Thursday, February 25, 2010

UMC: A Vision of Intentional Renewal Strategy

Okay, so if we build off the assumption of yesterday's post and say that renewal is going to come from going outside the church and bringing about renewal from the outside-to-inside rather than focusing on the inside in the hopes of pushing it outside then what could be an intentional strategy for doing this?

(1) Place theologically trained clergy in communities not churches (Expanded Detail coming March 1)

Now, I know when we are placed at churches we are placed to serve the communities also. However, what if we just intentionally placed clergy in communities as missionaries to create networks of Christians. (Note: Not to build a church, but to build a community of disciples networked together) They could be named UMC Network: Winona; UMC Network: Nashville; UMC Network: New York, etc. (I am somewhat imagining as a possibility some type of adaptive morphing of the class system set up by John Wesley....maybe house fellowships)

Of course, the question should be raised: How are we going to fund the clergy position if there is no church?

(2) Redefine the responsibilities of clergy (Expanded Detail coming March 2)

Let's be honest: In the current system the primary time consumer for clergy is: administration (under the umbrella of "Order"...specifically referring to elder orders now). What if we thought of clergy more as missionaries whose primary task is to help make disciples and to connect them, enabling them to take over (administration of sacraments would follow an adaptation of circuit rider method just in local network....)

(3) Rethink how clergy are supported and support themselves (Expanded Detail March 3)

What if we had our clergy graduating debt free (student loans, etc.) and sent them into communities and only provided the following: housing, utilities (cell phone, internet, and water, heat, garbage, etc.---not tv or landlines---), and insurance will be dealt with in another topic. Clergy would be responsible for finding work to pay for necessities outside this and any luxuries. (yes that means finding jobs and might I suggest possibly choosing jobs that mean interaction with people)

(4) Reorganize how provide health insurance (Expanded Detail coming March 4)

Health insurance is a huge cost to churches/conferences/pastors and is only continuing to rise and will continue on that pattern as long as we continue on in classic models. Shane Claiborne inspired me to rethink how we do health insurance through his book Irresistible Revolution and how he participates in a health insurance co-op. There is some promise, I believe in the model and their intentional network that involves prayer and support is an inspiring model.

(5) Move beyond the "church building" model (Expanded Detail coming March 5)

This is connected to the item #1. The fact is buildings cost money to build and maintain, so what if we used buildings already constructed. The possibilities are endless: homes, stores, etc. (we could even look at recycling buildings that are abandoned and reconstruct and meet there and maybe incorporate housing, etc.) Church buildings could still exist, but I think we are going to have to move past the mentality which says to be a church means to have a building (or be moving towards having a building).

I am still thinking of more and would be interested in others reactions to the above or any suggestions they may have.

My plan is to expand each point in detail next week in daily posts.


  1. Hey Justin, I gave a lot of thought to this upon reading it on Friday. Your post has stood open in my web browser since then. I think your proposal is interesting, but it would require a great deal of risk taking on behalf of denominational leadership, and at this point I would question whether the end of a venture as you have outlined would result in renewal.

    The missing components in every discussion of renewal I have seen thus far has consisted of a lack of a robust doctrinal formulation, and the lack of a well developed eschatology. Most of the stress is placed on form, which, granted, is important. It is my current impression that most UMC emphasis on church planting (in my mind, the key to renewal) stresses the need for a marketing strategy and a business plan, rather than instilling in those called to planting a theology that will infiltrate the forms, methodologies, and practices that lead to the building of a body of people called Christian (and, if you like, you can add the tag, "Methodist").

    I commend your efforts here, and hope you inspire others to think along the same lines. I don't think the fate of every appointment is administration, and even if clergy are appointed to communities, I think they should be moving a step beyond networking and lay down the requisite discipline to be a church. That will lead to the renewal, hopefully, of both that community and the church at large.

  2. Here's the thing about graduating debt-free from seminary:

    Indebtedness makes possible incarnational ministry.

    If you are called to ministry with the poor (a call which Jesus seemed to think fit most of His disciples), then will you not be able to be more Christlike when you understand first-hand how ketchup sandwiches make sense or how frustrating it is to choose between paying the mortgage and paying for your child's dental visit?

    Conversely, to what degree is relative affluence an impediment to incarnational, relational ministry with the poor? More than "zero," I think.

  3. OK, so this piece will likely belong under #3 but because I'm not good at regular reading, I may not check on tomorrow. Let me expand my comment on how clergy support themselves by directing you to the comments section on this post last* March from a dude in Oklahoma, reflecting on the lopsided candidates:appointments ratio.

  4. Ben-

    I think you are right. My Focus #1 on Theologically trained clergy was a move to try and get some of that.

    These are just beginnings of thoughts in my mind and definitely not fleshed out.

    I appreciate your reflections.

  5. Jerad-

    In response to your first comment. The debt-free from seminary is a movement to try and say that we as a church feel that your theological training is going to help us as a whole body to be better.

    I understand what you are saying about incarnational ministry, but I think the argument may be flawed.

    (1) Poor/Poverty isn't about debt. In fact there are many who are poor and impoverished that have absolutely no debt and it is about just basic survival. (At one point in my life this was where we were as a family and it wasn't related to debt)

    (2) I am not sure that one has to be in the exact situation to be able to be incarnational. (Now don't mistake what I am saying...this will be fleshed out tomorrow.....the debt-free isn't about having more money, it is about being able to use the money to help others...allowing some incarnational ministry to occur...which I believe is about being in the flesh (relationship) with people. (You have inspired another post by me that will come after I get back from our campus ministry trip to Durham in mid-March)

  6. Justin, good point on #1.

    I didn't entirely see how #2 was fleshed-out, but I do believe that empathy (feeling the emotions of another) is more effective than sympathy (knowing how another must be feeling) in developing a relational ministry.

    God bless your trip to Durham!

  7. Jerad-

    I am hoping that as the 5 focus have been dealt with in a bit more detail that you have seen how essentially clergy would have to make tough decisions. Not life or death, but perhaps pay for cable tv or have a little better food, and depending on health occurances it could get tough. Leading to empathy.

    However, I still want to have a conversation with you over empathy vs. sympathy.....I think the difference is key and want to flesh it out with you sometime.