Tuesday, March 29, 2011

British Methodists Ltd.

Good morning God,
What does it say about a Church that invests so heavily in 'independent consultants' to structure and restructure its existence?
Looked at positively I would say it might help us to hear the opinions of those who have not yet come to Christ, to determine where we fail to persuade them of the good news. But of course, that's not the area that the independent consultants are looking at: what obsesses our Church at the moment is management, management and more management.

Managing Change, Managing vision, Managing Staff, Managing for the future, Managing Leadership, Managing policy, Managing training, and of course, Managing decline -

Dear God we are drowning in bad mangement, policies, reviews, restructuring, regrouping, reorganising - when surely all that is needed is good ministry - lay and ordained?

I don't believe that independent business consultants can help us out of the Methodist Church's current predicament of how to renew confidence in the gospel so that we proclaim it with conviction and hence inspire others to follow Christ.
I dont believe that independent business consultants can help us to make more disciples of Jesus Christ.
All they can do is highlight how insecure we are in our calling by recommending proposals that make us behave more and more like a corporate business. I wouldn't mind - if it weren't so obvious that this 'business' has no idea what product or service it is selling, but  appears to exist merely to ensure that it exists!

We speak less and less about you God and more and more about how to manage our existence.

I don't blame the independent consultants for their recommendations - either at Connexional level or at District level - after all - we brought them in.

The blame lies fair and square on our own heads: The lack of confidence that YOU are leading us at every level of the Church, that you are with us, creates general uncertainty and makes us ask - where are we going, what should we be doing? But shamefully for a Church, we then turn to the secular world for inspiration and answers, rather than to you.

It's sort of obvious isn't it?
The lack of good pastoral care for one another leads to the necessary imposition of line management.
The lack of loud and clear inspirational proclamation of the Gospel in word and deed from ministers and members but especially from our appointed 'leaders', be they Connexional secretaries or District Chairs, leads inevitably to a confusion as to what we exist for - which filters down to every level.

And I have reached the stage where I alternate between anger and despair. Between wanting to resign my ministry, and wanting to fight for the right to minister according to how you have called me.
It's getting to the point where I no longer know whether I am supposed to be a minister or an employee of the Methodist Church.  Do I now 'work' for the Methodist Church - or am I in a covenant relationship which allows me to fulfill my calling from you God?

As a minister, I can understand and accept the discipline of the Methodist Church. As an employee I would never tolerate such 'working conditions', but would be demanding that the terms of my 'employment'  be revised to accord with European directives concerning work-life balance,

As a minister, I believe in the covenant relationship which means that the Church will safeguard my physical and Spiritual health and well being: that I will be 'watched over in love' and supported and enabled to do the work of God. ... but that's the real problem isn't it?  I might believe in the Convenant relationship, but that doesn't make it real. It doesn't seem to work in practice as all too many ministers (including myself) have discovered, resulting in increased demands from some for a more 'secular' form of oversight.

Tell me God, is it too late to ask for and work towards being a connexional church where the Circuit Superintendent is a mature minister of 15 to 20 years who sees themself as the first among equals rather than a line manager?  Where circuit staff, with circuit stewards, consider the work of God and the pastoral care of God's people the most important items on the agenda of any meeting? Where circuit leadership teams don't exist because the circuit meeting is still the place where decisions are prayerfully taken and where lay and ordained watch over one another in love and work together to ensure the necessary work of the Circuit is done? Where District Chairs are seen as the pastors to the ministers, rather than the disciplinarians of the District and where the Connexional Team exists to support and enhance the ministry of the whole people of God and knows that it is part of the wider Connexion, upheld by all in love and prayer?

The London District is exploring the option of replacing a Chair (we have 3) with a Chief Executive or other 'senior management' post at an appropriate time.. That just about says it all for me - for the Gospel to flourish we just need the work of the District to be better managed by a Chief executive.
Please God, do we really need so many tiers of governance and management for such a small Church? How on earth did we manage when we were a growing Church without any of this?
(could it be that we were a growing Church then precisely because we didn't have so many tiers of governance and management?)

I grieve deeply because the Methodist Church as 'Church' just doesn't make sense to me any more. Wesley would undoubtedly disown us on the grounds of our current polity and practice, and it seems almost offensive to refer to ourselves as 'Church' when we place so little confidence in Scripture, in your leadership, and in our ability to respond to your calling of us to proclaim the good news.

Perhaps its time to take one further recommendation from independent business consultants - We need to rebrand and rename ourselves so that people can understand what we are really about:
how about - British Methodists Ltd?
(with apologies to the original Methodists)


  1. Thank you Angie- this makes so much sense.

    Dear God, please help us to listen.

  2. Spot on, as always Angela. We're not quite that bad in Sheffield... yet, but it seems to be the way we're heading as circuits expand in size and diminish in number.

  3. It's not often I post on your blog Angie ...

    But on this occasion I just want to say that our synod yesterday in the Darlington District was filled with watching over one another in Love, filled with conversation about Discipleship with Neil Hudson from the LICC and those of us who were at different stages on our journey (being accepted for Ordination, sitting down or having died) were supported and blessed in ways I can't describe.

    So I want to say I think it's not all bad and God is still moving in the Methodist Church and I think allowing me and others to live out my God given calling ... which I praise God for.

    I hope and pray your synod isn't as bad as you think it might be.

  4. Completely agree with you about the incessant (and useless) trend towards business methods and ideas in the Methodist Church at the moment.

  5. Hang on, hang on, trend *towards* business methods and ideas? I am not an expert (or a Methodist) but my understanding is that this has always been the Methodist tradition - ever since Wesley set up "Societies" along the lines of the mutual societies, the credit unions of his day.

    What would Wesley think of appropriating secular organisational patterns in building his church? I think he's the master of it.

  6. In an ideal world, I agree with every word of this. The problem is when things go wrong. When a minister becomes a bully, what structures are there to manage their behaviour, when 'watching over in love' is not enough? Can you really have proper discussions on the payment of Lay employees on the floor of circuit meeting, without a Circuit leadership team having done some of the work first?

    Speaking personally, I would love a 'line manager'. When, as a school governor I did 'Investors in People' training, the line was that it is a right and a privilege to be well managed. It does not preclude 'watching over people in love' and if we had the proper trust between colleagues, I think things like ADR ought to be welcomed as a way of spiritual development and ministerial growth. By themselves management practices are not inimical to the gospel, they just need to be implemented as tools of the kingdom and not made the new idols of a secularised religion.

  7. We have a structure and procedure created to manage a much bigger denomination than we are today. Part of our problem is that we have become too centred on the person of the Minister. We give the game away when we appoint "District enablers" for this and that. To me this suggests that our real full time resource - ministers - are "disablers". Regretfully that is an impression I and many other lay people in the church have formed of our Ministers. Seeing your wife bullied and appealing to a hopeless district chair for support is not a pretty sight.

    I too despair of where we are going but I believe that it will start in individual churches rediscovering the joy of reading the scriptures and asking for a visitation of the Holy Spirit.

    I think that the Methodist Church will go in two directions: part of it will decay into a "new age" spirituality cult, much like the Quakers have done. Another part will emerge rooted in scripture and the Holy Spirit. The only outstanding issue is who gets the buildings and who gets the pension liabilities. In which case Methodism will organisationally become a holding company from which the two factions will function with increasing independence.

    Incidentally I refer to this post on my own blog today www.methodistpreacher.com.

  8. David,
    thank you for your post, but the problem is not synod based, it is Connexion wide. I fully expect good conversation, fellowship and stimulation at Synod, but I despair at the idea of chief executives, super supers and assistant chairs when we already have three!
    Simon - the difference is of course that Wesley's pragmatism was in service to the Gospel (there's no way we can say that ours is anything other than in service to ourselves and our existence!)
    Ian, having twice been on the receiving end of 'when things go wrong' I appreciate the sentiment - however the answer isn't to 'manage better' but to care more and practice what we preach.
    I would also welcome good oversight - but when so many Superintendents are untrained, and often too immature in terms of their own ministry to be able to 'reflect' theologically (leave alone practically) - it just isn't possible. There was a time once when ministers reflected on their ministry together, prayerfully, as part of their WEEKLY staff meeting. THAT was good pastoral practice and 'management'.
    David, sorry but I disagree. Our structure and procedures are a far cry from where they were when we were a flourishing Church. We lost touch with them some time ago.
    As for starting in individual Churches - that's what signifies the end of the Connexion.

  9. So you don't see a "bottom up" solution? That is precisely how the great moves of the Spirit created Methodism in the first place.

    The original Wesley connexion, the Primitives and the Bible Christians all happened because the Spirit moved among grass roots individual congregations.

    Much as I feel (and blog) that parts of the church are simply not functioning to the Glory of God, I don't think it is as simple as just another reoganisation, nor as complex of staying where we are, nor returning to some great (often imaginary) golden age.

    We are where we are. We have many declining congregations, we are in increasingly difficult financial circumstances (see the budget paper that goes to next months Methodist Council), we have made some catastrophic ordinations in recent years (which you hint at above).

    However we have some wonderful buildings and some great people. Obviously the connexion needs to provide basic due diligence oversight but over and above that we should encourage congregations to explore the opportunities and possibilities that come when Christians open their hearts to God. We have a hurting world which is reflected in our hurting church. How we handle that hurt has much to say to others.

    Let's stop looking over our shoulders and let's ficus on God. The best years of Methodism may well lay ahead, but it won't happen without very dramatic change. That will only come with that movement of the Spirit.

  10. Corin Keiler-LloydMarch 30, 2011 at 12:53 AM

    Methodist Preacher, your ideology is getting in the way of historical fact. The Evangelical Movement was led by many dedicated ministers, some of whom remained in the C. of E. and some of whom did not. The people flocked to hear them preach the Word. The people have never started a move of the Spirit. A few dedicated individuals have always been used by God.

    As to structure, some structures are better than others, but without the Spirit of God these dry bones will never live.

    The point about management is that it is the 'manus' of man. We need the Hand of God. Rules and law (secularism) move in when Love moves out. A loose 'Tolerance' and relativist liberalism have won the day. Methodism has set itself againt God in many ways. A unbiblical and self-righteous legalism has taken over. Metodism is doomed. Ichabod.

    It is merely a question of how long it will take to die.

  11. mmmm dear God I wonder why the church is in such a mess that others are being called upon, others who also seek the spirit of God and his guidance.Why God, have our presbyters throughout my life time not encouraged me to be a discple and follower of Jesus but have often just done evrything themsleves. In my life time in church I have come across only one presbyter, as my local minister, who actually encouraged me to take seriouslly my personal discipleship and growth and this led me to a role as one of those who are trying to lead the church to a new creation.
    The church after all is an insititution as well as Christ's body and we are called to use all the tools we have; scared and secular to work with and for God's purposes in the world.
    We need eachother, lay and ordained, managers and preachers, both inspired by God's holy spirit.


  12. Thanks Corin, Readers may be a little confused by your comment. To set it in context it is a response to my own post http://methodistpreacher.blogspot.com/2011/03/cpd-is-actually-worth-read.html

    Let me reassure you that I fully accept that revivals of the past and revivals of the future will be the sovereign work of God.

    However I believe that such a move requires a preparedness on the part of God's people to pray and work for such a revival.

    The problem we have in the Methodist Church is that a tiny minority hunger for such a revival. A greater number are indifferent because they themselves have never known the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in their own lives.

    There is a well placed critical mass of members, often ministers, who are actively hostile to any move of the Spirit. They are comfortable with a theology which does not challenge. They feel that they can flourish in the cosy, cliquey bureaucracy of which CPD is the descriptor.

    In our present time I agree with you that for all intents and purposes the Methodist Connexion is a secular, rather than spiritual organisation. We are not a body of believers but a corporation that have lost our way.

    Martyn Atkins in his book "Resourcing Renewal" understands this, but one only has - for example - to read the blog of the current President and Vice President to understand how isolated he is. (I don't think Martyn will thank me for being this explicit!) On a more junior level one only needs to read the Connexions blog to see how, for some, faith is a game and the church little more than a playground for grown ups.

    But unlike you Corin I do not accept that Methodism is doomed. Over the last three centuries variations of Methodism have spun out of the movement and been used powerfully by G-d. That process will continue.

    Meanwhile many in our congregations come from a different cultural tradition than the tired and cynical middle class of Britain. We have yet to see what impact the 25% of Methodists in London from West Africa are yet to have on the wider connexion.

    There remains a remnant within Methodism. And where there is a remnant there remains the possibility of change. Dry bones can become a mighty army!

  13. Susan,
    thank you for your comment - though I am sad to read it. I guess we are far from perfect as a Church. I would want to echo what you have said about sacred and secular working together - but the balance has to be right.
    We once had a wonderful belief in the priesthood of all believers.. its not too late to reclaim and proclaim it.
    I wish you well in your role - and pray that it flourishes by God's grace.

  14. >> "one only needs to read the Connexions blog to see how, for some, faith is a game and the church little more than a playground for grown ups"

    Do I need to say how strongly I resent that?

  15. Richard
    No,you do not.
    And I share your sentiment.

    Sorry for not moderating it but I confess I have learned the hard way that trying to respond/moderate David's worst comments - gets nasty very quickly.

    Your own blog is well known as a place for good interactive theological discussion for Christians in general and Methodists in particular - and ALWAYS worth a read (which is Connexions is part of my blog role and the Methodist Preacher is not)