Thursday, November 16, 2006

Connected or not?

I was reading the blog Out the Door, and ran across a couple of posts that sparked my interest. John Battern wrote about a recent ruling of the Judicial Council regarding a ruling by the Bishop of the Iowa Annual Conference.

Before we go any further, understand that budgeting and stewardship are not my “work areas” in our church – I have been focused mainly in Christian Education and Spiritual Development (for lack of a better description). I, in no way, know what I’m talking about. I do have an opinion, and it’s my blog, so I’ll share.

A task force within the Iowa Annual Conference recommended that each church be required to contribute 10% of their general offering toward the conference budget and then “adopt” a ministry or ministries of the Conference to support financially. The bishop of the conference ruled that this report was “out of order.” The Judicial Council then ruled that the Bishop was correct, and that there were several points at which the recommendation, if adopted, would have violated The Discipline. That’s my summary; read the Council’s decision here.

First of all, I would have to assume that this “tithe and offering” system would have resulted in unpredictable income for the Iowa Annual Conference and would have most likely have produced less income for the conference budget.

I have to say that I am not so impressed with the idea of a tithe and offering system for conference giving. A few reasons and a few questions:

  1. In the comments to the second post listed, John states that the finance chairman of his church called the present system a “tax” on the churches. First of all, I don’t understand how one system could be called a tax, while the other one is not. If one is, then the other one is, as well – only the amount of money requested is different. I, personally, wouldn’t use that term at all. If we are a church connected – local churches connected into a larger church, then it shouldn’t be considered US vs THEM. WE are the church. We have financial requirements for ministry locally, in the district and in the conference. If it is one church, then all of those obligations belong to all of us. It’s not a tax – it’s supporting the ministry that God has set before us – UMCOR is the ministry of my church as much as buying curriculum for the preschool class is part of the ministry of my church.
  2. The purpose of the tithe and offering system is to provide local churches the ability to fund those ministries for which they have a passion. Don’t we already have that opportunity? If my church decided that Ebenezer Outreach was a mission project which engaged our passions, then we could go all out, raise money for them, and support them financially. Maybe we ought to consider that. However, the question shouldn’t be “What is our passion for ministry?” Is should be “What is God’s passion?”
  3. One of the objections to the apportionment system is that it doesn’t give the local church a voice in how their money will be spent. First of all, it’s God’s money, not ours. Secondly, don’t we have a voice in how the money is spent?. I know our church sends two lay members to annual conference. They are nominated by a committee on lay leadership, the members of which we choose in charge conference. We then “elect” these lay members to annual conference at our charge conference. Perhaps we need to remember that and choose well (which our church has done in the past). How else do we have a voice? Please correct me if I am wrong, but can’t anyone submit a resolution to the Annual Conference? Or any local church? Isn’t that a voice?
  4. John states that he believes that the local church has trouble paying its apportionments to the conference because church members will not pay for that which they do not support. I don’t think that’s why local churches do not pay apportionments – I think it is because they – the local church members – don’t place a priority on it. They don’t see it as ministry, when it is. So the problem is in education, creating in members the idea that payment to the connectional church is as much a part of ministry as is donating to the local food pantry. Does anyone really expect that every member or even every local church will support every program of its annual conference? That’s unrealistic. We are part of a larger reality, however. We are not just a local church. Our arms are longer, our hearts are bigger, our abilities to do God’s ministry is expanded because we are not a local church, an island – we are a bigger Body of Christ than we could ever be alone. That means that the work we are able to do is large; not all of it will be popular with everyone. But that’s not the question, is it? The question should be – is this what God is calling us to do?
  5. If giving is based on popularity, then what about unpopular ministries? I can easily see that a ministry such as providing camping opportunities for children could inspire “passion” in a congregation. What if the ministry needing funding is dull and boring, but still a call from God? Does that need just go away because it doesn’t win a popularity contest?
There you go – my opinion, for what it’s worth. Which is way less than 10% of anything.

Image: Rainbow on the way to work.


Anonymous Jeff the Methodist said...

Way to go. Maybe YOU should be a lay member to Annual Conference...and maybe a delegate to the next General Conference...

9:15 PM  

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