Friday, May 18, 2012

General Conference–A Post Mortem

I’ve been trying to gather my thoughts on The United Methodist Church’s General Conference in Tampa since it ended a couple of weeks ago. I wasn’t there, but I watched it on TV.

Well, not TV exactly. I watched far too much of the live streaming on my laptop, downloaded the app to my phone and followed the twitter stream as it lit up and cooled down and then lit up again for the entire time GC was in session. It was instructive to watch from a distance and remain (somewhat) detached. My training in Sociology kicked in and I was utterly fascinated by what I was observing.

Here are a few brief thoughts:

1. Our system isn’t broken – it works just fine. Seriously. The system we have is designed to prop up and perpetuate the system we have. It was put in place to ensure its own survival. And in Tampa, it did just that! Albert Einstein famously said, “We can't solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.” Tampa proved that in spades. Don’t be surprised we didn’t change anything substantive. We aren’t built to change. Be UPSET! Be ANGRY! Be DISAPPOINTED! But don’t be surprised.

2. We’re too big. The United Methodist Church is simply too big to be run the way its run. We are a world-wide church trying to function like a regionally franchised department store. One of our strengths is our world-wide connection. One of our weaknesses is our world-wide connection. That became obvious at General Conference when so many divergent worldviews clashed in such dramatic ways. It was obvious when our language barriers brought discussion, worship and communication grinding to a halt.

3. The future of The United Methodist Church will not be decided at General Conference. The future of the Church is and will be decided at the local church. I think we know this and at times it becomes something of a rallying cry. But we need to recognize it as truth and act accordingly. I’m a bit saddened by how distracted I became by the General Conference coverage. I’m refocusing now on my parish. That’s where ministry will happen. That’s where discipleship happens. That’s where lives will be changed. That’s where justice will roll down like thunder. And if it doesn’t, then someone needs to step aside and its probably me.

4. It costs way too much money. One figure I saw put it at $8 million – not including travel and expenses for delegates. That’s a lot of money (alert: understatement). I have a proposal for General Conference 2016 – how about we skip it? What say we take the $8 million and use it to tackle the world’s water problem. We couldn’t solve it, but we could make a serious dent in a global problem AND make a huge impact for the Gospel as well. And … we’d accomplish more than we did in two weeks in Tampa. [Hey, its a thought.]

5. Change will hurt – a lot. The system will not reform itself. We know that now. At least not until its too late. I think change is coming and I’d suggest we buckle up because its going to be a wild, wild ride. When [and if] change does come, its going to be really painful and the system may not survive the trauma. And you have to ask yourself if something good and Spirit-filled might come out of that.

~ Godspeed.

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