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May 03, 2010


John B

The two that stand out to me are "Fool Yourself" and "Group Failure."

Every UM leader knows that the church has been in decline, but there is an overriding sense of denial about its causes. It seems that ever four years the GC comes up with a list of new focuses. They always sound good on paper, but since everyone knows that they are going to change again in another four years little attention is given to them. I wonder how many readers of this blog could list from memory the four focuses set by the 2008 GC. I can't. And honestly, it doesn't bother me that I don't know. But that fact would probably shock many GC delegates. As long as the UMC remains unfocused and divided by social issues, the inability to take decisive action will continue.

The other fact that I see as a road block to decision-making is Group Failure. I know that holy conferencing is an important part of our heritage, however I find few examples of it in scripture. In fact, in most cases the large group was off target and needed a single leader to put them back on the right track. The democratic way in with the UMC makes decisions is a very recent development even within the denomination itself. John Wesley and Francis Asbury would probably roll over in their graves it they saw how decisions are made within the church today. Most every time of revival and renewal recorded in scripture and throughout Church history has been the result of one person catching a vision of what God wanted and moving forward with that dream regardless what the majority thought. When it was of God, eventually that became clear and people joined in.

Andrew Conard

Mark - This question is a bit more abstract than the others from Methodist Monday. There are different answers to your question depending on the focus - any given local church, annual conference, jurisdictional or general conference. I have chosen two that I have found to be applicable at the broadest array of environments within the UMC.

Plunging In - This is true for a local church that starts a new worship service with a different style without considering the reasons for fluctuations in worship attendance, an annual conference that creates a focus statement without fully considering what impact it will have on a local church, all levels of conferences making decisions without taking time to consider the issues. I believe that some of these issues could begin to be addressed by sharing deeper levels of information more frequently than a yearly report.

Frame Blindness - This was a major issue across the denomination for many years. A few significant steps forward in this area include naming a mission statement for the entire denomination (The UMC exists to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.) as well as the increased focus on leadership at the United Methodist seminaries.

I am looking forward to reading responses from others. Thank you for your commitment to help the United Methodist Church.

John Beavers

My first thought was that the problem lies less in the "Roadblocks" than in the idea that we can make brilliant decisions in our own power that will turn the tide of the Church. We have mettings, conferences, gatherings, and discussions, but we rarely (at least in my experience) seek God in any real, meaningful way. Even if we do seek God for direction, do we, then, spend time at God's Throne of Grace asking Him to bless and provide for the direction which He has laid out for us? In every UM church I have been a part of, we never asked and waited for an answer in our committee meetings. We just hoped God would work through the process of our discussions with each other. Obviously, that is not happening in our Church. Your question is about humans making decisions, whereas the Bible tells us to ask God if we lack wisdom, to lean not on our own understanding, to acknowledge God in all our ways, to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, etc.

Our current idology and method of "making brilliant decisions" comes from our culture and worldview in America (and the West). We trust ourselves and our own intelligence/wisdom to come up with answers to questions. We're not seeking God's wisdom because our culture tells us we can do anything if we put our mind to it. This is basically a form of pride! We're not asking God, because we don't really think He'll answer. This is unbelief! We don't wait for answers from God because we think He is not really close to us, but is far away and not really involved in our world. This is a lack of revelation of the character of God!

It's my opinion that most of the problems in our church are because we let people join our churches who are unconverted. We allow people to join who have had no revelation of who God is, of their sinfulness and need for a savior, and who have not been born again and filled with the Spirit (see Wesley). With people still operating out of their human nature instead of the Spirit of God, we will naturally be ineffective and will eventually end up with a Church that looks more like the world than the Kingdom of God.

A systematic approach to making decisions may work in a human endeavor, but the Church is not a human endeavor. We need to ask the One who created the Church and stop trying to make things happen in our own strength or our own wisdom. That will never work.

John Beavers - 33
Former Certified Ministerial Candidate
Pastor's Spouse - Shattuck, OK

Brian Burris

First of all let me say that I am no theologian nor do I assume I will have any bearing on the direction of the UMC. I have been closely watching the "church" and corporate America in some great detail over the last couple of years. It seems as though both are forgoing what is right and what has worked in the past for what is new and what they think others want without actually asking what those they serve want. Where did this type of thinking originate? As the "church" we are so concerned with getting people in the doors that we will go to almost any length (short of all out sin) to get them there. Although Christ did miracles he didn't rely on parlor tricks nor did he pander to those who disagreed with him. He simply laid out the truth all-the-while wearing sandals and a dusty robe. Yesterday's sermon was superb. It was the simple life-changing truth everyone needs to hear. If I didn't think I would have been hauled out I would have stood up on my chair and screamed HALLELUJAH! several times. I sensed the passion in your voice and most importantly I saw it in your eyes. AWESOME SERMON!

Randy Willis

Interesting question.

While I could see a lot of these being issues in most declining organizations, especially ones with significant, long term declines, the two that stand out most to me in our context are "frame blindness" and "group failure."

On Group Failure: My sense of "holy conferencing" in Wesley's day (at least at the general level) was preachers gathering and conferring with Wesley. Wesley was clearly the leader. Today, for better or worse, the UMC, as a denomination, is more of a group-led church (i.e., General Conference).

On Frame Blindness: It seems to me that (generally speaking) Methodism started out as a missional movement, then became focused on institutional maintenance. Now we are trying to regain our missional Wesleyan passion. I think we're making strides in this area by becoming more focused on discipleship and leadership, but it's a slow process!


The UM leadership has become too absorbed in political solutions to social issues as opposed to traditional Christian responses requiring individual action. We all know this and have discussed it ad nauseum. No one seems inclined to really do anything about it (other than complain) and we have thus become resigned to it. But we're also in an increasingly materialistic, secularized culture, and our materialism is largely responsible for the financial and spiritual crises we're now facing individually and collectively. Until our individual moral rudders are fully functional we'll never see real progress as a church. We have leaders in our church who know more about the latest winner on American Idol that they do about John Wesley or C.S. Lewis. They don't know Scripture. They're lazy. God will undoubtedly achieve His purposes but there's no guarantee United Methodism will continue to be integral to that process.


I'm going with Plunging in, and also Frame Blindness. While I think the UMC (or should it be The UMC, since by Discipline or Resolution the "T" in "The" is supposed to be capitalized too, which just screams that we have problems!)probably fails on all 10 barriers, we need not go beyond these first two for now.

Case in point: I caught a tweet today that the UMW 2010 Assembly had a workshop on using Facebook to connect with people. The tweet linked to facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/UMWomen/posts/118690311493809) which linked to a website (http://assembly2010.umwonline.net/fb-workshop-hand-out-pdf) from which anyone can download a 4 page outline (http://static.sixent.com/content/1/1/148720001/48/FB+Workshop+Hand-out-PDF.pdf) on how to connect with people using facebook.

If that isn't enough, the 4 page outline begins with a quote from wikipedia to define facebook.

At this rate, the 2016 General Conference will pass a resolution (or change in the Book of Discipline itself) calling for Facebook to become a recognized tool for ministry.

The problem? by 2016 none of us will care about Facebook! (or at least no one outside the church will)

Here is a perfect illustration of how we have drawn conclusions without reaching the root of the issue AND how we've set out to solve the wrong problem.

Reminds me of having heard a DS (last fall) refer to Facebook as "the Facebook," as in "the facebook is causing some real issues amongst our clergy."

Facebook is neither the problem or the solution. A passion to connect real, hurting people with the Gospel of Christ is the solution!

John Meunier

These 10 Roadblocks are great idea starters, but it seems to me our fundamental problem is that we do not even agree on what the problem is.

Peter Drucker wrote about effective decisions 40+ years ago, and his ideas are just as useful today. Unfortunately, I do not believe the UMC has been able to do even the first step - classify the problem. Forget "define" the problem. We can't even agree whether our problem is generic or unique or the emergence of something new.

For those who are interested, an article outlining his process can be found here: http://davidkirzner.googlepages.com/2.TheEffectiveDecisionjan1967.pdf

Ben McGehee

I would say that the UMC suffers most from Frame Blindness (forgetting our real purpose) and Group Failure (assuming that all people are capable of making good choices).

On the Frame Blindness, I was at a meeting last week to discuss the state of the VIM ministry in our conference. While I greatly appreciate the work of VIM, I got the sense that some in the group, especially the Director, believed that all mission in our conference should be run through the VIM office, even though the primary purpose of our meeting was to discuss the numerous problems we were having in the Conference VIM office. I found it quite odd that an agency tasked with increasing the mission in our Annual Conference was quick to label any other than a VIM-sanctioned mission as "renegade" or worse, simply because they were working somewhere other than an official UM site. Makes me want to avoid the VIM office - just for that reason...

On the Group Failure, too often we populate our committees with those who are available (on the local church level especially), or those who "should" be on the committee based on some arbitrary diversity rule (especially at the Conference and General Conference level). Why not make the criteria the best person possible for the job? And if the best people won't volunteer, then it's probably because they don't think the position is even worth their time (and it probably isn't...)

Harold Gardner

Mike Tyson once said that everyone has a plan until they get hit in the face. The sermon that follows for me remembers that most in the church found something the way that it is. We are in a state of injury because what is (or was) working for us does not seem to be working for others. I wonder how we can get out of our own way so we can truly listen, understand, and serve.

An old preacher friend of mine offered me some advice when I was anxious about speaking in church. I was wrestling with some of the theological issues of the day, and I really felt the need to share some of my great new insights. He told me that every time anyone preaches, we have 3 things that we need to say. 1. I love you. 2. God loves you. 3. He wants you to love Him and each other.

Having good information is important, but not ultimate. Examining the scope of our trouble is important but not ultimate. Trying to do too many things at once gets us into trouble but not keep us from doing something. You are right, we are arrogant, short-sighted, and smart mouthed but the Bible is replete with examples of flawed servants used by God to good ends. Niebuhr taught well the danger of immoral society but the church is still a group and can work. We know that no one is as easy to fool as we are, but God uses fools. We will never measure or track accurately enough, but God still loves us and can use us.

I think the church has always struggled with these sorts of issues. I wonder if moving in faith, trusting with confidence, and acting with humility is the right direction? Could we Methodist be making things too complicated?

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