Archive - October, 2010

On the Road Again

            Today is a day for finishing up administrative details and preparing to leave.  Sunday Jolynn and I will fly to Panama for the fall meeting of the Council of Bishop followed by two additional meetings (one for Methodist Bishop – UMC with Affiliated and Autonomous Methodist Churches in the Americas; the second a conference of ecumenical leadership in the Americas called CEMIAL).  I ask that you keep both us and the entire Council in your prayers.

            At the COB meeting we will being discussing in depth the Call to Action Report. You can access the report in full at www.umc.org/calltoaction. There is much to consider and pray over.  Clearly the church as a whole is calling the bishops to exercise greater leadership.  Simultaneous with that call to greater leadership is ongoing resistance to the tough change that must take place.  Obviously the two are not compatible.  A wise friend commented to me recently, “The problem for the bishops is not that they need someone else to give them more authority [which I might add they do!];  it is that they [the bishops] need to take more responsibility.”

            In addition to The Call to Action Report, we will receive reports on the Four Focus Areas (Developing Leaders, New Places for New People & Transformation of Existing Congregations, Combating Poverty, and Eradicating Killer Diseases).  Together we hope to learn and strategize on how we as a church might move forward in the both faithfulness and fruitfulness.

            I will try to write blogs during the 11 days that I am gone.

Set Like Flint

I remember when my son took Texas State History in high school. Somewhere in that class he ran into a quote of William Tecumseh Sherman (the Civil War General and later Secretary of War under President Grant).  The irascible Sherman said, “If I owned Texas and hell, I’d rent out Texas and live in hell.”  Well, I couldn’t disagree more.  I love Texas.  However, Sherman’s quote helps me remember how dangerous it was to be a Texas pioneer after the close of the Civil War.  Those who launched the Methodist movement for Christ in Texas lived out of an incredible commitment to our Lord and to his Gospel.            

Last Saturday we had a great Centennial Celebration for the Central Texas Conference.  In my speech at that hallmark event, I shared a story that Dr. Wayne Matthews had given me.  The early Texas Methodist, both lay and clergy, came to offer a courageous witness to Christ and the Kingdom of God.  “James T. Griswold, who arrived in Texas straight from college in Alabama, was never able to adequately explain his attraction to Texas.  He said: ‘A strange thing happened to me not many days after I received my license–an impression came over me to ‘go to Northwest Texas to preach.’  I hesitated not, but promptly said, ‘That I will do.’  My face was set like flint to do that thing.  As I began to talk Northwest Texas among my colleagues at college, they would say, ‘You are crazy, boy!  That is nothing but a desert.  There are no people out there, and why throw away your life?  You will either starve to death or freeze to death.’  All this and more was said to me but to no avail.”[1]

Reflecting on the witness of James Griswold, I was forced to ask myself.  To what am I “set like flint?”  Am I willing to brave the rigors of life (in a very different 21st century way) out of a commitment to Christ in sharing the gospel for others?  It is a challenging question which assaults the life of comfort and ease which I lead.  Romans 12:1-2 reminds me to be transformed by a renewing of the mind to discern the will of God.  In that prayerful discernment, I seek to be “set like flint” to carry out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

 


[1]              R. Wayne Matthews, God’s Plan and Us, October, 2010  The quotes are from The Methodist Excitement in Texas by Walter N. Vernon and others pg. 156.

Surrounded by a Cloud of Witnesses

I am nearing the end of a round of District meetings and other gatherings to both listen and share with laity and clergy alike on the future of the Church and the re-alignment of ministry resources in the Central Texas Conference. 

Earlier today I met with the retired clergy to discuss realignment.  Their perspective was and is invaluable.  As I listened to their questions and comments, what struck me most deeply was their forward thinking.  Many, if not all of them, understand that this is a different day and we desperately need greater flexibility to respond to outreach opportunities.  Imbedded in their comments and questions were passionate convictions about changing a clergy culture.  A number of speakers spoke of the need to engage the non-Christian culture with a stance of open listening and interpersonal involvement.  There were strong comments about recovering a sense of how to share the faith (evangelistic witness) and move beyond the church walls. 

Listening and dialoguing with them, I felt that sense of “being surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1).  Their openness, their commitment, their engagement was and is impressive.  We as a Conference have been and continue to be blessed by them.

Developing Pastoral Leadership

Today (Thursday, October 14, 2010) I have been visiting St. Paul School of Theology in Kansas City.  They have been gracious hosts of the SCJ College of Bishops.  (The South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops meets once a quadrennium with Perkins School of Theology, St. Paul’s School of Theology, and Lydia Patterson Institute.)  St. Paul’s commitment to developing clergy leadership for the local church is impressive.  Like virtually all seminaries the economic downturn has negatively impacted finances and challenged the full implementation of ministry.  It is a harsh fact that lower endowment drives the cost of higher education up (less scholarship money!).  In addition, with some exceptions (notably Duke, Candler & Asbury), seminary enrollment is down.  I am impressed with what St. Paul is doing, but issues of seminary education continue to challenge the church as a whole.

In my thinking I overlay the issue of seminary education (in part) with development of a new generation of leaders.  Seminaries are designed to develop pastors.  Church wants leaders.   The expectation of pastoral leadership in the local church has gone up phenomenally.  People don’t just want the Bishop and Cabinet to send them a pastor.  They want the Bishop and Cabinet to send them a leader.  Seminaries, even good seminaries, are rarely well equipped in leadership development.  New experiments and partnerships are coming into being (teaching church working with seminaries, etc.).  The need for lifelong learning among both clergy and lay has never been greater.

It strikes me that we often ask seminaries to deliver what they are not really equipped to deliver.  What do seminaries do best?  Obvious answers begin with biblical and theological education but do not end there.  There is emerging a wider discussion on the issue of leadership development that is encouraging.

Making Room for New Leaders

For the past two days I have been at a retreat sponsored by the Texas Methodist Foundation entitled “Making Room for New Leaders – The Third Path Dilemma.”  With a wide spectrum group of Bishops, Board of Ministry Chairs, and various other leaders, we have wrestled with how to create “third paths” in ministry (ordained?) beyond the conventional routes for Deacons and Elders – new leaders for current congregations, new leaders for special settings, leaders for new forms of congregations that are emerging.

There are many takeaways for what was clearly just a beginning conversation.  How do we make room for creative new experimentation in leadership?  How do Boards of Ordained Ministry, Bishops and other leaders together focus on the purpose of making disciples rather than serving an embedded constituency?  What is clear is that we must redirect the focus to mission and purpose (away from representing/protecting a group).

An interesting book we read in preparation was Church Morph by Eddie Gibbs.  At one point Gibbs writes: “The church urgently needs not just younger leaders, but a different kind of leader.  The church needs visionary, risk-takers who do not look to institutional churches to provide their financial security or career opportunity.  They are prepared to venture into the unknown not as isolated individuals, but as cohorts that belong to a wider dispersed community.  They do not undertake lengthy periods of training for mission, but are trained in mission.  Recognizing that most failure in church leadership occurs through failure of character rather than competence, their training focuses on becoming biblically literate and on internalizing the spiritual disciplines.” (p. 148)

Clergy Age Trends

Recently a colleague passed on to me a summary of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership report on Clergy Age Trends.  You can get the report at http://www.churchleadership.com/.

 Among other highlights the report noted that ….

  • For the first time ever, just over half of active elders are between age 55 and 72.
  • The median age of elders is 55, the highest in history, up from 50 in 2000 and 45 in 1973.
  • The percentage of elders aged 35 to 54 continues to shrink, from 65 percent of all active elders in 2000 to 45 percent in 2010.
  • The number of young United Methodist clergy grew in the past decade
  • There are more young elders, deacons, and local pastors than ten years ago.
  • While fewer in number than young elders, young deacons and local pastors are growing in number faster than young elders.

The Central Texas Conference had the third highest number of young elders (under 35 in age) in the United States!  10% of our elders are under 35.  Forty percent are in the 35-54 age range and 50% are 55 and above.  The breakdowns for Deacons and Local Pastors are similar.  (Deacons = 12%, 38%, 50%; Local Pastors = 3%, 49%, 49%.  Don’t ask me how the additional 1% snuck into the Local Pastor numbers.  I don’t know.)

This is genuinely good news.  Thank God for the growth in younger clergy and in local pastors.  Those groups have and are blessing us and the church as a whole.  It also notes the challenge of the next few years as one generation retires and the age cohort of those currently 35-54 struggles to fill the gap.  There is much to think and pray about here.

The Spirit and SBC 21

I see the Spirit of the Lord moving among us as we struggle to engage the church we love in transformation.  Over and over again, the call of a new day in the Lord beckons us into the future.  Recently this conviction has come to me through a variety of events.  Allow me to explain.

 One of the Four Focus Areas of the United Methodist Church is the development of new places for new people (new church development) and the transformation of existing congregations.  (An important aside:  I vastly prefer the term transformation over revitalization or renewal.  We don’t need to, and in fact can’t, go back to the past – which the “re” language suggests.  We need to be transformed under the Lordship of Christ as the church of the 21st century.)  Thursday, September 30th, our area (and I personally) was blessed by Dr. Fred Allen, Executive Director of SBC 21, guidance and leadership in transformation.  SBC-21 is Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.  It is one of a crucial transformational partners as we move through this wilderness way.

 The Core of the SBC 21 plan of action is: 

1)      Selection of 25 vital congregations to serve as Congregation Resource Centers (CRCs).
2)      Teams of lay and clergy from CRCs to serve as a resource with partner congregations (PCs).
3)      Utilize geographic and needs-specific models to meet rural, urban and suburban church needs.
4)      A strong intentional focus on the laity.

We have a long way to go, but the Spirit is blowing among us with fresh ways of thinking and acting.