Why numbers won’t motivate us

By Mary Jo Dahlberg

Mary Jo Dahlberg

Mary Jo Dahlberg

I am a layperson, served as Lay Leader for the Minnesota Annual Conference for two quadrenniums, elected to the General Board of Discipleship for two quadrenniums, and now elected a General Conference delegate for the third time. I am a lifelong Methodist/United Methodist and have served the Church, in various positions and levels, throughout that time.

The 2012 theme for General Conference is Make Disciples of Jesus Christ, while the mission of the UMC is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. When I hear “make disciples, be a vital congregation,” it seems to be connected with numbers and money. Numbers are a way of measuring, but numbers do not motivate people to reclaim the mission we talk about.

The numbers and money giving are dwindling in our denomination, but I am not convinced the Interim Operations Team recommendations will produce the results needed. It may be a Band-Aid fix to keep us afloat for a while, but will not sustain us into the future. We do need to restructure, but I feel that, rather than a top-down plan, it would be more helpful for the Council of Bishops to put the challenge out there and have each General Board and agency begin to work together, to cross lines and listen to constituents, especially the young people within our denomination. I believe the four focus areas have helped to begin that process, but more time is needed to carry out the plans and strategies that each board and agency has put together. I see less and less trust within the systems we have. We need to gain trust with each other to move forward.

Congregations are a diverse group with many individuals looking at how “I” can get “my” cup filled, rather than how can I share my time, talent and witness. In order to be the Body of Christ, we need to serve and be served like Mary and Martha. As a community of faith we need to have our hearts and minds prepared and desire a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. John Wesley developed a way of living and Bishop Rueben Job simplified it with three simple rules: do good, do no harm, and stay in love with God. We need to go back to our Wesleyan heritage, adapting it for today. We have put aside the Covenant Groups and small group settings that could help build the community and help us grow in our faith with a better understanding of who and Whose we are.

I was with a church group recently and the discussion turned to visioning and purpose of the Church. We need to look outward and not inward in our disciple making. It is not about “me” and if it really is then we are truly in trouble. Ministry is contextual and different in every setting and we need to look at how to help the local church rather than design something that indicates “one size fits all.”

Approximately six years ago Bishop Sally Dyck, resident bishop of the Minnesota Area, spent a good part of the year asking, “Why church?” The question kept being asked and going deeper and deeper. I was the Conference Lay Leader and in attendance at various meetings and events where the exercise took place. No matter how many times I was asked, even though I would try and change the end result, it was always about community—a place of belonging, a place to serve and be served, to be loved and cared for.

I want my church to be a faith community that is not about numbers, but about caring, serving, reaching out, and for me to be a part of making a difference in the world.

“Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us.”—Ephesians 3:20, CEB

 

Ms. Dahlberg is a lay member and chair of the Minnesota delegation to the 2012 General Conference. This article first appeared in Circuit Rider (Feb/Mar/Apr 2012) and online at MinistryMatters.com. Follow General Conference coverage from Circuit Rider and Ministry Matters at www.ministrymatters.com/gc2012.

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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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