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United Methodist Mission Agency Moves Toward Major Governance and Structure Changes

by Elliott Wright

Semi-annual meeting of the board of directors, General Board of Global Ministries, April 11, 2011
Semi-annual meeting of the board of directors, General Board of Global Ministries, April 11, 2011
Image by: Ibrahim Dabo
Source: GBGM Administration
2011 Spring Board Meeting of the Board of Directors, General Board of Global Ministries
2011 Spring Board Meeting of the Board of Directors, General Board of Global Ministries
Image by: Cassandra M. Zampini
Source: GBGM Administration

Stamford, Connecticut, April 12, 2011--The United Methodist Church's worldwide mission agency took historical steps on April 12 toward becoming more flexible, effective, and cost efficient in response to contemporary mission opportunities. The actions reflect a denominational emphasis on the need for renewed, vital congregations and church organization in the 21st century.

Directors of the General Board of Global Ministries took three major interrelated actions. These affected the number of directors, relations with United Methodist Women, and a strategic plan for the future.

The directors voted to reduce their number by two-thirds, from 92 to 32, while retaining a strong balance among members from the United States and units (called "central conferences") in Africa, the Philippines, and Europe. A long-held concern for diversity in membership along gender and racial lines will be upheld.

Another action affirmed a proposal that would make the agency's Women's Division "structurally separate" but "missionally connected" to Global Ministries. The division is the corporate arm of United Methodist Women.

After the vote on the Women's Division, which was nearly unanimous, Bishop Bruce R. Ough of West Ohio, president of the agency, said: "This is a step forward. It is done in a serious attempt to become more focused and relevant in our work." The division's own directors had earlier approved the proposal. "The board and the division are in total agreement on this move and will go forward together," said the bishop. The Women's Division would become "United Methodist Women, Inc."

The strategic plan concerns such issues as program and administrative operation, key performance areas, and formal statements of theology and purpose.

Denominational Concerns

The possibility of small board sizes is among a number of theological and organizational issues under discussion within the denomination as part of a "Call to Action" initiated by the Council of Bishops. Also, earlier research indicated too much "distance" between program agencies and congregations. Directors of the Women's Division earlier approved measures designed to cut that distance within its own organization and encourage flexible organizational patterns at the local level.

Global Ministries is also studying ways to strengthen its responsiveness to congregations and annual (regional) conferences. "There is a clear recognition," Bishop Ough stated in an interview, "that as the policy board becomes smaller, the need to connect with constituent groups becomes larger."

The proposals to reduce board size and to separate the Women's Division from Global Ministries will be submitted for final decision by The United Methodist Church's policy-making General Conference in 2012. Changes approved would go into effect at the start of 2013.

There is a close relation between the reduction of the board size and the decision to have the Women's Division separate structurally. The division now holds 33 percent, or 30 of the 92 seats on the Global Ministries board. Five seats on the new board would remain with United Methodist Women in recognition of the important historical and present-day role of women in mission work.

Board Size and Purpose

The issue of board size has been under consideration for about a year by a committee charged with studying possible governance changes to the largest of the 13 United Methodist general agencies. The resolution to drop the number from 92 to 32 came from the board's executive committee. In presenting the committee report on April 11, Bishop Peter Weaver of New England said that a board of directors was a means, not an end, and did not depend on the number but on the nature of its members.

Directors of the mission board, he said, must have a clear vision and "focus on where God is leading us into the future." He said the ideal directors are Christ-centered, have an ability to tell the truth in love, are deeply collaborative, and are more about the macro than the micro.

Debate on the appropriate board size indicated a clear consensus that the number should be reduced, but there were several unsuccessful floor attempts to raise the number, one to 40 and another to 60. The basic rationale for a larger board was that it better represented the geographical, racial, and ethnic diversity within the United Methodist family. Most agreed that diversity can be maintained with a smaller policy board.

The denomination has organic units in the US, Europe, Eurasia, Africa, and the Philippines. Each annual (regional) conference in those areas elects lay and clerical delegates to a quadrennial General Conference. They also select members for stipulated general agencies. Global Ministries also has mission partnerships with, but no board members from, autonomous Methodist churches in Latin America, Asia, and some parts of Africa.

Issue of what is commonly called the ''worldwide nature" of The United Methodist Church is often and currently under study. A report on this topic will come before the 2012 General Conference, and a preview of key provisions was presented to Global Ministries directors on the evening of April 11 by Bishop Scott Jones of the Kansas Area, the study commission chair. The study proposes that basic aspects of United Methodist polity and practice, including historical theological affirmation, would apply on a global basis while other matters, such as publication of educational materials, would be addressed at regional levels.

Distribution of Directors

The formula for the distribution of Global Ministries directors beginning in 2013 would assign 15 seats to five geographical jurisdictions in the US, with three each for the North Central, Northeastern, and South Central jurisdictions, and four to the Southeast and two to the Western, proportioned by membership size. Two spots would go to US bishops, for a total US representation of 17, or 53 percent.

Ten places, nine for clergy and laity and one for a bishop, would go to the central conference outside the US, or a total of 31 percent. There are some 7.8 million US United Methodists and more than 4 million in Africa, Europe, and the Philippines. Membership is growing outside the US and Europe.

The new Global Ministries strategic plan emerged from an "organizational audit" and led to the tightening of program and administrative functions. That audit also recommended a smaller board.

The agency has experienced significant staff reduction in recent years, partly in an effort to more closely define priorities. But money is also a big factor. All 13 of the denomination's "general agencies" are budgeting at lower levels for 2012 and beyond than was the case over the last four-year budgeting cycle.

The strategic plan includes a section on vision and purpose based on The United Methodist Mission Statement, which is, "Making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." The vision statement read: "The General Board of Global Ministries equips and transforms people and places for God's mission around the world."

The purpose is that of "connecting the church in mission." Following an editorial process, the strategic plan will also include a "Theology of Mission Statement." Five key performance areas are:

  • Organizational excellence
  • Financial development and sustainability
  • Missionaries
  • Engaging disciples in mission
  • Developing mission initiatives and partnership.


Date posted: Apr 13, 2011