Over the past 6 months, I have personally led or coached numerous churches through helping their people learn about and discuss the way forward for United Methodism using the material provided in Unafraid and Unashamed: Facing the Future of United Methodism. The large majority of these conversations have turned out to be extremely constructive and surprisingly enrichening for the participants. Pastors have reported to me after the conversations their congregations exhibit less anxiety about the future and a greater commitment to their local church.
In a couple instances, however, the conversations have turned into less than helpful debates that have created unnecessary tension between participants. In each case, I’ve tried my best to figure out what makes the difference between a constructive discussion and destructive discussion. Are there any commonalities we can identify between conversations that went well and discussions that turned out to be unhelpful?
Interestingly, I have found one factor that all the unhelpful discussions had in common and it has nothing to do with whether the pastors and churches self-identify as traditionalist, centrist, or progressive. In the unhelpful conversations, the leader of the discussion came across as explicitly trying to convince the group that their opinion regarding LGBTQ inclusion was correct (or in one instance the leader allowed a participant with a similar agenda to dominate the discussion.)
I know right now some of you may be thinking: But how we think about LGBTQ inclusion is important. In fact, it’s crucial to our witness and it has a direct impact on many lives. How can you say we should not have an agenda when it comes to talking with people about it?
It’s true, how the United Methodist Church addresses LGBTQ inclusion will impact millions of lives and it is crucial to our witness. However, when we invite our congregations to talk about the future of United Methodism and they discern that our invitation contains within it a hidden agenda to get them to think more like us about LGBTQ inclusion, they feel threatened and defensive.
I’m not saying it’s not important to share how we feel about LGBTQ inclusion and even try to persuade others to do the same. There are settings where that is exactly what needs to be done. I am just saying the place to do it is not in a conversation about the most faithful path forward for the United Methodist Church given the different viewpoints on LGBTQ inclusion within it.
Every single United Methodist Church will have and needs to have conversations about the future of United Methodist and LGBTQ inclusion. The question is will these conversations take place prayerfully in the church building or heatedly in the church parking lot.
Instead of going into such conversations trying to convince others to think like you, go in trying to help each participant understand how others who love Jesus and love people could think differently than they do. Take your que from the full version of the serenity prayer which encourages us to “take, as Jesus did, this sinful world as it is, not as I would have.” When it comes to talking about the future, let’s discuss our beloved and imperfect UMC as it is not as we would have it if we ruled the world. Focus on understanding the various perspectives of sincere disciples within our denomination and then help your congregation ask: "Given our varying viewpoints and the mission of our church, what is the most faithful way to move forward?"
I think you will find when you approach a conversation from this angle the participants will be more likely to truly engage the issues because they do not feel the need to constantly defend their current position. You might be interested to know that a few participants in discussions based on Unafraid and Unashamed have changed their opinions about LGBTQ inclusion after the discussion which I found quite surprising since I had rarely if ever seen individual opinions shift in numerous church and clergy conversations solely about human sexuality over the years. I can’t tell you everyone who shifted their opinion shifted in the exact same manner, but I can tell you they all felt they were able to find a deeper sense that their opinion about the issue stemmed from their faith rather than simply the dominant culture views of their locality.
These results remind me of something a wise mentor said to me a couple decades ago: “The more you try to control others, the less you influence them. The more you try to understand others, the more you influence them.”
In writing Unafraid and Unashamed, I attempted to be brutally honest about the future choices facing our denomination and unrelentingly honest and charitable in my representation of the differing viewpoints within the UMC. I did this because I have found the best way to place ourselves in the path of God’s miraculous power is to be brutally honest about our current path and unceasingly loving to those in our lives. Perhaps if we can help our people have wholly honest and kind conversations about the way for the UMC, we will place ourselves in a position to discern God’s holy way forward for the UMC.
Your people will be having these conversations no matter what happens. You can allow these conversations to happen haphazardly with misinformation or you can proactively help shepherd your church through the issues of our day and age just as faithful leaders have done in previous eras.
In my next post, I’ll focus more on why our churches need their leaders to help lead these conversations.
For now, please accept my sincere wishes for a happy new year and blessings to you and your churches!
Recently, the Commission on a Way Forward presented an interim report to the Council of Bishops in which they shared their preliminary proposals. In a news release, the Council of Bishops reported they received three different options from the commission.
Proposal #1 – Maintain the current language in the Book of Discipline and strengthen accountability procedures.
Proposal #2 – Remove language forbidding ordination and marriage based on sexual preference from the Book of Discipline. Allow churches and conferences to work out their response to questions regarding LGBTQ inclusion in their local context. (Similar previous proposals have often been referred to as “The Local Option”.)
Proposal #3 – Create a system where 2 or perhaps 3 denominations with different standards regarding LGBTQ inclusion operate and share ministry together under the larger umbrella of United Methodism. In essence this plan would create 2 or 3 sub-denominations within one larger denomination.
Here’s what we know and what we don’t know from the Bishops Report.
I hope you find this blog helpful as you discern how to prepare the people of your congregation for the debate over the future of United Methodism. In my next blog, I will be writing about the best practices for leading a fruitful conversation about the future of the United Methodism and a few of common mistakes leaders make which prevent the conversation from being constructive.
Blessings to you and your church,
Have you been pondering how to initiate conversations about the way forward for United Methodism in your congregation?
As you know, I wrote Unafraid and Unashamed in the hopes of providing churches with a resource to guide these conversations in an honest, constructive and faith-filled manner. In my last blog, I provided suggestions for creating a timeline for these conversations. In this post, I want to share how to structure these conversations based on the time and setting available to you.
If you have 4-8 weeks available for your study, I recommend downloading the free leader’s guide and teaching one or two chapters per week as dictated by your schedule. The leader’s guide is a great tool written by Rev. Glenna Manning, an ordained United Methodist Deacon who combines an insightful theological perspective with keen insights into teaching theory gained from decades working in the public-school system.
But what if you don’t have enough time to follow the leader’s guide through each chapter?
Let’s say you have only 3 sessions to teach the class and there is no way you can work through all the material in that time. I have already taught several three session classes myself on the book and here’s my recommendation.
Week 1 – Focus on chapters 1&2. These chapters provide a history of the debate with United Methodism around LGBTQ inclusion and charitable respectful articulations of the traditionalist, centrist, and progressive viewpoints.
Week 2 – Focus on chapter 5. This chapter looks at all the other challenges the United Methodist church must face to minister effectively in a rapidly changing culture outside of LGBTQ inclusion. It concludes by inviting participants to reflect honestly on whether the denomination can face these challenges within its current structure and to consider how their local church can best reach out to its changing community.
Week 3 – Focus on chapters 7&8. These chapters help participants calmly and faithfully consider what to do if they feel differently from their local church or denomination about LGBTQ inclusion and the importance of working with Christians of various perspective on the issues we all agree on.
Okay, now let’s consider what to do if you do not have the luxury of multiple sessions. What if you only have one 50-minute session? Can you still discuss these complex issues in less than an hour? Yes, you can. Here’s how:
Minutes 0-5 – Discuss the “About This Guide” section and pray the “Opening Prayer” from page 2 of the leader’s guide. This will help establish an honest and respectful atmosphere for your session.
Minutes 5-20 – Focus on chapter 1 and the history of the debate within the UMC. Without knowing the history, it is very hard to make sense of the present and very easy to become disillusioned.
Minutes 20-35 – Focus on chapter 2 and understanding the different viewpoints within United Methodism. Without understanding why sincere Christians might see things different, it is hard to engage in constructive conversations about the future of the church.
Minutes 35-45 – Focus on chapters 7&8. Spend just a few minutes discussing 2 questions with the class: 1) What should you do when your opinion is in the minority within your faith community? 2) Where can Christians of different perspectives on LGBTQ inclusion work together to bless the world and spread the Gospel?
Minutes 45-50 – Q & A.
Be prepared for participants to ask you to provide more classes. I have received this request at every presentation I have made about this topic. Your church members know this is a big deal and they want to be ready to face it with honest informed perspectives.
What to do if you have another class format not covered in this post? Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I’m always happy to brainstorm with you about the right set up for your context.
By the way, if you have been waiting to order copies of Unafraid and Unashamed for your church this may be the best week to do it. Throughout this Cyber Monday week, my publisher is offering discounts of 30% on all orders of 5 or more books using the coupon code CMBULK on purchases made through marketsquarebooks.com. Individual copies can be purchased at a 20% discount using the code CMW2017.
Blessings to you and your church,
When I talk to fellow pastors about a Way Forward for United Methodism, the most common question I hear is: “When should I begin talking to my congregation about a Way Forward?”
Some congregations have already picked a side. Some congregations have stayed up to date on all the denominational happenings. But it seems most pastors have been patiently waiting for the right time to prepare their congregations for the possibility of significant changes to United Methodism as we know it.
It’s understandable for many pastors to be waiting. They want to have as much accurate information as possible and they do not want to unnecessarily interject anxiety into the life of their congregation. So, generally when I have gotten the question about the right time to talk to your congregation about the way forward, it has been difficult to answer.
Thankfully, the new statement by the Council of Bishops about the way forward offers a timeline that helps answer the question of when to talk to your congregation. In their statement, the Bishops say they are exploring 3 options for the Way Forward (we’ll discuss those options in more detail in future posts) and they say that the Commission on a Way Forward will give their final report to the Council of Bishops in May 2018.
Here’s what we can infer from that tidbit of info:
How do we take this information and turn it into a timeline for constructively talking to our congregations about the Way Forward? Here’s my basic recommendations. (As always, you may need to adjust it for your local context.)
I realize this suggested timeline may not be right for everyone. I have been working with numerous churches recently to discover the best timeline and most constructive format for these important conversations in their local settings. If you need help discerning the timeline for your congregation, please feel free to email at email@example.com. I’d be happy to help you find the right timeline for your context.
In my upcoming posts, I’ll share options for how to structure these classes and what we have learned from the 3 options presented in the recent statement by the Council of Bishops.
Blessings to you and your church,
Wil Cantrell serves as the Associate Pastor of Concord United Methodist Church in Farragut, TN. Wil’s driving passion is to help people live an authentic life while experiencing a real growing faith in Jesus Christ. Previously, he served as the associate pastor at Middlebrook Pike UMC and as the pastor of Lebanon Memorial UMC (Lebanon, VA) before coming to Concord UMC in July 2015.