Home > Our World > News > News Archives by Date > 2012 > January 2012 > News - January 2012
Preview to church restructuring debate


Phoenix Area Bishop Minerva Carcaño helps lead a discussion on church restructuring during The United Methodist Church's Pre-General Conference News Briefing at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
Phoenix Area Bishop Minerva Carcaño helps lead a discussion on church restructuring during The United Methodist Church's Pre-General Conference News Briefing at the Tampa Convention Center in Florida. UMNS photos by Mike DuBose.
View in Photo Gallery

3:30 P.M. ET Jan. 25, 2012

TAMPA, Fla. (UMNS) — Months before the 2012 General Conference, delegates to The United Methodist Church’s top lawmaking body got a hint of the debate to come regarding restructuring the denomination. 

More than 300 delegates, communicators and agency staff gathered Jan. 19-21 for the Pre-General Conference News Briefing at the Tampa Convention Center, where discussions of the proposed changes dominated conversation.

The main piece of legislation — the result of the multiyear Call to Action process — would consolidate nine of the church’s 13 general agencies into a new United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry under a 15-member board.

The board would be appointed by and accountable to a 45-member advisory board called the General Council for Strategy and Oversight, which would replace the Connectional Table that presently coordinates the denomination’s mission, ministry and resources.

Essentially, the proposal would reduce agency boards now governed by more than 500 people to a group of 60. The legislation would also allow the board of the newly created center to redistribute up to $60 million toward funding theological education, recruiting young clergy and fostering vital congregations — about 10 percent of the amount presently budgeted for general church operations. 

Delegates heard both an overview of restructuring legislation and concerns that the plan would damage the denomination’s connectionalism, give too much power to the bishops and eliminate the denomination’s historic “separation of powers” between bishops and General Conference.

An overarching question for many at the briefing: Will the reorganization achieve its goal of promoting more vital congregations or have the opposite effect?

Jay Brim discusses the legislation on church restructuring. Brim is lay leader of the denomination's Southwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference and a member of the Connectional Table.
Jay Brim discusses the legislation on church restructuring. Brim is lay leader of the denomination's Southwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference and a member of the Connectional Table.
View in Photo Gallery

Harmonizing a ‘cacophony’

The Council of Bishops and Connectional Table initiated the Call to Action to reorder the life of the church in the wake of the 2008 global economic crisis and after decades of declining U.S. membership. The Call to Action Interim Operations Team devised the recommended changes, and the Connectional Table drafted the legislation.

“We do not presume that what we are presenting is perfect by any means,” said Jay Brim, who chairs the Connectional Table’s legislative committee. “It is a proposal to move us toward change, and these changes, we hope, will be a significant step forward for the church.”

He said the proposal does not really address general church staff. “It’s about the governance of the general church,” he said.

Brim, lay leader of the Southwest Texas Annual (regional) Conference, said the denomination’s 13 current general boards are “in a constant push to make sure that local churches and annual conferences know who they are, what they have to offer and how to get it from them.”

“What we’re trying to create out of this cacophony is a simple structure that everybody can identify without removing anything we currently have,” he said. “Our hope is that we can find a better way to offer our services at the general church level down to local congregations and annual conferences.”

Even before the Connectional Table devised its restructuring legislation, 10 of the agency boards were also developing their own legislation to shrink their board membership. This followed an operational assessment by consultants that found most agencies were too big and met too infrequently to provide accountability.

Concerns about connectionalism

The Council of Bishops endorsed the restructuring at its November meeting, but the vote was not unanimous. Phoenix Area Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño shared her concerns about the plan during a presentation. 

“Studies have shown that there is duplication and even competition among our general agencies that does not benefit the mission and ministry that God is calling us to be about,” Carcaño said.

“Yet, general agencies have served a vital function for resourcing the church and enabling us to act connectionally, and we should not lose these essential functions. There are things even our strongest local churches cannot do alone, and some things they will not do.”

In some ways, she suggested, the proposed restructuring of the agencies does not go far enough. She noted that the Connectional Table legislation just puts agency work in new categories and leaves unanswered what agency functions might be dropped or added to better serve a global denomination.

In addition, she and others at the Pre-General Conference News Briefing echoed concerns raised by the denomination’s ethnic caucuses that the smaller governance boards would severely limit the contributions of people of color. “In the U.S., a church that does not reach out to people of color is a church that will die,” Carcaño said.

Concerns about bishops’ power

The Rev. Tim McClendon, a Connectional Table member and the Columbia (S.C.) District superintendent, explained his worry that the Connectional Table legislation would give too much power to the denomination’s bishops.

The Rev. Timothy McClendon speaks about his concerns regarding church restructuring. McClendon is superintendent of the denomination's Columbia (S.C.) District.
The Rev. Timothy McClendon speaks about his concerns regarding church restructuring. McClendon is superintendent of the denomination's Columbia (S.C.) District.
View in Photo Gallery

At the coming General Conference, delegates also will take up a proposed amendment to the denomination’s constitution to create a bishop without the usual responsibility of overseeing a geographical area. That bishop would be elected by the Council of Bishops and would have — among other duties — the authority to serve as the denomination’s chief ecumenical officer, help align the strategic direction of the church and focus on growing vital congregations.

The Connectional Table endorsed this change, and under the proposed restructuring legislation, the “set-aside” bishop would be chair of the General Council for Strategy and Oversight and ex-officio member of the board of the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry.

Five of the voting members of the proposed Council for Strategy and Oversight would be bishops. The Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry would make its financial decisions in consultation with the Council of Bishops.

“The power dynamic isn’t equal no matter how someone does the math,” said McClendon, who is a candidate for the episcopacy. “There is no way for the 15 persons, who are unpaid volunteers, no matter how great they are in all that they do, … to make these (financial) decisions. It also seems to me that the set-aside bishop is where the real power is in the proposed structure.”

Concerns about separation of powers

The Rev. Thomas E. Frank, a historian of Methodism and professor at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C., urged the delegates to keep the denomination’s historic “principles” of governance in mind when evaluating restructuring proposals.

He noted that the denomination and all but one of its predecessor bodies have maintained a “separation of powers” between General Conference and bishops.

Methodism also historically has separated the authority over programming from authority over money, he said.

“Separation of the two prevents consolidation of power and advances accountability and participation,” Frank said. “The United Methodist Church is hardly alone in this principle. It’s basic to the functioning of any nonprofit corporation or nongovernmental organization.”

*Hahn is a multimedia news reporter for United Methodist News Service.

News media contact: Heather Hahn, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org

Commenting Rules

Comments will not appear until approved by a moderator, which will occur at least twice daily.

Please keep your comments brief. Avoid personal attacks and do not use inflammatory or demeaning language.

See our Comment Policy for more information.

Glad you liked it. Would you like to share?

Sharing this page …

Thanks! Close

Comments for this page are closed.

Showing 11 comments

  • NCRooster 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    The other amendments would also consolidate power in the office of the Bishop.  The proposed change that says the Bishop "may" (rather than "shall) appoint elders in full connection effective negates the decisions of the Local Church; the District Committee on Ordained Ministry; the Conference Board of Ordained Ministry; and the Annual Conference Executive Meeting of the Elders.  Each of these bodies must approve and endorse the candidates for ordaination.  The proposed ammendment would effective negate the decision of these groups because the Bishop could then decide who would be appointed and who would be give "Transitional Leave".  There are procedures for dealing with ineffective clergy.  This proposal would give the Bishop sole authority to decide who is approved for appointment or simply rejected.

    show more show less
  • robbwebster 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    There is work that needs to be done on this proposal. Basically, I feel it is going in the correct direction. The new model for pastors within the local church calls for the pastor to be the leader. That means they set the vision and lead ministries in the church. A single board then tends to the administration of the church (S/PPR, Trustees, Finance). This single board has no authority to vote up or down ministries but they do hold the pastor accountable. This allows the pastor to get the church they serve to be more involved in ministry.

    I say the above to show how the local church is evolving for current times. If we expect our pastors (which I am one) to be the leader of the church, why should we expect less of our Bishops? I see this new structure as a way for Bishops to lead the general church. Agencies should not be setting the direction. Especially when we have General Secretaries setting that agenda to their personal agenda. Whcih oftentimes does not follow The Book of Discipline or our Social Principles. Our agencies have gotten too large. I am blessed to serve in a Conference and for a Bishop that is doing great things to "make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." It is time for our great denomination to get back to that and make the changes needed so all congregation within will do the same.

    show more show less
  • Clark Neel 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    greatest warm done to the local churches is the work of the General Board on
    Church and Society. This group has decided to redefine God in their own image.
    They are the greatest divisional apparatus within the church. They have become
    too political and they spend more of their time calling on government to take
    care of the needy rather and calling on Christians to do that work - as Jesus
    demanded. Jesus didn't ask the Romans to take care of the poor; he called on
    those who loved Him. Let's get rid of this divisive group before it does more

    show more show less
  • Clark Neel 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    Bishops should not be apponted for life!  Bishops need to be more accountable to the whole church and they lose that accountablity when they feel that they are not answerable because their jobs are protected. No Bishop should be allowed to serve more than six years.  After their service they either retire or go back to a local church so they have to face living with what they have created.  I agree with most of the proposed restructuring as long as the Bishops are limited in their time to serve. 

    show more show less
  • feslop 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    "The time is fulfilled and the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand.  Restructure and believe the Gospel!"

    show more show less
  • mc54 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    The problem with this holy conversation is that neither side is really open to changing their minds on the issue of homosexual practice. Both sides only see the conversation as a way to advance their position. One side wants to change the church's position, while the other wants to defend the church's position. Both sides re totally committed to their views. Both believe that holy conversation is only their view, and the other view is really unholy conversation.

    Thus the more we talk, the worse the division. Maybe what is needed is so e holy silence on this issue for a while.

    show more show less
  • RevDLM 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    I believe that we must restructure, if for no other reason the church is failing miserably in its mission.  First of all, because there is a need for restructuring we must know what the real needs are and the priorities of those needs. These issues cannot be solved in the time frame currently in motion.   As far as the idea of a bishop without an episcopacy, we already have those amongst the retired bishops!  I serve in a conference where the bishop is the president of the council of bishops and he has so much on his plate we really have less than half a bishop!  Again what are the needs of the church and its members?  (by this I mean people and the organizational structure which at one time was established through faith in the Holy Spirit)  The only reason for any organizational structure in the church should be for the Glory of God.  When we stray away from this, power struggles are the only outcome.  We must also face the reality that the United Methodist Church is a global church; therefore, some kind of restructuring must be done!  But to try to force a bunch of changes without due study and preparation will only lead to more disintegration of our church.

    show more show less
  • 13LK_RK10 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    I believe some restructuring is needed.  Bishop Carcano is correct that there is competiton and duplication among boards.  Perhaps some should be eliminated.  There should be separation of fiscal and programming authorities. How can the work currently done by 500 be reduced to 60 and get done efficiently - or at all?  This proposal is a good start but it must have a lot of refining.  Good organization is important as long as it enables the message of God' grace to permeate our congregations and deliver our Christian message.   

    show more show less
  • mc54 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    This restructuring is going in the wrong direction.  It will consolidate power in hands of bishops - the least trusted group in the UMC.  We would become a top down church with less voice for the grass roots of the church.  We need to learn that the heirarchy is to serve the local church, not the other way around.   I am one who plans to vote NO!

    show more show less
  • raburb77 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    I don't think the title would be "Pope", but perhaps "Arch Bishop"?  Sounds like putting it in reverse and running back over Wesley and going back to the Anglican Church.  But seriously, the church in the U.S. is losing membership, while some other regions are making great gains--all while under the same system.  Maybe the problem isn't all in the system, but our (the U.S.) pursuit of personal agendas.  Sure the system could use some "tweaking" but maybe in the U.S., we've lost sight of the main thing, and the second thing:  Making disciples for Jesus, and, only then following God's ways in heart, attitude, word, and action.

    show more show less
  • cmouse 1 comment collapsed Collapse Expand

    Wow!  Does this mean the "set-aside" bishop will function as the Pope of Methodism?

    show more show less


Ask Now

This will not reach a local church, district or conference office. InfoServ* staff will answer your question, or direct it to someone who can provide information and/or resources.


*InfoServ ( about ) is a ministry of United Methodist Communications located in Nashville, Tennessee, USA. 1-800-251-8140

Not receiving a reply?
Your Spam Blocker might not recognize our email address. Add this address to your list of approved senders.

Would you like to ask any questions about this story?ASK US NOW