Lovett Weems consults on Conference vision


"Do you want your bumper sticker to be ‘It could have been worse’?"--Lovett Weems Jr.
Corporate Leadership - Dec. 3 at the quadrennial organizational meeting are the officers of the Oklahoma Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church Inc. Seated are President Judy Benson, left, and Vice President Don Kim; both are laity. Standing are Secretary Joseph Harris, left, and Treasurer Brian Bakeman, both clergy.

By Holly McCray

"Lead with vision" is the advice on a plaque given to Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. by his sister. He referred to it as he introduced Lovett Weems Jr. at a meeting Dec. 3 of the Conference’s board of directors, held in Oklahoma City.

Weems will provide "a unique perspective" as a consultant for Oklahoma, the bishop said.

From Washington, D.C., Weems is known nationally as a visionary in church leadership. He directs the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, Wesley Theological Seminary. In Bishop Hayes’ 2012 Episcopal Address, he urged clergy and laity leaders to read Weems’ book "Focus: The Real Challenges That Face The United Methodist Church."

Judy Benson, new board president, said, "We’re looking for insight. Oklahoma is known for being out front in ministry." Looking to Weems, she said, "We want to keep on being ahead of the curve, so we brought the very best."

And she addressed the two-dozen board members present. "We believe you around the table can help with that," she emphasized.

The board’s formal name is Oklahoma Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church Inc. It is the only group in the Conference structure that brings administrative and programming ministries together for collaborative work, explained Joe Harris, board secretary.

Weems interpreted extensive statistical research of the Church in the United States as he spoke to the group.

"Take a snapshot of the United Methodist witness in Oklahoma right now—morale, finances, etc.—then paint a canvass of five years from now," he said. "Do you want your bumper sticker to be ‘It could have been worse’?"

He expanded on the big picture. "You will rush to be sure some things are there. You will add new things; you will want to leave out some. This is what we pray toward, fund toward, develop leadership for."

His talk provided some surprises. He identified two types of U.S. congregations that are growing: 1) very large churches and 2) churches with 50 or fewer people.

Overall United Methodist yearly giving increased for decades—until lately. The increase only grew by $5 million in 2008, and giving dropped by $60 million in 2009, Weems stated.

Startling: Within a few years, every annual conference will have more retired than active clergy, Weems said.

Also: The biggest job growth during about two decades is in non-clergy church staff.

The Oklahoma board agreed to begin examining five suggestions by Weems.

  • Make congregations responsible for total pastoral compensation.

  • Convert assets from property sales to new-church starts.

  • Review the impact of all financial decisions on the local churches.

  • Review equitable salary policies.

  • Review use of reserve funds.

"We have got to free up more energy around our purpose and be more minimal on finances, etc.," Weems said. "Think of every dollar given as given to the commonwealth for the mission."

The board will next meet on April 29.

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