Historically, Wesleyans have identified a rich connection between procedure and practice. To that end, “The Discipline” sets guidelines through which local congregations, districts and the denomination utilize a uniform structure of church governance. The present document guiding our governance — first drafted during the 1968 merger that birthed The Wesleyan Church (TWC) — is extensive and thorough.
During General Conference 2022, delegates will have the opportunity to consider Memorials 125 and 126 — set forth by a working group attentive to matters of church polity — which proposes a streamlining of the church governance section of “The Discipline,” maintaining the thoroughness of the document while also simplifying the language.
At the 1968 merger, the first edition of “The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church” was 648 pages; and since then, revisions have reduced “The Discipline” to 468 pages. While that reduction is itself significant, the memorial committee sees a few driving forces for change:
- Simplification: the length of the document can be substantially reduced while retaining the same emphasis on robust policies and procedures.
- Clarity: the proposed changes to “The Discipline” may help clergy and laity alike more clearly understand how to conduct the business of the church.
With these emphases in mind, a task force was built to simplify the language around church governance while also remaining diligent in offering congregations structure within which to work.
What exactly are the proposed changes to the language of “The Discipline” as it relates to simplification of church governance?
Who has been involved in building Memorials 125 and 126?
Chaired by Carl Shepherd, the subcommittee on memorials, appointed by the General Board who serves as the Committee on Memorials, has included laity and clergy familiar with church governance and parliamentary procedure.
What was the process of arriving at the proposed revisions?
The committee underwent a thorough search of TWC’s governance structure in “The Discipline,” working to identify which sections seemed appropriate in length and which might benefit from clarifying, simplifying or distilling to their essence.
Those committee members then invited others into the journey, gaining feedback from district superintendents, some clergy and denominational officers.
“If approved, Memorials 125 and 126 will make us more nimble in responding to organizational and operational specifics we will face in our ever changing ministry environments,” said Dr. H. C. Wilson, General Superintendent Emeritus and General Board vice-chair. “Currently our ‘Discipline’ tends toward more detail and prescriptive instruction than seems necessary. 125 and 126 do not go to our core beliefs in any way. 125 and 126 do go to operational structure and functions. It will provide latitude in decision making.”
What opportunities do these revisions create?
- Focus on the essential: Unnecessary words were removed with intentionality around getting to the essence of whatever each section is focused upon.
- Streamlined usability: Unclear sections of “The Discipline” benefit from greater clarity, offering clergy and laity a more streamlined guide for planning and guiding the business of the church.
For more details about these memorial (and all other proposed memorials for General Conference 2022, visit www.wesleyan.org/unleashed/memorials.
Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s division of Education and Clergy Development.