By Lib Droffem
Do not go gentle into that General Conference, Old institutions should burn and rave at the close of day; organize a study committee against the dying of the light - Dylan Thomas, adapted.
Exactly how many "crucial crossroads" is one allotted in life? And if you spend every day at a crossroads do ever really get anywhere?
We are all aware of the important discussions happening in the United Methodist Church concerning exactly what constitutes gay sex, when gay sex happens, in what context does gay sex happen, and whether those who confess to having had it are allowed to serve communion. And of course these conversations are being had primarily among people who never have any gay sex (at least not that we know of).
But, surprisingly, there are other "crossroads" the UMC seems to be at as well; namely, the state of the church's connection. One thing heard repeatedly for many years from folks in local churches, from liberals as well as conservatives, is that the work done at the general church level often seems to have no impact on people in their local churches. It's a lot of apportionment dollars signifying nothing. Detachment is a daily reality for those apart of such a massive institution.
Even for those who may have the best of intentions, the chasm separating the "upper echelons" and those who serve in local contexts is a constant challenge. For a few who work from these "high" positions, questions like: "How best can we serve local churches" or "What need do local churches and institutional power centers share that benefit both sides" are constantly on the mind.
It turns out there is a common need between local churches and the general church. And so, for the benefit for all concerned, I would like to suggest that the United Methodist Church create a new board called the General Board of Facility Expenditure Justification, or GBFEJ for short (yippee!! Another acronym!).
Here is what GBFEJ will do. Since the overwhelming majority of local United Methodist churches are held captive to often an aged building at a fixed address and since most of these churches consider dumping these expensive and broken down facilities a greater blasphemy than denying the existence of Jesus, local churches need institutional support to justify the ever-increasing expenses of building maintenance. Even more, for those very few growing United Methodist churches, we must cover building expansion as well. The amount of money being used for these efforts differs depending on the size of the local church of course - not everyone can spend 90 million dollars on a new sanctuary for God to visit once or twice a week! But the ratio in terms of building expenses to the rest of the budget tends to be between 20-40%.
The need for the GBFEJ is clear. We are all too aware of a select few people - we will lovingly call them the cranks - who seem to relish any opportunity to criticize building maintenance or expansion efforts. These cranks obviously occupy the margins in our congregations and they have the gall to ask questions like, "what else could we have spent the money on," or "aren't there greater needs in the world or our own community that need the money more than our need for a nice place to worship in?"
How dare they persecute the Trustees in such a despicable way!
We normally just politely smile and ignore the cranks, just as God does with most of our prayers for money to maintain our buildings. Sometimes we dismiss them with a roll of the eyes that we wish we could hide, but occasionally the questions self-righteously mesh with the words of Jesus and the prophets. That is when the cranks' complaints become dangerous and even subversive. That is when it is time for the institutionally faithful to take action!
Like the crew of the Titanic, we must do all we can to look as busy as we can while the ship sinks. This is where GBFEJ comes in.
Indeed, it is a terribly awkward situation to find oneself in an administrative church meeting when these questions are actually mentioned. Think how nice would it be if the pastor or the Chair of the Trustees or Finance Committee, could then whip out some official literature from a general board of the United Methodist Church and respond accordingly in one of the ways below. This is institutional salvation!
So, here are some talking points that GBFEJ, upon it's creation, will send to pastors and Trustee and Finance Chairs to save them from that horrific, despicable, and even satanic feeling of guilt.
According to the General Board of Facility Expenditure Justification, we need to weigh all of the work of the local church, and not just look at the expenses doled out each year on maintenance of an aged building or at the enormous amount of money being raised for the building campaign fund. The key word here is "perspective." Do not look at the tens of thousands (or millions among those who are greatly blessed by God) that is spent to maintain a building. And, for heaven's sake do not look at the fact that likely 75% or more of the building does not get used 4-6 days of each week. Instead, look at how much good we do in the community. [This is an example, please puff up your own "missional service;" just make it sound good!] "We serve monthly meals at the homeless shelter ten months out of the year, we honor the Boy Scouts each June, and we send our youth group every other year (alternating with the ski trip) on a mission trip to an inner city where they work for 4 whole days (which is one day longer than Jesus stayed in hell) before they celebrate with a day at Six Flags." Dropping a few mission bombs will always work to dampen the flame of the cranks and their subversive uprising of righteousness.
Here is another good one to use.
According to the General Board of Facility Expenditure Justification, United Methodist churches are made up of people who have attended this local church for decades. Some of them literally will never die. [It would be good to include a brief bio on one of your old-timers; the cranks will feel guilty is they are made to look like they are speaking out against old people.] Do not fall victim to the tricks employed by cranks when they do such outlandish things as "quote Scripture verbatim." The best way we can honor their long years of sitting in the same pew is to build them a new pew to call their own. Even more, they will get to add a plaque that will likely stay there for years until an eighth grader unscrews it. Who, besides Free Methodists of course, doesn't want their own pew?
GBFEJ will also send action alerts such as this:
BEWARE! We have received notice that some cranks are using 2 Samuel 7 as a way to kill new building expansion especially. This is the passage where King David, at the apex of his power and wealth, justified his position by building a grand temple for God even though God preferred the mobility and simplicity of the tabernacle. It is crucial to divert attention from this devastating use of Scripture! This could undermine all of the millions of dollars in new stained glass, new carpeting, and new construction - we cannot allow this to happen! You can stop this horrific of contextualizing Scripture by, of course, ignoring the Bible altogether and then, by all means make the disagreement with the cranks deeply personal. Publicly ask the cranks why they want to go after people like yourself who are just trying to serve God. Further, you can alienate the cranks by reminding them that to alter the use of money set aside for building God His own (yes, studies show it is better to use exclusive language in this case) for some bleeding-heart, "liberal," political cause like taking in refugees or feeding starving people would be to disrupt democracy and invite chaos. There is NOTHING the institution HATES more than chaos! The vote was taken! The board has spoken! We are not discussing old business any more. All of these administrative maneuvers in the middle of a meeting can work. Just change the subject!
Follow this action alert and your crisis will be averted. You see, you never need to leave the local church to become a question-avoiding bureaucrat.
A number of years ago a United Methodist church in Lexington, KY was given a rather large inheritance, but the money was meant to only be used for missional purposes. So, the leadership of the church got together, minus the Missions Committee of course, and decided that since the building could very well be used by non-church members as by church members then repairing the building is essentially a missional enterprise.
Ahhh, this is what binds us as a church together. It is not our historic love for Jesus and his people. It is the complete inability for us to get through a single hour without justifying our behavior and our affluence.
Lib Droffem is a man's man whose poetry is written on every bathroom wall in every rest stop on I-40. Lib reads Field and Stream magazine and refuses to look at the pictures. Lib knows 43 languages but speaks none of them fluently. Lib eats ice cream cones from the bottom up and doesn't wash his face afterwards. Lib enjoys designing shanty towns in his spare time and has told more people to get a job than any white man in history outside the Republican Party. Lib cannot spell yogurt and is allergic to cottage cheese. You can't follow Lib, you can only wonder when or if he will appear. Lib is an American idol.