The Worst Way to Run a Church?
The Worst Way to Run a Church?
I spend a lot of time thinking about “governance” issues. I think about them at the national level when we often criticize Congress for enacting bad legislation and in the same breath complain about its inaction. I think about governance of corporations as part of my work in helping investors consider environmental and social issues as part of their investment decision-making. I think about governance as I work with the group of churches that have banded together to form the United Methodist Ministries of Salem-Keizer, figuring out how to be in ministry together and making the decisions that need to be made. And I think about governance as we move toward General Conference 2016 in Portland.
Many of us in Oregon-Idaho are sure that the world would be a better place if we were able to make the changes we think are appropriate to the United Methodist Book of Discipline. There are also plenty of folks in the Southeast U.S. thinking how much better the world would be if they could make the changes they think are appropriate.
As all these groups come to General Conference, it’s easy to take on an “us versus them” attitude. One thing that feels like an absolute certainty is that plenty of people will leave disappointed, perhaps even flabbergasted, by the actions or inactions of the Conference. But that’s the way the process is structured. These are the governance mechanisms we’ve selected. To paraphrase a frequently cited Winston Churchill quote, the UMC General Conference is the worst way to run a church, except for all the others.
For ten days in Portland, 864 delegates from around the world will worship, pray, move, second, speak for, speak against, and vote. We might all wish for more worship and payer and less of the parliamentary stuff, but without the parliamentary stuff, the activities of the general church would cease. There may be those who think that would be a good outcome. But without the general church, we wouldn’t be fighting malaria so effectively. Without the general church, we wouldn’t be supporting the growth of the church in Africa. Without the general church, we wouldn’t have one of the most effective relief agencies in the world. Without the general church, we wouldn’t be united in prayer and worship worldwide through a direct denominational tie.
If you don’t like the “sausage making,” avert your eyes, but be thankful that it’s taking place. If you do like watching the process of decision-making and you’re looking for something different to do before you binge on the political conventions this summer, come witness the governance of your United Methodist Church taking place in your back yard.
Editors note: General Conference will meet May 10-20 at the Oregon Convention Center in Portland, Oregon. Worship and plenary sessions will be open to the public and live streamed. Learn more at GC2016.UMC.ORG.
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Mark Bateman is a delegate to the 2016 Western Jurisdiction Conference and will be attending General Conference as an additional reserve delegate and observer. Mark serves as a lay representative on the Board of Ordained Ministry and was part of the 2012 Delegation. He lives in Salem, Oregon.