Untied Methodist (John 11:44)

A working preacher in Washington, D.C., wrestles with Scripture, the (sigh) United Methodist Church and his soul.

Location: Washington, D.C., United States

Currently the pastor of Foundry UMC in Washington, DC, a wonderful and blessed reconciling congregation. Formerly a United Methodist communicator and editor. Formerly a campus minister. Formerly pastor in Philadelphia for 24 years. Graduate of Albright College and Boston University of Theology. Husband of Jane Malone and father of David, Nancy and Naomi. Resident of Capitol Hill, a wonderful place to live! Articles published in Zion's Herald, a must-read magazine for Methodists, a variety of United Methodist publications, the Christian Century, newspapers.


The Best UMC Idea I Have Heard Lately

A group of United Methodist Church leaders want to discover what United Methodists are passionate about. What is our "main thing"?

A bishops' task force on unity and the new Connectional Table, a body established by the 2004 General Conference to coordinate the work of the general agencies, have begun an effort to discern "the main thing that we [United Methodists] are all so passionate about" so that "if we can move on the main thing, some unity will occur as we become more intentional in working together," according to Bishop John Hopkins, chair of the table. (Quoted in an UMNS story here.)

To do this, they are using a process called "Appreciative Inquiry" that is increasingly popular with major nonprofits, the military, and corporations as they plan their futures.

Wonderful idea. It deserves our support and applause. It is the only thing I have heard about lately that has the possibility of moving us past the several stand-offs we seem to be in -- what Lyle Schaller calls "a score of lines in the sand" that have been drawn in "our complicated intradenominational quarrel." (See his book "The Ice Cube is Melting: What Really Is At Risk in United Methodism?")

In the essay "Five Theories of Change Embedded in Appreciative Inquiry," Gervase R. Bushe describes Appreciative Inquiry as a way of helping to shape an organization's future by researching people's peak experiences and high points as a part of the movement or group.

"The key data collection innovation of appreciative inquiry," Bushe writes, "is the collection of people's stories of something at its best. If we are interested in team development, we collect stories of people's best team experiences. If we are interested in the development of an organization we ask about their peak experience in that organization. If enhanced leadership is our goal, we collect stories of leadership at its best. These stories are collectively discussed in order to create new, generative ideas or images that aid in developmental change of the collectivity discussing them."

The U.S. Navy has used Appreciative Inquiry. They interviewed Navy officers (find interview questions here) in order, as interview guidelines put it, "to discover what is happening when we are operating at our best. In particular, our goal is to locate, illuminate, and understand the distinctive values, practices, and skills which are in operation when the Navy is operating at its best."

Interview questions included ones like this: "As you look back over your entire career in the Navy, think of a moment when you felt particularly successful, a time you had an influence on the outcome of something that was important, a time when you were effective in making a difference that mattered. It could have been a creative idea you imagined or an action you initiated. Perhaps it was something that made a difference to one individual. Or perhaps it was something that impacted your unit's mission. What's important is that this is a moment in which you felt most alive, most involved, effective, impactful, in which you felt you made a difference. Tell the story of what happened."

The whole list of questions the Navy used is worth browsing.

What might we learn if we asked every United Methodist pastor and lay leader these kinds of questions? I suspect we would learn what it is, really, that makes us Methodists and it would not be about keeping categories of people out of ordained ministry or fighting for power in our annual conferences.

I wish the bishops' task force on unity and the Connectional Table well. I think they are on the right track. I am eager to find out what they learn.


Blogger John said...

If we really want unity in the UMC, the proper approach is to superglue liberal and conservative pastors together and then appoint them to churches as a unit.

Just imagine yourself permanently attached to a Bill Hinson clone for five years. You could get twice as much work done!

Besides, it would double the employment demand for UMC pastors, and maybe speed up the ordination process.

7:27 PM  

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