Elements for Consideration in a “Deeper Conversation” over the Future of the United Methodist Church ©

Last week, I joined with other bishops in signing a letter that called for a “new form of unity in the Methodist witness.” Collectively, we went on to say, “We believe God can use our current brokenness as a springboard to multiply our Wesleyan DNA through different expressions of Methodism that will allow our diversity of theological thought and contextual practice to flourish untethered from conflict. Indeed, God can bless multiple expressions of Methodism in ways that can have a cumulative impact far greater than we can ever have today in our fractured state.”
Since the publication of that letter, I have been asked about what elements might be considered as a part of a deeper conversation. Below are some elements that have been lifted up in a variety of conversations throughout the connection (including other bishops, lay leaders and clergy). As I offer them for consideration, I ask that you note the qualifications attached to my sharing. Again, these are for consideration. They are designed with enough specifics to move the conversation beyond the vague and general. However, they are not meant to be exhaustive (“some of”). 
Some Elements of a Deeper Conversation:
  1. Give birth to new expressions of Methodism.
  2. Create a pathway for each Annual Conference to vote on which new expression of Methodism it will join. 
  3. Provide a pathway for each active and retired bishop to determine which new expression of Methodism she or he will join.  
  4. Allow congregations and pastors to easily transfer to a different new expression of Methodism other than the one chosen by their Annual Conference.
  5. Affiliate each new expression of Methodism with Wespath, UMCOR, the Black College Fund, Africa University and the General Commission on Archives and History.
  6. Designate to which of the new expressions of Methodism the remaining General Agencies will relate.
  7. Provide a mechanism by which transitional funding and missional seed funds will be allocated to each of the new expressions of Methodism.
  8. Allow those congregations that do not wish to join one of the new expressions of Methodism to disaffiliate.
Let me invite you, your small group and/or your church to engage in conversations around these elements. Done rightly, these conversations can be holy. I believe God in Christ through the Holy Spirit is at work rebuilding the church amid this struggle. 
I am also convinced that we are truly at a Barnabas and Paul moment. Remember the story of Acts 15 verses 36 - 41?  The two great leaders of the early Christian movement argued over the future of the church. “Their argument became so intense that they went their separate ways. Barnabas took Mark and sailed to Cyprus. Paul chose Silas and left, entrusted by the brothers and sisters to the Lord’s grace. He traveled through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.” (Acts 15:39-41) We know that later they were reunited in mission. (Look at Colossians 4:10 or Philemon 1:24).
Instead of endless rounds of fighting, winners and losers, growing anger, I invite us to focus our conversation in a deeper and more concrete way on new avenues being opened by the Holy Spirit.

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart;
    don’t rely on your own intelligence.
Know him in all your paths,
    and he will keep your ways straight.”
(Proverbs 3:5-6)