Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Future of the Church- Thought for Today

I'm using a book of daily readings of the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a part of my devotions.  Today's quote spoke to me as we consider the future of the church.  I find it easy to slip between pessimism and optimism.  Bonhoeffer reminds us that both are illusions.  There is the one reality for a believer; the reality of God.  Here is the quote for your pondering:

As the New Testament proclaims life to the dying, as life and death collide in the cross of Christ, and as life swallows up death—only when we see this do we believe in the church under the cross.  Only when we look at reality with clear eyes, without any illusion about our morality or our culture, can we believe.  Otherwise our faith becomes an illusion.  The believer can be neither a pessimist nor an optimist; both are an illusion.  Believers do not see reality in a certain light.  The instead see it as it is, and against everything and beyond everything they see, they believe in God alone and in his power. They do not believe in the world or in the capability of the world to develop and improve; they do not believe in their power to improve the world and in their goodwill.  They do not believe in people or in the good in people that ultimately must triumph; they do not believe in the church in its human power.  Rather, believers believe solely in God, who creates and does the impossible, who creates life out of death, who has called the dying church to life against and in spite of us and through us.  But God does it alone.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer
What does it mean to reshape our view of reality to believe solely in God who does the impossible and calls a dying church to life?


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Now What?

I'm back from the Financial Forum.  Interesting meeting.  We didn't talk about finance much at all.  We actually focused on the deeper issue, our need to change in significant ways.  The financial situation is only a symptom of the larger issue.

Some interesting facts.  
-During the 40 years of decline in the UMC, the per person giving went up.  That is one reason we've been able to survive and maybe even avoid dealing with our situation.  2008 was a serious wake up call.  
-The UMC membership average age is much older than the general population.  In 2018, we will begin a period of in which most of our current membership will die off.  Lovett Weems called it a "death tsunami."  
-We have a window of opportunity with many options available to us now, but this will not continue.  So the time to act is now.  We can't wait.

In some ways the formula for change is very simple:
Recover our mission; "To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
Focus on our mission; measure all we do by how it helps us achieve the mission, from the local church to global mission.
Individually, live this life changing, world transforming way, so that it is not something we do, but a fundamental expression of who we are.

I'm still thinking, contemplating and praying about what I heard and learned.  At times I feel discouraged because it seems impossible.  But at other times I have hope, particularly when I see people in communities all over this region finding ways to bless their neighbors, to live as a Jesus follower.  So fundamentally I have hope.  Not my hope or hope in me, but hope in what God can do.

What do you think?  Is there a future for the United Methodist Church?  What might it look like?  What might we become?  What is the dream on your heart?


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Financial Future part 2

Quick thoughts after the first day of the financial forum:
-Lovett Weems (as did others) made a strong case that this is the time to act.  We have many options now that will go away in the next 8-10 years.   I speak more later about the upcoming death tsunami- when the baby boomer generation begins to die off.
-Circumstances are different and similar throughout the denomination in the US.  We in New England have had to deal to financial realities which are just coming into view for some locations.
-This is not a time to panic, but a time to lead.
-Business as usual will not work.
-During the period where attendance has declined, giving has increased.

I off to more discussion today.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Financial Future of UMC

I'm in Fort Worth, Texas for a financial forum regarding the future of the UMC.  Representatives from every annual conference are gathered to learn and discuss the pension and health insurance picture. I ate breakfast with 2 laypersons from the West, both representing their conference pensions.  One fellow, from Oregon, spoke of his small church trying to support a full time minister.  The theme were the same I've heard in New England, declining attendance, little youth participation, frustration and concern for the future.

I'll try to pass on updates and reflections as I listen and learn.   I believe this is a part of a larger attempt to build understanding and consensus in preparation for General Conference next year.

More later.