From left, the Rev. DJ del Rosario – General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, Patrick Scriven – Pacific Northwest Annual Conference, the Rev. April Casperson – Methodist Theological School in Ohio, and Joseph D. Kim – General Board of Church and Society. UMNS photo by Kathleen Barry.
Let me tell you why I’m excited about Spark12.
Spark12 was designed from the ground up to help our church to embrace bold, creative and prophetic young adults driven by their faith to make a difference in the world. It recognizes that God’s call to change the world isn’t exclusively a call to ordained ministry. Spark12 is unique in its intent to walk alongside young adults with their own ideas for justice-oriented ministry, supporting them with an incubator period so their ideas have the best opportunity to succeed.
Now, we’ve all heard at General Conference how general boards and agencies CANNOT work together. We’ve heard words like ‘siloing’ and we’ve had leaders suggest that their work doesn’t impact the local church. Since I don’t work for a general board or agency, I’m not going to argue either point. I suspect there is a certain reality in, or a least a felt experience behind, both critiques at least by those who argue for them.
What I will say is this. Spark12 is a great example of how our boards and agencies CAN work together. Our leadership team includes staff from the General Board of Church and Society, a United Methodist seminary, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry and myself, on staff member with an annual conference. We also work with a larger design team that brings in staff from other general boards alongside several bright and creative young adults.
So how have we been able to do this? Our team is passionate and committed to bringing this idea to life so we’re willing to share from our silos to benefit the whole. We know the world will be a better place if we are able to empower even one young adult who has been given a powerful vision for the world that can be. And despite our deep love of the church, we all know how difficult it can be to try to align one’s vision of ministry, or sense of call, with the opportunities that exist.
As I’ve been following the restructure debate over the last couple months, and more intently over the past couple days, an idea has started to resolve in my mind. I’m not sure that any of the restructuring proposals will accomplish much of what they hope as they don’t address a key part of the problem; you and me.
As I worked alongside our general agency staff, I began to see that their image problem is related to one we experience on the annual conference level as well. As much as we use that word that my spell checker can never seem to understand, connectionalism, most United Methodists are more connectional in word than in deed. Our orientation is to think about what we can get for our churches rather than what we can give to our church. This mirrors the experience of so many leaders in local churches who struggle with members who are looking to consume church rather than to participate in the discipleship Jesus calls us to.
A reinvigorated embrace of discipleship is the real change we need in The United Methodist Church. What I love about Spark12 is that we have the opportunity to recognize and work with young disciples who are allowing God’s Spirit to nudge them to respond to the injustice they see in the world.
Real change in The United Methodist Church won’t come from the top down but it will need to bubble up, as the Holy Spirit works in the hearts of individuals who are challenged, encouraged, and given permission to fall deeply in love with God so that they might transform the church, and the world together.
A final word about silos. Being from the midwest, I don’t immediately hear the word silo and tremble in fear or disgust. Silos are used to store excess grains from harvest, the equivalency of a farmer’s treasure. As with any organization, there are tweaks that can be made to increase efficiency but from my perspective, our General church staff could very well be a treasure of the church; not its most immediate problem.
People store up their treasure, become more territorial and unwilling to share, when they feel threatened. Between the large churches that don’t ‘need’ the resources they offer, a widening theological chasm that threatens any hope of moving forward with clear purpose, and the decline-driven need to tighten budgets, it isn’t hard to see the forces that drive us away from sharing our resources. And the General Boards and Agencies aren’t the only parties guilty of this behavior in the church.
And again, this is why I love Spark12. It isn’t the solution to The United Methodist Church’s problems. Spark12 is a model, for this one United Methodist anyway, of what could be. I don’t know what every person at the table thinks about homosexuality or where they stand on the IOT, or guaranteed appointments. I do know they care about the work we’re doing together and that is enough. The United Methodist Church will need creativity and a deep sense of shared purpose if we are to move forward together in renewed connectional ministry.
Our church has a great mission statement; if we could agree to focus on it we might have a chance of walking forward together as well. It is my prayer that programs like Spark12 can help us all to learn to trust and work together again. The future of the United Methodist expression of God’s church may well depend on it.