As we head into the 2015 Session of our Indiana Conference this week, I find that it helps to keep it all in perspective. One of my years as bishop in the Dakotas, I was concerned about how things would go at our Annual Conference session that year (I don't remember what the issue was that concerned me). I mentioned my concerns to one of my veteran District Superintendents, saying, "I don't know how Conference will go this week." He replied, "It will go until Saturday, and then it will be over." Kind of a nice reminder to keep it all in perspective.
Here are some other ways to keep things in perspective:
1. As we elect our delegates to General Conference, this is obviously an important issue. But it helps to remember that we elect 8 clergy and 8 laity delegates out of 850 total delegates at the General Conference. Our input as the Indiana Conference is important, but we need to be realistic about those numbers and keep things in perspective.
2. As we vote on the Annual Conference budget, it helps to remember that the TOTAL BUDGET of the Indiana Conference is about $170 million, not the $15 million that we adopt for the Conference Tithe and the District askings. That $170 million represents the typical total annual expenditures of all of our congregations in the UMC in Indiana, so voting to pay a "tithe" plus 1% or 1.5% to a district is actually a small number from that perspective.
3. Speaking of dollars, there is always a lot of talk, rightly so, about the general church apportionments which are the largest part of our Indiana Conference tithe budget. But from the perspective of the local church dollar, only 2.14 cents of every dollar given to a local church ends up going to the general church budget of our denomination. Every penny is important, of course, but it helps to keep things in perspective.
4. Each time I lay my hands on the head of a new clergy to be ordained, the Indiana Conference takes on an obligation of around $2 million based upon an average of 35 years of service. Because we guarantee appointments, housing, pension, medical insurance, and professional expenses to our ordained clergy, we as the Indiana Conference are actually making a large investment in those new clergy, which will be paid mostly by the local congregations that they serve. It helps to keep that in perspective as we make those decisions about our new clergy.
5. One more reminder about keeping our money in perspective: most all of us who gather for our Indiana Conference Session are in the top 95% of wealthy people in the world. That is true of almost everyone in America, with some obvious exceptions of the very poor in our country. But nearly everyone who will be attending our Session will be a person of average or above-average income. So while it is easy to get into an attitude of scarcity and worry about money, we need to be honest and to know that 95% of the people on earth would love to have the economic capacity that we have. Let's keep that in perspective.
6. We all have our struggles and there is a growing sense that we Christians in the US no longer have a "home field advantage." Respect for Christianity is on the decline, people no longer attend church because "it is the thing to do" in our culture, and ministry is more difficult today than it was in the 1950's - at least that is what the surveys say. But we need to keep it all in perspective. In many other places in the world Christians are being killed for their faith, Christians are suffering persecution, and the choice to attend church is not one of convenience or custom. I sympathize with people here in Indiana who tell me that being a Christian is not easy anymore, but we need to keep things in perspective - and to pray for our sister and brother Christians who are facing real dangers simply for being Christian. They need our prayers, and we need their perspective on faithfulness.

7. While everything we do during our Annual Conference Session is important, it helps me to know that many of the really important things which happen at Conference are not on the plenary schedule or the business agenda. Many of the most important things are the personal conversations, opportunities to re-connect with friends, learnings from our various workshops, prayers in our Prayer Room, and a whole host of other things which happen at Conference. I work hard to be fair and helpful as I preside over the business items, but I try to keep it all in perspective - knowing that sometimes more important things are happening elsewhere.
8. Most importantly we need to keep in perspective that this is a con-ference where we confer with each other but we also pray for God to confer upon us God's Spirit, God's wisdom, and God's direction. I know many come to Conference with their plans and schemes, but ultimately we need the perspective that God is in charge and not us.
So, let's have a great Session. Let's engage in Christian conferencing as we make important decisions. Let's be inspired by our times of worship and hearing from our speakers. Let's treat one another with grace and compassion. Let's pray. Let's "Share Our Story" (our Conference theme). And, let's keep it all in perspective.