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Call to Action Planning

Laura Nichol, a member of the Call to Action Interim Operations Team, facilitates a conversation about the cultural changes The United Methodist Church needs to reverse decades of declining U.S. membership. (Photo credit: UMNS - Heather Hahn)

Logic seems to have failed some of us Methodists — probably because we aren’t Vulcans, or something like that.

United Methodists all over the blogosphere and twitterverse are posting and tweeting logical fallacies right and left, mostly in the area of the recent Call to Action initiative that will be addressed at General Conference in just a few days.

Most recently, a photo of a recent denominational meeting has been circulating. The photo depicts a woman standing next to a flip-chart with some key phrases on it:

  • Denominational Goal
  • Stop the Decline
  • Encourage Growth

This has incurred the derogatory commentary of many who feel that Call to Action is all about numbers and not about denominational vitality. The recurring theme is that our denomination should be about the core principles of our faith and not about metrics.

The revelation here is that we don’t have to choose one or the other. United Methodists can make disciples of Jesus Christ. We can stop the decline of our denomination. United Methodists can renew their faith and commitment to supporting their church with their prayers, their presence, their gifts and their service, and their witness. And we can thus encourage growth, both spiritually and numerically.

Leaders embrace a logical fallacy to assume that these are mutually exclusive.

Vulcan (Star Trek)

Vulcan (Star Trek) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In fact, the opposite is true. For over a decade now, the denominational goal has been to Make Disciples. This phrase has been the “focus” from our denominational leadership and implemented across our multiple-silo structure for that same length of time — and without much traction achieved in slowing our numeric issues. I would also argue that we haven’t seen much traction with pastors and our leadership of local congregations toward a deeper and more significant faith.

Logic is a subject that hasn’t been taught in schools in a long time. But it still deserves our attention. God is not the author of confusion, but the Designer of Order. Things have a tendency to make sense if they are thoughtfully examined. Much of the rhetoric of this election cycle can be seen for what it is when examined in the light of truth and logic. Television commercials lose some of their hypnotic draw. Theology doesn’t have to make a constant appeal to mystery (though there is certainly plenty of room left for it). And you don’t have to be a Vulcan like Mr. Spock to make this happen.

Accountable Discipleship, Accountable Leadership

The key is accountability.

As a denomination, we’ve clearly defined our identity. We are the Church that Makes Disciples. And, by embracing our Wesleyan heritage, we are the Church that does so via small groups. A cursory review of our denominational history paired with a five-minute study of Matthew 25 reveals that we are mission-minded, both monetarily and with regard to our hands-on ministry efforts. And vital worship has always been a key factor in Methodist identity.

So why aren’t we growing? Why aren’t we thriving?

The answer is simple, but hard to acknowledge: Too many of our churches resist the call to discipleship. And too many pastors, for a variety of reasons, fail to create the tension needed to draw their congregations into vital discipleship. In short, there is a lack of accountability.

Strengthening Our Priorities, Not Replacing Them

The claim that we are replacing our denominational identity and priorities with a set of metrics is a red herring. Call to Action does not replace our denominational priorities with metrics. Call to Action bolsters our belief in our denominational priorities by making them real priorities. I wrote about this in Call to Action: Don’t Confuse the “What” with the “How.”

Examine the budgets of non-vital churches (and Towers Watson did) and you see that their priorities often lie elsewhere. Examine the goals of their church councils, and you’ll see that many are replete with platitudes regarding disciple-making. But upon examining their church council minutes, you are more likely to find discussions about “museum mindsets” and a greater emphasis on pet projects that once served the kingdom, but now serve as little more than a drain on church resources.

There’s another assumption that seems to be at work here: Pastors cannot do real ministry and maintain an appropriate focus on metrics. This is false as well. But in congregations where metrics become all-consuming, this could certainly be true. The trick is to keep “the main thing” the main thing.

To put this another way, the United Methodist Church has spent the better part of the last two decades on two major initiatives. The first was to re-establish that our goal was to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The second was to promote evangelism through our Igniting Ministry campaign. But a soul-searching examination of that particular initiative revealed that we were basically advertising a “product” that didn’t exist: Vital, open, welcoming churches engaged in world-transforming ministry. As a former Igniting Ministry National Trainer, I discovered an incredible number of churches across the country that were, in my opinion, not yet ready to receive the influx of newcomers. They just couldn’t provide what the commercials were promising. Newcomers arriving in those churches starting asking a question that dates back to the ’80s. “Where’s the beef?

We got the cart before the horse.

If our third decade of reform had come second, we might have seen more real results from Igniting Ministry and the related attempts to evangelize our culture. From thirty thousand feet up, a call for accountability makes much more sense than the detractors might claim.

Our priorities remain the same. And while metrics may seem to take center stage, they are merely a supporting role — but a key role, nonetheless. Without accountability, our priorities will continue, in many places, into another decade of lip-service, posturing, and self-deception.

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