Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Methodist Army of Davids?

United Methodism operates as a top-down organization. Initiatives are supposed to flow out of places like New York, Nashville and the Council of Bishops. This is what “connectionalism” is often taken to mean. Initiatives flowing the other direction – from the local congregations, are often taken to be expressions of the heresy of “congregationalism.” Even renewal groups in the UMC – like the Confessing Movement – tend to assume top-down leadership. In each case, the commitment to top-down leadership seems to presuppose:
  • The greatest competence in each case is to be found in the official leaders

  • The common purpose of the organization is either not truly common, or not broadly shared enough to shape the actions of the participants

  • People at the lower levels in the organization cannot be trusted until they prove they are qualified to serve at higher levels

Instapundit Glenn Reynolds has a book due out in just over a week. His Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths, seems to offer a model of organizational leadership and change that might provide an alternative for United Methodists. [Note: I have not read the book, merely read a few reviews and Mr. Reynolds’s comments.] This alternative would presuppose:
  • United Methodists share a common understanding of the purpose and mission of the church.

  • All United Methodists have an essential contribution to make to the mission of the church – and this contribution is more than just giving money and doing what they’re told to do

  • The top-heavy leadership can be pared down with saved money used elsewhere.

In the midst of change United Methodism will need to decide the main locus of it’s “unitedness.” In the recent past, “unitedness” has been found in our Methods and Structures, while during this period we have had a laissez-faire approach to doctrine. The problem with this approach is that while we know what we’re supposed to do, we don’t know – or agree upon why. The longer we go with non-agreement on why we do something, the more the whats will fall by the wayside. Perhaps those of us interested in shifting the model – locating “unitedness” in doctrine and freedom in method, will find the “Army of Davids” model useful.

26 Comments:

Blogger Steve Heyduck said...

Great post. I'm going to have to get hold of that book.

I know the look I got a couple years ago from simply suggesting from the Conference floor that we consider doing something differently.

The look was one that one usually receives for insubordination. I meant no disrespect. I had merely taken seriously that I was welcome at the table.

Apparently not.

8:56 PM  
Blogger gmw said...

hmm...unity in doctrine and liberty in method would be great. I think that could potentially emphasize a better role for those "at the top," including us pastors. Our primary role could move from either commandant or chaplain to discipler and worship leader. Granted, pastors have plenty of roles, but attending primarily to the development of the spiritual lives of the people and the spiritual life together of the people could produce people who are grounded in the doctrine and on fire to try out any method with integrity that would work in living out God's call.

I've been doing some thinking lately on how much we work at programing people and congregations into growth and change--a sociological approach, rather than discipling people and congregations into growth and change--a theological approach. Discipling people into transformation will take longer probably to produce authentic disciples and authentic community, but isn't that a better route?--the intrinsic approach over the extrinsic one?

11:13 AM  
Anonymous Richard Aubrey said...

Speaking as a Presbyterian, watching the same things:

There was a study done several years ago by an outside consultant.
One finding was that there was no belief you had to have to become a Methodist, or that, if you had it, disqualified you. In other words, being outside and being inside were the same. To put it another way, since there was no reason to be a Methodist, there was no reason to be a Methodist.
It's hard to think of anything that can get you thrown out of the PCUSA, either.

My son and his wife attend and are enthralled with Hope Presbyterian Church in Germantown, TN. We attended several services with them. There are seats for about 3500 and there is a capital campaign underway because they need more room.

Part of the appeal to the mostly young crowd was the contemporary service and the jumping praise music. I prefer the Tallis Scholars, but what can I say?

At one point, new members were accepted. In addition to pledging faith and support, they were required to pledge time.

I looked at the visitor packet. They welcomed all to worship, but suggested that if you're living in sin you "hold off" on applying for membership until you've gotten yourself straightened out.

Give people a bar and they'll get over it.

Anyway, I understand the capital campaign is going well and they'll be able to seat considerably more of their thousands of members at a single service. Tough problem to have.

9:11 AM  
Blogger Shannon Love said...

Many evangelical denominations are already organized on decentralized models. Southern Baptist, Southern Methodist, Church of Christ, etc are purely bottom-up associations of individual congregations. The larger organizations (usually styled "conventions)) may manage very large enterprises such as universities but they wield almost no centralized power. Individual church properties belong to individual congregations. Congregations hire and fire their own ministers and join or leave the convention when they want.

Being raised in such an environment I have always found the idea of any kind of church hierarchy with some type of special moral authority rather alien.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Svolich said...

A wonderful thought.

I left the Methodist congregation I was raised in because the "good" ministers were always transfered up to larger, more "important" churches. The lame ones - the ones more interested in social justice in South America than our conservative, Republican, largely retired community - stuck around for years. The Peter Principle does faith.

9:35 AM  
Blogger Seneca the Younger said...

I'm sort of an outsider on this (I was baptised a Methodist but I've been a Buddhist for nearly 40 years) but, if you have Methodists with bottom-up, decentralized control, won't they be Baptists?

9:38 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great post. I'm a Christian looking for a denominational home and if the UMC took any visible steps toward the Army of Davids approach, I'd be on board in a nanosecond. As it is tho', my husband and I have a good friend who works at a large UM church near us and is over halfway through seminary, and we are just worn out hearing about how political--and not Christian--so much of his UM world is. And, like you emphasized, it is ALL top-down.

9:41 AM  
Anonymous Stephanie said...

Seneca,
Not really. I've attended both Methodist and Baptist churches for years, and the Methodist tradition is still steeped in the liturgy, which might as well be a four-letter word for Baptists (unfortunately).
--anon again

9:44 AM  
Blogger Richard H said...

Seneca the Younger writes:
"if you have Methodists with bottom-up, decentralized control, won't they be Baptists?"

That's certainly the fear of many in the Methodist hierarchy. To me it demonstrates that all they have left - in their understanding of Methodist identity - is the structure itself.

In relation to the Church of England, Wesley's (original) Methodist movement had no connection to the hierarchy. In a hierarchical age, Wesley ran his parachurch movement (I recognize this is an anachronistic use of the term), very much in a top-down manner.

Decentralization - and the ability to rethink our UM identity to allow for new structures to accomplish a mission bigger than maintaining our structure.

10:21 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I’m not an expert but I believe the issue you are encountering is a aspect of the governance of the United Methodist Church. The UMC is not a church of the reformation (Presbyterian, Reformed, Lutheran). Reformation churches share a system of government, representative democracy, similar to the system of government of the United States of America (the Founding Fathers actually based our form of government on the governing system of Reformation Churches). The UMC’s system of government shares similarities with the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. In these churches the clergy is the head of the church. I believe the Methodist Church broke away from the Church of England but not via the Protestant Reformation.

11:01 AM  
Blogger Richard H said...

Anon. wrote:
"The UMC is not a church of the reformation (Presbyterian, Reformed, Lutheran). Reformation churches share a system of government, representative democracy, similar to the system of government of the United States of America (the Founding Fathers actually based our form of government on the governing system of Reformation Churches). The UMC’s system of government shares similarities with the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. In these churches the clergy is the head of the church. I believe the Methodist Church broke away from the Church of England but not via the Protestant Reformation."

John Wesley certainly seems to have taken himself to be a Protestant, though not of the variety defined by absolute rejection of Catholicism (or Eastern Christianity, for that matter).

As far as governance goes, Methodism has often paralleled the American system. Though it has bishops, it has been fairly democratic throughtout the years. Even today, the highest legislative body in Methodism, the General Conference, is democratically elected.

What has happened though, in our effort to parallel the American way of doign things, is that we've been stuck in the mid 20th century bureaucratic system for a while now, confusing it with the "Methodist" or "Christian" way of doing things.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Dann said...

As a recovering Methodist, I can suggest two changes the UMC can make that would represent signficant improvements.

1) Scrap the Social Principles. Far too many of them are little more than socialist ideology wrapped in religious imprimatur. Like dressing a pig in a prom dress. [i.e. calling on governments to ensure 100% employment, etc.]

2) Spend more time on basic beliefs and less time on political rhetoric. The UMC General Board on Global Ministries was one of the first organizations to protest the American invasion of Afghanistan in 2001.

11:41 AM  
Anonymous Poimane said...

As was hinted at in a previous comment, the UMC is a political wing of the Liberal Democratic Party. Attempting to combine spirituality with the UMC hierarchy is foolishness and much too late. The poison has been seeping down from the top for too many years now.

As a former Baptist who found himself pasturing a UM church for four years (don’t even ask), I ran afoul of the top-down liberal socialists who ran the denomination and thus the local district. I was fired because I wouldn’t accept the political philosophies of the hierarchy when it came in direct conflict with the Bible. Imagine that.

As a side-note, I was chastised by a female pastor, who’s job it was to re-educate me, for holding to the writings of the Apostle Paul. After all, he was an unenlightened chauvinist.

Church structure is the least of the problems plaguing the UMC. No offense to "An Army of Davids," but I would highly recommend another book to help straighten out United Methodism.

11:42 AM  
Blogger Richard H said...

Poimane writes:
"Church structure is the least of the problems plaguing the UMC. No offense to "An Army of Davids," but I would highly recommend another book to help straighten out United Methodism."

Back in the mid 1980s when Bishop Richard Wilke wrote And Are We Yet Alive?, he argued for a Methodist revival primarily based on structural changes. He advocated a general board of evangelism, a renewed emphasis on Sunday School and the like. My complaint then - as now - was that that alone would do little for the UMC. Our primary problems are, as you say, doctrinal.

I'm trying to be a little more subtle in my case now. What I'm trying to say is - in line with the Confessing Movement - that our official doctrine is just fine (unless you're a baptist, calvinist or something to that effect) - what's wrong is what we do with it. This IS a structural problem because of how we envision and allow doctrine to function in the life of the church.

IF we can learn to find our unity in doctrine, THEN we can be adaptable when it comes to organizational structure. When we agree on basic doctrine (likely there will still be some room for variety), then we will perhaps be able to trust people on all levels of the church to be truly creative and energetic in their pursuit of our mission, rather than insisting they get approval from above first.

As to your experience in the UMC" I've seen that too many times. Two observations: My guess is that we're one of the few denominations that allows pastors from other denominations. Also, there is great variety from Conference to Conference. Sure most are led by the ecclesial equivalent of a liberal democrat. But the membership - and even the clergy, though to a lesser extent - is far from monolithically liberal.

12:04 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I left the Methodist Church for the same reason I left the Democratic Party: their obsession with left wing politics and homosexuality. I'm more at home with Catholicism.

12:12 PM  
Anonymous Chuck Divine said...

I found this page via Instapundit. Let me clarify -- or perhaps confuse -- things a bit more.

I'm what's called a "cradle Episcopalian." We're the U. S. branch of the Church of England. Our church does have a hierarchy. Bishops, then priests, then lay. Then it gets complicated. We are a divided constitutional democracy. Each church elects a board known as a vestry from its members. The vestry, sometimes with officers and committees that they appoint, govern the individual church. When it's necessary to secure a new priest (old one dies, retires or takes a new position), the vestry selects and appoints the new priest. When a new bishop is needed, there is a first a search committee composed of clerical and lay orders who go out and search for candidates. Eventually candidates are presented at the diocesan convention. To become bishop, the successful candidate must win a majority of the votes in the clerical orders and, separately, a majority among the lay delegates. Basic church positions (e.g., should women be allowed to become priests) are decided in like fashion.

Priests and bishops cannot go off on their own and make decisions for the church. Of course, they can still run their own lives and advocate whatever they want. So can the rest of us.

I don't know about other branches of the Anglican Communion. Lots of people in Africa are quite angry about the American church's stand on gay rights, for example.

Oh -- while liberals currently seem to be dominant in our church, conservatives are quite in evidence. The balance may change in the future.

Top down? No check on power? I can't think of a better recipe for problems.

If Methodists (or, for that matter, members of other authoritarian churches) are curious about us, they can come to any of our events. The great majority of Episcopalians will give them a warm welcome.

12:56 PM  
Anonymous Janet from Tucson said...

I come from a long line of Methodists. My father and grandfather were Methodist ministers. My husband seriously considered going to seminary to become a Methodist pastor. We are both now Missouri Synod Lutherans. We left the Methodist church because we couldn't find anybody who actually believed in Original Sina or understood Grace. I am sure John Wesley did but I doubt many do now. My father, may he rest in peace, was before his death, sneaking down to his local Missouri Synod Lutheran church. He said that the Methodist church left him.

3:44 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a Methodist I support our hierachy; however, people and times change and the hardcore liberal social doctrine doesn't work for this new world and the decision-makers don't get it. Wonderful,faith-based things are happening in our "old and traditional" congegation to strengthen the faith. We have the $$$ so the "players" won't mess with our mission!

4:00 PM  
Blogger Tom Grey said...

"Voluntary socialism" might work -- but anything NOT voluntary is NOT peaceful.

I'm an Episcopalian going to Catholic mass in Slovakia, supporting a Christian Democratic Movement political party (which just left the gov't because of a failure to sign a treaty with the Vatican).

If consistent doctrine is important, top-down hierarchy can and does work.

I like 100% employment -- but the UMC, and the Catholics and all Christians, should be hiring the unemployed. Voluntarily. Perhaps in non-profit service/ training organizations, perhaps in Employment Maximizing companies (which don't yet exist).

Private companies all create wealth thru peaceful, micro-coordinated agreements.

Too many Christians fail to realize that a Peaceful Economy is what capitalism offers -- and the gov't does not.

5:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This is one reason why I left the Methodist church after over 30 years of membership.

5:28 PM  
Anonymous Enrique Cardova said...

Excellent post, and the writer qualifies his argument by clearly noting necessary assumptions and prerequisites. Some oboservations, not criticisms:

(1)It is in the interests of the top down hierarchy NOT to have such an Army of Davids for it would lead to questioning not only of structure, but doctrine and practices, three areas all too often connected with the latest "trend of the month" rather than consistently maintaining Biblical standards. Standards. A dirty word to many.

(2) Aside from top down opposition, a problem area as the article writer notes is doctrine. The Army of Davids might soon falter on the problem of doctrine. If seven different sections of the Church are allowing or teaching seven different interpretations, then the Army of Davids would have little scope to operate effectively. They would become simply another sub-group to be managed by the system, rather than presnt a fundamental challenge of reformation. That is the core problem- the weakness, corruption and inconsistency within as regards both doctrine and personal practice.

(3) More decentralization on local administrative matters is a good practical thing, but the fundamental problem is still untouched. Again, it is in the interests of the hierarchy NOT to have those fundamental problems addressed. The easy solution is to paper over and patch, and cast as wide a net as possible to keep the body count up, and not look too closely at certain things.

(4) Analogies to Glenn Reynold's technology empowerment seem apt, but such empowerment has several fundamental flaws as well. The chief one is the cult of the "do my own thinger". It sounds nice but too often such freelancing results in misinformation and mediocrity. Again, standards are needed, but such things are often anathema to the "do my own thang" cult. In David's victories there were few freelancers. Indeed they pledged: "Thine we are O David, and with thee, thou son of Jesse." The true David is Christ of course and He also suffered a freelancer problem, with many going back from following his teaching or standards. Web empowerment also has delivered more than mere mediocrity as well. Information overload is a prime problem. Its also nice to hear talk about the "spiritual" dimension of the web, and "empowerment" but is it really all that Olympian, or is the basic reality more a growing set of porn websites, security holes, spyware and spam? See writer's Nicholas Carr's criticisms of the quasi evangelical "empowerment" zeal surrounding the so-called revolutionary 'Web 2.0' for a detailed critique (www.nicolascarr.com)

(5) Perhaps a more apt comparison would be to the less popular Army of Gideon, which essentially had to separate itself from first a well heeled establishment (his was the least in Manasseh's- Judges 6), and secondarily the head count mentality. That was also the case with David, years spent in the wilderness, while others more favored and better placed held sway. Saul, it is often forgotten had a fairly long run, about 40 years. Those who made Gideon's cut had to meet a set of standards. It was not a popularity contest, or numbers game. Many are thrilled to think of the hosts of the victorious David. But how many are prepared for the wilderness years, or the narrowing down of prospects- to symbolically, Gideon's 300? How many are prepared to defend and maintain a standard, rather than water down, dissimulate and compromise to keep up the body count? How many prepared to serve in an Army of Gideons?

9:22 PM  
Blogger Kirk Parker said...

Richard Aubrey,

"It's hard to think of anything that can get you thrown out of the PCUSA, either."

Well, you could try opposing the ordination of women... :-)

9:40 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have been a lifelong Methodist and a member of the last five General Conferences. The UMC is suffering from the heavy-handed control of ultraliberal bishops and the general church agencies. Most members of the General Conference are reasonable in their views; however, they cannot control the general church leadership because they will be attacked as "racist" , "sexist" or "homophobic". These three stale labels are still effective in stifling any change of direction or even discussion thereof. One solution is like cancer surgery, it will hurt but the patient will be healthy again. That is to allow the church to split along jurisdictional lines. This is called "schism" by the liberals, who know and fear the outcome of freeing traditional UMC churches from the yoke of the heirarchy. The second way is to put a little backbone in the male members of the UMC church so that they will understand that the withholding of their money will cause the general church to get rid of the political agendas and begin acting as a great church again. The power of the purse is a power understood by the general church because they are "high maintenance".

8:29 PM  
Blogger The Sanity Inspector said...

I liked what the Argentinian evangelist Juan Carlos Ortiz said years ago, about his early days of church-building. "First we had 100 without love, then 200 without love, then 500 without love. Then we realized: cemeteries grow this way, too."

8:42 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am very interested to see how many bloggers are showing up as Methodists- -Misha of the Anti-Idiotarian Rottweiler (www.nicedoggie.net Don't go there unless you have serious callouses on your sensibilities and consider all words just words. The thoughts conveyed are very good, however, delivery is just not for the sensitive or impressionable.) wrote of his dismay over political actions by the UMC. I have found some heirarchy of the church very irritating as well. I agree completely with this post and the positive comments following that we who are still Methodists must stand by the core principles of this wonderfully inclusive church and stand fast for its identity in the Body of Christ. Telling sinners to stay away until they get themselves straightened out is utterly unchristian--Christ commanded us to follow as we are, to become as we should be. I'm sure it's beneficial to the so-called Presbyterian church that made that suggestion in terms of minimizing the amount of pastoring and maximizing its collection plate take, that's what such a statement is about, not about being the out-reaching hand of Christ. At the same time, I wholly disagree with the suggestion that there is no difference between being inside or outside of the Methodist church. We must be firm in enforcing the dogma and basic discipline of the church--not because we need to differentiate ourselves, but to ensure that those who join us are not simply joining a social or political club, but are following Christ to become his "good and faithful servants. That will entail some discomfort, as Steve Heyduck noted and perhaps some counteraction against the bloated heirarchy and its left-skewed politics, but that is part of our responsibility as Methodists or Presbyterians, or in any other denomination. If schism is what is required, then so be it, though I suspect that strengthening the focus on structure and dogma and narrowing any political/social focus of the denomination will take care of that problem for us by chasing those who were probably never really Methodists out of this fold, unless they choose the biblical, Grace-powered path of love that the true Methodist and all true Christian churches offer to their people. In short, let's stand and fight--make "them" cut and run (you Mo. Synod defectors will be welcome back, or go on with your goodselves as Lutherans--any church is probably lucky to have people who come from a strong conservative Methodist background).

11:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

For those who complain that we have no distinct doctrine... you are correct- The Methodist is just a "plain ole Christian." The only reason for being a Methodist is to join oneself to Christ. For those who complain that we have no doctrine- you are wrong. Pick up a copy of the Discipline. The Social Principles are an attempt at putting our faith and doctrine into practice. For the one who claims we reject Paul's authority- I suggest that you look into the historical setting of Paul's comment on women preaching and that you consider what it means when Paul writes "I" and not "God." As a TUMC pastor, I am at times concerned that we are losing our connection because so many are uninformed. Largely, we have been watered down by so many people coming to us from autonomous local churches- like Baptists.

As for the homosexuality issue, our church has taken the hard road of having a position. In this age, that is significant. The position is based on whether or not the person is practicing. Recent judicial rulings and letters from the Bishops have helped to reinforce our system of government and also to remind us that we all are in need of grace. None of us come to Christ perfected. He did not come for the righteous. What the church does ask is that those who believe that they are homosexual refrain from practice. We have a definite position with regard to homosexual practice- it is incompatable with Chistian teaching. We also will not ordain practicing homosexuals and have exercised this position recently. This necessarily allows that we will (and probably have) ordain those who are celebate. The grace of Christ is freely offered among us and for us, with the expectation that we will go on to perfection.

In the words of Billy Graham, "The United Methodist Church has in place the structure to save the world." (paraphrase)

We operate under a system that reveres oversight. The local church is under the oversight of the pastor. The pastor is under the oversight of the superintendant and the superintendant is under the oversight of the Bishops. Our connection is in more than our organization. In many ways, our connection is the reason that our organization works. Connectionalism is about much more than being presided over by Bishops. It is about the convenant groups that we are part of together. The laity are part to one another, the clergy are part to one another. Together we do the business of the Church in conferences that are then party together in the general conference. This is about more than government. It is about accountability, discipline, and ministry.

11:15 PM  

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