In my previous post, I suggested that there were some throughout the United Methodist Church that wanted to use a “franchising model” as the guiding metaphor for how we function. Based on the comments that came in following that post, I need to offer a couple disclaimers:
- It is indeed probably unfair to tarnish the all of the boards and agencies as being insensitive to local context, creating “one size fits all” solutions for ministerial problems. My specific concern is focused in the work of our communications agency which has been most guilty of this in terms of our nationally focused campaigns. And yet, as someone who has been around the church for a bunch of years now, both on the board and agency side and now on the local church side, I have seen time and time again assumptions made about life in the local church at the general level that is often disconnected from actual circumstances at the congregational level. I have seen agency employees assume that the circumstances they experience in their specific UM congregations are normative for the entire church, which is of course completely impossible. Do boards and agencies take contexts into consideration? Sure, but more often focused on generational and racial ethnic demographics to the exclusion of regional, theological, and congregational cultural (such as big church/small church or urban/rural distinctions) that are part and parcel of our life together.
- I probably overstated my opinion of the place of the local church in our system, something that will be part of another post. I do not pine for a congregational polity by any means, having lived in that world and found it wanting. As I have said here before, I believe that connectionalism, when truly lived well, offers the possibility of making a prophetic statement about the nature of community and mutuality in a world obsessed with individual achievement. However, I also think we have to be realistic about how our communion functions, and the functional reality is that the basic work of sharing the love of Christ, making disciples, and transforming the world happens at the local church level. The work of the general church agencies, I believe, is to carry out the mandates of the General Conference, which ultimately should be a representative body which should keep in mind how our general efforts support the work of congregations in making disciples for the transformation of the world. Because individual congregations throughout our communion are very diverse, resources offered by the general agencies, such as UMCom, must therefore be adaptable for a variety of contexts and settings.
- I do not believe that the franchise metaphor/model is indeed how we should operate, but it is a model that at least UMCom functions under in their pursuit of creating a national brand. While I believe that having a national brand at some level is still important, it can’t be the end all and be all for ultimately it must support the variety of “products/brands” found at the local church level (yes, the “product” language is problematic theologically, but for our purposes here it will have to do). Our current approaches fail to understand that reality.