This is the last of a few pieces I am writing in response to some questions I have been asked by clergy and lay leaders of our district. Throughout the winter I have tried to meet with each of those folks individually. Several of them asked questions that I thought might well interest more folks than the questioners themselves. I am very appreciative of any question you may have (especially if you are reading all this) so feel free to give me some other ones.
“How do you explain the Annual Conference to people?”, OR, a few times, “How do you explain the United Methodist Church’s structure?”
Great questions. Having tried to answer those questions lots of times, here’s what I say:
- The UMC’s (or Annual Conference’s) structure is a set of interlocking relationships that set me free to do ministry wherever I am. (That’s in the Book of Discipline, Para. 125)
- Our structure exists because we need each other; I am better for the partnership of brothers and sisters who help me do things that I (or my church) can’t do by ourselves. (Philippians 1:3-6)
- The UMC’s structure (or Annual Conference’s structure) is a covenant, a spiritual reality that makes statements about God (and God’s amazing grace), as well as, our need for human accountability and ways for discipleship.
- Our structure is a making real what we understand theologically about the nature of the church and our own natures (both our potentials and our limitations).
- The Annual Conference (or the UMC) is like a family, a big family, where you may have some relatives that you wouldn’t exactly choose—just like they might not choose you—but you know that your life would be poorer without them.
- The UMC’s structure was not designed to always keep me comfortable. (Nor was the Annual Conference’s. Personally, I know that I need to be challenged to grow. Who wants a denomination, a local church, or a small group that’s an echo chamber? I don’t. I grow by being questioned, challenged, sometimes pushed or prodded, and by being asked to do the same for other folks. Anyone remember the early church disputes such as Acts 15?)
- The structures we have enjoyed in various forms for years have led us to evangelize and to transform large parts of the world. (I.e., our experience—just like in the Wesleyan Quadrilateral—is that it works.)
- Our structure is a gift. Sometimes unwieldy and frustrating but a gift God has used in our lives.
Then, you can give them books, websites, and details, but set the stage for them. Glad we are tied together in order to be freed to live as the Lord’s daughters and sons, sisters, and brothers with each other.
Grace and peace from your brother,
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Hello from Harvey – TIES THAT SET US FREE
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