A beginner’s guide to ‘speaking Methodist’

The United Methodist Church doesn’t lack for obscure terms or for acronyms, including “UMC.” And the verbiage has gotten thicker as General Conference 2012, with its many reform proposals, draws near.

For those who want to be able to “speak Methodist” during the big event, here’s a glossary that might prove helpful:

Adaptive Challenge—The term comes out of the Call to Action Steering Committee report and serves as a focus statement for the reform efforts that have led to the restructuring legislation and other proposals before General Conference. The specific language of the adaptive challenge is “to redirect the flow of attention, energy and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Book of Discipline—This is the UMC’s all-important law book, which governs how churches, annual conferences and general agencies are structured, and also sets policies for church membership, ordination and judicial procedure. General Conference’s key task is the revising of the Book of Discipline.

Book of Resolutions—This book is published after every General Conference, and it includes resolutions adopted by General Conference delegates, expressing the policy of the UMC on current social issues and concerns.

Call to Action—This is the catch-phrase for an effort that has led to legislation for restructuring general agencies and focusing the UMC’s attention on boosting the number of “vital congregations.” The UMC’s Council of Bishops and Connectional Table leaders, working with presidents and general secretaries of the general agencies, began the initiative. Then came the commissioning of a 16-member Call to Action Steering Team by the Council of Bishops, with support from the Connectional Table. The steering team drew on two outside research projects: one by Towers Watson, on vital congregations; and the other, an operational assessment, by Apex.

Then the steering committee issued a lengthy final report stressing the need to focus on congregational vitality for 10 years. It also called for consolidating agencies, reforming the Council of Bishops, reforming clergy training and accountability and using statistics more effectively to measure performance across the connection.

Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry—Under the restructuring legislation to be decided on by General Conference 2012, this new organization would consolidate nine current general church agencies. Its 15-member board would replace hundreds of agency board seats under the current structure. The Center would have an executive general secretary, chosen by its board.

Daily Christian Advocate or “DCA”—The Daily Christian Advocate is the official journal of General Conference, recording actions by delegates. The Advance Edition publishes legislation submitted for consideration by delegates.

Four Areas of Focus—The 2008 General Conference affirmed that the UMC should concentrate on the following: Combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally; engaging in ministry with the poor; creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations; developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world. General church agencies have targeted programming efforts for the last four years in these areas. The “Imagine No Malaria” effort is probably the best-known example. There’s some grumbling that the Call to Action proposals will divert attention and resources from the Four Areas of Focus.

General Council for Strategy and Oversight—This new council would consist of 45 people, representing the diversity of the UMC, and provide oversight for the Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry.

IOT—Interim Operations Team. This is the group of eight, led by Bishop Gregory V. Palmer, named by the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table to “guide change management” after the Call to Action Steering Team issued its report. The IOT shaped the legislation to restructure the general agencies.

Key Drivers of Vitality—The Call to Action Steering Team’s final report identified “key drivers of vitality” for congregations. They are: effective pastoral leadership; multiple small groups and programs for children and youth; mix of traditional and contemporary worship services; high percentage of spiritually engaged laity in leadership roles.

Metrics—This is another term that’s come to summarize the push to provide real-time, highly transparent information on how local churches and annual conferences are doing in such areas as membership, attendance, baptism and outreach.

Study of Ministry—The 2008 General Conference charged the Study of Ministry Commission to report to the 2012 General Conference with legislation pertaining to “the ordering of ministry.” This group did indeed produce a much-discussed study, and from it came legislation to do away with guaranteed appointment for clergy, as well as a streamlining of the ordination process.

Vital Congregations—The Towers Watson study drawn on by the Call to Action Steering Committee found that only 15 percent of more than 32,000 UMC congregations in North America qualify as “highly vital.” The focus of reforms as pushed by the Council of Bishops and Connectional Table is to boost the number of such congregations, and a Vital Congregations Initiative is underway, led by Bishop John Schol of the Baltimore-Washington Conference, to share best practices and stress the use of “metrics” in determining how conferences and churches are performing.



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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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