Harriett Jane Olson, the top executive of United Methodist Women, a newly independent organization of The United Methodist Church, shares her thoughts on how to rethink the church’s structure in light of the failed support for restructure proposals at General Conference 2012. She asks,
What would The United Methodist Church look like if our congregations and our connectional expressions (conferences, districts, jurisdictions, regional and global) were missionally driven outposts of a movement that was deepening the members’ dependence on Jesus, opening our hearts to being broken by the hurts of a world that God is working to redeem, and that was impelled to mercy, piety and justice in ways that made others want to join our efforts?
If we could answer the question about what that might look like, we would be ready to ask: what sort of organization should we create to help us to act in that way?
The answer will depend on how willing The United Methodist Church is in “learning from our current edges” and decentralizing authority, Ms. Olson says:
We will need to be learning organization(s). We will need to share learning and assess and value learning from multiple places in the system—not just from a general agency or from a church over or under a certain size.
If we want to do what we’re doing, learning from the center will be needed. If we want to reach more people in more places, learning from our current edges (margins) will be required.
Instead of being more centralized, we may need to move to a system with more distributed authority that could make change more rapidly in response to local conditions. That would mean trusting each other and engaging in some honest assessment of changes over time–accountability beyond the quadrennium or two in which a bishop is usually in residence in a U.S. Conference.
We will need to act with a view to the whole system. Relationships between one bishop and the mission work in another area, which depends on the personal relationship between the leaders, are episodic rather than systemic. But a long-term development of the capacity of the members of the two annual conferences to be partners in God’s mission could create a framework into which bishops might move as their assignments change.