Sunday, May 15, 2011

Marks for the Interim Operations Team

Ah, the luxury of a blank screen.  Blogger presents me with just such a screen when I click on "Posting," and I am free to fill this space with whatever thoughts occur to me as I mull over Wesley's relevance for today.  The page is uncluttered.  Within its margins I can adapt Wesley in ways that seem logical and fair and accurate to me without compromising my vision.  I don't have to take anything else into consideration-- not a budget, not a structure, not a staff-- my brainstorming is unfettered by preexisting realities.

The news coming out of the Council of Bishops made me realize that the Interim Operations Team does not enjoy the same luxury.  They are adapting the budget, structure, and staff of the General Church.  They are not going to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.  They are overhauling the current apparatus.

Judging by the press release, the goal "to better align the agencies toward fostering vital congregations" seems to be the criteria guiding the IOT in its task.  The news story does not make clear how the IOT is going to determine which aspects of the general agencies' programs promote vitality in congregations and which do not nor does it define vitality.  Maybe injecting a Wesleyan perspective into this blank space will help.

I have found one of Wesley's doctrinal sermons a helpful reflection on the components of Christian vitality.  The sermon addresses individuals not institutions, nevertheless I think Wesley's standard can be used to evaluate any level of Church structure.  So as more reports come out of the IOT/COB/CT/GCFA, I will be evaluating the recommendations and asking myself the question-- is this likely to promote Faith, Hope and Love (1 Cor. 13:13)?

These three marks of the New Birth are discussed in Sermon 18, and for Wesley they represent the defining traits of mature Christians:
Faith "is not a bare assent to this proposition, 'Jesus Christ is the Lord;' nor indeed to all the propositions contained in our creed, or in the Old and New Testament."  Faith is "a disposition which God hath wrought in [the] heart; 'a sure trust and confidence in God that through the merits of Christ [our] sins are forgiven, and [we are] reconciled to the favor of God'." (par. I.2, 3).  The fruits of Christian faith are a gracious power to resist harmful temptations and an experience of peace (par. I.4-7).

Hope is a sense of assurance that nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus, neither suffering, nor crosses nor trials nor afflictions nor death (par. II).

Love for God and Neighbor is the final mark of Christian vitality.  This love motivates the Christian to conform to God's will, especially to the command to do good in the world (par. III).

The IOT can observe which congregations are doing good and might notice when love of Neighbor is expressed as forgiveness of enemies, but what about the other marks?  Faith, Hope, and Love of God are just as important though not as easily evaluated by outsiders.  Wesley used testimonials as evidence that his ministry was promoting these interior marks of vitality.  What would count as evidence today?  How do outsiders confirm that another has experienced faith, hope, and love, and how do they determine which ministry produced the fruit?

Would planting a seed count?  Could an agency argue that in theory a program should help people come to faith and use probability of fruitfulness as a reason to justify funding?

And what about at the local level?  How could local congregations prove that their members are growing in faith, hope, and love?  First-person accounts of transformation could be one way, especially if those stories are corroborated by others who have noticed their friend's change of behavior.  Would Cabinets accept these narratives, along with statistics on attendance and offerings, as evidence of effectiveness in ministry?

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