By: Bishop Scott Jones On 5/29/2012
Topics: Bishop's Columns & Blogs
One of my favorite book titles—it’s a history of Methodism in the United States—is Charles Ferguson’s “Organizing to Beat the Devil.” The metaphor shows that our Wesleyan movement is out to serve God and help achieve God’s purposes—whether that is beating the devil or spreading scriptural holiness.
We began as a movement within the Church of England. Our separation from them was not based on doctrinal disagreement. It was a question of organizing. Methodism began in England as a connection of societies.
Over time, our church splits and mergers have often focused around structure and how best to accomplish our mission. We have had different perspectives on bishops, the role of laity in decision-making, the role of women, proper representation of geographic regions and other organizational issues. In the past 70 years, we have multiplied our rules and bureaucracy thinking that would serve our mission. Our “Book of Discipline” has become far too big. We are too rule-bound in things that do not matter.
The 2012 General Conference debated the reorganization of our general agencies. Sixty percent of the delegates voted to move our agencies into a new structure that would be more collaborative and efficient with greater representation from all parts of The United Methodist Church. Unfortunately, the plan had a flaw that rendered it unconstitutional. Our official agency structure remains in a 1970s time warp for four more years.
It is time for a more 21st-century, networked approach to connectionalism.
I hope all kinds of people are collaborating for the sake of our mission. Here are some ideas:
The illustrations could go on a long time.
The role of leaders is to empower people to network and organize to help United Methodism make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The days of a top-down mandate from Nashville or New York that tells each of us what to do next are gone. Rather, the needed innovations will come from experiments in local churches and campus ministries that are then shared widely through our networks.
United Methodism needs to be less rule-bound and more of a Spirit-led movement. I want to be bishop of that kind of church.