT plan is endorsed by the Council of Bishops (COB) as their preferred way to address the CTA.

We have reviewed the IOT plan and have four major areas of concern:


1. Budget recommendation - balance of powers

We believe certain functions of the current entity, GCFA, should continue to be independent to provide a necessary level of accountability to the whole Church. This includes episcopal funding, establishing a quadrennial budget, providing for some of the fiduciary and administrative responsibilities of the general agencies, internal auditing, and legal functions. The restructuring plan developed by the IOT gives the Council of Bishops a significant amount of additional influence at the expense of leadership by other clergy and the laity.

The General Conference has been responsible in the past for receiving a budget proposal from GCFA and prioritization of use of most of those funds from the Connectional Table. This balance of powers is critical for ensuring the budget being proposed to General Conference has been evaluated from the standpoints of the appropriate amount of funding for the operation of the general Church as well as the appropriate use of the funds made available in the general Church budget. The IOT proposal places development of the funding and use plans within a small 15-member board, with advice from the General Council for Strategy and Oversight and in consultation with the Council of Bishops. With the plan as proposed, relatively few people will be making decisions for the entire denomination in the absence of the careful modeling process undertaken for setting previous budgets. The current structure provides an independent, non-political evaluation of the amount of the budget being proposed and is an important part of the due diligence GCFA provides to General Conference. We believe loss of this modeling and review will produce budgets that are more subjective in nature and politically-driven.

2. Ascending liability - pooling of assets

The IOT plan fails to address legal liability issues as well as certain legal protections that are provided by the current structure. If all assets of the general agencies are pooled as proposed by the IOT plan, they may all be subject to common liability and, therefore, at risk for the liabilities of each other. The proposed Center of Connectional Mission and Ministry (CCMM) will be a legal entity which can be sued, and its assets may be the subject of legal proceedings to collect a court judgment. GCFA's legal department has worked diligently over the years to keep the assets of the Church separate and not subject to that shared risk. These separate, legal structures continue to be advisable in the opinion of GCFA’s legal department.

3. Internal Revenue Service tax-exempt rulings

The group tax-exemption ruling that covers United Methodist churches, agencies, conferences, and affiliates in the United States was granted in the name of GCFA in 1974. The IOT restructure plan dissolves GCFA and incorporates those functions into other offices. If GCFA is dissolved, another UMC entity will need to apply for a new group ruling. The same result would follow if GCFA was merged into another entity, with the other entity being the surviving entity. This is because the IRS group ruling letter was issued solely to GCFA.

One possible approach is to amend the corporate documents of GCFA to, in effect, make GCFA the proposed CCMM. As this would result in a material change to GCFA’s character, purposes, and methods of operation, it may have to reapply to the IRS for recognition of its own exempt status. During this reapplication period, it is unclear what the status of the group ruling would be, and whether it would be automatically reinstated in the name of the “new” GCFA.

If another entity must apply for a new group tax exemption ruling, it is important to note that in the past year, IRS officials have publically questioned whether group rulings should continue, and recently, the IRS announced that it is beginning a formal study of group rulings. While group rulings are under such scrutiny by the IRS, it is certainly reasonable to assume that it is better to already have one than be applying for one – especially when the group is as large and diverse those in the UMC Group Ruling.

In the worst case scenario, GCFA’s legal staff has advised that if our group ruling was terminated, donors would still be able to deduct charitable contributions to most of the organizations currently covered under the UMC Group Ruling. This is because, by statute, churches, certain other religious organizations, and some very small organizations with annual gross receipts not exceeding $5,000 are treated as “automatically” exempt under Internal Revenue Code, even without applying to the IRS for recognition of their exemption. But there are many organizations currently covered under the UMC Group Ruling that would not fall under any of these exceptions, and would no longer be exempt if our group ruling was terminated (unless they applied to the IRS themselves for recognition of exemption).

Moreover, the elimination of the UMC Group Ruling would negatively affect all organizations that are currently covered by it, including local churches, because it serves the important purpose of providing “proof” of exemption to donors, vendors, and local authorities, who sometimes require such proof.

4. Disconnect with the Call to Action

Most United Methodists recognize the need for re-evaluating the existing functions and structures of the general Church and making changes to better equip local churches in fulfilling their mission.

As the CTA report and its operational assessment note, The United Methodist Church must address a number of critical challenges. We must close the distance and reduce the level of mistrust at all levels of the connection. We must increase the number of vital congregations in United Methodism and redirect the flow of resources to better resource our local churches. Recognizing that resources are not unlimited, the Church must utilize emerging technologies to ensure that available resources are used responsibly. We must find better ways of addressing "low performing clergy" and there must also be some effort to deal with problems created by "toxic churches."

While establishing a new structure for the Church is critical, the new plan must clearly identify specific functions to be used in achieving the goals of the restructure. For example, it is not enough to simply provide for a structure that will "strengthen the local Church." The plan should clearly illustrate specifics as to how the local Church will be strengthened as a result of the new structure. We believe in many cases, the IOT plan has failed to adequately address many of the challenges noted in the CTA report. By concentrating primarily on questions of structure, the IOT proposal largely leaves unanswered the question of how the denomination will be functionally different in the future.

The large global constituency of The United Methodist Church requires, to some degree, a structure that is large enough to be effective and inclusive. We believe it is legitimate to raise concerns about how the new IOT structure, with its 45-member advisory board and 15-member board of directors drastically reduces clergy and laity participation in the decision making process of our denomination and to ask how this will reduce distance or mistrust between congregations, annual conferences, and the general Church. Reduction in agency size and staffing have already been proposed and, to some degree, implemented by the agencies themselves.


We believe that this IOT restructure plan fails to address many legitimate concerns relating to the work of GCFA and the legal structure of the denomination. The restructure plan will put the assets of the Church at risk and will fail to protect the Church from risk of loss if the Center of Connectional Mission and Ministry were named in a lawsuit and could imperil the non-profit status of many of our ministries.

We believe that the IOT restructure plan as proposed will not accomplish the goals defined in the CTA. It will make significant changes in structure but will not put into place clear definitions of effectiveness and ways to move toward those defined goals. The plan places the voice of all clergy and laity into the hands of a small board that is not inclusive or representative of our Church.

The Council is aware that other alternative plans for restructure will be proposed for consideration by the General Administration legislative committee of General Conference. In light of all plans and options that can be considered, we urge the delegates to the 2012 General Conference to devise a structure for our denomination that:
- provides for an independent financial and administrative agency working on behalf of the General Conference to keep the general Church effective in its ministry and accountable to the people of The United Methodist Church
- retains the separate legal structure that will protect as much as possible the assets of the Church from joint liability,
- includes plans for retaining the tax-exempt ruling for the Church in the United States,
- allows for inclusive representation in the decision-making of the Church,
- clearly addresses the finding of the Call to Action, including enhancing the vitality of our congregations, decreasing distance and mistrust at all levels of the connection, of providing a clear path forward on how to improve the effectiveness of the ministries of our general agencies.

A restructure plan that does not address these major areas of concern in full prior to implementation with complete and proper due diligence will have unintended consequence for the legal and administrative function of the Church. These unintended consequences will divert attention from the mission of the Church so that decision-makers will need to address undoing unintended negative results instead of proactive work in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Change may threaten vibrancy of the Church and silence our youth.

(This is a repost of a comment Albert Longe, President of the Africa UMSM placed on this blog)

I wouldn't want to respond in an official capacity of the Africa United Methodist Student Movement that i lead, but i would offer my personal reflections on the Call to Action Proposal and why we find it so fit to reject it.

The development of the Call to Action proposal has been limited to certain individuals and was not inclusive of the views of different people in the church, different in terms of age group, ethnicity and regional groupings. The circusmtances surrounding the present state of the church differ in these communities and that should be taken into consideration. For example, in Africa there are clear challenges that the call to action fails to be considerate of, the membership of the church in Africa is high and increasing whilst the representation of the continent in decision making positions of the church is being reduced. If indeed the Call to Action proposal is passed, the next question is how many years will it take for a country or annual conference to be represented in the church's administration when some central conferences have about 6 countries.

The call to action indeed threatens the participation of young people in the church. This comes out of the understanding that most of the young adults are out of the church but how then do we ensure that these youths are taking an active role in the church when they aren't included in the administration of the church. How do we develop vibrant congregations in the absence of the youths?

A clear picture even from the Connectional Table shows that the members share different views when it comes to the proposal, with some being totally against it.

The restructuring exercise of the church is a business model and i would call it a wall street think on rebranding of companies for the sake of maximising profits. It has to be appreciated that the church is indeed a fellowship of believers and we shouldn't lose focus that the UMC tradition is that of a movement and not an institution or company. Restructuring and new systems obviously interprets a refocus on priorities and one will have to appreciate that some of the agencies are doing amazing work in promoting leadership development through programs that include the youths. If the voices of the youths are silenced then who will lead the church when the present generation in leadership passes on.

We don't reject the need for change but what i mean is that change should come in a way that does not threaten vibrancy of the church and its sustainability plans which mainly lies with the presence and participation of the youths.

The agencies have develop new ways of cutting down the expenses involved whilst maintaing key programs and activities that is moving the church ahead. Indeed most agencies plan to cut down their board of directors membership whilst ensuring that there exist a balanced representation. Well the financial aspect matters but how expensive is it to maintain these agencies when only 1 cent out of every 1 US Dollars given to church goes there?

If we are to accept the call to Action, are we not surrendering the fate of the church to a few individuals presumed to be competent? How certain are we that the new formula will yield good results of creating vital congregations when evangelism seems not be a major focus?

I could say more but even the recent formula of qualifying or assessing vital congregations seem not to be clear and satisfactory. I hope we reflect along the lines of having everyone on board and ensuring that we create and enhance the sustainability plan of the church without hindering critical programs.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

General Commission on Religion and Race Provides Forum for Central Conference Student Voices

(This is a repost for GCORR's blog about GC. It was written by young adult General Secretary Erin Hawkins)

The General Commission on Religion and Race of the United Methodist Church (GCORR) seeks to move the Church from racism to relationships through its mandates to ensure racial equity, access and participation of all persons in the ministry of the Church, at every level of the Church.

In a letter released February 23, 2012, the Africa United Methodist Student Movement (UMSM) shared with GCORR that “study, prayer, reflection and consideration of the proposal of the Connectional Table on the restructuring of the United Methodist Church” led them to “respond in rejection of the proposal as it fails to be considerate of the needs and circumstances of the African church” and  “undermines the role of youths and alienates youths from the governance and administration of the church which is a threat to total inclusion.”

The students, representing nine different African nations, are not delegates to General Conference 2012 but were elected to speak on behalf of students in Africa.

The students support the goal of creating vital churches but believe that to achieve this goal the Church is best served by developing new strategies for evangelism and expansion of the ministry of Christ rather than focusing on structural or administrative changes.

Africa UMSM President Albert Longe urges delegates to listen to the voices of students, “This is time when the church leaders should open their eyes and ears more widely to the voices of the upcoming generation of leaders who would inherit and direct the church to the building of vital congregations and making of disciples of Christ across the world, and this is what taking place in Africa presently, it needs to be harnessed and nurtured.”

As The United Methodist Church approaches General Conference 2012, GCORR calls the Church to examine how racism, ageism, and cultural exclusion exist and harm the body of Christ.
Erin Hawkins, General Secretary for GCORR states that “GCORR is concerned with equity and access and are in fact mandated by The Church to call attention to systems and situations where that is limited. For the Church to grow and thrive, the voices of people who have not had access or equity must be at the center rather than the margins of institutional change.”

The letter comes at a time when other important leaders and groups within the Church are formally expressing their responses to the Call To Action and the IOT proposal including active and retired Bishops as well as racial ethnic caucus groups.  GCORR has also published a response from the students addressing questions raised from their initial statement.  The original letter and students’ response to questions are located at

GCORR will continue to provide a forum for all voices leading into General Conference on issues of great importance to the future of the Church and its ability to remain relevant in an ever-changing global community. In the words of Albert Longe, “I believe that GCORR helps bring all people together and The Commission will play a vital role in increasing the voice of the voiceless multitudes of people that have productive and progressive ideas to offer for the advancement of the church and its mission on earth.”

The African United Methodist Student Movement letter and other viewpoints on the proposals put forth for General Conference 2012, including letters from Bishop CarcaƱo, Bishop Ken Carder and  interviews with key stakeholders including Bishop Palmer, young delegates and Central Conference leaders, can be accessed on the GCORR General Conference 2012 website at

Check out the original post here:

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

We need to be willing to die that we may have new life.

(Today's post comes from Brandon Lazarus)

Two weeks ago I had the privilege of speaking at and attending the inaugural RelevanceLEAD conference in Las Vegas. At the conference, 100 young adult clergy and lay leaders came together to discuss exciting ways of doing ministry in the United Methodist Church. One of the presentations that stuck with me the most was a conversation with Andy Mattick and James Kang. They came from two different angles on what is in store for the future of the UMC. Andy is the pastor of a larger traditional church while James is working in a new emergent ministry. They both were hopeful about the future but had very different visions.

James started the discussion off by saying that the UMC is not finished, but it is done. Sure he was going for the shock factor but the more I think about the more I realize that he is right. I would take it even a step further and say that the UMC is not only done, but dead. Others say that it is dying, but I think it is already dead. The Call to Action is a movement about reviving the church. The CTA has new initiatives, new programs, new titles, new positions, and a new structure. The CTA wants to take the boards and streamlined them so that they can be more efficient and more effective.  The CTA is a call to a revival to help keep the UMC from dying.

Looking at the church as dying is dangerous. Seeking to keep merely it from dying, in my opinion, is even more dangerous. Rather than be in denial and claim that we need to revive the church, we need to bury it. We need to bury the church because it is only in death that we can have what we truly need. We need the Holy Spirit to resurrect us from the dead. I no longer think the revival is what the UMC needs but a resurrection. A resurrection in which the old will pass away and the new will come.

I am not saying that we will become a different denomination or adopt a different name. I am not saying we should throw out the Book of Discipline and start from scratch. What I am saying is that we need to put down the defibrillator and pray for the Holy Spirit. We need to stop getting in the way of the Holy Spirit and let her do her thing.

Jesus says that whoever wants to save their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for his sake and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. I could talk about the parts of the CTA that I like and the parts that I do not like but there is a question that is far more important. Is the CTA about saving the church or is the CTA about losing the church for the sake of Jesus Christ and the gospel? If you believe that part or all of CTA is about losing our lives and the church’s life for a new life in Christ then you should be in favor. However, if the CTA seems to be an act to save the church then perhaps we need some more discernment and soul searching.

If we are not willing to let the UMC die, then we are not willing to let it live. In this time of preparation for Holy Conferencing we need to make sure that our discernment process is not about what we can do to save the UMC, but what we can do in order to give up our own lives, and the life of the United Methodist Church so that both us as individuals and us as a church may have new life.

So what can this new life look like? In the fellowship hall of University United Methodist in Las Vegas, James proposed that we begin to break away from traditional forms of ministry and create more “non-church ministries” that have a leadership that is more flat and interact with the world outside of traditional church outlets. Andy said traditional churches do not need to be abandoned but rather need to focus on empowering discipleship. I left their conversation with a realization that it is not an either/or but a both/and. There are a lot of new and exciting forms of ministry that when we look at them under a microscope we learn that they have their DNA rooted in Wesleyan heritage. Ministries such as New Monasticism and Emergent House Churches are closely related to the classes and bands that were foundational in Methodism. I do not think that we need to abandon what we have but we need to find ways for the two to work together. We need to be willing to die that we may have new life.  

MDiv Student at Perkins School of Theology
Candidate for Elder in the South Carolina Annual Conference