I’m a creature of habit although I do like to try new things. Being shocked by the taste of a new dish isn’t something I relish when I already know what I like. As I have been engaged in multiple Charge Conferences at churches, and Consultations with pastors, I have attempted to go beyond my comfort zone and ask questions that I hope exceed the mundane same-old-same-old. I like to have time for a town-hall style meeting where we actually air questions that need asking and answering. One question that I’ve been asking to help prod things along is, “Why do we have Charge Conferences? What is the theological reason to do this?”
Now, to be sure, it’s wrapped up in United Methodism’s methodical DNA to add up the numbers of new members, deaths, transfers, and all the other offical things we vote on and hear about at Charge Conference; but all this belies a deeper purpose. Our emphasis on sanctifying grace is supposed to lead us into a closer walk with God, and we believe that we need to check on our progress. Therefore, District Superintendents come around and ask the questions and look at the reports. We’re answering two basic questions: “What business are we in?” and “How’s business?”
So far Charge Conferences have gone pretty well. There have been a few tense moments and I have received and offered some zingers, but that’s all a part of supervision and the give-and-take of being a part of a connectional system. One of the things that I need to work on is not being reactive and staying calm. There have been well and ill-intentioned dragons in more than a few of the meetings in which I’ve been. What to do or say in such a moment is a perpetual question.
The following is an example of a poor zinger plus poor timing, not the way I want to be, although secretly I may be tempted: There were two evil brothers. They were rich, and used their money to keep their evil ways from the public eye. They even attended the same church, and looked to be perfect Christians. Then their pastor retired, and a new one was appointed. Not only could he see right through the brothers’ deception, but he was also a good preacher so the church started to grow by leaps and bounds. A fund raising campaign was started to build a new sanctuary. All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the new building. “I have only one condition,” he said. “At my brother’s funeral, you must say that he was a saint.” The pastor gave his word, and deposited the check. The next day, at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back. “He was an evil man,” the pastor said. “He cheated on his wife and abused his family.” After going on and on in this vein for awhile, he concluded with, “But compared to his brother, he was a saint.”