Second, we had some conversations with our district leadership and two of our Leadership Development Ministers (conference positions that help us all to think about various aspects of ministry) about one of Lovett Weems 10 Provacative Questions - particularly
Can the church change to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse
There were a variety of area clergy and lay people there and in many ways we broke the question down into many different parts.
1) what church are we talking about?Certainly we on the bigger level were talking about the institution which is extremely hard to change. But if we think about the local congregational level, change can be difficult too. What happens when the church is seen as the body of Christ? THEN I think, we start to realize that not only do we need younger people and more diverse people and we must change to include them, but that we need them because we are not complete without them. It is like walking around without an arm, or without a head.
2) are we thinking about growth? success in numbers? fruitfulness?While we think that our church has been in numerical decline since the 1960's, we have actually been in decline as a percentage of the population in the US since the 1880's. But what we talked a lot about is that # of butts in the pew does not equal disciples of Jesus Christ. The point that another young leader and I tried to push was that disciples of Jesus Christ does not also equal butts in a pew. All of us agreed, disciples were the goal and so in many ways, we need a whole different metric for even thinking about the question of how we measure "success" on that front.
3) what kind of change are we talking about?here is the hard part. Each and every church is different and will have to look different as we reach out to the varied populations that we live in. All of us will have to take seriously our context and who is around us: low-income? hispanic? upper middle class blacks? a whole city of 20-30 somethings? One pastor made very clear that we cannot all be a like, and perhaps we simply have to name that and claim that and live authentically the kind of church that we are called to be. Which is absolutely true. But we also wrestled with the fact that it is hard to do that with a structure and a discipline that makes conformity to the rule more desireable than fruitfulness.
An example: needing to have three year rotating terms for the Board of Trustees. I am never going to get young people to serve on that committee. They don't want to committ for that amount of time! Short term projects are more desireable. But the whole structure would have to be changed to give the kind of flexibility and grace that is needed (see Lovett Weems question: Can we move from a structure of control to a structure of grace?) We also need to rethink the entire structure of the conference - in today's modern technological and informational world, do we need district finance and district church and society and district this and that? no. their function has been replaced by the conference website.
I guess the piece about this conversation coming immediately after General Conference is that there is some talk about this need for change and flexibility. The structures that we have engrained in our Book of Discipline may have made sense for United Methodism in the United States in the 1960's. But they don't make sense for us today, and they REALLY don't make sense for the United Methodist Church in Nigeria! I have great hopes that the church structure itself will have the room to change as we begin to either a) create regional disciplines or b) simply chop down the Discipline to the things that truly matter - the funadamentals of our church and provide a structure of grace for the church to be what it needs to be in ANY given community.