Friday, May 31, 2019

Amy Valdez Barker: In Relationship – Not Control

Today’s post is by Rev. Amy R. Valdez Barker, PhD. Rev. Valdez Barker is Executive Director of Global Mission Connections for Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church.

I am a recovering “control-freak. I am a Type A personality who wants things to be organized, strategized and implemented well. In some places, this has served me well. At other times, my need for control would get out of hand when it moved me away from people and towards the attitude of perfectionism.

I planned Conference-wide youth events, and because I worked with a team who planned every minute, every second of the gathering, I knew exactly what was supposed to happen. I wanted everything to go off perfectly! Whenever we deviated from the agenda, we would roll with the bump (though it drove me a bit crazy), but then do all that we could to get things back into order. That’s how I made sense of my world and even provided safety and security for parents and youth who wanted to be sure things would go according to plan.

Now, things never went 100% according to plan. There were always people or groups who would do something completely unplanned or unanticipated. They were youth after all, always wanting to see where they could push the boundaries, test their leaders and create new adventures.

Even so, I loved them! (And I still love them.) I’m a much better Christian, a much better mother and a much better human because of my ministries with youth then and today. Those experiences remind me of who I was and the type of person God continues to call me to be.

But, managing all those details and anticipating the limitless possibilities and surprises with plans “B” and “C” was exhausting. It didn’t allow me to be as present with the people and enjoy the moments as much as I could have. If I wanted to move closer to where God was leading me, I needed to let go of my controlling/perfectionist tendencies and move closer to where God was leading me and not where I was convinced I had to go. I needed to recover the balance of trusting God more and myself a good bit less. In other words, I had to let go of being a “control-freak.”

In my estimation, I think our denomination is at a point where we have to face our own failures as political “control-freaks.” General Conference 2019 has shown us that each part of our connection is trying to control the other by doubling-down on rules, regulations, policies and mandates in order to dictate how the Holy Spirit is moving in different parts of our world. But, this hasn’t been helping us grow the church and in many ways has been counter-productive to the strengthening of the kin-dom of God.

I used to think that if we all abided by the same set of rules and beliefs, (i.e., our ecclesiology) things would simply change and everybody would be clear about what it means to be a United Methodist Christian. And if we all agreed on that, there would be no ambiguity or differences. We would be nice, neat and uniform. In reality, I discovered how mis-guided and wrong I had become, worrying about protecting the idea of a united (single-thought/belief) institution that I thought I knew and loved.

As I look back at my experiences now, I realize it wasn’t the uniformity of the institution or the security of all believing and interpreting everything the same that I loved and held onto for our church.

No, it was the relationships. It was the incredible people I have met through a worldwide connection that has expanded my heart and my mind to a multitude of perceptions, cultures, experiences and contexts that are a part of the wideness of who God is and what God does in the world.

I’ve fallen in love with all of God’s people in their wisdom and expertise and in their failures and their challenges. I have fallen in love with God’s people who are put together and completely broken. I’ve fallen in love with God’s people from the east and from the west. I’ve fallen in love with God’s people from the tips of Alaska to the southernmost places in Cape Town, South Africa or Tierra del Fuego in South America.

The beauty of God’s people who come from every region of the world and every region of the world has shown us the problems, the challenges and the gifts of life, culture, and religion. God has taught me that the most important part of being in God’s kin-dom is the relationship we have with God and with one another.

This insight has left me wondering about what it means to be in relationship and yet have no control. I think we have many illustrations of that now and what it could look like for a Methodist connection.

Some people say that if we go into autonomous relationships there is no accountability. I disagree with that. The accountability comes in communication and expectations of the relationships. We often handle that now with MOU’s or Memorandum of Understanding, a fancy term for a covenant between partners. Sometimes our autonomous relationships are much stronger because we each have the ability to act independently and yet, there is a mutuality in growing together in grace and love.

I have met with leaders from the Korean Methodist Church, the British Methodist Church, the Methodist Church of the Caribbean and the Americas (MCCA) and the Uniting Church of Canada. All of these leaders and many more Methodist/Wesleyan and ecumenical partners appreciate and respect the relationships we at Global Ministries have built with them over the years. We work hard to find our common mission and vision and seek ways to collaborate so that we can have a greater impact for the people wherever we are together.

We learn so much from one another. I have learned about different types of leadership structures in these Methodist Churches.

For example, the MCCA use local lay pastors, circuit pastors and then area/regional elders to reach their communities across many islands and countries in the Caribbean. This is another way of dividing the labor for missional leadership.

I’ve learned how to start new churches from the Fijian Methodists and discovered their innovative practices of eco-tourism to support mission and ministry, while also educating about God’s creation. I’ve told their story to many US Annual Conference leaders and encouraged them to reach out to these Methodist colleagues to learn more and find ways to adapt it for their own context. This is what we mean by connecting the church in mission.

The gift of the autonomous relationships is that we can come together around mission, even if our theological understandings, our organizational structures, and our missional contexts may differ. When it comes to loving our neighbors by alleviating human suffering and seeking peace and justice for all, we can do that better together. We recognize that and so do our Wesleyan/Methodist partners throughout the world. It’s not always perfect, but it’s still the great gift of being in relationship for the sake of God’s mission. We don’t control each other; we learn from each other. I believe this is a better way for us to be a global church. We can be united around mission and join God in expanding the harvest.

As Bishop Carter put it simply in his chapter in the book Where Do We Go from Here? we must be:
“One with Christ – this is Unity.
One with each other – this is faithfulness.
One in ministry to all the world – this is fruitfulness.” (p. 43)

That’s what it could look like for a future Methodist global connection. If we are going to be one with Christ, then we’ve got to give up the need to control one another through polity and governance. If we are going to be one with each other, then we’ve got to focus on the people we are with and the journey we are on together, or in other words, live in the moment. And finally, if we are going to be one in ministry with all the world, then we the people of The United Methodist Church need to focus on the mission and truly be in ministry to all the world. Our UMC needs to give up control and put our whole trust in Christ our Savior for the sake of the future of mission and ministry.

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