Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Thinking theologically about British Methodism Ltd.

Good morning God,
Yes.. I've simmered down a little - enough at least to begin to think this through theologically rather than just emotionally. I want to get at the root of what really disturbs me in the way in which our Church is now being managed: I have, after all, been a great advocate of British Methodism, our theology and polity alike... So what is it that distresses me so much?

It's your seeming absence God.
Its the way in which all the things that bind us together as Church rather than institution, are so often missing from our communications, the Scripture, the theology, the faith hope and love.
Instead we have summaries of impact including risk assessments of what we propose to do...
It's the way in which we seem to have so little confidence in your ability to lead us that we are determined to do it all ourselves.

We have decided our priorities
We have fixed the buget
We have created our governance structures
We have rewritten our language and modus operandi 
All of which now allows us to determine how best to 'manage' the work of your Church - and decide what work we will do - and how to communicate it - based on OUR priorities of course, and the money available.

It can appear God, from our Conference and Council papers, that we have decided we can do quite well at being the British Methodist Church, without you.

I know that there are good, well meaning and capable people working within Methodism at every level - circuit through to Connexional team. People who are committed to serving you God to the best of their ability. Even those within the Connexional Team who have no faith or are of a different denomination, are required to uphold the stated priorities of the Methodist Church. The things that distress me are not their fault! They work hard at their jobs/ministry.

I cannot blame one individual or group of individuals or governance level for what distresses me now - I can only blame the apathy of the Methodist people themselves.

We have allowed this seemingly inexorable slide into secular religion by taking no real notice of what is being done in our name. It's perfectly possible in British Methodism for members and ministers alike to pay no heed to what the Connexion is doing. But by ministers and members taking no interest in, and not challenging the reports presented to Conference we have allowed you, our faith, language and theology - our very identity - to be replaced by what can often appear to be a godless secular business, complete with tiered management structures, officers, secretaries, senior managers etc, professional business and financial correspondence and a grim determination to complete a merger with some other 'company' before we go bankrupt.

As a former managing director of three IT companies, I am all too aware of the necessity of good management in business. I approve of good employment policies, sound accounting and risk assessments.

But I don't believe your Church was meant to be a pseudo business. I find nothing in Scripture to support that idea, no model of Church or community that can be used to justify or uphold this current seeming obsession with fiscal management, risk aversion and irreligious language.

Scripture seems to say that Your Church is not a business - it is a body: a disabled body, I grant - but a body nonetheless. It is, you tell us, the body of Christ on earth. I recognise that because of who we are, it is still significantly limited in its abilities and restricted in its movement, especially when it is not properly formed, missing its feminine qualities, or when it is dis-eased and suffering. But it is YOUR body, not ours. You shape and form us according to your will.
The life-blood of this body should be your Spirit, God - not money.
The body needs to be fed with your Word, not with our jargon.
This body needs to be held together by YOUR priorities - not ours!

But what does this mean in practice?
It doesn't mean that we throw away good practice in terms of oversight - but it does mean that we understand oversight less in terms of human resources, line management and power, and more in terms of pastoral care of the body of Christ.

It undoubtedly does mean we learn once again to 'manage' a little less and be prepared to take more risks - as you call us.. (regardless of the budget implications!)

It means being prepared to put YOUR priorities first - not ours, and learning once again how to speak the language of faith. How to communicate to one another in ways that also communicates your grace and your purpose rather than just our standing orders or budget implications.

It means being confident enough in your leadership of us to not need 'independent consultants' to tell us how well we are fulfilling our calling.

So yes - It means taking the focus off us,  and onto your creation, your people.
And I guess that means not being ashamed of the name that you gave us, the Word that inspires us and the task to which you have called us.

We have nothing to do but save souls...

Do we really need independent consultants to tell us how to do that?


  1. I agree with you when you say " I can only blame the apathy of the Methodist people themselves."
    When asked what I think the deepest problem is within the church today I always say that it is our loss of confidence in God which has a knock on effect on who we are.

    If we are not relating to the God who loves us, the God who has called us then we are essentially wandering in the wilderness...

    Thank you because you have given me inspiration for my Church Away Weekend- a refocusing task...

    Let's look to God!

  2. Food for thought ... sometimes I just want to tuck in and get on with being church in my little corner of the connexion because I see God at work in our newly formed cell groups and our outreach projects. But at the same time, I'm being asked to consider the amalgamation of circuits to make something bigger at the heart of which, for me, MUST be God's vision and the pastoral care for one another that you speak of.
    Please Lord, don't let us go off on our own tangent but help us to hold on to you, taking with us all that is good about our Methodist heritage and values so that we are what you will make us.

  3. The Methodist Church apparently has as its number one priority: "To proclaim and affirm its conviction of God's love in Christ, for us and for all the world; and renew confidence in God's presence and action in the world and in the Church." I think that is wonderful, but how much of our life at local or Connexional level really reflects that?

    Confidence in God is both crucial, but also for many people incredibly difficult at a time of personal hurt, and also at a time of church decline, and rise of well-thought out, well-publicised and passionate atheism.

    How we do that, without retreating into the bunker and responding to the challenges of the secular world with a naive, simplistic faith, just to make us try and feel good is a major challenge.

    Is it too much to ask the Connexional team to concentrate on the published priorities, or are we too divided theologically as a church to be able to do this?

  4. Well said Angela - a true prophet and like them they were frequently ignored and side-lined, but the main thing was they were faithful to God!


    Mark Lawrence
    Lincoln North

  5. Ian,
    The Connexional team work very hard to ensure that NOTHING happens that is not in accord with the priorities..
    The sad fact is however that it is not apparent to the rest of the Connexion, largely because of the pseudo business speak our reports and papers are presented in.
    Peculiarly, the Connexional team seem to avoid talking of God and Scripture etc, whilst at the same time trying to enable the Connexion to serve God.
    It is our current language, culture and identity that needs to be revised.
    WE should not be ashamed to talk of God in our work, and to talk theologically about what we are doing and why.

  6. Hi Angela,
    I have to say that my experience as a member of the Connexional Team is definitely not that we're afraid of talking about God and Scripture, but I guess not everyone sees that.
    Keep on keeping the faith! xxx

  7. Hi Anna,
    Thank you for your comment
    You say:
    "is definitely not that we're afraid of talking about God and Scripture, but I guess not everyone sees that."

    That's exactly my point: How we present our conversations, the backdrop to our work, the reason for our engagement is all to often missing from our final reports and documents - so no - sometimes we just don't see it.
    And yes - I do know that not being able to see something doesn't mean that it didn't happen. But consider the difference it might make if those not in the Connexional team were nonetheless able to read the conversation, share in the vision, and recognise the theology that underpins all that we do.
    Wouldn't that be truly inspirational.

  8. Hi Angie,
    It would indeed! xxx