Bearing the Weight…
We can change our organizational structure, the way we select and retain clergy leaders and the means by which we measure success, but unless we get a common sight-picture on the mission / doctrine piece, we’re not going to get very far. All of the elements of our institutional existence should support our missional – doctrinal self-understanding.
As I’ve continued to plow through the 1000’s of pages of General Conference petitions, resolutions, commentary, information packets, brochures, DVD’s booklets (even actual books which must have cost a pretty penny to print and distribute), blogs and letters (including pledges of prayer which are very appreciated, but also including specific instructions about voting in a particular way), Lewis’ words hit home and clarified my unease as I get ready for Tampa. The metaphor of weight-bearing walls keeps coming back to me, along with the concern that we’re expecting certain things to bear the weight of our communal life together that aren’t able to do so in the long run. Lewis is right – our organizational structure will only get us so far. Our decisions about how we train leaders or whether or not we have a set aside bishop won’t change our confusion (and in some cases conflict) over what we believe about Scripture and theology.
I’m reminded of the results of an exit poll of people who attended a seeker study from 2003-2006 at a variety of United Methodist churches. It indicated that we’re perceived as not knowing what we believe or why we believe it. Particularly disturbing were comments such as, “Methodists are all over the map. I spent almost a year finding out that they don’t have a clue what they really believe.” (Robin Russell, “Too Bland for Our Own Good?” Good News, January/February 2011, 20-21)
Though I don’t yet know what it will look like, I’m confident the United Methodist Church will have a new organizational structure at the close of General Conference. We’ll also probably have added something new or different to our approach to training ministers and dealing with bishops. What I’m not confident about is whether any of that will matter if the walls that actually bear the weight of our communal life together, “don’t have a clue what they really believe.”