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Church must ‘measure what we treasure’


“Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

1:00 P.M. EST June 9, 2011

Should the church model itself on the corporate world? Pastor Beverly L. Wilkes Null shares her opinion in this commentary. A web-only photo from iStock photo/expressa.
Should the church model itself on the corporate world? Pastor Beverly L. Wilkes Null shares her opinion in this commentary. A web-only photo from iStock photo/expressa.

It has taken me 22-plus years of full-time ministry in The United Methodist Church to be called out and labeled as someone who is demonizing corporate America. That is exactly what happened to me at a recent meeting of the Connectional Table, where I gathered with sisters and brothers to continue a conversation on birthing a new expression of the denomination.

To my dismay, our rebirthing process seems to have turned toward reinventing the general church to reflect the best practices of corporate America. That might not be a bad idea, but let us look at a snapshot of what has happened to corporate America. In an April 5 article at www.theTrumpet.eu, columnist Robert Morley reported:

  • Government is America’s biggest employer. It has added 200,000 jobs to the economy over the past two years. “That might sound like a good thing, but this gigantic corporation is sucking America dry.”
  • “One in every six workers in America owes his or her living directly and completely to the government. Many millions more regularly contract work from the government. According to The Wall Street Journal, more Americans work for the government than work in construction, farming, fishing, forestry, manufacturing, mining and utilities combined.”
  • “America is not the nation of producers it once was. Today, many of America’s biggest companies are at best just wealth redistributors. Of the 216,000 jobs the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported were created (in March), only about 31,000 were in areas of the economy that actually manufacture or produce things.”

What does all of that have to do with reordering and restructuring our beloved United Methodist Church around corporate America’s best practices? Nothing! However, it does indicate that our corporate and governmental way of sustaining economic security in the United States is broken. And, it has not been working for some time.

Beverly L. Wilkes Null, directing pastor, Shiloh (Ill.) United Methodist Church. A web-only photo courtesy of Beverly L. Wilkes Null.
Beverly L. Wilkes Null, directing pastor, Shiloh (Ill.) United Methodist Church. A web-only photo courtesy
of Beverly L. Wilkes Null.

Talk to all of the wonderfully educated and gifted people who sit in our pews each week who have not worked in more than six, 12 or 18 months. I suspect that they would have a great deal to say about why The United Methodist Church should not base its rebirth on the practices of corporate America.

What do we value?

In corporate America, people are paid to show up, align, market and produce products that customers want to purchase. In the church, appointed clergy and employed laity are paid to show up and inspire, encourage, inform, nurture and equip unpaid servants to go out into the world to offer Jesus Christ to customers who do not yet know they need Christ as their Lord and Savior.

The buzzword that scares clergy today is “metrics,” which refers to a corporate process for tracking productivity. For some pastors, the mere thought invokes nightmares -- not because they are ineffective, but because they are passionate about Jesus and his mathematics of seeking out the one sheep while 99 are safe in the pen.

In the church, we talk about the necessity to “measure what you treasure.” What congregations and perhaps even general agencies of the church treasure may be uniquely different from what corporate models are designed to measure. I believe reconstituting the church around corporate America’s best practices will simply result in a nice, 250-page research paper explaining why The United Methodist Church is still in decline.

Perhaps it’s time to redefine what United Methodists treasure before we consume ourselves with how we measure.

How much value would corporate America place on a pastor who is away from his or her family, sitting at the bedside of a mom who just gave birth to twins while her husband is deployed somewhere in the world? How would that compare with the value placed on the number of new visitors welcomed to our place of business – oops, I mean place of worship – this week?

Beginning the journey

Click chart to enlarge.
Click chart to enlarge.

Does our beloved United Methodist Church need to be reordered, rebirthed, reorganized, re- etc.? Certainly, but where do we begin? I do not have all the answers, but our journey may begin by:

  • Acknowledging that four out of five jurisdictions voted down constitutional amendments that would open the door for the denomination to organize itself as a global expression of God’s church. Perhaps our people do not fear embracing our global reality, but they fear that once we open the constitution, there will be no end to messing with our Wesleyan DNA.
  • Acknowledging that we have become the church that John Wesley envisioned when he prophetically proclaimed, “The world is my parish.” I believe Wesley would caution us not to put the economic woes of The United Methodist Church ahead of our zeal for making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
  • Acknowledging that The United Methodist Church family is 12 million-plus strong, with believers living out their faith on four continents in diverse yet Wesleyan ways. Our numbers, as recorded in the 2011 State of the Church Report, show church membership surging in Africa and the Philippines (see chart).
  • Having those of us in the United States affirm that we have been called by God not only to be a global church but also to learn a new way of functioning and structuring ourselves that may not be familiar to us.

As we wrestle over how to reorganize our institutional structures, we do so amid the reality that we are not who we used to be. We are in unfamiliar territory. Even so, as the numbers show, there are United Methodists in many lands who are growing disciples of Jesus Christ. Perhaps they have something to say to us about what The United Methodist Church of the 21st century and beyond should look like.

Perhaps the journey to our new beginning has already begun, and our struggle to embrace our global reality is evidence that we are leaning into the creative chaos that must happen before our new identity emerges.

*Wilkes Null is pastor of Shiloh (Ill.) United Methodist Church and a member of the Connectional Table.

News media contact: Tim Tanton, Nashville, Tenn., 615-742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Showing 4 comments

  • Dorothy 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Amen, Amen, and AMEN!!!!!
  • Unknown 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I didn't give my name: Tim Riss of New York Annual Conference. I can be reached at UMHicks@optonline.net.
  • Unknown 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    I'm a director of GBGM, and I've been quite upset that our agency is going to propose legislation along the lines laid out in the Call to Action. One result is that the principle of representation is being sacrificed in favor of the principle of efficient governance. Fewer people at the table means less trouble managing the agency! It also means that people on the margins will stay on the margins. Maybe we should do something to build a network of people who will work on this.
  • Carole 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand
    Bev, I think you have hit the nail on the head. The church seems to think the corporate model (which failed miserably here in the US) is the saving model for the church. My concern is like yours, are we going to measure clergy effectiveness by "numbers" added, vs "spirit of love" as demonstrated by "numbers" of homeless served through meal programs, AIDS ministries, justice and witness efforts, women and children programs such as day care and shelter programs, etc. I'm concerned also that the church has lost site of Jesus as the head. Where did we lose Jesus? If we truly were to follow Jesus commandments - and they are not the 10! - to love God and to love our neighbors as ourselves, clergy would always be with the young mother whose husband is deployed, the family whose father was just killed in a questionable industrial accident, the young high school student who, diagnosed with AIDS is dying with pneumonia while his parents keep asking, "Why". Thank you for writing this articulate and intelligent response to a model that does not sync with the way of Jesus. Please, UMC, rethink the restructure and focus of how we do church. "Amen," to you, Sister Bev.

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