5. Encourage Doctrinal and Theological Discourse

United Methodists around the world are connected by a rich array of doctrinal and theological understandings. Listening to views that differ from our own is possible when we are in covenantal relationships that are intellectually honest where we strive together to seek common ground. The practice of Christian conferencing includes connecting and renewing, discerning and deciding. Annual conference sessions, as well as other places, can provide opportunities for the discourse, debate, and consideration of these doctrinal and theological ties that bind us.

The United Methodist concern for the education of all persons is faithfully manifested through the academic institutions that have been established for different purposes and constituencies. Seminaries in particular provide vital training and support for theological and doctrinal training and discussion that furthers our understanding of our faith. They prepare leaders who articulate our faith, who are able to invite and engage others in conversations of faith that enable and enrich Christian discipleship. The ability to do these tasks effectively requires that seminaries, as well as other institutions of learning, be in relationship and conversation with the whole church-true partners in a Wesleyan mission to the world.

In order to encourage doctrinal and theological discourse, we recommend the following:

  • Engage local churches and faith communities

Local churches and faith communities are the primary places where most United Methodists have the opportunity to engage in biblical and theological discourse. Throughout our journey toward Christian perfection there is a vital need to learn about United Methodist theological foundations, to use faith language in discussions, and to develop biblical and theological foundations for personal and social ethics. These learning opportunities may include:

  • Christian educational opportunities for all ages;
  • partnerships with seminaries and institutions of higher education which offer on-campus and community-based classes and seminars;
  • ecumenical dialogue groups; and
  • Covenant study groups combining biblical and theological discourse with spiritual and moral accountability.
  • Refocus the annual charge conference

The visioning and planning for mission and ministry for which the charge conference of a local church is responsible would be infused with doctrinal and theological conversation. Such conversation would strive to know God’s call for the life and work of the congregation in its community and in the world. The charge conference would continue to have responsibility for examining and recommending candidates for the ordained ministry and lay speakers, approving the compensation for its pastor and others appointed by the bishop, and other matters pertaining to property and finances. It would, however, be refocused to give greater attention to doctrinal and theological conversation in the spirit of Christian conferencing.

  • Refocus the annual conference session

The annual conference session will be a place where its members can engage in honest and faithful reflection on doctrinal and theological issues. The session should be designed collaboratively by the Annual Conference Covenant Council and the resident bishop and should provide opportunities for Christian formation, theological reflection, celebration of local mission and ministry, and the ordination, consecration, and commissioning of leaders. Legislative matters should be limited in amount and confined to a well-defined period during the annual conference. Christian conferencing should flourish at the annual conference session.

  • Practice Christian conferencing at the Global Conference

Christian conferencing will be a vital component of the new Global Conference where United Methodists from around the world consider and celebrate our common doctrine and our mission and ministry. This gathering will be a place that fosters visioning, deliberating, celebrating, and lifting up the prophetic voice of the church.

In our tradition, the practice of Christian conferencing is an important part of the way disciples are formed in the image of Christ. It includes connecting, renewing, discerning, and deciding. It is an integral component of a transformed church.

  • Affirm bishops as leaders in Christian conferencing

In a transformed church, Christian conferencing will have renewed importance, especially in the context of the Covenant Councils whose members are responsible for the ministry and mission of the church in that place. The bishops in a transformed church will model, and encourage others to practice, a covenantal style of leadership that involves openness and a willingness to listen to others and to God as we seek God's direction and purpose rather than our own. Their purposeful and sustained attention to this style of leadership is essential to establishing effective Covenant Councils, which are key to the transformation of the church. The bishops will also insure that a variety of intentional, nonlegislative settings are provided for the discourse, debate, and consideration of doctrinal and theological issues.

Report Index

Center on Christian Formation

Call Forth Covenant Leadership

Empower the Connection for Ministry

Strengthen Our Global Connection and Ecumenical Relationships

Encourage Doctrinal and Theological Discourse

Conclusion

Appendix


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