Special Conference Session Report

The Texas Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church met in special session at Lakeview Methodist Conference Center today. After approving the Chartering Resolution, the Conference delegates readily approved the “Supporting” and “Implementing” Resolutions. Here’s the text of these six resolutions:

1. Center for Congregational Excellence
Resolved that the Conference authorizes the Bishop to establish a Center for
Congregational Excellence with staff responsible for revitalization and new church starts. (Requires a ¾ vote. See Rule 27.)
2. Center for Clergy Excellence
Resolved that the Conference authorize the Bishop to establish a Center for Clergy Excellence, an expansion of the Office of Ministerial Services, with staff and resources to enhance clergy effectiveness. (Requires a ¾ vote. See Rule 27.)
3. Reformation of Districts
Resolved that the Conference authorizes the Bishop and the Cabinet to reorganize the Conference into nine (9) districts effective May, 2006.
4. Restructuring
Resolved that the Conference authorizes the Strategic Mapping Team to propose rules and structure in alignment with our Vision, Mission, Key Drivers, Core Beliefs, and Strategic Themes, as well as requirements of the Book of Discipline. These proposals will be reviewed by the Conference Committee on Rules and Structure and presented to the May 2006 Annual Conference for action.
5. Process of Accountability
Resolved that the Conference authorizes the Strategic Mapping Team – in consultation with the Board of Ordained Ministry, the Orders of Elders and Deacons, the Clergy Effectiveness Task Force, and the Conference Council on Ministries – to propose a definition of accountability and processes for implementing accountability in all areas and to recommend a plan to the 2006 Annual Conference.
6. Realignment of Budget
Resolved that the Conference authorizes the Strategic Mapping Team to make proposals to Conference Council on Finance and Administration regarding alignment of the budget with Vision, Mission, Key Drivers, Core Values, and Strategic Initiatives and the Book of Discipline. CFA will present the budget to the May 2006 Annual Conference for action. (Requires 2/3 vote. See Rule 27.)

The first three resolutions generated the most discussion. Comments included:

  • From a pastor with 49 years of service (including 11 years on the Cabinet), now retired for some years: (the quotes are approximate) “During all my years of ministry I never felt a need to call on conference staff people in Houston. We surely don’t have the need to add more staff there now.” (This is the same fellow who, when I told him I was attending Asbury Seminary, replied, “You’ll never get anywhere in this conference unless you go to Perkins.”)
  • Church conflict was a big concern. (With the big changes coming, conflict will increase, not decrease.) The same pastor I just quoted said, “There’s an easy solution to conflict. Just move the pastor.” That comment received a raucous response. Have you ever been to a funeral and heard someone say of the deceased, “He looks so peaceful”? Of course he looks peaceful. He’s dead. For many of our churches conflict is a necessary step to LIFE.
  • “The DSs already have too much work to do. Why are we cutting their number?”
  • “Houston suburbs may be growing, but we don’t need any new churches in all these small towns around the Conference.”

In my judgment, the Conference did the right thing in approving these resolutions. The changes will definitely be difficult. Not only are we changing the declared purpose of the Annual Conference (“Equip congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the
transformation of the world to the glory of God”), but we’re also pushing churches to shift from seeing their purpose as taking care of the members to making disciples. It will be very tempting to minimize the differences – to say that everything we’re already doing is making disciples. What will make the difference is accountability. This is where the work for leadership comes. Will leadership be willing to hold churches and pastors and districts to be accountable for making disciples? Or will we resort to “happy talk” instead? The UMC has a strong tendency to want to be affirming and nice. Real accountability will include a lot of actions that won’t look or feel like affirmation or niceness. We – pastors and churches – are going to have to want this real bad to let it overcome our entrenched lethargy, fear of conflict, and love of niceness.

The scales are tipped in the favor of success by Bishop Huie’s leadership. After leading us through the resolutions today, she shared a short message from Mark 16:15, 20 (I was surprised to hear a UM Bishop preach from a text the top textual critics reject as an original part of Mark) on “Preaching the Gospel to all Creation.” She said the first thing we need to do is pray for ourselves and our churches – for the empowerment of the Holy Spirit to make the things we voted on a reality.

As her “altar call” she issued three challenges to those present.

  1. Will you raise your 2006 worship attendance 5% over 2005?
  2. Will you raise your number of professions of faith in 2006 5% over 2005?
  3. Will you raise the number of people engaged in hands-on outreach ministry (outside ministries that serve church members) 5% in 2006 over 2005?

In each case those willing to take the step were invited to stand, look around, and hold each other accountable in the coming year.

We have a lot of work ahead of us. But we’re off to a good start.

UPDATE: Peter Cammarano at A Padre Complex has another good post up on the Conference session, and here’s what Guy Williams has to say. I’m trying to collect responses from Texas Conference bloggers here. If you’re a TAC blogger send me a link and I’ll add it here.

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1 Response to Special Conference Session Report

  1. Guy says:

    I’ll offer more later, but off the cuff I too was surprised that the Scripture passage for the sending out homily was from the “longer ending” of Mark. I don’t preach, nor do I regard it as “scripture,” strictly speaking. That was curious. Perhaps Wesley’s use of it that she noted was the main reason for its use?

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