Posts filed under ‘United Methodist’

The Road to Ordination

Boston Avenue UMC, TulsaMaybe it’s an ironic coincidence, but my letter about the procedures for ordination at Annual conference is dated April 1st, 2008! I also found that my ordination will take place the same day as my wedding anniversary, so that’s really a convenient way of remembering when it happened. I’m terrible with dates, so that’s a great thing to me.

I’m excited about my ordination, but it seems like it’s been forever since I walked into my district superintendent’s office in Oklahoma City and told him I was trying to discern whether or not I had a call to pastoral ministry. It felt like a secret mission, because I went while on lunch break from the research lab where I was a student at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center.

Later, when I told the professor who ran my lab about my decision to leave the PhD program I was in to pursue a call to ministry, he gave me a couple weeks to rest and think about it. After I came back still determined, he was adamant that I talk to the chair of our department to share this news. After talking to her, she looked at me like I had just told her I wanted to swim with the dolphins and said, “Are you sure you don’t want to just be a social worker or something?”

Ninety-six hours of seminary education (currently at $444 per credit hour), four interviews with the Board of Ordained Ministry, and nearly three years of pastoring two congregations later, and I’ve received the letter telling I’ll be ordained at Annual Conference (pending the vote at the clergy session on Monday, of course). To be honest, I feel more relief than anything, even though I am looking forward to ordination. I haven’t worn a stole during my probationary period, so there will at least be a visible difference when I come back home to the congregations I serve the following week. Other than that, I wonder if I’ll feel different.

It’s been a long process (have I emphasized that enough yet?), but it’s been a process where I’ve met an incredible number of great people. It’s a dirty shame I only get to have two full members of the conference stand with me during my ordination. To really acknowledge everyone who had a part in my pursuit of the call to ministry, I’d need far more.  Come to think of it, I’d need a bunch of spots for lay-people too!

I can’t think of a graceful way to end this, and that’s probably because it isn’t over yet.  It probably never will be. So, I’ll just say this: to be continued…

April 3, 2008 at 7:21 pm 6 comments

New Link

I’ve recently found out that another colleague in the Oklahoma Conference is blogging. Michael Bartley is the director of the Oklahoma State University Wesley, and is also doing some creative things with a house Church. He was my lead interviewer for my last round of interviews leading up to ordination, and he was gracious and engaging during that process. Of course, if I had failed that interview, he probably wouldn’t be getting a link!

He has a lot of sharp insights and interesting stories. Hop over for a visit and read his recent post on the appointment process and…umm…err…measurement. 😉

April 1, 2008 at 7:34 am Leave a comment

New GBGM General Secretary

I just saw this at the UM Portal: Seattle Bishop to Head UM Missions Agency. Bishop Edward W. Paup will apparently be offering his resignation to the Council of Bishops as he assumes his new post as the General Secretary of the GBGM.

As the article over at the UM Portal states, it is unprecdented for a bishop move to head up a general agency. I wonder what this might tell us about the episcopacy.

March 13, 2008 at 2:11 pm 1 comment

Blazing Pulpits

Burning BushOne of my good friends, and sometimes commenter on this blog, has loaned me an excellent CD set on the Old Testament by Amy-Jill Levine. It is really terrific, even if I crave driving to listen to more of it! Dr. Levine’s lectures have given me new insights on several passages I’ve heard my entire life.

In the episode of the burning bush, I’ve always identified with Moses. After all, he was hearing God’s call to mission. However, after hearing the lecture on this particular episode, I’ve decided those of us who are pastors might better relate to the bush itself.

Let’s be honest, desert shrubs aren’t anything spectacular. They’re kinda dry, they sit there, and they do whatever they can to soak up nutrients from the sun-parched soil. Set ablaze by God’s divine fire, however, they become something important – something worthy of our attention. Aflame, yet not consumed. Burning alive. How’s that for a image of ministry? I think Wesley would like it. Remember this, “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come for miles to watch you burn.”

Far too often we’re dry shrubs, failing to realize our call to be burning bushes while living hand-to-mouth searching for the stuff of life. What would it take for us to be transformed, catching the attention of would-be Moseses (Mosi?) in our community?

What does God’s fire do to the bush, ever-aflame, but not consumed? I can’t imagine this is comfortable or comforting to the bush itself, even though it isn’t consumed. Is it like Jeremiah who writes, “If I say, “I will not mention him, or speak any more in his name,” then within me there is something like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I am weary with holding it in, and I cannot (20:9).”?

What sets you on fire? What is in you like a burning fire in your bones? What would it take for you to share that with God’s people?

February 18, 2008 at 9:14 am 6 comments

Control or Commitment in the UMC

In my last post, I reflected on some of Jim Collins’ insights from his chapter in Leading Beyond the Walls: How High Performing Organizations Collaborate for Shared Success. Jim’s chapter is the best in the book, so it merits another post (don’t buy the book on this basis, by the way – just read his chapter in the store).

He begins his second point with these words,

…executives must build mechanisms of connection and commitment rooted in freedom of choice, rather than relying on systems of coercion and control.

Think about United Methodism (and most organizations for that matter). Do we rely on connection and commitment rooted in freedom of choice or do we rely on systems of coercion and control? From administration to evangelism, I’m afraid that we often rely on the latter. Jim describes his high-powered research team and talks about the way he recruits people for that team,

…as a precursor to all our mechanisms of commitment and connection, each person invited to join the team receives a written and verbal orientation on team values, purpose, and performance standards and is asked to join only if he or she can commit to those principles. Before joining, each person is told, “If you have any doubt about whether this is the right place for you, then it is in our mutual interest that you decline this opportunity.

I don’t know about you, but this kind of rigorous introduction to the values and purpose of the organization reminds me of the old Christian catechism. Is it sad that becoming a member of Jim’s research team is more stringent and commitment laden than becoming a member of some of our churches?

It goes back to the basics here. If you don’t have team values, purpose, and performance standards, you can’t present them to people, and you sure can’t ask for commitment. Can you imagine having a clear, confident, and concise statement like that defining the mission of your local church? You could hand this to new visitors and say, “Here’s what we’re about, and everyone here is committed to it. If you have any doubt, it is in our mutual interest that you decline this opportunity.” Talk about true connectionalism!! This could be the same for clergy. Our connection could be in our adherence and commitment to core principles rather than in bureaucratic structures.

People often ask, “How do we get individuals to share our core values?” The answer is, “You can’t.” You can’t open somebody up and install new core values in his or her belly. The key is to find, attract, and select people who have a predisposition to sharing the core values, and to create an environment that consistently reinforces those core values, buttressing it with mechanisms of connection and commitment.

Interestingly, the predisposition can really be linked to the Christian concept of calling. I don’t twist arms to get people to join our congregation. My thoughts are that if they see what we’re doing and want to be a part of it, then they are welcome to invest their lives in our congregation and live our their faith in our community. If you have to be coerced, you won’t be committed.

Of course, God is the one who does all the calling and attracting. Once we have a little more faith in that, we can define and develop our core values more clearly.  Then we won’t have to rely so much on mechanisms of power and coercion. Only then can we describe and develop mechanisms of true commitment and true connection.

Jim write, “The minute you feel the need to control and mold someone, you’ve made a selection mistake.” We’ve been so vague about what people are committing to that we have to develop more stringent control methods and we end up arguing and spending valuable time working on power structures. On the other hand, a core of people committed to Christ, called by God, and enlivened by the Spirit will be thoroughly committed to the ongoing mission of the Church. Control and manipulation would just stunt the vibrant stuff that would come out of these folks, be they clergy or laity.

There’s a lot more I could say on this, but I don’t want to short-circuit the ideas that you’re coming up with. What are our core values? Once we articulate those, what mechanisms of connection and commitment could we implement to replace our mechanisms of power and control? Can the United Methodist Church survive thrive using a model that went out the window with cassette tapes and VHS? What do you think?

February 14, 2008 at 8:43 am 4 comments

Shifting Values, Structural Monuments?

Jim Collins of Built to Last and Good to Great fame has an interesting chapter in Leading Beyond the Walls: How High-Performing Organizations Collaborate for Shared Success. In “And the Walls Came Tumbling Down,” he talks about organizations of the future,

[in the future] the defining boundary will be a permeable membrane defined by values, purpose, and goals; organizations will be held together by mechanisms of connection and commitment rooted in freedom of choice, rather than by systems of coercion and control. Executives will need to accept the fact – always true but now impossible to ignore – that the exercise of leadership is inversely proportional to the exercise of power.

These echoes of the one who once said, “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all,” led me to compare some of Jim’s other insights to the way we operate in the Church. So when he defines great organizations as places where core values and fundamental purposes stimulate ongoing responsive change in things such as operating practices, strategies, tactics, processes, structures, and methods, I can’t help but sigh. Using this definition, I’m afraid the Church sometimes does the opposite. There are times when we immortalize structures, methods, practices, and operating procedures while watching fundamental shifts in core values and fundamental purposes.

Jim even specifically references great churches who he claims, “understand the fundamental values and purpose of the religion must remain fixed while the specific practices and venues of worship change in response to the realities of a younger generation.”

Could we develop more fluids structures and organization within the UMC? Might we someday realize that the 800 page (and expanding) Book of Discipline is a bit too modernistic and unwieldy for the challenges facing our world? Could we simply and succinctly emphasize core practices and values that are marks of a United Methodist – things that mark ones commitment and connection – while encouraging creativity and flexibility in structural and organizational elements? What do you think?

February 11, 2008 at 9:02 pm 6 comments

What Do Pastors Do All Week?

If you are a pastor, has anyone ever asked you, “What do you do all week?” If you haven’t been able to before, now you have an answer. Pulpit and Pew Research on Pastoral Leadership did a study on this question and came up with the following results. The median work week for Protestant clergy is 46 hours. The following is a breakdown of the percentages:

Clergy Work Week
  1. Percentage of week spent preparing for worship and preaching – 33% – 15.18 hours
  2. Percentage of week spent providing pastoral care – 19% – 8.74 hours
  3. Percent of week spent administrating congregation’s work and attending meetings – 15% – 6.9 hours
  4. Percent of week spent teaching and training people for ministry – 13% – 5.98 hours
  5. Percent of week spent in denominational and community affairs – 6% – 2.4 hours
  6. Hours spent in prayer and meditation – 7% – 3.22 hours
  7. Hours spent reading, other than for sermons – 4% – 1.84 hours

I’d be interested in hearing what you think of this. Does this match your experience?  In general, what do you think about these numbers?

January 23, 2008 at 8:29 am 10 comments

Clergy Shortage: Perception and Reality

I hear all the time about our clergy shortage.  In fact, I see it with my own eyes.  There are churches in my district who do not have an appointed pastor.  These congregations end up being filled in any number of ways.   However, this morning at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research I read a very interesting article by Patricia Chang of Boston University about the perceived clergy shortage (long version/short version).   She describes the four important features of today’s “clergy market:”

  • There is a surplus of clergy to fill the available clergy positions.  If one looks at the number of ordained clergy compared to the number of churches in a denomination.   In some cases there are as many as two clergy per church, with seminary enrollments continuing to climb. This data contradicts the perception that there is a clergy shortage.
  • There is, however, a large vacancy rate if one looks at the actual number of clergy serving in churches.  A high number of churches are without a full time pastor. This vacancy rate supports the perception of a clergy shortage.  What the perception obscures, however, is that the shortage tends to be located in small churches.
  • The majority of churches in the U.S. are small, with 100 or fewer members.
  • The majority of the church attendees go to large churches with 350 or more members.

Chang then summarizes, “In other words the structure of opportunity provides ample jobs for those clergy interested in serving small churches but far far fewer for those wishing to serve in medium or large churches. Seminary students, most of whom were raised and formed in large churches (as are the majority of the American population) feel called to serve in the kind of churches in which they were raised – but these opportunities are declining.”

So, there’s a clergy shortage if you want to serve small rural congregations!  If you want to serve medium or larger congregations, the rumors you’ve heard of clergy shortages may have been greatly exaggerated.

Here’s the important question for United Methodists.  Should this change how we look for potential leaders?  Should we be thinking about nurturing the call among people more likely to serve in rural and smaller congregations?  Who would that be?

January 23, 2008 at 7:29 am 10 comments

Missional-Incarnational Impulse

If you are interested in thinking about the ongoing mission of the Church in this century, you really have to read The Forgotten Ways by Alan Hirsch. This is a book that I will almost certainly read twice, which is something I almost never do. It is really causing me to rethink, in a positive constructive (heck, even Wesleyan) way, many of the assumptions I have about the way we go about mission and ministry within the United Methodist Church.

At the center of what Hirsch calls the “Apostolic Genius” is the central affirmation that Jesus is Lord. Surrounding that center element are five aspects of mDNA (missional DNA): Disciple Making (which is what my last post was about), Missional-Incarnational Impulse, Apostolic Environment, Communitas, Not Community, and Organic Systems.

In chapter 5, he discusses the Missional-Incarnational Impulse, the second aspect of mDNA. Patterned on the “missionary God” (as described by Darrell Guder), he suggests that “a genuine missional impulse is a sending rather than an attractional one (p. 129).” Like the Incarnation of God in Jesus, we’re called to move into the neighborhoods around us in mission rather than operating from the “outreach and in-drag” model that the Church operating from a Christendom model is built for (p. 61).

Hirsch describes at least four dimensions that frame our understanding of the incarnation, and he believes these should profoundly shape our response to the ongoing mission of God:

  1. Presence: In Jesus, God is fully present to us. Jesus is no substitute or intermediary, but God in the flesh.
  2. Proximity: God approached us in Christ in a way we can understand and access, befriending the outcast and living close proximity to the broken and lost.
  3. Powerlessness: In the incarnation, God took the form of a servant. Hirsch writes, “He does not stun us with sound and laser shows, but instead he lives as a humble carpenter in backwater Galilee for thirty years before activating his messianic destiny,” showing us how love and humility reflect the true nature of God.
  4. Proclamation: He initiated the gospel invitation, heralded the reign of God, and called people to respond in repentance and faith.

In these four aspects of the incarnation, we find the following calls for our work together with God in mission (these are just snippets of what Hirsch describes):

  1. Being present in the fabric of a community, engaging in the humanity of it all. All ministry is relational and based in our particular local presence. “…Jesus actually liks to hang out with the people we hang out with. They get the implied message that God actually likes them (p. 134).”
  2. Like Jesus we’re called to be in proximity to folks from every level of society. This involves genuine avaliability, spontaneity, and regular friendships and community.
  3. We too are called to powerlessness: humility and servanthood to each other and with the world. This is an integral aspect of church, leadership, and mission.
  4. Genuine incarnational approaches to mission will result in our proclamation of the gospel story with the people we engage. “We are essentially a ‘message tribe,’ and that means we must ensure the faithful transmission of the message we carry through proclamation”

He goes on to provide specific examples in faith communities of the missional-incarnational impulse.

I have a lot of questions for my fellow United Methodists. Every now and then I get messages saying, “Do you want to have a knock-down, bang-up method form mission and discipleship? Come to this or that conference. This will work in churches of any size, shape, or fashion!” Are we kidding ourselves to think any method is one size fits all (OK, I know you know where I stand on this, so it’s a leading question. haha)?

How can we encourage our congregations to moving from “outreach and drag-in” to incarnational gospel presence within communities sharing the message of Christ relationally?

What kind of influence do our largest UM Churches have on our plans for carrying out God’s mission? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not anti-megachurch, but should churches in communities of 1,000 or even 5,000 base their approach to mission on something happening in a large urban or suburban congregation?

How do we, like Christ, move into the neighborhood? I did hear of a pastor and his congregation who held a block-party in their small-town community among a group of unchurched people. I think this embodies a lot of what Hirsch is saying. What do you think?

January 12, 2008 at 10:09 am 3 comments

Missional Methodism & Rigorous Discipleship

One of the books I recently bought is really good and thought-provoking. The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church by Alan Hirsch is a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time. Turns out it was worth the wait. I’m only about a quarter of the way through the book, but so far I’ve been mesmerized by Hirsch’s description of mDNA (missional DNA, not to be confused with mRNA – messenger RNA – sorry, science humor). I’ve really been too engaged in the book so far, even when I disagree, to underline anything so far.

However, this passage is too important for us United Methodists to leave alone.

In the opinion of Stephen Addison, a missiologist who has spent much of his professional life studying Christian movements, the key to Methodism’s success was the high level of commitment to the Methodist cause that was expected of participants. This cause declined to the degree that the movement had moved away from its original missional ethos or evangelism and disciple making and degenerated into mere religious legalism maintained by institution, rule books, and professional clergy (p. 103).

He goes on to talk about the catechesis of the early Church,

…far from being “seeker-friendly,” by AD 170 the underground Christian movement had developed what they called the catechisms. These were not merely the doctrinal confessions they later became; they involved rigorous personal examinations that required the catechumen to demonstrate why he or she was worthy of entry into the confessing community. Not only could proposed converts lose their life, because of the persecution of the time, but they had to prove why they believed they should be allowed to become part of the Christian community in the first place!

…it was this element of vigorous discipleship that characterized the early Christian movement that was blighted by the deluge of worldliness that flooded the post-Constantinian church when the bar was lowered for membership and the culture was “Christianized.” (p. 104)

To be honest, I have totally mixed reactions to this. The concept of proving oneself worthy of joining the Christian community strikes me as a little antithetical to a gracious understanding of God. However, I do think that the concept of rigorous discipleship, as shown in early Christianity and Methodism, is incredibly important. For instance, the other night my wife was watching this stupid show about becoming a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader on CMT. They kept saying how important their identity was, and several girls didn’t make the team because they either didn’t live up to the values of the team or they didn’t have a certain level of commitment. I thought to myself, how is it that the Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders have more rigorous set of practices and ideals than the Church?!

But that’s the tension isn’t it? Christ died and is risen for all, right? So how do we balance inspiring committed discipleship with the message of God’s free grace? Also, do you agree with Hirsch’s comment about legalism maintained by institutions, rule books, and professional clergy? Is that what United Methodism has become or not? How could the UMC become a Church that more fully embodies full-bodied discipleship?

Hopefully these questions can initiate a conversation in the comments. What are some of your first impressions?

January 9, 2008 at 1:51 pm 5 comments

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