There has been a great push in the United Methodist Church over the past several years to emphasis the local church. This is great! I am a local church fan. In case you don't know I serve in a local church and love every part of the local church. I truly believe ministry happens in the local church. I also believe that ministry is not limited to the local church.
The hyper focus on the local church is has many positives, however it also contributes to an erosion of the connection that binds United Methodist Church clergy. Could it be the emphasis on the local church has unintentionally contributed to the divide in the church?
Consider the trend for longer appointments for clergy at a local church. There are many benefits to have an effective pastor serve at a local church for a long time (see pages 45-50 in the Tower Watson Report: Call to Action). A church with an effective pastor who has served that church for at least ten years sees greater parishioner attendance, engagement and growth compared to effective pastors serving less than ten years. Longer appointments also mean that a pastor will serve fewer congregations over her/his ministry. This means pastors have little incentive to connect with other pastors and get to know other churches. The odds of a pastor working with others pastors or other churches are much lower than the past when the majority of pastors were moved every two-three years.
Perhaps more nefarious is the longer the appointment of a pastor means that pastors forget that we are only stewards of a position. We all know that we treat something that we are only borrowing differently than if we own it. When a pastor beings to believe that it is "my pulpit" then perhaps that pastor has forgotten that every pulpit is God's and pastors are only trusted stewards.
Another unintended consequence to the hyper focus on the local church is in the overall mindset toward the administrative structures of the UMC. Many local churches have been made to feel they are the prized child and that their voice is the ultimate voice. This leads to a great suspicion of anyone outside of the local church but who still carries the cross and flame. Bishops are jerks who don't do anything. District Superintendents are harbingers of bad news. Apportionments are taxes that sap a local church. The General Church is waste of money and time. The Judicial Council makes rulings that are hostile to the local church.
The hyper focus on the local church means that overtime the local church forgets that they were birthed from a larger mother church (the UMC). When we forget where we come from we resent the systems that were critical to our birth. Resentment comes out by no longer seeing the necessity of the very systems that were critical to your birth. Overtime resentful feelings boil into hostility toward the other until trust is broken down.
The emphasis on the local church is great, but we are now seeing the difficult parts of these the unintended consequences.