Monday, January 28, 2013

Bishop 6 (Institutions, Connecting)

Now chapter 6 of William Willimon's Bishop, "Bishops Body Building."  Previous chapters were:

1. Methodists, Alabama Conference in Motion
2. Summoned to be Bishop
3. Bishops Sending Pastors
4. Bishops Cultivating Fruitfulness
5. Bishops as Change Agents

Highlights of chapter 6:

1. "I want to say a word for anxiety" (91).  This book just hammers home over and over again Willimon's sense that the status quo of the UM church is the death, death, death of the church. He clearly doesn't want to put anyone at ease.  He wants any Methodist reading his book to become very anxious.  "It is more important to prod and empower than to pacify" (96).

2. He considers retired bishops and clergy some of his biggest opponents.  This is simply another form of "those who had the most invested in what you are trying to change will often most oppose change."  After all, to admit that Willimon is right is to admit that a generation of bishops were angels of death for the UM church.  The years of decline are on record: 1969-present.

3. "A bishop without enemies must not be showing up to the office" (92).  Of course I think any reader with a healthy EQ by this point of the book will infer that Willimon has a bit of a caustic personality. "The conference leaders whom a bishop inherits will not be the leaders a bishop needs" (94). Ouch.  Very optimistic.

4. Asking lots of questions, listening, admitting failure, etc.  Good stuff

5. More complaints.  Seniority system killing the church and it's not even official policy.  "Equitable compensation" is killing the UM church financially to prop up churches that can't support themselves because they are dying.

6. In 1987, Bishop Earl Hunt suggested that one of the key responsibilities of the UM church was to guarantee the survival of the small membership church.  Oops. Most Christians attend churches of 200 or more. The top 25 Methodist churches have more people attending than everyone in 54 of the UM's 62 conferences. Most people are currently not attracted to small churches.

7. Willimon ended the chapter by discussing the UM colleges and seminaries.  I guess a retired bishop can tell all about the failures of "hotshot" college presidents in recent memory.  It reminds us all how important a transition in presidency is (hint, hint).  The instance he mentions took Birmingham-Southern College down the drain in a very short amount of time.  Hopefully IWU will pick someone who is financially wise and has an eye for opportunity.

8. Willimon says that at least 3 UM seminaries ought to merge or close. I like that the UM church now dispenses funds to its seminaries on the basis of how many UM students they have. Let's just say that a number of UM seminaries have the reputation of not being very Methodist (or even Christian).  I have nothing at all against non-Christians teaching Bible--it just seems a little questionable at a seminary that trains Christian ministers for a specific denomination.

9. On the other hand, Willimon is inconsistent when he celebrates that the UM church has increasingly been cutting off training at non-UM seminaries.  To be consistent, he should celebrate training at seminaries that will equip UM ministers to do the mission he is saying it needs to survive, and that doesn't look to be Methodist seminaries. If a Wesley Seminary at IWU or an Asbury does it as well or better than the official ones, then the UM church should be embracing us.

I've heard that Asbury Seminary trains more UM ministers than all the other Methodist schools combined.  I would venture to say that they are also the more missional Methodist pastors Willimon is looking for. Yet I haven't a doubt that the UM church would cut off Asbury in a blink if it could (it's not officially UM). It's probably the fact that Asbury's alumni fill the church that keeps them from doing so.

Let's face it, the UM church is not going to survive on the ministers coming out of its own seminaries.  Too few ministers coming out of most of them, a preponderance of good theologians who won't grow any church coming out of the others.  Duke you will always have with you... just don't look for it to rescue its denomination.

I might give a shout out to my friends at United, which looks to be about the only innovative UM seminary of the lot.  I also have a sense that sometimes they feel like the black sheep of the family... for actually doing the kinds of things Willimon says the church must do if it is to survive.  Meanwhile, an Ashland is cut off the list in a failing attempt to keep that other Methodist school in Ohio on life support.  Ashland is another example of a school that fits well with the Wesleyan tradition and trains the kind of minister that will grow churches, even though it is not UM.

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