Benefits of Affiliation
UNDERSTANDING OUR DENOMINATIONAL AFFILIATION WITH THE UNIQUENESS OF THE EVANGELICAL METHODIST ORGANIZATIONAL STRUCTURE
The correct understanding of our organizational structure and relationship to one from conferences and regions to local churches will facilitate understanding. Reading this may seem boring, but it is vital for the future of the EMC. We encourage a fresh reading of “Understanding the Discipline,” written by Dr. Lloyd Garrett on pages 183-187, of the Handbook of the Evangelical Methodist Church found in the Discipline.
Denominational affiliation is not a ‘one-way’ relationship. It is more than an association of churches that merely provides ministerial credentials. Denominational affiliation is a partnership; the biblical concept is ‘covenant’. All parties bring something that benefits one another in the advancement of the Kingdom of God in their community and the world. Local churches bring financial conference support and leadership for conference positions. The denomination:
- Produces ministerial trained and equipped pastoral candidates for local churches.
- Enables the planting of local churches through grants, etc., to cover the initial financial start up costs. This includes enabling the use of 21st century technology by a local church in church multiplication.
- Brings accountability for administrative and moral conduct for local church leadership and pastors.
- Protects the ministry and interest of the local church through by-laws on administrative functions, the maintaining of biblical theology in preaching and teaching, and pastoral abuse. This is delineated in the next section.
- Provides financial support in crisis for local churches from grants, loans, and offerings in their time of need.
- Provides pastoral support for pastors when their local church cannot meet the basic needs of the pastor and their family, for instance health care and medications.
- Provides financial assistance to retired pastors and their widows who have insufficient income for their basic needs.
- Provides the pastoral care of pastors and their families in the local church in whatever form is necessary.
- Provides continuing education for the clergy and leadership training events for lay leadership.
- Provides scholarships for clergy seeking educational advancement toward degrees in ministry and theology.
- Provides greater Kingdom connections to the world through the denominational partnerships with like-minded organizations.
The Benefits of Affiliation, the Local Church and the Pastor in Charge
The ultimate governing body of the EMC is the General Conference made up of delegates from the local churches and all ordained clergy. There are secure benefits for a local church becoming part of denomination in our structure. The following is not exhaustive of those benefits.
Denominational affiliation provides each local congregation with a 501 (c)3 not for profit status with the Internal Revenue Service. The local church is covered by the annual audit of the General Church from IRS scrutiny unless a law is being broken. The IRS has direct access for auditing a local church that is in an independent association status.
In contrast to non-denominational churches that stand independently of any outside authority, a denominational affiliation based upon biblical orthodox theology is a buffer from heretical teaching and from pastors manipulating through changes to By-Laws to eliminate biblical roles of the laity in the governance of the local church. Such churches become punitive and harsh with church members who disagree with the leadership.
There are many tragic examples where a pastor maneuvers himself into a position where he governs with impunity and sometimes even gains personal ownership of church property and assets. Such a pastor becomes accountable to no one but himself, although some evangelical pastors will claim only accountability to God. In these situations, the pastor is negating elected church leadership, boards, and ignoring any rules and laws that do not serve their ownselfish purposes. The sad part of these situations is it is the nature of sheep to follow a leader and pastors can exploit that God-given trait. That is why Jesus spoke of hirelings and Ezekiel spoke of evil shepherds who serve themselves and abuse the sheep. Such pastors can be identified because they will isolate people who disagree with them and replace on their church boards only people who agree with their personal vision of their ministry. Or, the pastor invites people who disagree with him to leave the church. If their plans do not work they will influence people to leave that particular church and form a new one with his/her followers.
The buffer for such abuses is our Discipline. The independent church can change its By-Laws and doctrines rapidly and frequently. In a true denomination there is a governance instrument, usually called a Manual or Discipline, which is built on the wisdom of God’s people over decades and sometimes centuries. This is a transparent process that allows dialogue and communication regarding any revisions and changes in organizational structure, policies, and doctrine. In the EMC Discipline the original Articles of Religion of Methodism cannot be changed, thus insuring adherence to orthodox theology and preventing a drift into liberal theology. If the denomination ever drifts into liberal theology then a withdrawal process becomes available whereby the local church retains their property and disaffiliates from the denomination.
The local congregation and local pastor are the heartbeat of our denomination. Our pastors are not in a local church to fulfill their personal visions and goals. The lay people have a vision and purpose for why their church exists and usually they reflect better the needs in the community because they have lived there longer than the pastor. We strongly encourage the pastor and the board, as the church leadership, to develop a team concept in their ministry and function (see Handbook, pages 224-226, ‘The Relationship of the Pastor and The Board of Stewards’). The Conference and Regions exist to enable local churches to be successful in their communities as the hands and feet of Jesus to the people. This is accomplished by providing biblically equipped and continuously trained pastors, while resourcing the outreach and discipleship ministries of the local church. The General Conference requires annual online reporting and accountability to biblical standards and the procedures in the Discipline. All credential holders are required to attend the annual “Journey – A Gathering of Evangelical Methodist” which has replaced the former district conferences. This gathering provides CEU credits for the ministers, training events for lay people and inspiring worship.
The Conference is not intrusive in the ministry of local churches and their pastors. Our local churches have a variety of worship styles, outreach and flexible internal local church structures that facilitate their ministries, but they are one voice in the preaching of the cross and holy lifestyles as well as basic governing principles.
The Creation of Regions and Districts and Their Relationship to the General Church.
(Discipline, ¶421-430, Handbook page 240)
The regions are the creation of the General Church. Each region is a grouping of local churches and credential holders within a specific geographic area. Their purpose is to be stewards of the ministry of the EMC for local churches and clergy in their region of the country. They are not created in perpetuity, or as isolated independent entities apart from the denomination. Regions promote communications between the Conference Superintendents, fellow pastors, and local churches. The North American Conference is comprised of two districts, USA and Canada, and Mexico as a Missions Conference. The General Conference elects Conference Superintendents for the district and Mexico elects their own General Superintendent.
The uniqueness of our EMC organizational structure is that we are congregational and connectional (hierarchical). Our founders, Dr. J.H. Hamblen, Dr. Lucian Smith and others, used the Methodist Episcopal Book of Discipline with its Methodist connectional elements and infused three basic congregational aspects to bring accountability between the local church and the General Conference.
- Local Church ownership of their property entrusted to local trustees
- Superintendents elected to four year terms instead of election for life
- Calling of a qualified pastor and the vote and final decision invested in the local church and the ministerial candidate
The EMC has a Methodist, not a Baptist congregationalgoverningsystem. The congregational aspects exist only in the local church ministry not in the functions, operations or creation of the General Conferences and clergy. There are no congregational elements in the relationship between the General Conferences and the clergy; it is purely Methodist Hierarchical Connectionalism. The local church does not create or hold the credentials of the ministers. The credential holder’s care and the supervision of the clergy is the responsibility of the General Conference through the Conference Superintendents and the General Board of Ministerial Relations. They have the authority to remove pastors or to initiate complaints against an Elder that could end in being defrocked. The Discipline of the Evangelical Methodist Church is over 95% connectional/hierarchical in content.
The definitive historical record is from our early founders in the published paper, The Preacher and the Episcopacy, 1952.
“Dr. Hamblen’s vision was that the Evangelical Methodist Church adhere to the better features of the EPISCOPAL (Methodist – “hierarchical connectional”), and the better features of the CONGREGATIONAL (control by the local congregation) concepts of church government. Dr. Hamblen promoted the idea that the local congregation would (1) call their own pastor and (2) all property rights were to be retained by the local church.
The CONGREGATIONAL features were to blend with the better features of EPISCOPALIANISM (connectionalism). Under this structure the Evangelical Methodist Church would enjoy the benefits of (1) a UNIFORM connection with other Evangelical Methodist Churches across the nation and eventually around the world—(uniformity of government, general and local, of literature, of programs, and of the various church organizations), and (2) the governmental framework would conform roughly to that of the Methodist Church.”
UNDERSTANDING THE OFFICE OF SUPERINTENDENT IN THE EMC
We are a denomination comprised of two districts (USA & Canada) and two Mission Conferences (Mexico & Myanmar). The General Conference elects an International General Superintendent who is available for communication with all clergy and churches. The Conference Superintendents and the General Superintendents/Bishops comprise the Cabinet of Superintendents. The titles General Superintendent and Bishop are interchangeable titles for the same office. The Conference Superintendents are assigned regions across the USA and Canada, although any local church may be visited and cared for by any of the Conference Superintendents. The Cabinet of Superintendents has a team concept respecting the position of each superintendent and their elected office.
When does the office of Conference Superintendent have authority and responsibility in a local church and with a local pastor?
- When requested by the pastor, board, or pastoral relations committee. In situations where a local church member or leader, or local pastor makes an inquiry, a courteous response with directions to communicate with the person responsible for leadership in that situation is appropriate.
- When procedures of the Discipline are ignored or possibly violated, especially when it has the potential of affecting the entire church or region. (¶843, Discipline)
- When any hint of violations as listed in ¶1001-02 or charges filed against the pastor ¶1015. This is especially true in this day of high technology and communications where the potential of spreading discord with misinformation across the denomination.
Since every layperson and pastor elects the
superintendent they have a right to expect communication and access to him. The superintendent must ensure that Matthew 18 principles are followed in personal conflict situations. Respect of the office of the local pastor, lines of authority and honoring the rights of the congregation must be maintained. The Conference Superintendent is equally the superintendent of the local church and the pastor.
The EMC General Conference adopted in 1992 a policy of binding conciliation and arbitration for church disputes that fulfills 1 Corinthians 6 about the use of secular courts in such cases. We have a Conflict Resolution Committee with trained people in the field of conciliation and ministry of healing in broken relationship in a church.
The demographics are changing in our world at a rapid pace. This raises strategic issues for ministry, mission and church planting. The operational administrative structure changes adopted at the 2010 General Conference includes flexibility for adapting to the technological and demographic changes while at the same time allowing us to effectively deliver our biblical message of holiness.
We do not need to fear change. Within Christianity, we find an early history of change. Jesus established the church, but the church began as a Jewish movement. Some organizational changes rapidly occurred in order for effective ministry to occur and changes were made to have deacons like Stephen (Acts 6). Within a generation, the church was mainly a Gentile movement and an inclusive organization. The Apostle Paul faced the challenges of these changes by championing the view that circumcision was not necessary for the Gentiles.
The EMC faced the challenges that have required change on the administrative conference level at our 2010 General Conference. I am for change that effectively advances the Kingdom of God. Some things must never change in the EMC concerning our doctrine and core values. Change should lead us deeper into Christ and further in mission.
Change brings challenge. Change brings uncertainty. Change brings tension. But, if we don’t change, a worse fate awaits us: ‘we remain the same in a rapidly changing world’. Effective ministry for the 21st century requires an unchanged biblical message coupled with strategic ministry-centered organizational structure. The Evangelical Methodist Church can secure effective ministry for this generation.
May 2009, Revised May 2010