I didn’t grow up in the United Methodist Church (UMC). But when I was in college I fell in love with the UMC and I especially fell in love with what they called Connectionalism.
Connectionalism (or Connexionalism) is a funny word. In the UMC we use it to talk about the relationships churches and pastors have to other churches and pastors and to the worldwide UMC. Connectionalism means we are not alone, that we are connected both locally and globally.
“What is connectionalism? It’s a peculiarly Methodist understanding of what it means to be the church. According to connectionalism, the church is defined not by formal structures or doctrine or lines of authority. It’s defined by connections between people: connections between pastor and pastor, between pastor and laity, and between laity and laity. When The United Methodist Church claims to be a connectional church, that means that we hold such interpersonal connections in so high a regard that we understand them as the essence of the church.” David W Scott “Connectionalism as a Basis for United Methodist Unity”
I love these words from David W Scott, they speak of connectionalism at its best. But we are also familiar with it at its worst – this is when we dumb down this essential way of being church to local church paying apportionments (giving to the larger church) and pastors and laity serving on Conference committees.
At its best, connectionalism is worthy of being a core competency for pastors. Like Professionalism, Focus and Communication, Connectionalism moves the life of a pastor out of personal kingdom building toward a bigger understanding of ministry.
I think we may need a new vision of connectionalism. Our connections feel weak these days. Maybe this because of the stress of ministry and the call of individualism which seduces us to believe that as long as our little church is doing fine who cares what happens to the larger UMC?
What could this new vision of connectionalism took like? Here is what I am thinking connectionalism could look like in the 21st century. I’d love to hear your thoughts too.
1.Connectionalism looks like pastors serving based on gifts. You are great at pastoral care and I am great at administration? We work together and build each other’s ministry. A third pastor in our community is a great preacher? She preaches several Sundays a month for us and we carry the administrative and pastoral care load those weeks.
This would call pastors to know each other and put aside any competition we might feel with one another. It would also call us to be more accountable to one another. If pastors were appointed to a Mission Area (smaller groupings of churches to which every UMC in Cal-Pac is assigned) based on gifts instead of to a local parish, this would be a major shift in our connectionalism.
2. Connectionalism looks like Mission Areas doing church assessments, and when needed, recommending closures and vital mergers. The best wisdom is the wisdom of those in the community so lets use it more strategically. This would include having a key role with the District Superintendent (DS) in deciding how the funds from the closed property would be strategically used to build ministry in the Mission Area. Funds would be used for new starts, building updates and staffing.
Sharing this responsibility with the District Superintendent might not work in every context, but in those in which it did a DS would benefit from the wisdom of a strong Mission Area. (Note: some of this has started to happen.)
3. Connectionalism looks like Conference staff deployed to districts on a rotating basis at least 50% of the time. This would include staff being housed in the district (a guest room and space at the District office) so they really get to know each district and its needs. This could include staff from: Justice and Compassion, New Ministries, Hispanic Ministries, Camping, Age Level Ministries, Finance and Human Resources.
In today’s mobile world, Connectional Ministries staff spending the bulk of their time in Pasadena isn’t the highest use of the staff’s ability to resource. I’d love to see Mission Areas invite Connectional Ministry staff in regularly as a way of educating them on the real needs of churches. (Note: some of this is already happening too!)
Historically, connectionalism has been a core competency. Today it needs to move front and center again. As I look around I see too many pastors forsaking the connection due to a lack of time, energy or interest and I wonder how a renewed focus on connectionalism could enable us to lead more boldly and with less loneliness.
What place does Connectionalism hold in your ministry?