Sunday, June 11, 2006

annual conference

I have spent the last four days in Peoria, Illinois at "Annual Conference," the place where the bureaucratic region of United Methodist pastors and church representatives come together for worship, fellowship and business.

The highlight for me was the Ordination Service this morning. Since I was ordained an Elder last year, I got to be one of the Elders that lay hands on my friend Steve whe the Bishop ordained him today. Other than that, it is always great to see other clergy brothers and sisters.

The most depressing thing was learning from a friend of mine that the Conference that I serve in, the Illinois Great Rivers Conference, has lost more members in the last 30 years than any other conference in the world! Since 1974, we've declined by 40%.

This is not a statistic that is told young people (or older people) when they are considering pursuing a career in full-time ministry here. The way this is played out in local congregations is that there are very few congregations that a pastor might be appointed to serve that are not struggling. Almost all of the congregations in our conference are declining. This means that pastors are put in the position where they are expected to "save" dying congregations. This usually means trying to convince a congregation to passionately pursue a radical approach to ministry that they don't already want to pursue. If they did, they wouldn't be in decline!

Needless to say, seminaries don't train pastors to be this kind of catalytic leader. Needless to say, most pastors who get ordained don't have the skillset for this kind of ministry.

A friend of mine who is also an associate pastor told me that his senior pastor doesn't even believe that there will be a United Methodist denominatin in 20 years.

I just don't know what to think.


Anonymous said...


Follow where God leads you, no matter if it is a dying denomination or a growing one. You have a job to do, a God who loves you, and a congregation who loves and needs you. Keep up the work you are doing by sheparding the flock entrusted to you and let God handle the rest. Worry about a future possibility only allows the devil the ability to steal away the present opportunity to do what God has called you to do today. You have the God given gift to be one of the greatest preachers out there. Focus on your calling, and God will take care of the rest.

Jamison said...

I agree with anonymous up there. I actually came to the UMC recently from the "evangelical" world. I think that there's a lot of strength in the moderate message of our church, but it's not a strength that gets a lot of attention.

My annual conference is closing churches a lot too, but ya know, sometimes thats what you need to do to grow. Churches that are so entrenched in their ways can't change. They need to be allowed to die, so that a new planting can grow up in their stead.

Remember there are 8 million of us, and 36,000 churches out there. The UMC isn't going anywhere. It may look different in 10 years, but that's up to us. We can make the church into a lot of different things, and it's important to listen to the Spirit for guidance for where we need to be in the future.

Carol Herdien said...

Hi Jason! When I first read this blog I felt a sense of discouragement in your words. I had logged on expecting you to tell us of the joyful news that we have you for another year. Even though you didn’t write it, I am assuming it is true.

As to the gloom and doom predictions about the Methodist Church and its declining membership (which is true in just about every mainstream denomination -- think about the turmoil the mighty Roman Catholic church is undergoing right now) these are false predictions spawned by the Devil. I am not saying that the people you spoke with are in league with the Devil, but they have been taken in by what he wants them to believe. Right now my class is studying Paul and his problems with the Corinthian church -- you think we have problems!

In 1983, when the attorneys in our law department at the Illinois Farm Bureau got computers, the secretaries were all told that in a few years secretaries wouldn’t be necessary. They could do their own typing. And they tried that at first, but found out very quickly that what they typed up couldn’t be sent out -- poor grammar, even poorer spelling, and they needed us to answer their phones, deal with the clients, keep their schedules and appointments straight, make their plane/train/hotel reservations. They needed to spend their time doing attorney work. Needless to say, it is now 2006, and the law department still has its secretaries despite being told that we would soon be obsolete.

I don’t know why church membership is declining. The older people are dying as are some of the baby boomers. The church youth program doesn’t have the large attendance it once had. The schools and the secular world pull the children away from church activities. It used to be that a kid’s social life revolved around the church. Yes, there were Little League, sports, and movies, but community activities would NEVER touch Wednesday night nor Sunday morning. Today this is not true. How did the church members allow this to happen --- many of which were employed by the school system? Why did the town clergy permit this?

This comment is getting too long, but what I am trying to say is: continue to step out in faith, be the good preacher that you are, don't be afraid to tell us truths we might not want to hear, learn from a congregation that loves you and let God take care of your future.

Just be glad that you weren’t Paul -- who had members of his congregation that hated him. Read his letters to people that must have driven him to constant frustration. Like Moses with a people that were rebellious, and Paul who dealt with so many church factions, it is a wonder they didn’t throw in the towel. Hang in there, Jason. The Methodists aren’t dead yet -- and with spirit-filled pastors like yourself -- will be around long after you and I are dust.


bandlady said...

Jason, you are a follower of Jesus Christ, our perfect Lord and Savior. The UMC is just one cog in that big denominational wheel. When you feel satan cutting you down like this because of the decline in a specific denomination, remember that there is NOT a decline in the power of Jesus Christ. Follow Him and you'll never go wrong.

Jason Woolever said...

thanks for all the encouragement. i need it when i get overwhelmed with the denominational titanic. really appreciate you all.

Anonymous said...


i am a united methodist pastor who is an elder serving local churches in a neighboring state for a good number of years now. i've just returned from our annual conference, and your concerns about the umc resonate with me.

new clergy are NOT told what they are up against in most churches to which they will be sent. maybe most new clergy wouldn't believe it, anyway, and have to discover it for themselves. still, some greater honesty with new clergy would appear to be in order.

bishop william willomon in north alabama, for example, has suggested we should just be honest about congregations in dying population areas, and acknowledge they are not going to exist in 20 years. we should not invest great resources in them, and we should send pastors to them understanding that their purpose at the church is hospice care of the congregation that is going to die.

yeah, i know God can raise the dead, but if the church is for the most part people in their 70s and 80s, and there aren't a lot of younger people moving into the area, then God is going to wait to raise the dead at the end of time, probably not in the next 20 years, if Christ tarries.

have you had reason to come across bill easum and tom bandy at they are church consultants who have kept me going in my numerous low points when thinking about the denomination decline and when dealing (in every church i've served) with spiritually and emotionally stunted members/leaders who do not hvae the ability or desire to examine their lives before Christ.

i'm glad i stumbled across your blog. i'm glad you are a united methodist clergy! may your tribe increase.