Archive - June, 2010

Missions = Hospitality

         Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday I am at Duke for the Episcopal Leadership Forum.  Yesterday (Monday) we heard from three outstanding presenters – Dr. Dana Robert, Dr. Gil Rendle and Mr. Gary Shorb.  Each was insightful and challenging.

            Dr. Robert is on the faculty of Boston University School of Theology.  She is a leading historian of missions and the author (among many writings) of the current United Methodist Women’s study, Joy to the World: Mission in the Age of Global Christianity.  She presented the concept of the Bishop as chief missionary of the church.  In noting a list of great missionary bishops through the history of Christianity, she included Francis Asbury.  (Others on the list were people like Gregory the Great, Boniface, St. Patrick, St. Francis.)  Each was a “deliberate boundary crosser” taking the gospel to indigenous people. 

            I was especially intrigued by the implications of globalization in today’s missions.  Dr. Robert noted that 1) Every local church can be its own mission agency, 2) we are going through an explosion in short-term missionaries, and 3) Currently 10-12% of people in America (legally) were not born here. People from the U.S. are going out while others are coming in.  Missions are now a networking enterprise and no longer a simple partnership. 

        This revolution in missions has a great upside but it also brings some special problems.  Short term missionaries often come back seeing themselves as experts but don’t speak the language and don’t really have in-depth cross-cultural understanding and relationships.  Deeper training, understanding and reflection are needed.

            An intriguing image of mission work is to use the model of breathing.  Missions begin at home with hospitality and welcome to those coming in (with implications for our reception of immigrants).  It goes out (like our breath) as we go out sharing the gospel by word and deed (Great Commission – Matthew 28:16-20, among many other passages). 

            The connection of the practice of hospitality to missions is dramatic.  Radical hospitality in both segments of the breath metaphor is foundational.  Being in mission is intrinsic to being Christian!

Insights from Bishops’ Week

  • It has been a stimulating time at Bishop’s Week wrestling with both our spiritual journey of faithfulness and the role of the Extended Cabinet (Bishop, Lay Leader, DS, New Church Development, Treasurer and Assistant to the Bishop/Executive Director for Mission Ministry).  Today under Gil Rendle’s leadership we focus on issues involving “centers and edges” in organizational behavior and hybrid organizations.  Some of the pithy insights that have stimulated my thinking:
  • At the moment we are experiencing the downside of being centralized.  There is a good side and we need both!
  • Bishops, District Superintendents, Lay Leaders (among others) are at the center and yet need to encourage creative experiments and insight from the edges (which is a role fraught with contradictions!).
  • “We have inherited a spider [organization] with a central command.  We [at least some of us] desperately want to be a starfish but that is not us.  We are to be a hybrid organization.” 
  • “The Methodist movement was a reaction against the calmness with which English theologians had accepted and suppressed many of the vital elements of the Christian creed.” (The Cambridge History of English and American Literature).
  • “The movement which now bears Wesley’s name was at first distinctly a church movement owing its impetus to long neglected doctrines of the church.”  (The Cambridge History of English and American Literature).

            Leadership needs to focus on storytelling and being champions of the mission and purpose.  We need to be catalysts and open system mangers (all the while we keep things organized! – no easy action).  We need to be grief mangers as an old way of doing and being church passes.

            A last pithy quote from Gil (though I do not think it is original to him):  “Perhaps we are too busy trying to calm waters that God is trying to stir.”

Bishops’ Week Focus

            Currently I am in Arkansas at our Jurisdictional Conference Center, Mt. Sequoyah.  June 23rd is a day for the meeting of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops.  Wednesday, June 24th we begin Bishops’ Week with a decidedly different thrust.

            In past years Bishops’ week had been essentially a continuing education event hooked on to various Jurisdictional gatherings involving Bishops and District Superintendents.  While the presentations were often excellent, attendance has been spotty at best.  This year, in sharp contrast, Bishops’ Week will focus on the work of the Extended Cabinet.  Dr. Gil Rendle, Senior Consultant for the Texas Methodist Foundation, will be guiding us on leading the church through the wilderness.  Bishop Sally Dyck, Resident Bishop of the Minnesota Conference, will be leading the group on spiritual formation and deepening our walk of faith.  We have read two books in preparation for the time of learning and spiritual growth – The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom and Finding Our Way Again by Brian McClaren.

            The Starfish and the Spider wrestles with the difference between movements and hierarchical organizations.  Implications for us as a church are obvious.  Once, the United Methodist Church was a movement for Christ.  Today we are best characterized as a hierarchical organization.  Where once we were fluid and nimble, today we are rule-bound and argue about boundaries.  Consider this quote:  “If you cut off a spider’s head, it dies; but if you cut off a starfish’s leg, it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish.”

            Finding Our Way Again chronicles the rediscovery of vital spiritual disciplines.  Consider:  “Spiritual practices … are a way of locating ourselves in a present moment no less lighted by the presence of the unseen God from whom we come, to whom we go, and with whom we travel.”  Pilgrimage, fasting, sacred meal, common (disciplined) prayer, giving, Sabbath rest, and liturgical year –  “these ancient practices have formed people of Abraham faith through many centuries.”

            There is much to share, learn and discuss here.  I look forward to this time of learning together.

The Holy Spirit and the Pension Crisis

          Another Annual Conference is behind us and I find myself struggling with the paper work which any Conference generates.  As I wrestle with an overflowing in-box of letters to answer, articles to write, and people to visit, some questions from Conference come back to me.

            In the middle of a serious and good debate about the growing cost of Pensions and Health Insurance (P&HI), someone stood on floor and asked, “If the Bishop has stated that our current Pension and Health Insurance is unsustainable, how does simply direct billing Pensions and Health Insurance solve that problem?”  It is a great question.

          Initially, an honest response is that direct billing does not solve the problem of unsustainable increases in P&HI.  A major part of any solution cannot happen at the Annual Conference level. Pensions is a denominational issue and solutions dealing with underlying issues such as contribution-defined or benefit-defined must be solved on the General Conference level.  At the Annual Conference, direct billing pushes the issue down to a local church level. 

          A deeper and equally honest response is that direct billing does force answers to the sustainability question.  Putting responsibility on a local level does offer an extremely significant partial solution. Local direct billing for P&HI forces a congregation to make priority choices around mission. It means people need to decide is the pastor and the church worth the expense.  Very few American Christians tithe.  Giving 2% of our income is usually seen as significant (verses a biblical tithe of 10%).  Direct billing forces us to confront an issue of faithfulness.  Do we practice extravagant generosity (one of the 5 practices)?

            Secondly, direct billing will have a corollary impact of raising pastoral competencies.  Why?  People won’t pay for poor or mediocre ministry.  It will not appear worth the investment.  Finances will force both pastors and churches to get more adept at reaching out to a new generation.  Churches that turn inward to survive (a huddle and cuddle strategy) will die.  Church that turn outward in mission and ministry will thrive.

           All this gets me to thinking even further out.  Is God using the economic crises to reform our church practices?  I think so.  I think the Holy Spirit is in the P&HI crises – not as cause but as a divine use.  Do you remember Joseph’s response to his brothers? “Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.”  (Genesis 50:20)  God is at work here. That is really good news!

Like Christ

In getting ready for the Conference, I finished writing my Episcopal address and find pieces left over. I always feel a bit like Marco Polo who is reported to have said on his death bed, “But I haven’t told a half of what I’ve seen.”

Here are quotes I want to offer that lie unused on the cutting floor of my manuscript.

One is from one of my favorite church leaders, John Stott: “In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus spoke of the hypocrites and the pagans and added: “Do not be like them” (Matt. 6:8).

Another, the apostle Paul could write to the Romans: “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed” (Rom. 12:2).

Here then is God’s call to a radical discipleship, to a radical nonconformism, to the surrounding culture. It is a call to develop a Christian counterculture. The followers of Jesus, for example, are not to give in to pluralism, which denies the uniqueness and lordship of Jesus, nor be sucked into materialism or become led astray into ethical relativism, which says there are no moral absolutes. This is God’s call to his people to be different. We are not to be like reeds shaken by the wind, as Jesus said, but to be like rocks in a mountain stream; not to be like fish floating with the stream, but to swim again the stream – even the cultural mainstream.

We are faced, in fact, with two cultures, two value systems, two standards and two lifestyles. Which shall we choose? If we are not to be like chameleons, changing color to suit our surroundings, what are we to be like? The answer is that we are to be like Christ. The eternal and ultimate purpose of God by his Spirit is to make us like Christ.”
(by John Stott taken from UnChristian by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons pgs. 151-152)