Methodism, Complexity, & Mediocrity

In yesterday’s post, I drew a link between a church’s complexity and its mediocrity.

Unfortunately, the typical Methodist Church is an inherently complex being. Here are just a few examples of the intricacies of the system:

  • The pastor-in-charge reports to four different entities: the Church Council, the Pastor-Parish Relations Committee (ours is called the SPRT, or Staff-Parish Relations Team), the District Superintendent, and the Annual Conference through the Board of Ordained Ministry. Whew! A lot of masters! Who has the final say? Who knows? While some level of checks-and-balances is no doubt healthy, this reporting structure as currently configured brings about confusion.
  • Most churches in our system invite every conceivable advocacy group — men, women, youth, music, missions, and others — to have their own ministry domains and to do their own fund raising. So you have built in competition for calendar time and congregational dollars. If you look at a typical church bulletin, it includes a long menu of ministry options as well as a calendar of upcoming fund raising events.
  • The denomination itself invites its churches to do special offerings on a wide array of . . . you guessed it, denominational emphases. Peace With Justice Sunday, Native American Awareness Sunday, and One Great Hour Of Sharing are just a few of the myriad of promotional pieces we receive from UMC headquarters. With so many different caucuses and emphases, it is difficult for people in local church to know what their congregation focuses on.
  • This is not a systemic issue but a personal one . . . most of us UMC pastors are such people pleasers that we will allow folks to begin ministries that are neither strategic nor effective. But we let them do it so they won’t get upset with us and move on to a church that will allow them the role they envision for themselves.

The list could go on.

Here at Good Shepherd, we’ve still got much more complexity than I am comfortable with. But we’ve takens steps towards simplicity: 1) We have very few “interest group” ministries — all our spiritual growth opportunities come under the larger heading of “Groups, Classes, and Events.” 2) No fund raisers. Don’t come to GSUMC looking for a bake sale, BBQ, or pumpkin patch. We do God’s one appointed fund raiser — the Sunday offering — and spend the rest of the time doing ministry rather than asking for money. 3) We (me?) are getting better at saying, “no, we don’t have that ministry here, but I can give you some resources that will accomplish the same thing.”

And the results of this pursuit of simplicity? Greater focus, community, and effectiveness. Seeing how far we have come “simply” makes us recognize how far we have to go.