The Connected Issues of Our UMC Connection

There is a lot at play in our UMC connection.  We not only have the local church and our local communities, but our grander polity and our grander society and in someway shape or form, they are all connected.

Drawing out those connections is what I have attempted to do here.

The inspiration came when I was working on a creative way to think about how we might address some of the issues that stem from the UMC’s itinerant system.  Yet, I was never able to get to the creative idea I was working toward, because I kept getting hung up on more and more connections. What has resulted is, essentially, a look at the interrelatedness of our UMC systems.

The diagrammed analysis below is a pretty thick and busy looking, but it is also limited. For one, it’s inspiration is rooted in trying to address problems of the itinerancy in the local church, so it’s slanted to those issues.  Far more can be done than what’s seen here, such as drawing out the various ways the itinerant system works and the role of the clergy, (their inspirations and influences) Let’s also not forget the role of groups at the denominational, district and conference levels (seminaries, boards and caucuses).  I also tried to be as general as possible  in my consideration of the local church structure, but depending on the church there could be more moving parts.
I also see it as a very pessimistic interpretation, I portray more working against the local church than for it and most systems have only tacit influence on our UMC polity and structure. I’d be glad to be shown something more optimistic.
I’m sure there is more, but these are the weaknesses that jump out to me.

How to read it…
(If you want to get straight to the diagram and legend just scroll all the way down)

There are two basic aspects to the diagram: the systems and the connections between them.

Calling something a system means that it is an organization of different parts that makes up a whole. The diagram below displays something of our UMC system, within it there is the system local church and within the local church are the various systems of laity, ministries, clergy and resources.
There are two aspects of the systems: their type and their boundaries

System Type
I see 5 grand systems at work and I’ve organized them by color: the laity, the clergy, ministry, the UMC institution and culture/society. The grander systems are broken into their parts with some systems having systems within them ie. the UMC structure/polity or the local church, laity and laity types.

System Boundaries
These different types of systems have various boundaries defined, undefined or exosystems.
Defined systems have definite, clear cut boundaries, ie. membership and resources are numbers things you can see where they begin and end. However, other systems, such as the laity or injustices are undefined and fluid, there are not clear defined areas where they begin and end. Lastly we have exosystems  (a term from Bronfenbrenner’s Ecological Systems Theory) and they can be described as the waters we swim in. They are the over arching culture and cultural institutions we live in. There is very little effects them directly, but they effect everything in someway or another.

By naming a connection between two systems, I’m pointing out that there is a relationship of some type between the two, sometimes it’s both ways, sometimes not, sometimes it’s strong and other times weak. Most are positive, some are negative.
I’ve organized the connections based on the quality of their connection and the manner of their connection.

Connection Quality
The connection quality attempt to show how much effect different systems have on one another. There are three types of connections  linked, direct and tacit.
Linked connections show the strongest relationship between systems. In linked systems what effects one effects the other, so I consider them as linked, such as clergy and clergy families.
A direct connection is the next strongest and shows that the actions of one system definitely effect another. For instance, ministry is certain to have some type of effect on social injustice.
A tacit connection is the weakest of the three and shows that the actions of one system may effect another. For example, the clergy’s relationship to local church governance, the governance cannot drastically change, but the clergy can change the people on it and the form of it to a degree.
For clarity’s sake, all the connections are colored by from the system the connection flows from.

I’ve considered some connections negative. I consider the negative connections to work against the greater mission of the UMC to make disciples and transform the world. All negative connections are red (because red means bad) to help them stand out.

Type of Connections
I’ve organized all connections into three types of connection: influence, engagement and inspiration.
Connections of influence, such as the clergy with lay leaders or lay leaders with local church ministries, shows that the one system can guide and effect change in the other.
Connections of inspiration, like Visionaries & Do-ers by social injustice, display what inspires the drive of some systems.
Lastly, UMC Systems Analysis Legendsome systems have connections of engagement. It is similar to influence, but engagement does not effect the entire system externally, engaging enters into it the other system intentionally. This is why all connections flowing from ministry are those of direct engagement.

The analysis is very busy, but informative.  I hope you enjoy, interpret,
analyze criticizes and utilize (clicking on it will make it larger).

UMC System Analysis

**In later posts, I’ll point out some of the things that strike me as most interesting and perhaps what we could do about them.**


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