Archive - September, 2010

Who Teaches You?

I saved a few vacation days and with my wife got away to the mountains of New Mexico.  It was beautiful with the leaves turning gold on the aspen trees.  The time to think and read was precious.

As a part of my reading (and in preparation for an upcoming series of Wilderness Way articles), I delved back into Dallas Willard’s great classic The Divine Conspiracy.  The subtitle of the book speaks volumes – Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God.  The opening of chapter 8 struck me forcibly.  Willard writes:  “Who teaches you?  Whose disciple are you?  Honestly.  One thing is sure: You are somebody’s disciple.” (p. 271) 

I paused to do some personal inventory.  The name that of course leaps immediately to my mind is that I want and intend to be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  Indeed the foundational affirmation that “Jesus is Lord” is declaration of both intend and purpose.  Yet, as Willard later points out, virtually all of us are disciples of multiple significant teachers in our life.  He comments:  “IT is one of the major transitions of life to recognize who has taught us, mastered us, and then to evaluate the results in us of their teaching.” (p. 272) 

I found myself with much to reflect, meditate and pray about.  I know how blessed I have been by a variety of excellent mentors (both current and in the past).  I also know how continually challenged I am to keep the Lord as my primary, first and foremost, mentor.  With the Apostle Paul, my firm decision is to work from this focused center. (II Corinthians 5:15, Mg)

Preliminary Report on Listening Posts

Last night I went to my fourth District “listening post.”  (So far I have been to the Temple, Brownwood, Waxahachie, and Mid-Cities.)  My basic schedule is an hour with the clergy, a meeting with the District Superintendency Committee and a little over an hour with the laity.  I find the time extremely helpful in giving me a point of interaction and information.  The exchange of comments and ideas are stimulating.

 A couple of tentative observations are emerging.  The laity in particular are intrigued by my abridged presentation of the Call to Action: Report on Congregational Vitality. (You can access that report by going on line at http://www.umc.org/atf/cf/%7Bdb6a45e4-c446-4248-82c8-e131b6424741%7D/CV_PRESENTATION.PDF ).  There is great interest on the part of lay leaders in discussing and learning about what might make their congregations more fruitful and faithful.  I am impressed and very encouraged by the evident faithfulness and commitment.  Significantly, the laity have very few questions (almost none!) about re-alignment.  They are interested in two things.  Are we (the churches) going to get more help in our congregations?  And, will this save money?  (The answer to both is yes.)

The clergy find much of the Call to Action: Report on Congregational Vitality to be an affirmation of what they already know.  They (the clergy) have an anxiousness over re-alignment that is not evidenced by the laity.  Once again, I am deeply impressed by the evident commitment and faithfulness of the clergy.  The questions and comments are thoughtful and probing.  Together we wrestling with the wilderness way.

 I look forward to my time with the other three districts.  In addition, I have scheduled a special time with and for retired clergy (October 21st, 10:00 a.m. at Arlington Heights UMC). (Retired clergy are, of course, invited and encourage to attend any of the listening posts.  I treasure their wisdom and insight.) 

 Jolynn and I are taking some time away for a few days to celebrate her birthday.

Once Again

Today I renewed my acquaintance with an old friend. 

I try to meet regularly with a prayer partner for spiritual accountability.  During the summer both of us were gone, and this practice had fallen by the wayside.  I had on occasions met with the judicatory leader from another Christian faith community (denomination), but that relationship is only in the barest beginning stages.  For my devotional life, I was using a weekly prayer guide (in addition Jolynn and I share the Upper Room readings at night) but the press of time and activities with the coming of fall had been increasingly squeezing out time for prayer, contemplation, and spiritual formation/nurture. In short, I was relying too much on my own power and too little on God’s power.  The great title from one of Bill Hybels’ books came back to me, Too Busy Not to Pray.

Today, I returned to a more steady time of prayer and nurture.  The old friend I picked back up was/is This Day: A Wesleyan Way of Prayer by Lawrence Paul Stookey.  It has been my habit since coming to Fort Worth to stop at Arlington Heights UMC and spend time in the sanctuary in prayer and devotion.  Today with my old friend, This Day, I did so again.  What a blessing!  Once again the Lord spoke to me.  “After you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, support, strengthen, and establish you.”  (I Peter 5:10)

This Focused Center calls me back into relationship with God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.

The Leading Edge III

In the last two weeks I have reported on some of the things that came out in the “Leading Edge” meeting of the Senior Pastors of the 100 largest churches by worship attendance in the UMC in the U.S. with 32 active bishops.  One of the constant questions for both bishops and pastors revolved around how we might help each other in “making disciples for the transformation of the world” and renewing the United Methodist Church.  As a part of that meeting Dr. Adam Hamilton and the others from the organization team of Senior Pastors challenged the pastors as a group.  The pastors were presented “ten ideas each large church pastor was encouraged to consider.”  They were challenged to engage in at least two or three of the ten.  [The Senior Pastors ten ideas are in bold; my comments are in italics.]

 TEN IDEAS EACH LARGE CHURCH PASTOR ENCOURAGED TO CONSIDER:

(1)   Inviting gifted young people to respond to a call – raise $$$ to send a student to seminary.  Leadership development is not only one of our four critical focus areas; it is vital for the future of both Methodism and the Christian movement in America.

 (2)   Launching new faith communities.  New church development is more than just starting new worship services.  Any denomination or Christian group will not become or recover being a force for Christ and world transformation without great engagement in new church development.  This is not an optional area.  Furthermore, new churches that are parented by strong existing churches have a much, much higher possibility of growing into spiritual health and vitality.

 (3)   Taking on or taking over existing, declining or dying UMC congregations.  This too is a vital way we can extend the DNA of healthy disciple-making churches across the connection.

(4)   Creating networks of churches supporting one another.  Our largest church can offer greatly needed mentoring and support that will point the way to spiritual renewal.

 (5)   Mentoring young clergy – meeting with young clergy on a regular basis – implementing “reverse mentoring.”  Mentoring and coaching especially for and with young clergy is a two way street.  Bishops need young clergy mentors as well!

 (6)   Mentoring large church clergy – what do they need to learn?  Peer learning is critical. 

 (7)   Provide sermon ideas and illustrations free of charge to anyone who wants or needs them.  Many larger churches are already offering material for free or for greatly reduced cost.  Proper credit should be given for the use of such material but it is a mystery to me, with the use of the internet, why more clergy don’t adapt sermon ideas and illustrations.

 (8)   Invite other churches to partner on mission projects.  Amen.  Larger churches have a “mission muscle” which can be of great assistance to smaller congregations mutually benefiting both and those who are served!

 (9)   Give away Christmas Eve offering for missions.  Extravagant Generosity is a core practice of fruitful (and faithful!) living for both churches and individuals.

(10) Become a positive prophetic voice – we need prophets of hope!  Jeremiah 29:11!

Leading Edge II

            Last week I participate in a meeting of the “Leading Edge” group made up of the Senior Pastors of the 100 largest churches by worship attendance in the UMC in the U.S.  I wrote about it in my earlier blog entitled “Leading Edge.”  Out of that meeting came a number of actions worth prayerful consideration.

            When asked what are the top changes needed in the UMC, the Senior Pastors noted the following six (in order). [Senior Pastors ranking is in bold; my comments are in italics.]

 #1. Improve quality of church leadership – inspire passionate and effective leaders.  This is the critical need!  It is one of the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church.  It will necessitate dramatic rethinking of what effective leadership looks like in the 21st century (i.e. a post-Christendom church).

 #2. Simplify administrative structures of General Church – reduce apportionments.  Amen!  This will require both General Conference and Annual Conference action.  It will also face deeply entrenched interests often protected by The Discipline.

 #3. Develop a common message or clear theological message as UMC with a clear process of spiritual formation.  Theological pluralism has led us to lose our Wesleyan roots.  Recovering a vibrant Wesleyan Christian orthodoxy is a necessity.  I see reason for real hope in this area.  The Holy Spirit is blowing a fresh wind through us.

 #4. Strengthen the role, authority, and leadership of the Bishops.  Please note:  This is what the Senior Pastors voted for!  Everyone is in favor of bishops have greater authority and exercising more leadership as long as what we (bishops) do agrees with them.  When our leadership and authority go in a different direction, we are often greeted with cries of “how dare you!”

 #5. Local church pastors be positive, hopeful and encouraging to others in the denomination.  This is a task that must be place squarely on the shoulders of local pastors.  Holy Scripture commends us:  “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (I Peter 3:15-16)

 #6. End guaranteed appointment.  This will take General Conference action.  It must be made with appropriate provisions for safe-guarding ethical imperatives.  Sooner or later we will economically be forced to take this action.

Tenth Street UMC

            Sunday, September 5th, I had the joy and pleasure of sharing with the congregation of Tenth Street UMC in Taylor, Texas.  Our celebration focused on the 110th anniversary of this wonderful Swedish Methodist Church.  Originally the Taylor Swedish Methodist Church, a mission of the Methodist Episcopal Church (North), Tenth Street reached out to a new generation of immigrants as a distinctly ethnic church.  Worship Services were held in Swedish into the 1930s.  As Ed Komandosky and Pastor Travis Summerlin greeted the various returning guests and family members in the service, I caught this rich sense of faithfulness that has been a part of Tenth Street for the past 110 years.  I could feel the essence of Hebrews 12: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and prefecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2a)

            There are powerful lessons that can inform us from the faithfulness of Tenth Street’s history.  Tenth Street UMC is every bit as much an ethnic church as our predominately ethnic churches of today.  It is an immigrant church, every bit as much as new outreach churches among Hispanics are today.  In the gratefulness handed on from generation to generation the mission remains the same but the context changes.  The mission then and now comes out of Matthew 28:16-20.  We are to make disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  The context has dramatically changed.  The community is not longer a Swedish language enclave.  The challenge of today’s ministry is can they – can we! – reach a new generation for Christ?

            I suspect that a significant part of the answer lies in studying the lessons of the past from the “Tenth Street” UMCs of today and applying them to the new future God has in store for us.  It is an exciting future, a time of great opportunity; it is also a time of letting go.  There is a sense of real loss of the great heritage of Tenth Street.  Clinging to the past will not work.  Celebrating and learning from the past will provide powerful lessons for the new future God is leading us to!  I am thankful for the time shared with Tenth Street! Truly the Holy Spirit is at work and the greatest days of the church lie in the future!

Leading Edge

(more…)