A Little Moore: Do you really get the connection?

5/16/2006

A Little Moore
By John Moore
Director of Connectional Ministries

In a few short weeks I will have come and gone from a position title which is shrouded in mystery. The most often-asked question in the last three years has been, “What is Connectional Ministries?” The more direct inquiry has been, “What do you do?”

I have answered in a variety of ways. I have quoted the fourth chapter of Ephesians verses 4 through 6: “one body, one Spirit, one hope, one Lord, one faith, one baptism….” The point to be made is that we are connected by the actions of God in Jesus Christ.

Other times I have told folk that the job is to “connect the dots.” The image is of each of our churches being a dot. When all the dots are connected we find a clear picture of the church. Sometimes the connected dots look like a partnership with United Methodists in Zimbabwe or Russia. Then again, at times the dots connect churches on the Tennessee line with churches on the Mississippi Gulf Coast in disaster recovery.

Connectionalism is most obvious at those junctures where the task is bigger than one church or even a few churches. It is easy to see connectionalism when 52 counties are in the wake of a hurricane or when an African country is overcome with an AIDS epidemic. Yet, try as we may, it is sometimes difficult to see or practice connectionalism as a practical way of life. The norm of our common life is so wrought with competition, one-upsmanship, bigger versions and spotlights that there should be no wonder at our inability to visualize connectionalism.

Maybe the name of the position needs to be changed. When I have been in churches around the conference, the host pastors introducing me have described director of connectional ministries as something like “what we used to call the conference program director.” It is only then that church members seem to have any resonance with what the position represents. I like that better than the reference in The Book of Discipline which refers to the position as director of connectional ministry “or equivalent.”

Speaking of The Discipline, under the section on “The Ministry of All Christians” in paragraph 130, it states, “Connectionalism in the United Methodist tradition is multi-leveled, global in scope, and local in thrust. Our connectionalism is not merely a linking of one charge conference to another. It is rather a vital web of interactive relationships.” Maybe we should call this position the director of Interactive Relationships. Well, maybe not!

Paragraph 130 continues, “We are connected by sharing a common tradition of faith, including our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules; by sharing together a constitutional polity, including a leadership of general superintendency; by sharing a common mission, which we seek to carry out by working together in and through conferences that reflect the inclusive and missional character of our fellowship; by sharing a common ethos that characterizes our distinctive way of doing things.”

It seems to me that at the very core of this matter of connectionalism is a dis-connect of our sense of ethos. We are a people run amuck with personal opinions, interpretations, and judgments. It is a total disregard of any belief that in Christ Jesus we are made one… our ethos. Perhaps, the apostle Paul’s words at the beginning of Ephesians 4 are an apt invitation to us all, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, beg you to lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all lowliness and meekness, with patience, forbearing one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

Now, that’s what I call the beginnings for an ethos of connectionalism as well as Connectional Ministries.