The New Discipline

December 18, 2019 | GNJ News

Dear Lay and Clergy Members of GNJ,

May the light of Jesus Christ fill your Advent Season with hope, love and salvation.

As we prepare to celebrate the birth of our Lord, there is also a new Book of Discipline being born. This new Book of Discipline has a working title of The Connection: The Life and Order of The United Methodist Church. As you read these words, it is being developed by a group of laity and clergy leaders from GNJ including members of our general conference delegation.

The primary purpose of The Connection is to make it easier for congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world and to help all United Methodists stay on a Wesleyan Path. It will be simpler, clearer and better organized than our current Discipline. The Connection recognizes that the mission of United Methodism is best served by empowering congregations to develop laity who are equipped for leadership in the church and community, and clergy who are equipped to cultivate and lead leaders. The General, Jurisdictional/Central and Annual Conferences exist to resource and equip local congregations to thrive.

The GNJ Connectional Table, the GNJ General Conference delegation and the GNJ Cabinet have each reviewed the draft and the vision behind it. These leaders have encouraged the team to move forward and asked for you to be informed of the project. The draft is almost complete and will be released to GNJ on January 8.

The team working on The Connection asks for your prayers, your help and your feedback. During January the people of GNJ will be invited to provide their input through a series of workshops. The workshops will be held on January 16, 17 and 25 with sessions in the morning, afternoon and evening. You will receive more information about locations and times so that you can sign up to participate. As we are seeking feedback and input from GNJ through the workshop process, a team will also be seeking input and feedback from leaders throughout the global connection.

While there will not be complete agreement on every detail, the team ultimately wants The Connection to help all of us stay on a Wesleyan Path that follows Jesus Christ. It should clearly reflect how the people called Methodist glorify God.

In order for The Connection to move forward to General Conference 2020, the annual conference must approve enabling legislation for The Connection. The Cabinet and Bishop have decided not to call a session of annual conference until it is clear that there is support for the document. If, after the workshops in January, the leadership of GNJ determines there is significant support and a document is sufficiently prepared, we will call a session of the annual conference for March 14, 2020 to review and vote on the enabling legislation for The Connection. The decision on whether to move forward with an annual conference session will be made by February 14.

To give you a preview of The Connection, we have included the first two pages, which address why we need a new Book of Discipline. We hope this introduction will provide a glimpse into the purpose and focus of the project.

You are a blessing to the United Methodist Church. We hope you have time this Advent season to reflect on your blessings – in your families, in your congregations and in our denomination – and to dream a new future with us.

With Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love,

Myrna Bethke,
Dean of the Cabinet
Kay Dubuisson, Chairperson, Connectional Table
Bethany Amey Sutton,
Chairperson, GNJ Delegation
John Schol,
Drew Dyson,
Chairperson, GNJ Delegation

Why A New Book of Discipline?

The Book of Discipline has served as the covenanting principles of the Methodist Church since its inception at the Christmas Conference in 1784, and of the United Methodist Church following the merger with the United Brethren Church and Methodist Church in 1968. The creation of The Connection, a new Discipline is an audacious proposal in the face of this long history and tradition. It begs the question: Why is a new Discipline necessary and desirable?

You probably already know how challenging it can be to read, understand and find things in the current Book of Discipline. It wasn’t always this complicated. The Book of Discipline has grown by 2000% since 1828 and an additional 500% since 1960. Already the next general conference has 15% more legislation than the 2016 general conference to consider. These additions are now adding more rules and less innovation and fewer people on the Wesleyan Path, more hierarchy and less local decision making and fewer decisions to follow Jesus Christ. What kind of Discipline do you want?

Would you want a book that was simplified, easy to read, and helps you find what you are looking for and wouldn’t require a lawyer, parliamentarian or course in polity to understand it? Imagine a simpler and clearer book that celebrates our rich Wesleyan theology, history and methods for being the church without watering it down by continually adding procedure and process.
Does it feel like the denomination works for the local church, or does it feel like the congregation exists to work for the denomination? Imagine a book that sees the congregation as the primary unit for mission, and the denomination as a structure to support congregations.
Do you ever feel like the laity are second-class citizens in the church? That laity don’t have authority or can’t make decisions that determine ministry and outcome? That the Book of Discipline inhibits leadership and ministry? Imagine a book that not only says the laity are important but grants laity equal authority in making decisions that affect ministry.
Do you ever feel like you do not understand how the ordination process works? In other organizations where you work or serve, is it hard to understand the staffing, how to get hired, the process for improvement and how the organization addresses conflict? Imagine a book that makes it easier and clearer to understand how to become a clergy person, how to serve as a clergy person, what is expected of clergy and how to address personnel issues without everything seeming like a trial.
Do you ever feel like the church is more interested in rules than souls, more interested in following the Book of Discipline, than serving others? Imagine a book that trusts the laity and clergy to work together to figure things out in their context rather than long lists of rules that stifle creativity and innovation and create frustration.
We all want to support ministry and mission everywhere in the world, but is our apportionment system sustainable? Imagine a book that creates a clear and sustainable apportionment system to support our mission and ministry.
Do you ever feel like our Wesleyan theology, mission, teachings and values take a back seat to our polity and our rules? Imagine a book that makes the Wesleyan Path primary and builds more decision-making based on our values, theology and mission.
Do you feel our denomination is at an impasse and that people are talking about dividing the denomination rather than building on our strengths and seeing that we are stronger together? Imagine a book that recognizes we are a denomination with a wide theological middle and together we need diversity of thought, offers alternatives for conservative and progressive leaning people to thrive, AND provides paths that bless those who want to go and multiply without fearing they will lose their property or assets.

Our present Book of Discipline’s response to the challenges we face has been to create more policies, more rules and more structure. Rather than solving the problem, it has made it more intractable. As John Wesley feared 250 years ago, we have the form of religion without the power of the Wesleyan movement.

Methodism was the fastest growing denomination in the world from 1875-1925, when we focused more on people in the world than on structure; had fewer rules and policies; when more decisions were made at the point of ministry; and our ‘discipline’ was mostly about how to stay on the path of discipleship – a path laid out for us by John Wesley.

Jesus faced the same challenge. He witnessed a faith that had become a religion centered on rules, regulations and hierarchy. His response was not to add to the complexity but rather to say that it comes down to two things: love God and love neighbor (Matthew 22). He brought radical, life-transforming change by teaching and demonstrating God’s love in the world. With Christ’s model in view, we must ask: Does the 2016 Book of Discipline help us bring radical, life-transforming change? Does it help us to resolve our deepest challenges? Does it force us to look outward to the people of the world? Is it global in its outlook and application?

Our answer is no. It is not enough to change a paragraph here or there. The challenge before us is too great. It is time to re-imagine what God has for United Methodism in this new century. It is time to renew the structures of the church and to intentionally clear and light the pathway of discipleship.

The Connection, which will serve as a new Discipline will not resolve everything, of course. It is a manual for being and doing.  It must be lived to make a difference. Still, The Connection clarifies our mission, our core beliefs and core values. It refocuses the denomination on Wesley’s Path for faithful discipleship. It refines our structures to allow decision making to occur at the points closest to the actual ministry.  It keeps us connected globally as we work hand-in-hand to love God and love neighbor, making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Guiding Questions Used in Preparation of The Connection

  1. Are the foundations that make United Methodists distinctive retained: grace, connection, holy conferencing, itineracy, the indivisibility of piety and social holiness and ecumenism?
  2. Can the polity be applied in all contexts, in all nations, communities and congregations?
  3. Will The Connection help United Methodists stay on Wesley’s Path for faithful discipleship?
  4. Will The Connection strengthen lay and clergy leadership to be able to make disciples and grow Wesleyan congregations for the transformation of the world? Will it help us thrive?
  5. Will this move decision-making closer to where the ministry and work of the church is done?
  6. Will it free people for risk-taking, courageous ministry?