Why Numbers Matter in the UMC – Learning (2 of 3)

Christ United Methodist Church in Rochester, M...
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Vitality seems to be the talk of The United Methodist Church. From the invitation to be a Vital Congregation to tracking metrics through Vital Signs, there has been a wide variety of response to the movement to increasing the level of reporting of involvement across several areas of local churches.

Let me be clear about where I stand – tracking numbers matters for The United Methodist Church.

If there is a church in my district whose professions of faith or persons involved in missions is far above average – I want to know about it. I want to learn from the leaders there what is working and how I might take what they are doing and adapt it in my own setting. Tracking numbers and sharing them across the conference allows this to happen.

Why Numbers Matter in the UMC – Naming Reality (1 of 3)

First United Methodist Church in Montgomery, LA
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Vitality seems to be the talk of The United Methodist Church. From the invitation to be a Vital Congregation to tracking metrics through Vital Signs, there has been a wide variety of response to the movement to increasing the level of reporting of involvement across several areas of local churches.

I have heard a great deal of critique about these additional requirements for local church leaders. Are numbers really important? Are we measuring success or significance? Won’t this be more harm than good?

Let me be clear about where I stand – tracking numbers matters for The United Methodist Church.

This practice, in itself, will not lead to renewal. However, I believe that it can be a helpful tool for our congregations to provide mutual accountability and support. Many people focus on the accountability of tracking and resulting impact on self esteem in the congregation. Whatever the reality of involvement is, tracking doesn’t change it. Tracking shines a light on current reality. If we aren’t honest with ourselves about reality, there is no possibility of effectively moving forward.

Knowing where we are is a prerequisite to go where we want to go – a future of hope and renewal as we seek to spread scriptural holiness across the land.

Pollyanna Principles for The UMC

Several months ago, I read the post The Pollyanna Principles for Social Change, which lead me to The Pollyanna Principles. From the website:

The Pollyanna Principles

The Ends:

1. We accomplish what we hold ourselves accountable for.
2. Each and every one of us is creating the future, every day, whether we do so consciously or not.

The Means:

3. Everyone and everything is interconnected and interdependent, whether we acknowledge that or not.
4. “Being the change we want to see” means walking the talk of our values.
5. Strength builds upon our strengths, not our weaknesses.
6. Individuals will go where systems lead them.

While these principles were not primarily designed for religious organizations, I believe that there are clear correlations to the United Methodist Church. My response to each of the above principles in light of The United Methodist Church:

  1. Whether it is worship attendance, budget, baptisms, confirmation, small groups or some other metric, whatever one measures in the local church becomes that around which efforts focus for continued development. Ultimately we should be holding ourselves accountable to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
  2. Each person that is part of any United Methodist congregation has influence in the future of the denomination. While the official decisions from General Conference prove influential on a macro scale, the experience and sharing of any local community shapes the understanding of the entire denomination for that area. For example, a church that is thriving and individuals are sharing good news with their neighbors will create a future for the denomination in that area that is positive. In the aggregate, the denomination is shaped.
  3. Related to point 2, the joys and concerns are shared. As in the body of Christ, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26).
  4. If one hopes to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, one must live as a disciple of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
  5. This is true for the UMC as for nearly any organization.
  6. There is an interesting connection between individuals and systems. In connection with point 2, individuals can influence a system, however ultimately it is most likely that someone will guide others in the way that they have been guided.

What are your thoughts, feelings or opinions about all this?

Christianity and Other Religions

I had a great breakfast at First Watch with Scott on Tuesday morning. He wanted to talk about an experience in which he felt that a church leader depreciated Christianity in relationship to other religions of the world. The relationship between Christianity and other religions is a topic that I find to be quite complex. Here is some of my response.

Christianity and world religions
Judaism has a distinct relationship with Christianity among all other world religions. The God to whom Jesus prays and speaks to as Father is the God of the Hebrew scriptures. God remains faithful to the covenant that was made with the people of Israel. Paul wrestles with this relationship in several chapters in the book of Romans.

Will persons of other faith traditions be saved? I am not sure. I do believe that Jesus is the way, the truth and the life. I believe that the Christian hope is that all things will be made new in the second coming of Christ. I do not think that anything will remain that is old. I believe that Christ’s incarnation, life, death and resurrection is a part of God’s work for all of creation. What exactly this means for persons of other religions, I do not know.

As a pastor, it is part of my responsibility to be concerned with how it is with others’ souls. I believe that this is the responsibility of all Christians – to watch over one another in love (as Wesley would say). However, I believe that it is more important to first be concerned with the state of my own soul and my journey of discipleship. I believe that one should be more concerned for the state of one’s own soul than with making judgments on the state of others.

Thoughts about conversations with those of other religions

  • Do not ever belittle your own religion when confronted with another religion. There is no need to be bashful or reticent about your beliefs. However, at the same time be careful not to belittle another’s religion.
  • Focus on invitational conversations. In interfaith conversations there needs to be a readiness to both give and receive.
  • I believe that it is more important for Christians to focus on sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with non and nominally religious persons than with those who already have a faith.

I recognize that this is a broad topic and that this response does not even come close to touching all areas that would be needed. What would you add to this conversation? How do you understand the relationship between Christianity and other religions? What thoughts do you have about interfaith conversations?