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:
- In May or June of 2018, the preferred direction(s) for United Methodism will be released by the Council of Bishops and the Commission on a Way Forward. This will probably catch the eye of some nationally prominent media organizations which will spark interest and concerns among some of our church members who may not have been in on the conversation previously.
- Sometime in summer or early fall of 2018, the legislation that accompanies the recommendation will be published and sent to delegates of the special 2019 General Conference.
- The special General Conference set for February 23-26, 2019 in St. Louis will draw more media attention than usual because of its focus. It will also garner more attention from the average United Methodist church member because of its direct impact on the structure of local congregations.
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.)
- In winter/spring of 2018, gather a group of trusted leaders in your congregation to begin studying together what is at stake in our deliberations over the Way Forward. You will need these leaders to be well-informed and level headed to answer difficult and emotionally charged questions that will assuredly arise in Sunday School classes and church parking lots when the final report is released to the media in May or June.
- In summer or fall 2018, make a class on the Way Forward available to anyone who wants to attend in your congregation. If your setting permits, you may want to contact other UMC churches around you and work together to offer joint classes. (Our most recent class had representatives from 6 churches even though it was primarily publicized within our local congregation.)
- In January or early February of 2019, plan to address the way forward from the pulpit. By this time, all your people will need to be prepared so they can interpret the news coming from the special General Conference from a well-informed perspective.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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,