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May 10, 2010

Comments

Rick Miller

For the sake of all who attend and believe in the vision of GCC, I hope, and truly believe you are the "John" in the situation presented above. Your passion, for people, through Christ, not only helps to fill seats, but it keeps them coming back as well. Now, there's no doubt the financial health of any organization is vital to its success, but as John pointed out, if the church's main focus is on anything but bringing others to Christ, there won't be many around to pay the bills.

From a personal standpoint, God led me to GCC shortly after giving my life back to Christ. With the genuiness of the message, vision of its leaders, and passion to change hearts for Christ, I have not only grown in my own walk with Christ, but have seen a profound affect in others who have made it their home as well.

Please don't lose the focus.

Andrew Conard

Mark - While John is partially right, he is also partially wrong. The argument that he brings forward uses hyperbole in ways that I do not believe are helpful. However, it certainly makes the point.
I would like to combine John's point 1 and 4 to make the suggestion that at all levels the apportionments be 10% of operating receipts (capital campaigns not included). Local churches would give 10% of their operating receipts to the annual conference, which in turn would give 10% to the general church. This would implement an apportionment model for the local church that aligns with the expectations for a family in the local church. It would also serve to downsize both annual conferences and general agencies as I assume that this would lower the total apportionments shared upwards in the church.
2 and 3 are right on, however difficult to implement. More often it seems that both the "reward" and "consequences" are placed on the pastor. Ultimately it is the local church, with the pastor(s) leadership which accomplishes the mission of the church. However, I do not see a clear way to share either "rewards" or "consequences" with a local church.
The Book of Discipline makes clear in Paragraph 201 that "The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs." I do hear the critique that this is not always lived out in practice. I agree that planting more churches is a far better strategy than starting new programs.
Thanks for your continued Methodist Monday posts.

John B

I'm with John all the way, with the exception of the $100,000 cap. Apportionments as they are now figured punish any success regardless the size of a congregation(at least in the conference I serve). Invest more in local ministry & the conference will expect you to pay more to support the programs that the pastors and lay delgates of the 40% of church that aren't growing voted to approve.

We need to come up with a plan which rewards success. Success defined as growth in membership. Maybe something like this: when a congregation receives into membership via confession of faith 10% of it worship attendance during a year, any increase in apportionments for the coming year is waved. That amount is then apportioned to the congregations which didn't reach the 10% level.

I serve a mid-sized congregation (about 160 in worship), like many churches we were forced to cut our ministry budget because of the economy. Every area of our budget, including salaries was sliced, except apportionments which increased 10%. It's very hard to tell our ministry leaders that they will have to find ways to spend less on local mission, while at the same time telling them that our apportionments are increasing significantly. How does one rationalize that? This congregation has faithfully paid its apportionments in full for years, but they are becoming a burden and an obstacle to our primary mission. Unless, of course, one defines our primary mission as funding the programs, boards and agencies of the conference and general church.

Creed Pogue

If "John" suggested 10% of income as an apportionment formula, that would be a good starting point. The $100K upper limit is either arbitrary or a way for larger churches to benefit. Also, some conferences, like Greater New Jersey, pay the full premium for retiree health insurance while most others don't. It is easier to set a 10% limit if you aren't paying for very much.

I do believe that the general agencies should be downsized and directed to only cover those areas that either resource local churches to carry out the Great Commission or Matthew 25 OR are things that most local churches cannot do for themselves. The responsibility for bishop salaries and offices should be redirected to the individual episcopal areas leaving the Episcopal Fund apportionment to cover the retired bishops and the central conferences. We should stop paying more than other denominations to the NCC and WCC and realize that relations with the AME, AMEZ and CMEC should be handled on a local church level rather than an episcopal level. We should stop, or at least dramatically reduce, the grants given by GBGM to organizations outside the connection which may be $7 million a year. We should decide whether we really need many more seminary-trained ordained elders or we need more "tent-makers." Either way, we should redirect the MEF to support those official seminaries who are actually producing most of the elders and allow the conferences to do a better job of lessening the debt load for new clergy.

Thad Huff

In the Assemblies we would call it Tithe. Really? Tithe...but not to the storehouse. Interesting perspective for sure. I think every organizational headquarters in our country should learn to make decisions in order to better get on mission. Especially the church. When souls are not our main drive we will get off track for certain. let's sacrifice anything necessary to pursue souls and not statistics.

Thad Huff | Open Life
http://livinglifeopen.com/

Randy Willis

The implication that churches that pay their "shares of ministry" (I don't use the word "apportionments") do so out of duty and churches that don't are mission-minded is, at best, an unfair argument.

And perhaps I'm naive, but I can't imagine anyone thinking that "the real work of ministry is done by Boards, Agencies, Committees, Conferences and bureaucratic 'professionals'" and not in local churches.

In reality, the "front lines" of ministry are all over the world, wherever ministry is happening. At their best, shares of ministry give United Methodists an opportunity to pull resources together and support what God is doing on many different fronts (i.e., mission giving).

I'm sure it depends on where you are in the UMC, but the extreme emphasis on money, pastors who are encouraged to be chaplains and to pray-pay-and-stay-out-of-the-way, all at the expense of the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is simply NOT my experience.

All of that said, I do appreciate the emphasis on local church ministry and improving/increasing resources for the local church.

While I don't think the discussion between Bob and John is intellectually honest, I would, however, support most of John's recommendations (i.e., points 2-5). The problem with the first recommendation is that it contradicts one of the earlier Methodist Monday posts (i.e., granting greater representation to larger churches who give more money). If we put a cap on the level of financial support from larger churches, then we should also cap the the number of lay members they send to annual conference.

Wow. "Apportionments" is week 6. I can only imagine what weeks 7 and 8 hold! :-)

Amywvogel

Thank you for this post. I'm a 'cradle' Methodist but not one who paid a lick of attention in confirmation, so I am re-learning my roots and what my church is all about. I know our goal at Bear Creek UMC is to pay 100% but we are also about front line ministry. Mostly still paying down debt too. Either way, this is informative and I thank you for this post - look forward to more!!

John

I think the scenario sets up a false dichotomy. You can both support the broader connection and do local mission. Indeed, in my part of Indiana, the formula is for 10% tithe of funds given to support operations of the church. (Districts get another cut on top of that.) There is no punishment for being more successful. It is - to use a secular term - a flat tax.

I have no problem with streamlining and aligning conference and general boards and agencies. We should rethink what we do and why we do it. But I do not think pastors and churches that refuse to contribute their share of the global mission of the church are somehow more virtuous and the ones that do are somehow craven. Seems like a rather loaded way to frame the question.

Blane Young

John is absolutely correct.

I would love to use the "Find & Replace" function to substitute UMC and Methodist for several other denominations. These principles would even apply minus the money, in areas such as denominational importance, leadership structure, etc.

Whether they like it or not (and they don't), the church is moving away from bureaucracy to optional alliances (such as coaching networks).

My thing is, those in the upper-up of the given denomination should have had real-life success in fulfilling the mission and vision, and not just have exceptional administration skills. For too long has this been the trend in many mainline denominations and it has crippled growth. For instance, let the most successful youth pastors train ohter youth pastors as opposed to a professor who hasn't been in youth ministry for over 15+ years.

A Note on My Context: I am not a Methodist, and in fact have never been to a Methodist church. I have friends that attend and are involved...

mike ramsdell

John's right. If we add to this the end of guaranteed appointments, we transform the Church.

John Kenney

I appreciate this post. As a young UMC Elder I find myself often asking "Is the government/institution of the UMC here to support the mission and efforts of the local church ... OR ... is the local church here to support the everg-growing "needs" of the government/institution of the UMC. In my opinion, when it becomes the latter - the church has nowhere to go but down and die a slow painful death.

To me - apportionments themselves are not the issue - it's the overall vision and mission of WHAT WE ARE HERE FOR. When we know why we are here - the rest will fall into place. "Seek First the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you." --- Matthew 6:33

Susan

As one who works in a District Office of the UMC in the South I am deeply troubled by the premise of your piece. Both characters are caricatures; neither addresses foundational issues of Wesleyan theology or the practical nature of being a connectional church.

Our experience here is that the churches who fail to pay apportionments are the ones NOT making disciples, not the other way around. Please do more research on this issue before making assumptions about who does/does not pay or "make disciples." It has been our experience that those not wishing to pay also do so not out of a need to keep the money for their own local ministries, but rather, because they disagree with social justice issues and positions held by the larger church.

I'd love for you to address issues of how apportionments are actually determined and what they go for....perhaps if folks understood they DO stay within the local district and conference and one of their functions is to support pensions for clergy, they might be better informed to make a decision.

I most resent the idea that you've framed the argument about apportionments in such a way that those supporting the system are uninterested in making disciples for the transformation of the world. That's silly at best and reckless and ignorant at worst. Those who support apportionments do so out of a deep commitment to the ministries of the larger, international church knowing that they are responsible for outreach and evangelism within the local community. Apportionments are not to blame if churches fail to go out into the world to make disciples.

Jamie Westlake

I opened a letter from my bishop just before reading your post that started this way: "I am writing to thank you for your faithful living as disciples of Jesus Christ by giving 100% of your apportionments for 2009." I think it's quite a stretch to say paying apportionments in full is automatically a mark of effective discipleship! I believe the UMC must decrease connectional giving responsibilities on local churches in order to help facilitate local churches that are thriving. There's a lot we contribute to the denomination that doesn't help make any new or better disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Even though I believe our local church could very well do as much or more (and probably better!) ministry and mission with the $160,000 (right at 10% of our operating budget) of apportionments we'll pay this year, I encourage our church to pay them in full. Why? It's our "franchise fee" and it's good upward leadership to those who exercise authority (Bishop and Cabinet)in our life together.

frustrated in texas

#3 - Make the consequences of ongoing mission failure clear.

What will those consequences be, exactly? Close the church? Who will define success in this area and who will be punished for this failure? I serve a church that is OLD and deeply entrenched in the idea that mission work belongs to someone else. They pay their apportionments very faithfully, because they consider it a "debt." They faithfully pay all their bills. But they don't understand a darned thing about being the hands and feet of Christ, and they don't want to. No matter how I approach them, no matter what I say or how I say it, they are stuck stuck stuck. They have no desire to change anything about who they are, so they cannot grow - either as individuals or as a church. I am very sad in my appointment - a church who expects me to serve them and to serve the world. If there is "ministry" to be done, that's my job. That's what they pay me for, by golly. But it is better than the last church I served, who didn't pay their apportionments because they didn't want anyone else telling them what to do with their money. Most of the churches I know who don't pay apportionments don't pay them because they can't. They are struggling to make salary and insurance and pension payments, not to mention pay the electric bill. I am talking about small rural churches in the Bible belt (buckle!) in north Texas. (Not to mention that I am a female provisional elder who, although being recognized as a gifted leader and preacher, continues to receive appointments to these small rural churches where I go in as the first female pastor because I am tough enough to take the kickback. I'm doing good not to be thrown out on my ear! Just the fact that the people come to accept and even love me is a sort of mission accomplishment in itself. How ya going to measure that?)

Bryan Bucher

Cut all the DS's, conference positions, shut down the Board of Church of Society, or do whatever you think "shrinking the bureaucracy" means... but in the end, the percentages won't save the local church all that much money. If you want to cut costs, you gotta stick it to the retirees cause the legacy costs account for the vast majority of your apportionment dollar. Such is the reality of our beloved United Methodist Church.

So who gets to tell Grandma and Grandpa they need to just lay down on the ice flow and relax?

Ben McGehee

Mark - I'm glad you're bringing this issue up - especially since I've heard pastors criticize GCC on this very issue...

I agree that apportionments are too much - and that our Conference and General Agencies should pare down considerably. I would welcome a system to fund global ministries that is closer to the Advance - where congregations can choose which ministries to support and which not to. Some things should never be optional, such as Bishops, DS's, General Conference expenses, etc. - but many ministries might actually find themselvse energized if people supported them because they wanted to - and not because they felt forced to.

I do not agree with #1. The net effect would be that our smaller churches would be saddled with much more in apportionments than they are now. A percentage system like others have suggessted would work much better, even a percentage system that is regressive (charging smaller churches a greater percentage than larger ones). Many DS's have told me that they spend most of thier time dealing with smaller churches than with the large ones, so it would only be fair that those churches that consume the most resources would pay more than those who consume less.

Suggesstions #2 and #3 are good - but what kinds of rewards and punishments are we talking about? And who gets them - the pastor or the church? And who sets the standards? Starting this year, my Conference (Louisiana) began collecting monthly information on attendance, baptisms, professions of faith, and the number of people invovled in mission. They are publishing this information - along with the apportionment numbers. I would love to see the apportionment totals take a back seat to the people numbers!

#5 is right on! As someone else pointed out - it's our official position - but our actions don't always show it...

Jaminben

I think one elephant in the room when it comes to 'change' of this nature is making sure that younger clergy (or those praying about a call to ordination, like myself) need to make sure that they are truly at peace with what these changes would mean for us. Loosening the apportionment strings (and lessening them as a measure of 'success') is a great idea at the philisophical level, but we 'radicals' will need to make sure we still feel ok about that when we are in our 50s/60s and don't have as much guaranteed pension/benefits/employment opportunities, etc. I am wrestling with all this myself: I prayerfully consider my calling to be one free of all that 'old school thought' on these issues, but I will tell you, MANY folks I talk to about becoming ordained are quick to point out that I should do so "in order to have a good retirement plan, benefits, etc." That should NEVER be the driving reason behind a calling...but sadly, it seems that it is at the forefront of many elders/deacons already 'in the fold' I speak to. I sure hope I'm just talking to the wrong folks and not the majority. And I confess that while I currently read about all these proposed changes (apportionment reform, non-guaranteed appointments, re-focus on the real mission of the church, etc.) and go WOOHOO!, I do feel like I should record myself saying these things so that when I'm older, I don't go, "Um...just kidding."

I do, however, believe many who are at the conference level truly do see all the good apportionments do and say, "This IS still fulfilling the mission of the church!" I think this is true! I guess the frustration (I am just echoing the original post here) is when it seems like the measure of success is percentage of apportionment payment... We need to find an appropriate balance here, and that may require quite the paradigm shift in what is communicated out from the Home Base...both officially and from an 'under the radar'/unspoken way...

icecreamken

Jaminben-I wish you could help me understand how you believe apportionments are still fulfilling the mission of the church. You say you believe this is true, yes? I'm honestly questioning whether apportionments do any good, at all.

Alex Knight

The mission of the preachers bringing the ‘Methodist Movement’ to America was crystal clear: You have no other business than to save souls and spread scriptural holiness (harmony with God) across the land. It was, in the words of the Robin Mark song, “All for Jesus.” When church leaders write about ‘what’s wrong with the UMC’ I like to do a word search and see how often they use the name Jesus. In the approx. 6,315 words of the first 6 Monday posts, the name Jesus appears only 10 times, and most often in the context of quoting the official UMC mission statement. If we are going to talk about the future of the UMC I would think we would talk about the person of Jesus more often than we talk about institutional politics and strategies. I don’t think the writer to Hebrews was kidding when he said fix your eyes on Jesus!

Steveheyduck

Great post, great thoughts. Can't wait to finish what I've got to write so I can go and read what others have posted.

I'll admit up front - though I am an elder, I do not currently serve in an apportionment-paying appointment. Neither does the agency where I serve,the Methodist Children's Home in Texas, receive any apportionments. I have serve for nearly two decades, though, in apportionment-paying appointments prior to coming here.

I like the idea of capping apportionments mostly because I think that is the only way the apportionment-receiving bureaucracy will ever cut its size, inefficiency, and deafness to the local church.

So much of apportionments, however, are ear-marked toward benefits of clergy who are (still) guaranteed appointments, we cannot simply cut off such benefits.

Unless and until the system is changed, apportionments are "the cost of doing business" as a United Methodist Church. I mean this in a value-neutral way - which may itself be a less-than-positive thing.

So, John is more right than wrong. My question is, really, how do we get there from here? I just read a blog post from my bishop, Bishop Lowry, in which he points out that the General Commission on Religion and Race has 34 or 35 Disciplinary Mandates that determine its responsibilities and, thus to some extent, it's financial needs. As one of the smaller of the General Boards and Agencies, one can easily extrapolate that it won't be easy to change all that structure quickly.

Mike White

I'm afraid I have to agree with John. The thing is, we don't need to reinvent the wheel. If we would study and learn our Book of Discipline, we would know our priorities, how to spent responsibly, and have enough left over to fully fund our apportionments.

In paragraph 120 we read that the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs is in our local church. And in paragraph 258 we find that our local church treasurer is to fund everything in the local church budget BEFORE remitting what is LEFT ON HAND to the World Service funds and Conference benevolences.

I believe in fully funding the apportionments, but I also believe that to do so requires careful planning and responsible spending. And we need to get back to our BOD before we try to rewrite the book with "I believe" this and "I believe" that. Our methods are not new, although our diversions from the method are.

God Bless

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