United Methodist mission agency restructures

By Elliott Wright

The United Methodist Church’s worldwide mission agency took historical steps on April 12 toward becoming more flexible, effective, and cost efficient in response to contemporary mission opportunities.

The directors voted to reduce their number by two-thirds, from 92 to 32, while retaining a strong balance among members from the United States and units (called “central conferences”) in Africa, the Philippines, and Europe.

Another action affirmed a proposal that would make the agency’s Women’s Division “structurally separate” but “missionally connected” to Global Ministries. The division is the corporate arm of United Methodist Women.

Denominational Concerns
The possibility of small board sizes is among a number of theological and organizational issues under discussion within the denomination as part of a “Call to Action” initiated by the Council of Bishops. Also, earlier research indicated too much “distance” between program agencies and congregations.

Global Ministries is also studying ways to strengthen its responsiveness to congregations and annual (regional) conferences. “There is a clear recognition,” Bishop Ough stated in an interview, “that as the policy board becomes smaller, the need to connect with constituent groups becomes larger.”

The proposals to reduce board size and to separate the Women’s Division from Global Ministries will be submitted for final decision by The United Methodist Church’s policy-making General Conference in 2012. Changes approved would go into effect at the start of 2013.

Board Size and Purpose
The issue of board size has been under consideration for about a year by a committee charged with studying possible governance changes to the largest of the 13 United Methodist general agencies. The resolution to drop the number from 92 to 32 came from the board’s executive committee. In presenting the committee report on April 11, Bishop Peter Weaver of New England said that a board of directors was a means, not an end, and did not depend on the number but on the nature of its members.

Directors of the mission board, he said, must have a clear vision and “focus on where God is leading us into the future.” He said the ideal directors are Christ-centered, have an ability to tell the truth in love, are deeply collaborative, and are more about the macro than the micro.

Issue of what is commonly called the ‘‘worldwide nature” of The United Methodist Church is often and currently under study. A report on this topic will come before the 2012 General Conference, and a preview of key provisions was presented to Global Ministries directors on the evening of April 11 by Bishop Scott Jones of the Kansas Area, the study commission chair. The study proposes that basic aspects of United Methodist polity and practice, including historical theological affirmation, would apply on a global basis while other matters, such as publication of educational materials, would be addressed at regional levels.

Distribution of Directors
The formula for the distribution of Global Ministries directors beginning in 2013 would assign 15 seats to five geographical jurisdictions in the US, with three each for the North Central, Northeastern, and South Central jurisdictions, and four to the Southeast and two to the Western, proportioned by membership size. Two spots would go to US bishops, for a total US representation of 17, or 53 percent.

Ten places, nine for clergy and laity and one for a bishop, would go to the central conference outside the US, or a total of 31 percent. There are some 7.8 million US United Methodists and more than 4 million in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines. Membership is growing outside the US and Europe.

The agency has experienced significant staff reduction in recent years, partly in an effort to more closely define priorities. But money is also a big factor. All 13 of the denomination’s “general agencies” are budgeting at lower levels for 2012 and beyond than was the case over the last four-year budgeting cycle.

Elliott Wright is a communications consultant to the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries.