Archive - September, 2011

Formation into Christlikeness

This past weekend I attended a Renovaré/Aprentis Institute event with my wife in Wichita, Kansas.  (It was her birthday present.)  Entitled Formation in Christlikeness: The Process of Change, we drank deep from the well of learning and reflection.  Dallas Willard offered a framework on “the ingredients of Transformation into Christlikeness” built on Vision – Intention – Means.  He noted that we tend to focus on the means but vision is the “support of it all.”  He further commented that the availability to us of God and His kingdom means we are not victims unless we chose to be
victims.  Intention according to Willard “is solidly formed in the light of correct vision. . . . We become disciples, apprentices of Jesus in kingdom living from our Vision of life.”

Willard’s questions linger in my mind as I reflect on our time together.  “How are you doing with your kingdom today?”  The answer is often, “Not great.”  The response is an invitation to live in the Kingdom of God.  Put differently, “Would you like a life of abiding peace?”  Who wouldn’t! And, if I don’t experience abiding peace in my life today, even in tough times, then is a challenge to the vision – intention – (and) means of Christ-like formation in my life?  Is my vision focused; is my intention true?  Means (spiritual disciplines) follow vision and intention.

“Means,” said Dallas Willard, “becomes available and effectual where the Vision is clear and the Intention is unwavering. . . . Outward conformity without inward transformation (Vision and Intention) is impossible and will kill you and others spiritually.”

Healthy Church Initiative

The first part of this week, I am at a Healthy Church Initiative workshop
being attended by the Cabinet, some members of the Conference staff, and our Lay Leaders (Steve McIver and Kim Simpson). In major part, we are investigating a major tool for the transformation of local churches to engage in their stated mission of “making disciples for the transformation of the world.”  Among many things, we are learning how cluster groups might best engage in energizing and equipping local churches and how we as a Conference staff might help them.

As a part of that learning, I read a blog written by Dr. Thom Rainer (author of Simple Church) in 2011 entitled “Signs of Hope.” I found the blog both accurate and encouraging. I quote:

  1. A Renewed love for the Bible.
    -Increased hunger for deeper preaching and
    -The rise in interest and commitment to spiritual formation.
  2. Increasing passion for nations.
    -Transformational church members are actively involved in reaching nations with the Gospel. Conference churches engaged in places like Kenya or other nations.
    -The Denominational Focus area (1 of 4) reaching around the world especially to Africa on Imagine No Malaria and the emphasis in conversion growth for extended areas of the world.
  3. A concern for both eternal needs and temporal needs.
    -Transformational churches are focused on both the Great Commission AND the Great Commandment … with fervor.
    -Attempting to rediscover the connection between evangelism and social justice/mercy. The Focus Area in the UMC on combating poverty.
    -The rise in local church mission initiatives in their community.
  4. The young and restless millennial Christians [born between 1980 – 2000].
    -The largest generation in America’s history (78 million).
    -Only 15% are Christians.
    -Causing shake up in our churches with their Holy Discontent.
    -We have tended to relate to the 15% and struggle to engage the 85%.
  5. A desire for authentic and transparent leaders in our churches.
    -… a return to godly, biblical leadership
    -The overwhelming feedback from laity and the great need for us to teach leadership to both lay and clergy.
    -Leadership Development as one of the Four Focus Areas for the UMC.
  6. A healthy reevaluation of church and denominational structures.
    -New leaders are not anti-traditional … but want structures that are the best use of God’s resources
    -The Call to Action Report and Interim Operations Team Report – IOT on the national level; the Exodus Project on the Conference level.
  7. An increased emphasis on church planting.
    -U.S. currently has one church for every 1,000 people
    -Path One as one of the Four Focus Areas of the UMC

(Source: Healthy Church Initiative – Orientation 2011, p. 8 – quoting blog by Dr. Thom Rainer; additional comments by Bishop Lowry in italics.)

Reggie McNeal and Congresswoman Kay Granger

Last Saturday’s Fall Summit with Dr. Reggie McNeal was a blast!  As usual First UMC, Mansfield did an outstanding job of hosting (highlighted by an awesome witness in music).  Reggie framed his presentation around the idea that it is our job to bless people.  Genesis 12:2 lays out the concept that we are blessed to be a blessing. “The missional church is the people of God partnering with God in the Lord’s redemptive mission in the world.”  Teaching us to go beyond the basic metrics (but not to ignore those basic metrics!), McNeal said, “the scorecard is … is the world any different because of us.”  He advised us that the best way to become involved in the community is through serving in the public school system.

Friday, September 16th, Jolynn and I along with Katy Zeh (a staff member from the Board of Church and Society met with our Representative, Congresswoman Kay Granger, to thank her for her support of global health issues.  As chair of the  Appropriations subcommittee for State, Foreign Operations, and Related programs, she has been a major champion in the effort to fight killer diseases  and especially in women’s health issues. (Congresswoman Granger is a United  Methodist.)  She remarked that people ask her “why do we give away all that money to foreign countries.”  Noting that foreign aid is 1% of the federal budget, she listed two towering reasons to support such aid.  1. National Security and 2. Moral Responsibility.

Speaking to the issue of national security she drew the connection between involvement in fighting disease and especially women’s health.  People are much more likely to turn to violence if not helped.  The mother’s health in the family system is especially critical.  “If mom’s sick, the family is gone.”  Our influence is an influence for peace in the world – “where we aren’t China is.”

Speaking of the faith perspective Congresswoman Granger made the clear connection with biblical teachings like the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10) and our response.   Her commitment was deep, faith-driven and heartfelt.  I am thankful for her good work on this great focus issue of the United Methodist Church and of our country.

Remembering 9/11

Do you recall where you were when the news first starting coming in about the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001?  I do.  I was at University United Methodist Church in San Antonio (where I was serving as Senior Pastor).  As the news came in, we gathered the staff and anyone else present in the building who wished to join us for a time of prayer in the sanctuary.  In the sacred quiet of that sanctuary we laid our fears before the Lord.

In a host of different ways we will remember the events and victims of the 9/11 tragedy.  Once again I hope that we will lay our fears and hopes before the Lord.  The world needs Christians to show a yet more excellent way (I Corinthians 21:31).

In watching the various TV specials and reports leading up to the 10th anniversary, I find my emotions stirred on a deep level.  Anger and hope vie for control; fear and forgiveness wrestle with each other; peace and  vengeance stalk the inner corridors of my soul.  In the tumult of my emotions, the words of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians come back to me.  “Adopt the attitude that was in Christ Jesus: Though he was in the form of God, he did not consider being equal with God something to be exploit. But he emptied himself by taking the form of a salve and by becoming like human beings” (Philippians 2:5-7, CEB).

Carrying the Good News

I have come back from renewal leave with enthusiasm and hope for ministry in our changing (wilderness) time. Today, I am at a meeting of the Conclave (the name for the Texas Methodist Foundation’s clergy group for the 11 active bishops in the South Central Jurisdiction). As usual I find the discussion stimulating and engaging. Like much of the church, we are wrestling with the deeper implications of “making disciples for the transformation of the world.”

There are many nuanced definitions of discipleship. Among the mix it seems safe to assert that a disciple is a carrier of the good of Jesus Christ. It also seems apparent (but needs saying) that we can’t make disciples without being a disciple. Our mission statement challenges me to walk closer with God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. . . And to invite others to join with me in a common journey. My prayer remains that of Aelred of Rievualx “to see Him [Christ] more clearly, love Him more dearly, and follow Him more nearly.”

In the midst of exciting challenges and hopeful signs of God at work, reality intersects. Yesterday on my drive down to Austin, my wife called with news of the tragic death of one of her cousin’s children (a young woman age 27). My planned activities are in the midst of being suddenly rearranged. Tomorrow we will drive to Louisiana for the funeral service. Our extended family grief is a part of wilderness living (and dying).

The Wesleyan Heritage part of our renewal leave calls to mind John Wesley’s dying words:  “The best of all is that God is with us!”

Missional Renaissance

It is great to be back from my renewal leave and family vacation time.  As I turn my attention to the fall, I am tremendously excited about having Dr. Reggie McNeal with us on September 10th at First UMC, Mansfield for the Fall Summit.  Dr. McNeal serves as the Missional Leadership Specialist for Leadership Network.  His books are must reads for me.  I expect the pastors and lay leadership of the Central Texas Conference to be present. (You can register through the Conference web site or at

In his book Missional Renissance, Dr. McNeal writes: “Going missional will require that you make three shifts, both in your thinking and in your behavior:

  • From internal to external in terms of ministry focus
  • From program development to people development in terms of core activity
  • From church-based to kingdom-based in terms of leadership agenda

These shifts are the signature characteristics of what missional means. They are not destinations; they are compass settings. They point you into the new world. They will move you from doing church as primarily a refuge, conservator, and institutional activity in a post-Christendom culture to being a risky, missionary, organic force in the increasingly pre-Christian world in North America” (Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard from the Church, by Reggie McNeal, pg. xvi).

I’ll see you at the summit!