Questions from Annual Conferences 2012
I have received two questions, during this season of Annual Conferences, which were voiced by several people from both conferences. I have tried to write them in such a way that I do justice to all the people who spoke with me about these two topics:
First burning question: “Do you think that we, as a Church, are “dead in the water,” too big to change and too slow to respond to the needs of young people, particularly young clergy?”
Second burning question: “Do you want a “new” boss, or do you prefer the current one?” (You might be surprised at how often this question has been asked of me. I know that I have been, but I do want to give as clear and honest an answer as I can!)
Question number one came from some people who were very disillusioned by their first General Conference and what took place in Tampa. The politics, the lobbying between factions, and, in the end, the lack of substantial change in both the structure of the church and the language of the Discipline concerning matters of human sexuality left those United Methodists with a sour taste in their mouths as they contemplated the future of our Church. I understand their point of view and their frustration. I really do! But, for me, the events in Tampa did not so much cast our future in stone as it invited us to take an active role in living into a future of our own making. If you will permit a theatrical metaphor, it is more like improvisation than speaking lines that someone else has written for us. Oh, I fully realize that the potential is there for us to give up and give in to a bleak future of repeating past mistakes. But it doesn’t have to be so. In my way of thinking about God’s “kingdom” it is more about “free will” than “predestination.” We are writing the future as we go along.
That being said, and I really do believe it, what we have written by word and deed over the last few years has not been particularly encouraging. We United Methodists have seemed to be more interested in preserving the past than in creating a future for the church we say we love. And that’s the part that I don’t completely understand about us. We can’t say we don’t know what’s needed. We have studied the demographics, we have analyzed the data and we have looked at successful models of growing churches. (Please note that I referred to the plural when speaking about models of growing churches. There is more than one model that works!) We just can’t seem to embrace any model of church that does not have ‘me’ or ‘us’ at the center of the design: we want worship that meets our needs; church that looks like the church I remember; young people who value the same things that we valued when we were their age. Friends, there is nothing new in what I have just written. You can read it anywhere people talk about the church and the future. We know the problem and we know what we need to do to fix it. The question facing us as we come out of General Conference 2012 is: will we make disciple-making and world transformation our mission or won’t we? Will we – as the church of today – make the church about Jesus and what Jesus needs, or will it continue to be about us and what we need? What I need is important to me, just as what you need is important to you. But can we together come to a place where what we need is for our church to outlive us? Only we can write the answer to that burning question.
Concerning question number two: I have always said that I serve “at the pleasure of the Bishop” and nowhere in my ministerial career has that statement been more accurate than it is in this job! Bishop Keaton called me out from the ranks of the elders to serve for a time as his clergy assistant and I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to be of service to the Michigan Area in this way. Bishop Keaton and I will always have the special bond that comes with being chosen and I would be less than honest if I did not acknowledge that right up front.
What I want to focus on here is that we are both itinerant clergy who serve under the authority of another and our future is not in our hands. It is part of the whole package of being a clergy person in The United Methodist Church. Come September 1st 2012, Deo Volente, I will be the clergy assistant to the resident bishop of the Michigan Area, as I am today, and will continue to be so as long as I am physically able and it is still “the pleasure of the bishop.” I can truthfully say that the “who” is not as important to me as you might think. Being open and obedient to the will of God as it is expressed through the Jurisdictional Committee on the Episcopacy is the important thing. I may desire a particular outcome. Bishop Keaton may desire a particular outcome. But what we desire is truly secondary to what God decrees, and, ultimately, that will be what we both desire.
And those are my answers to your burning questions for this month. May God bless us all with faith and hope and, above all, love!
By: Bill Dobbs On 6/13/2012
Topics: Burning Question