Letters to the Editor: 'Insane' UM system needs to change



I begin with two facts:


In 1968, The United Methodist Church, following merger with the Evangelical United Brethren, had almost 12 million members.

By the end of 2005, The United Methodist Church had fewer than 8 million members – a 33 percent decline.


Albert Einstein once said, “The definition of insanity is to do the same thing over and over again expecting a different result.”


As we contemplate our continuing decline in membership we must ask ourselves if we are willing to continue the insanity of a system that is not working or should we seek a different result by trying a different strategy. How we change the system is irrelevant when it is apparent that our “system” obviously hasn’t worked very well. 


The column written by the Rev. Lamar Massingill brought to light one of the main problems we have in our appointment system in the United Methodist Church. The system we have historically used rewards experienced pastors with the better paying/larger churches without much consideration for the needs of the church or its area. We leave the young pastors to “pay their dues” in the hinterlands. His point is that it’s not fair to the older ones that have been there to be passed over for some young, progressive pastor. 


All I can say to that is that the Spirit of God moves — and when it moves, we need to move with it. I am proud that our current bishop is willing to try new things and think new thoughts — to break from the insanity. If the old system has led to our steady decline, why then would we want to stay that course?  Why not advocate something new? Change. 


Change is difficult. Gandhi said that “we must be the change we wish to see.” But what does that mean and how does that translate to our worship experience in the Mississippi Conference? 


I understand that change is very hard, especially when viewed in the context of something as holy as our worship experience or the appointive system.  At Parkway Heights we have, for the past several years, been able to meld these two forms of worship in one church with much success. 


It may seem like taking the easy way out by trying to be everything to everyone, but the truth is that change is difficult and must be done gently and over time. For everyone that digs their heels in and says, “that’s the way we’ve always done it” there are probably 10 people that have never done it any way, and I think our mission as a church is to find a way to bring new souls to the church. Whatever we need to do in the form of “contemporary marketing” can be done without sacrificing any part of what is holy in our worship. 


Just because it’s different does not mean it is any less sincere.


Any change is not fair to the people who have played the game for years. Anytime there is a shift in the paradigm, people will be left behind. For that, I am truly sorry, but being sorry in no way invalidates the need for these changes in our conference. 

As hard as it may be, we need to evaluate the weaknesses of our traditions and figure out how to reach new hearts and souls for Christ. And we need to do it without the finger-pointing that we should have outgrown during the civil rights era. 


In closing, I want to point out how our world has changed in the past 30 years. Remember Smith-Corona? They made typewriters. Good typewriters. You know what they do today? Nothing. The world changed around them. People started using computers with word processing programs. Smith-Corona is out of business because they were passed by in a world that moves quickly. 


The reality of change in our world will not go away.  But many of our churches will if we don’t do something different.  

Keith Kennedy




I have read and reread Rev. (Lamar) Massingill’s article. He initially focuses on changing United Methodist theological practices, voices his discontent with “contemporary” worship, apparently deplores the role of technology in our church and closes by complaining about UM worship practices falling away from our Anglican traditions.


While he initially takes that moral high ground, he digresses into complaining about the treatment of ministers by the Cabinet. He grouses about having “witnessed friends” who have had salaries reduced and whom he apparently perceives as having been mistreated by appointment decisions of the Cabinet.   


Let me say first that I have tremendous respect for all UM ministers and know that we laity cannot imagine the many pressures, frustrations and difficulties that these valiant men and women of God must face. But my fear is that we drift into focusing on the plight of a few at the price of forgetting the many.


I hear concern from Massingill for “wounded” ministers, but no concerns for “wounded” and neglected congregations and communities. I feel his anxiety over sensing that UM churches must change to meet the needs of what is called by many the “postmodern society.” I too am worried about those issues. But our only goal, as individual Christians and as the church, is to convert the lost.


We can best accomplish that by having strong, viable and healthy congregations, not just focused on the “big” churches in our conference, but looking at every church in our conference. Not concerned about a few ministers or a few congregations, but focused on the many. Who preaches where should not be our concern. Our focus should not be on ourselves, but on our call to be in mission to His lost world.

Don Woodall




I wish to respond to the letter from Mark McLain of Madison, in which he criticized the Rev. Mike Childs for his column expressing his concern for the path the United Methodist Church is following.


McLain’s deriding of the “inerrantists and literalists” is typical of those of our day who wish to conform the Bible to society and create a new religion rather than accepting the Biblical teachings as our guide. This is agnosticism and is heresy as well. Biblical teachings are relevant today as they were in Paul’s day. The denial of Christ’s divinity and dilution of the gospel is becoming more and more prevalent. Relating our worship to society rather than Christ dilutes the relevance of His teachings.


John the Revelator ended his message to us with the statement that those who take away from the Word will have their name removed from the Book of Life. McLain wishes to change the church into a social club that caters to all and overlooks sin.

His reference to racist murders is apt and true. But his attempt to label all literalists with this is inappropriate and erroneous. I certainly believe that our church should be open to all who profess Christ as savior and try to follow his example, whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. But, the homosexual who indulges in that act is a sinner and if he or she does not refrain from it should not be allowed to remain in the church. The same applies to the heterosexual who commits adultery. All can be forgiven if they repent and sin no more.


Those, who believe that there is no prohibition against homosexual practice in the Bible do not know scripture. When we allow ourselves to be lulled into accepting sinful practice as a standard for the church, we fall into heresy and lose our way to Christ.

Our Lord warned us that, in the latter days, there would be a falling away from the gospel, and even in the early church there were those who insisted on the observation of ritual and legalism rather than the pure gospel.


The mystery of the gospel message is simply that Christ is the son of God and that He was God incarnate, and His teachings are our guides to a better life in His body, the church. I know He grieves now for the path his church is on. “And be not conformed to the world but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God. “

Dr. J.E. Galloway




As we remember 9/11, it might be profitable if we consider our response and ask if there might have been a better way.


After the tragedy, David Potori, who lost a brother, asked himself, how can we use a smart response, and he appears to have found a more civilized and effective way than the madness we are caught up in. He organized a group of families who lost loved ones in that tragedy called “Families for a Peaceful Tomorrow.” It has become a worldwide non-violent approach to violence and includes parents in Israel, Palestine and Lebanon who have lost children to hate; also survivors of Hiroshima and Nagasaki and others around the world who believe that our militaristic approach can only lead to a horrible dead end.


Sadly, the media encourage the desire for revenge and dropping more bombs and fail to publicize this approach, but it may be that our only hope is in such organizations of people who are victims of terrorism and other violence who respond, not in hate, but work together to break the cycle of violence and revenge while being committed to honoring the memories of the victims. It could be that our only hope lies with people who are dedicated to identifying and addressing the root causes of violence and promoting nonviolence as the most effective way for resolving conflict.


It is encouraging that more and more people are beginning to believe that this is a more Christ like and effective response to such evil than to meet violence with greater violence.

C.E. Swain