By Rev. Robert Beckum
The South Georgia Annual Conference Delegation for General and Jurisdictional Conferences continues to meet in its preparation for General Conference. Central to our preparation is a careful study of The Call to Action. This Call to Action will be the center around which most proposed legislation before this General Conference revolves. Some proposals seek to implement the plan and others seek to modify the plan, but there is no comprehensive “alternative” plan of action to be considered. The true alternative to the Call to Action would be to leave our United Methodist structure for ministry and mission the way it is and seek to implement the call for spiritual renewal in all of our lives, churches and conferences.
There is much in the Call to Action that is obviously good and for which there is broad consensus among United Methodists: the call to focus, at all levels of the church, on the primary mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ; the call for spiritual renewal throughout the denomination; the call for a concerted effort to grow more vital congregations; and the call for more bold and transformative leadership in pursuit of our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
There are, however, many questions and differences of opinion as to how best achieve the outcomes articulated in The Call to Action. For example, is the bold call to reorder our 13 General Boards and Agencies into basically four offices, with a fifth office for administrative services, the best way for us to exercise faithful stewardship, find new focus and redirect energy and resources to the Annual Conferences and local churches for making disciples? In the current proposal, board oversight for the 13 boards and agencies would be reduced from 576 to 60, but all staff positions and agency functions will be preserved. The resulting financial savings ($3 to $4 million in travel and meeting costs) would be largely offset by the cost of the new “Administrative Bishop” within the Council of Bishops (estimated to cost $2.5 million). If we approve a sweeping restructuring plan that from the onset is committed to preserving all general board and agency staff and the current functions of all the boards and agencies, is such action truly adaptive change and reflective of transformative leadership?
Many feel that The Call to Action does not go nearly far enough in shifting a generations-long focus on General Boards and Agencies to a new focus on Annual Conferences and local churches as the primary arena for making disciples and creating a more Christ-like world. Admittedly, there are some functions that must be done by denominational boards and agencies, but those functions are few and are overwhelmingly administrative. In order to redirect energy and resources for the creation of more vital congregations, many believe that there must be (in the words of Lovett Weems) a re-setting of the financial baseline for ministry and mission. Local churches have been struggling with this re-setting, our South Georgia Annual Conference has been struggling with this re-setting, and the General Church must as well.
The Call to Action is a great start to an important conversation about our future as a denomination. Critical questions before us are: is it the best way to achieve the stated outcomes, does it go far enough to achieve needed changes, and are there unintended consequences in The Call to Action that would actually produce undesirable outcomes?
Your South Georgia Delegation would love to hear your thoughts (pro, con, or otherwise) on the Call to Action before us. Feel free to contact any delegation member or you can share your ideas with me, and I will share them with the entire delegation as we meet. You may contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Rev. Robert Beckum serves as the senior pastor at St. Luke United Methodist Church in Columbus. He can be reached at email@example.com.