Q: “How many United Methodists does it take to change a lightbulb?”
A: “CHANGE??? WHO SAID ANYTHING ABOUT CHANGE?!?”
The Judicial Council of the UMC recently met and reversed an action passed this year at General Conference that would have ended the so-called “guaranteed appointment.” Per the United Methodist Reporter:
“Security of appointment has long been a part of the tradition of The United Methodist Church and its predecessor bodies. Abolishing security of appointment would destroy our historic plan for our itinerant superintendency. Fair process procedures, trials and appeals are integral parts of the privilege of our clergy of right to trial by a committee and of appeal and is an absolute right which cannot be eradicated by legislation.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m a people-pleasing, rule-following only child by birth, nature, and inclination. I hate rebellion for the sake of rebellion (and let’s be honest, nothing today makes one less of a rebel than self-identifying as one). But sometimes rules become self-serving, stale, and rusty. Boundaries are important, but when they become an impediment to organizational vitality and, in the case of the church, a barrier to the mission of Jesus – they gotta go.
In Back to Zero, Gil Rendle has an excellent chapter on rule-breaking. He makes a great point:
“Bad behavior may be hard to change but not so hard as trying to change policies once they are established and applied to all. Institutions and corporations easily can make new rules but do not have the natural capacity to break those rules once they are made.” (21)
The whole of General Conference 2012 was proof that our particular corporation does not have the capacity to change rules despite institutional decline and overall ossification. Rendle is part of a growing chorus within the church that seeks to reclaim Methodism as a movement rather than an institution. This means change, though:
“When a paradigm shifts, everything goes back to zero. Former practices are found to be ineffective. Old rules don’t apply.” (24)
The tenure system that rewards clergy for time in the system and emphasizes the security and rights of the clergy (notice the language of the decision above) over the call of Jesus and needs of the church has indeed proven to be ineffective. Is it all the clergy’s fault? No. Is our system of deploying clergy defensible any longer? No.
Rendle offers three questions (via an Army general, no less) to guide potential rule-breaking:
What is the purpose of the rule?
Is this rule still appropriate?
Does the rule serve or prevent the mission?
So, given the questions above, what do you think? is it time for us to break some rules – even if they are “restrictive“?
Gil Rendle, Back to Zero (Nashville: Abingdon Press 2011).