Archive - May, 2010

Back to the Future

 

Tuesday, May 25th, I had the privilege of joining an ecumenical group for a Conversation with Leaders of the China Christian Council.  Brite Divinity School graciously hosted the gathering along with the Tarrant Area Community of Churches.  As I listened to the Rev. Gao Feng (President of the Christian Council – representing the registered Protestant Churches), I could not help but think that we have much to learn or more accurately relearn.

Rev. Gao’s group purports to represent some 20 million Protestant Christians in China.  Their group is “registered” with the government.  There are other “unregistered” protestant Christian gatherings in China.  By all accounts the 20 million figure is low.  In fact, a more accurate number may be closer to 40 million.  The Christian movement is growing rapidly in China.

Repeatedly I was struck the reference to the Christian Church in China as “post-denominational.”  There is an affiliation but it is a loose one.  One of the Brite professors present who had more detailed knowledge than I said that it was a relationship more like what we might have with the National Council of Churches.  The Christian Church in China reported 3,700 pastors (1,000 of which are female).  You do the math.  By my rough count that means there was one pastor for every 5,405 active(!) lay persons.  They reported 55,000 churches and “meeting points” (many of which are house fellowships).  That means each ordained clergy had 14.85 churches or meeting places they were responsible for!

Behind all this is obviously a vibrant movemental sense of the Holy Spirit at work.  Lay leadership in ministry is common and vital to the movement.  Much of the preaching is done by lay leaders guiding house fellowships.  (The leaders insisted in not calling them house churches because as they put it “there is only one church.”)  Instead of focusing on church buildings, most of the members worship in homes.

Hit the pause button and ask, “Where have I seen this before?”  Here are three quick answers: 1) The Book of the Acts of the Apostles, 2) The Celtic missionary movement from Ireland in the 5th – 7th centuries, and 3) The early Methodist movement.

It’s time to go back to the future!  We need to loosen our structure and allow ministry to flourish as a lay movement under the power of the Holy Spirit once again.

Church in Budapest

Identify our Core Values: What I Learned in Meetings

Last Friday afternoon (continuing until noon on Saturday) I participated in a fascinating meeting that has remained on my mind and be lodged in my prayer life. (The previous 5 days were spent meeting as a part of the Council of Bishops (COB) in Columbus, Ohio.) I am still not sure what the name of the group I was meeting with is. The gathering consisted of the President of the Council of Bishops, the General Secretaries of the various United Methodist general church commissions and agencies, the Presidents (Chairs of the agency or commission’s board) of those agencies (some of whom are bishops), the four Focus Area lead bishops (I hold the position for “New People in New Places and the Transformation of Existing Congregations – commonly referred to as Path1), and leadership from the Connectional Table.

The purpose of the meeting was to examine potential reduction/realignment of general church agencies; coordinate budgeting and finances; examine the impact of the global nature of the church related to our current and possible future structures. That is a lot to engage in! Thirty or so dedicated and committed people wrestled hard with preliminary considerations of this huge task. I was impressed with the dedication and seriousness with which the group went about its work.

One of the issues that surfaced is the relationship of the Four Areas of Focus (Leadership, New Places for New People and Transformation of Existing Congregations, Poverty, and Eradication of Killer Diseases) with the disciplinary mandates. Disciplinary Mandates are those items that The Discipline of the United Methodist Church mandates (orders) that the general agencies engage in. I had the privilege of visiting with Erin Hawkins, General Secretary for The Commission on Religion and Race, at a break and she conveyed to me that her agency had some 34 or 35 disciplinary mandates. Hers is one of the smaller agencies. It doesn’t take a genius to know that we have vastly over legislated the church’s work. How does the existing “to do” list converge with our missional priorities? Discernment of convergence (Holy Spirit driven!) is a major task before us! We are far from agreement on this most basic commitment.

What we could agree upon is our mission. The United Methodist Church exists to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We had ready agreement that mission should drive are alignment and budget. From that came the necessary corollary that we should align and budget in a manner that is outcome based. In other words, what alignment will best produce the outcomes we are after in “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”

The huge question that drives off such a conviction of mission and determination to be outcome driven is: what are our shared core values and what are the outcomes we should measure? So, if you have read this far, here is where you come in. I would like feedback on 1) what four or five core values should drive this mission process, and 2) what are the key outcomes we should be seeking.

I want hear what you think. Please, short concise answers to 1) what four or five core values should drive this mission process, and 2) what are the key outcomes we should be seeking? If you can’t put it on a postcard, it is too long. I promise to read all ideas but, due to other time restrictions, will not be able to respond to any individual. Instead, I will share group feedback with you in a later blog. Thanks for the help!

Pray as We Examine our Faith Focus and our World

Starting Sunday evening, May 2nd, I will be at the Council of Bishops meeting and remain for an additional two days for a meeting of a Task Group of Bishops and General Secretaries on aligning our church with the Four Focus Areas: combating the diseases of poverty by improving health globally; engaging in ministry with the poor; creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations; and developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world.

My particular work is with the area of creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations. It is a stimulating time and as we go forth, I am reminded of a quote by Nelson Henderson in which he said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade we do not expect to sit.”

It’s no secret that we’re looking at amazing and large spectrum issues that involve us moving through the wilderness of our time (from a Christendom culture to a post-Christendom culture). I like to say that no one knows for sure what they’re doing. We do know, however, who we are traveling with – and that person is God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amid all the controversies of our time – debates over war and peace, health care, racism, poverty – it’s important to remember that the church is engaged in significant issues that affect not just those who claim to be Christian but those who do not know Christ. Bishop Ches Lovern taught me that great churches deal with great issues. As we meet as a Council, I ask for your prayers for the Council as a whole and for the church and its leadership. I cannot help but remember a marvelous piece of writing that Garrison Keiler shared about Methodists. He wrote, “I do believe this: people, these Methodists, who love to sing in four-part harmony are the sort of people you could call up when you are in deep distress. If you are dying, they will comfort you; if you are lonely, they will talk to you; if you are hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad!” His marvelous little insights provoke me to remember that this is not my church or your church but is truly God’s church. And in our own humorous way are simply but part of it; gifted by God to take part in the struggles of our time to advance the kingdom of God. Please keep us in your prayers as we reach out.