Monday, November 3, 2008

UB Musings

Most of my posts here relate to our local church and the mission we pursue. But from time to time, I also like to share some perspectives on the goings-on in our denomination. Next June, the United Brethren in Christ will be having our bi-annual National Conference in Ohio, where we will elect our next bishop. Our bishop sets the vision and direction for our denomination and leads us to stay true to our heritage, our purpose, and our joint mission.

Our current bishop, Ron Ramsey, stated at the beginning of his term that he would not be seeking reelection; he took the job intending from the get-go to be a one-term bishop. On a recent bishop blog, we learned that Pat Jones, our current Director of Healthy Churches, who serves as the bishop's right hand man, will likewise not be seeking the office of bishop.

This announcement leaves a leadership void at the top of our denomination, and it leads me to wonder who might be qualified to take the reins of leadership for the United Brethren in Christ. In my mind, there are only two types of potential candidates:

1. A well-respected UB pastor who has demonstrated a high capacity for leadership and is currently leading a healthy, dynamic church that is successfully fulfilling the Great Commission. This person would need to be someone who has a proven track record and is adept at leading with gentleness and firmness (someone who is a velvet-covered brick).

Unfortunately, the list of qualified candidates in this first category is exceedingly short. Due to many factors, our denomination is composed of largely dysfunctional congregations led by dysfunctional pastors. An embarrassingly significant percentage of our approximately 200 churches in America had an average attendance last year of fewer than 30 people. With an average attendance of 125, we are in the top 25% in terms of size.

There are probably fewer than 10 people (and I think that number is optimistic) who meet the criteria I've set out here. And I'm not sure any of them would want the job. Why give up a rewarding, successful, exciting ministry leading a local church to take on a discouraging, frustrating one that brings endless attacks from pastors who do not want to be faithful to the Great Commission and who do not want to be led?

2. The second type of candidate is someone from outside the denomination who has experience leading a denomination or a district or some other group of churches. This person would preferably have demonstrated an ability to help unhealthy groups become healthy again.

In many ways, I believe this is the right choice.

  • It begins to address one of the main weaknesses of our denomination--a paucity of true leaders. One of the reasons we have so many unhealthy churches and unhealthy pastors is because instead of allowing leaders to lead, we have handcuffed them, and they have decided to minister in other denominations. We need to bring effective leadership back into the United Brethren.
  • A fresh perspective is certain to help us identify our blind spots and the weaknesses we have that we weren't even aware of. Such a person can provide us with other ways of addressing issues and tackling problems that we haven't heretofore considered or known about.
  • It is a quintessentially "UB-thing" to do. Our denomination is predicated on the importance of majoring on the majors and minoring on the minors, tearing down the barriers that separate Christians for the purpose of boldly advancing the kingdom of God. It is naive and arrogant to cling to a UB-only stance, as if God is incapable of using someone from outside our current circles.

I'm not opposed to choosing someone from the first category--if they truly are qualified, if they truly believe God is calling them to the position, if their church is truly supportive in surrendering their pastor for the sake of the denomination. But if those criteria cannot be met, I am opposed to someone rising to the bishopric who lacks the leadership abilities necessary for continuing to move our denomination forward.

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