United Methodism operates as a top-down organization. Initiatives are supposed to flow out of places like New York, Nashville and the Council of Bishops. This is what â€œconnectionalismâ€ is often taken to mean. Initiatives flowing the other direction â€“ from the local congregations, are often taken to be expressions of the heresy of â€œcongregationalism.â€ Even renewal groups in the UMC â€“ like the Confessing Movement â€“ tend to assume top-down leadership. In each case, the commitment to top-down leadership seems to presuppose:
- The greatest competence in each case is to be found in the official leaders
- The common purpose of the organization is either not truly common, or not broadly shared enough to shape the actions of the participants
- People at the lower levels in the organization cannot be trusted until they prove they are qualified to serve at higher levels
Instapundit Glenn Reynolds has a book due out in just over a week. His Army of Davids: How Markets and Technology Empower Ordinary People to Beat Big Media, Big Government, and Other Goliaths, seems to offer a model of organizational leadership and change that might provide an alternative for United Methodists. [Note: I have not read the book, merely read a few reviews and Mr. Reynoldsâ€™s comments.] This alternative would presuppose:
- United Methodists share a common understanding of the purpose and mission of the church.
- All United Methodists have an essential contribution to make to the mission of the church â€“ and this contribution is more than just giving money and doing what theyâ€™re told to do
- The top-heavy leadership can be pared down with saved money used elsewhere.
In the midst of change United Methodism will need to decide the main locus of itâ€™s â€œunitedness.â€ In the recent past, â€œunitednessâ€ has been found in our Methods and Structures, while during this period we have had a laissez-faire approach to doctrine. The problem with this approach is that while we know what weâ€™re supposed to do, we donâ€™t know â€“ or agree upon why. The longer we go with non-agreement on why we do something, the more the whats will fall by the wayside. Perhaps those of us interested in shifting the model â€“ locating â€œunitednessâ€ in doctrine and freedom in method, will find the â€œArmy of Davidsâ€ model useful.