This post will upset some people. Especially my wife. But before you jump to defend me or criticize my point of view, read/ponder/wonder with me.
Last week was the Oklahoma Annual Conference. It is our regular business/worship/fellowship event for Oklahoma United Methodists. It is a time to celebrate the ongoing ministry, plan for the future, and carry out the necessary business that binds those two. I have a reputation among friends and colleagues for not caring for the event. I have also earned a reputation for not being there. That has nothing to do with the title. But those opinions hint at the struggle I experienced going into Annual Conference.
This year was a difficult session for me emotionally and psychologically. I won't get into details. Let's just say that I was not in a good place mentally or emotionally when I arrived. It didn't get too much better over the course of the few days I was there (yes, I attended all sessions except worship). And when I left on Thursday, I was coping with the realization that I am not an effective pastor.
This year we began an effort to "change the course" of the Annual Conference of United Methodists in Oklahoma. We were reminded very clearly that we are in decline. We have been told that our future is going to continue to decline in the coming years before we see stabilization. We were being prepared for the hard years to come. Worship attendance is in decline. Membership is in decline. Financial giving is in decline. And it won't get better for a few years yet to come. Do you have the picture that we are in decline?
The vision for the Annual Conference is that in order for us to weather the coming dark days, we need to attract more people into our local churches. The rallying point for our leaders is that engaging new people in new places is what will help us through the difficult period we are entering. And the rallying cry for this is, "We Make Disciples!"
Our mission as United Methodists is to make disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. And I like that mission. It is a mission I can get behind. But as I listened to the undercurrent that is the foundation of our mission in Oklahoma, I realized, I am not effective at doing this mission.
When we put our current reality (decline) with our current plan (engaging new people in new places) we discover that our "mission" is not making disciples. It is evangelism. Our effort to change the course is about putting new people into worship. It is about moving people to join in membership. It is about leading people to give. Worship attendance, membership, and giving are tangible marks of effectiveness. They are benchmarks that we can account for in our churches. They are most likely going to be the marks used to evaluate what makes for effective pastors. And I am not one.
I don't put much emphasis on numbers. I don't make people accountable to attending worship. I don't encourage people to join the membership of the church. I leave people the freedom to financially invest in the church as they feel. The churches I have served have not seen increases in worship attendance (in fact they decrease in number). The churches I have served do not have increasing numbers of members. I do not stress over how much or how little we have to do ministry.
There is a lot of discussion happening in the United Methodist Church about ministerial effectiveness. And when we take the concern that is growing over attendance, membership, and finances, then I will have to confess that my effectiveness gets very low marks.
But I stand by the ministry I feel called into: He gave some to be apostles, prophets, evangelists, and preachers and teachers for the equipping of the saints to do the work of ministry to the building up of the body toward unity of faith and knowledge of the Son of God into the full maturity of the stature of Jesus Christ. It is who I am. It is what I do. It will continue to be my calling in life and ministry.