Why should Traditionalists, especially local churches, support the Protocol for Separation and what are it’s benefits? Here are what I believe are some, not all, of the potential benefits. Certainly, no decisions are made until after the General Conference acts and a new Traditional Church has its first organizing conference. However, based on the current conversations, this is what I see. Confession: this is solely my opinion and does not reflect any other group’s opinion or endorsement. I recently read my resident bishop’s (fully progressive) transcript of her podcast endorsing the Protocol. She has fully endorsed it. This is indicative of the remarkable nature of the Protocol which she and I can both enthusiastically endorse. I believe the Protocol makes the following possible. The Wesley Covenant Association’s faithful work makes it actually doable.
Property and asset ownership. Each local church will be released from the Trust Clause whereby the Conference really owns all the property and assets of the local church. If the local church moves into one of the new recognized denominations, such as the one being formed by Traditionalists, their property is released from the Trust Clause to their local control and the pension liability moves with them under the administration of WestPath. If they simply go independent, the conference can place a lien on them for their pension liability. The pension liability alone can be tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars they will have to pay. It appears at this time the churches that remain in the Post-Separation UMC will retain the trust clause. This issue alone should help break the inertia of many churches moving them from the Post-Separation UMC and into a new Methodist expression.
Theological alignment with the pastor. Many local churches have had the misfortune of being assigned a pastor whose theological positions are in direct conflict with the majority of the local congregation. Our denominational seminaries have been producing more and more liberal pastors while most of our congregations have been predominately conservative. However, this theological misalignment has resulted in greater theological division in local congregations as pastor after pastor has promoted a much more liberal brand of the faith. The result is not only a divided denomination, but often theologically divided or theologically ambiguous local churches. This Protocol gives us the opportunity to screen our pastors for theological orthodoxy and hold them accountable for the same. This will provide consistent theological perspective to the local congregation. Almost every local church I know has had one or more pastors whose theology more exactly matched the dominate theology of the congregation. Those years are typically the “happy years” in the life of the congregation. Unfortunately for some congregations that has only happened with one out of five or six appointments (sometimes one of ten).
No guaranteed appointments, so no more having to support an ineffective or misaligned pastor. Our system of guaranteed appointments made it almost impossible to place an elder on leave or remove him or her from active service. Therefore, our clergy “union” created a very secure space for all but the most ineffective or dysfunctional clergy. Having served as a DS and being told, “Everyone has to take some” in reference to these ineffective clergy, I was embarrassed to inform some churches who their next pastor would be. I knew it would not work either because of the clergy record of ineffectiveness or a total mismatch of culture, theology and practice of ministry. The churches had no choice but to receive them and pay them until they could insist on a move. And often the next appointment was even worse. I know churches which have paid the salary and housing and pensions for more than 6 consecutive ineffective pastors. In the new Traditionalist denomination churches will not be forced to receive ineffective clergy or clergy who simply can’t be effective in their situation. With no guaranteed appointments, ineffective clergy will have to find other means of employment.
Much lower denominational overhead, therefore more money for mission. When I was on the cabinet, every time we met, it cost the Conference roughly $1500 an hour (15 conference offices @$200,000 annual cost/2000 hours per year). So two days of meetings cost roughly $24,000. The annual cost of the Extended Cabinet was approximately $3 million ($200,000x15 offices). And this was 12 years ago. Having served for five years in this capacity, I would be hard pressed to show how the investment resulted in fulfilling our mission of making disciples. Think what an investment of $3 million a year could produce in mission in Africa or Venezuela. Ours was the largest conference, but the ratio would be similar in other conferences. For years our Board of Global Ministries employed more Board staff than deployed missionaries. Multiply that across multiple boards and agencies, districts, etc. and the costs are dramatic. The new Wesleyan Traditional Church has the opportunity to do away with almost all of these overhead costs and use the resources in effective local and foreign mission. A flattened structure closer in definition to an Association of churches versus the typical mainline denominational structure will multiply the Kingdom impact over the years ahead. Instead of most churches paying 12-15% of their income to apportionments, it appears the new Traditional denomination will probably be close to 5%. This is for the purpose of putting more control of the mission into the hands of the local church.
Pastor’s pensions are protected. Pastors who move into the new Traditional denomination will have their pensions move with them under the management of WestPath. Churches that move into the new church take their pension liability with them to the new denomination and are not faced with an overwhelming pension unfunded liability.
Missional alignment with the denomination versus misalignment with current denominational leadership. One of my former District Superintendents summarized this very well for me. He said to me, “They say you are not Methodist.” To which I replied, “They are right, we are not dying.” At that time more than 2,000 people a week were worshiping in my congregation, up from the 75 who were there the first Sunday of the appointment. Every church I pastored grew while every year the denomination declined in the US. While I was always supportive of my denomination, paid the apportionments and served in several denominational capacities, I never was aligned with much of the leadership of the denomination especially at the national level. The division was over mission, theology, doctrine, and especially scriptural authority. What a blessing it would have been to do ministry without having to constantly feel I was swimming against the denominational current! What a joy not to have to apologize for the actions of rogue Boards and Agencies. And what a relief not to see folks leaving the church over the highly publicized policies and positions of an unaccountable group such as the radical Women’s Division or Church and Society or even rogue bishops.
Much stronger global connection. A new Traditional Methodist movement will find great theological and doctrinal agreement with most of the global Methodist family, both UM churches and autonomous churches. Orthodoxy is highly valued and required in most of the rest of world Methodism. New partnerships will emerge in this global church which will include many Methodist groups currently excluded from our church such as most of the Methodist expressions in Latin America. As one who has invested over 20 years in these churches, often with the direct opposition of GBGM, what a joy it will be to become equal partners in our global church.
More local control of the use of mission funds, choices of Missional partnerships. Someone said, “All politics are local.” Forget that and fail as a politician. I believe the same is true with mission. This does not mean I think all mission must be done locally. Actually, just the opposite. But the local church needs to discern where God is calling them in mission, developing the local, national and international partnerships which can most effectively fulfill our mission of making disciples. In the local church, most of the work will be advanced by lay servants, most often volunteers, assuring more money goes where it is intended and holding the mission agencies directly accountable to the local church. This will also require mission agencies be both accountable and effective to continue to receive support. The most effective mission partnerships are based on personal relationships, ever deepening, and mutually beneficial.
Deliverance from the never ending burden and conflict with the General Boards and Agencies. I know of no effective pastor in the last 30 years who has looked to the program boards and agencies for assistance and enhancement of their ministries. The truth is, most effective pastors only see the program Boards and Agencies as a liability for their local church ministry. Para church groups provide far better resources than our boards and agencies and at a much lower overall cost.
Many more bivocational pastoral options. Many churches need pastors who can both support their own salaries and serve in the church. For the life of the UMC many part time local pastors have given remarkable leadership, often leading to a church “going full time” and consequently receiving ineffective full-time ordained leadership. Church planting can greatly benefit from bivocational pastors as is most often the case in the rest of the world. Further, bivocational pastors typically are more culturally aligned with the lay folks in the church. Our 7-10 years of higher education requirements for our clergy has created significant cultural distance from the pulpit and the people we need to be reaching with the Gospel.
Better conditions for local pastors. No more second class status for local pastors. They will be full and equal partners in the new expression of Methodism. Educational options will be far more accessible and affordable. Sacramental authority will go with the pastor, not be tied solely to the local church. Of note is the divide between clergy and laity in the UMC. In North Georgia, for example, Progressive and Centrist Clergy apparently comprise at least 60% of the clergy. However it appears at least 60% of the laity are Traditionalists. If the split follows these percentages, there will be more ordained clergy than appointments in the Post-Separation UMC. Also, there will be fewer available elders to serve the Traditional churches. This will result in far more opportunity for local pastors.
Flattened structure removing many of the barriers between lay and clergy. For my whole ministry I have worked to raise up effective, spiritually mature lay leadership and erase more and more of the positional gap between lay and clergy. Yet my “union,” Elders in the UMC, have consistently worked to keep the gap between the position and privilege of the clergy and the laity. Our vestments alone are indicative of this widening gap. Putting more decision making power into the hands of local lay leadership will result in greater Missional impact unencumbered by the classism of our current denomination.
Longer tenures for pastors and more cost effective pastoral leadership. Almost all modern studies of effective pastoral leadership validate the productivity of longer tenure for pastors. Every United Methodist Church has had the heartbreak of “finally” getting an effective pastor only to see them snatched away by the appointive system and followed by multiple ineffective pastors. Longer tenure is good for the church and for the pastor. The method of the assignment of pastors as envisioned in the draft of Book of Doctrine and Discipline of the Wesleyan Covenant Association will make this possible. Not only are longer tenures more effective, they are much more cost effective. For example, if a pastoral change occurs every 4 years, the cost versus effective ministry is much greater. Example: typically it takes a year for a new pastor to get to the point of effectiveness in a local church. Then the exit year also typically is ineffective in leading the local church. So the church pays for four years of salary getting two years of productivity. In this example consider the annual cost of the pastor is $100,000, $400,000 for 4 years. Therefore the actual cost of the two productive years is $200,000 per year. Contrast that with a 15 year tenure. The total cost is $1,500,000. But it results in 13 years of effective ministry. That is an cost of $115,500 per effective year, versus the cost of $200,000 in the short tenure example. That is a very significant saving for the local church. It also provides opportunity to the church to actually pay more per year to their pastor. Longer tenure has many tangible and intangible values. This is true in churches of all sizes.
A Permission Giving versus a Permission Withholding structure. While there will be a much clearer and confessional doctrine with which clergy and churches must align, the structure, leadership and management of the local church will be free of the massive regulation of the current Book of Discipline of the UMC. The current BOD has well over 800 pages. The draft of the Book of Doctrine and Discipline has less than 100 pages. The new movement will value doctrine far more than structure. It will value missional alignment and effectiveness much more than control.
An opportunity for much greater spiritual vitality. The above issues open the door for genuine spiritual renewal, greater effectiveness in ministry and mission, much greater opportunity for planting new congregations and the opportunity to “spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.” Does this Protocol guarantee that? Not at all. It does provide the opportunity. I see this as a door of opportunity the Lord is placing before his church. May we not fail in this opportune time.
(Please note: I welcome conversation. I do not welcome personal attacks on others or on myself. Constructive conversation will be very helpful. We are in this together. Let’s work together for the sake of the Kingdom.)
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