I have been called for jury duty in July. As I think about serving jury duty, I feel the same way about that obligation as I do about any other “duty” in my life. If I believe in our justice system and the important right to a trial by a jury of my peers, then when I am called to jury duty I have to respond. Likewise when Bishop Hodapp asked me to be a District Superintendent in 1990, I found myself saying, “If I believe in our itinerant appointment system, then I have to take my turn in serving on the Cabinet.” With nearly everything that I hold dear – my faith, my family, my church, my country, etc. – with all of those things, there also comes an obligation, a duty, and perhaps even a privilege of serving.
I know that thoughts of “obligation” and “duty” are not very popular in our ego-centered society. It seems so many people want the freedom and privileges of our life, without wanting the responsibilities and obligations and yes, the duty – which come along with those freedoms and privileges.
It works the same way with our church. The United Methodist Church is a connectional church where we all agree (as laypersons when we join the church and as clergy when we take our ordination vows) to fulfill our own obligations in order to receive the benefits of that connection. We clergy agree to serve where needed, which means we surrender the right to make our own appointments in order to receive the benefits of being appointed and supported in our ministry. Our local churches agree to tithe and support the Annual Conference (and through the Annual Conference the whole denomination) in order to be a part of something larger and more connected. We are all in this together.
Sometimes we forget those obligations and duties. I hear some UM people proudly talk about how our UMCOR is a great way of responding to disasters with 100% of our gifts going directly to those responses. That is true and it is a great thing about our system, but how is that possible? Who pays for the administrative structures to allow that 100% giving? The answer is simple: our connectional system pays those costs in advance, so that our individual and local church gifts can go 100% to the need. Sometimes we forget that our whole system only works when everyone does and pays their share.
We had a tough conversation during Annual Conference about that whole issue. During the discussion of the budget, some genuine concerns were raised about the fact that in 2009 a total of 18% of our churches paid nothing at all to support the conference and connection. Some of that discussion was pointed toward some of our larger churches, because obviously those dollar amounts are greater, and I do believe that our larger churches need to lead our conference in making disciples, in doing new creative ministries, and in paying their full share. Large churches must be leaders, and not just large. But I am also concerned about the smaller, middle-sized, and nearly-large churches which failed to fulfill their duty. I am especially concerned about the 40% of our churches which did not report making even one new disciple by profession of faith in 2009. We can and we must do better than that.
The whole point of our Ministry Clusters and our Clergy Covenant Groups is to support one another and to hold one another accountable to fulfilling these obligations and duties. We need to ask one another, “How are we doing in fulfilling our mission as United Methodists?” The discussion at Annual Conference was a good start – so long as we follow the admonition of Jesus, “Remove the log from your own eye before you remove the splinter from someone else’s eye.” It is easy to play the “blame game” – but we are all a part of this UM system, and we all must work to fulfill our duty and obligation to one another and to Christ himself.