I detest bureaucracy. It takes up money, time, and energy as well as allowing non-participation by members of the group. It begins with good intentions — but slowly morphs through layers and layers of patina into an uncontrollable monster. The mainliners have for decades decided it was easier to pay someone to do something rather than requiring members to volunteer.
The Next Methodism must prevent that to whatever extent is possible. It must be willing to start from scratch.
A few things I would like to see:
- Decimate the boards, agencies, commissions, and working groups. There should be an ecumenical office, a publishing house, a university senate, pensions, and a missions board (UMCOR would be here). That’s it. Some of those should take the place of a review board — to insure those within the ecclesiastical structure are operating according to the Discipline. They should be limited in staff and reach. No more voice at the General Conference.
- Decimate church staffs. You can’t, all at once, do this. But, I hope the Next Methodism beings to look a lot like the Methodism of the 19th century — when you had an Elder and a Class Leader at the head of the congregation. We must get back to the idea that the best Methodism is the lay-driven Methodism. While this will at times require paying laity and sometimes having larger staffs, volunteerism must always be the primary way of running a congregation.
- In the same way, decimate cabinets, combine districts, and even look to combine annual conferences. Make strong, strategic decisions based on funds and what one can reasonably do — what what is the best use of funds. No more huge cabinets for bishops. In fact, I would love to see a constitutional amendment in the discipline limiting cabinets.
- Let’s work to have those who desire to be ministers (ordained or not) start their ministry without the debt of student loans. To that end, let us use the money saved by decimating the bureaucracy, over-staffed congregations, and over-staffed episcopal cabinets to provide for free seminary tuition — not only for pastors, but for lay leaders. I am still impressed with what I saw in Cuba — where seminary training was offered and in part paid for for lay leaders. What we need to do is to train and promote Christian education for our laity using seminaries. Having trained laity will only ease the burden of the clergy in the congregation while creating ministers and ministries aiding in the mission of Next Methodism. Imagine a congregation empowered to teach the Gospel and to do ministry with seminary-educated laity — without the burden of debt.
The days of a bloated but solvent denomination are nearly over. Unless the Next Methodism begins with austerity — which limits the growth of bureaucracy while redirecting funds to promotion of the mission — then it will easily succumb to what is currently happening in The United Methodist Church.