For most local church leaders, the Council of Bishops’ Call to Action is largely unknown – though leaders may have heard that we are going through a goal setting exercise this Charge Conference season as a result of it. The Call to Action, however, is about a whole lot more than metrics. While The Call to Action contains enough to keep critics busy, much is also worthy of our attention – especially how essential effective lay and clergy leadership is to congregational vitality. So in this and the next several posts, I want to share some of the Call to Action Report findings that are affirming, challenging and helpful.
What is the Council of Bishops’ Call to Action
? After the last general conference the Council of Bishops felt that the trends since the formation of The United Methodist Church in 1968 merited a different response. Business as usual isn’t working too well within the United States. If you want to hear and see a summary of the trends, check out this video clip: https://www.gbophb.org/flf2011/UMCRealitiesVideo.asp
. (There is no sound for the first 19 seconds) The Bishops pulled together a Call to Action task force that commissioned two major studies. One, performed by Towers Watson and based on statistics gathered by every congregation and reported at year end, sought to identify the drivers of congregational vitality. The other study was an independent operational assessment of our denomination performed by Apex. You can download the final report and the task force recommendations at: http://www.umc.org/site/c.lwL4KnN1LtH/b.5792195/k.BDBE/Call_to_Action_Reordering_the_Life_of_the_Church.htm.
What were the findings
? The general conclusion is that the United Methodist Church faces “an adaptive challenge.” An adaptive challenge, as opposed to a technical problem where the solution is known or an expert can be called in to fix it, requires that we learn and change personally – a skill, an attitude, a practice or a habit -- because the challenge is the result of a situation we have not faced before. (For a fuller discussion of adaptive challenges see: http://www.cultivatemission.org/wordpress/?p=20.)
The adaptive challenge for The United Methodist Church is:
To redirect the flow of attention, energy and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. (Call to Action, page 8)
What is a vital congregation? Please note that the understanding reflected here is that vital congregations are those that are fulfilling the mission on which Jesus sends his church (Matt. 28:16). Vitality is not defined primarily in terms of institutional strength or survival, but in terms of missional fulfillment!
The report goes on to say that in order for this adaptive challenge to be met, four things must occur among us. Paraphrased, they are:
· We must change our mindset so that our primary concern is fostering and sustaining missionally vital congregations: change our mindset.
· We must clarify and commit to dramatically higher missional performance expectations at all levels of the church: raise our expectations.
· We must expect and provide courageous leadership that challenges our current missionally ineffective practices and helps us discover and develop more effective strategies for fulfilling Christ’s mission in today’s communities and the world: en-courage our leadership.
· We must develop ways of measuring our missional vitality so that we can learn to be more effect at making more and better disciples who have a Kingdom impact in their community and the world: intensify our accountability.
We will look at the Call to Action’s specific recommendations in subsequent posts. For now, will you join me in reflecting on how you personally are doing at helping your congregation meet this adaptive challenge according to these four requisites?
· Am I helping our congregation stay focused on fulfilling Jesus’ command to make disciples who transform the world in his name? Or are there other things more important to me about my congregation than Jesus’ mission?
· Am I expecting our congregation to be fruitful in ministry? (See John 15:1-17) Or am I satisfied with my congregation continuing to do what we know and what is comfortable to us even if it is bearing less and less fruit?
· Am I open to the leadership of the Holy Spirit speaking through others – and me! – to challenge unfaithful attitudes and fruitless practices (even if I like them personally) and to experiment with new strategies (even if at first they make me uncomfortable) in order to learn new ways of fulfilling Jesus’ mission today? Or am I not open to the Spirit blessing others through us in new ways?
· Am I willing to hold myself and our ministry leaders accountable for becoming more fruitful – and even to discovering ways of measuring our effectiveness? Or am I unwilling to hold others or myself accountable for doing what Christ clearly asks of us?
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Dr. Jeff Stiggins
The Center for Congregational Excellence