Archive - October, 2011

Loss and Opportunity

As we continue to live into the new world of the Exodus Project, I am constantly reminded that change is both loss and opportunity.  We have to face with honesty our sense of loss in the known & comfortable.  We have to embrace with courage the opportunities before us.  I am convinced that the greatest days for the Christian movement in America and in the United Methodist Church (and yes, in the Central Texas Conference!) are before us.  Living in the wilderness is not easy, but it is ripe with possibility and opportunity.

Tuesday and Wednesday of this week, I was in Nashville at the United Methodist Publishing House (UMPH) Board meeting. (Today, I am at Southwestern University for a Board meeting, and tomorrow I’ll be in Hillsboro for both a Kairos Team meeting and Conference Core Leadership Team meeting.  I leave Sunday for the Council of Bishops meeting in Lake Junaluska.)  In President Neil Alexander’s (the superb President and Publisher of the UMPH!) address, he lifted a number of quotes on change.  I pass them on for your reflection.

  • “If you do not change direction, you will end up where you are headed.” –Lao Tzu
  • “The need for change bulldozed a road down the center of my mind.” –Maya Angelou
  • “Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.”  –John Wooden
  • “It is not the strongest of the species that survives nor the most intelligent that survives.  It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”  –Charles Darwin

Change in theory is great.  In practice it often evokes a sense of loss, anxiety and grief.  Change for Christians thrusts us back into trust of God and each other!  To paraphrase Paul, Christ who has begun a good work among us will bring it to completion.

Learning from Cluster Groups

As we live into the Exodus Project, I remain deeply committed to the Cluster Group concept as a central tool for learning together and moving forward into the new future the Lord is calling us to.  One of the initial learnings has come from Cluster Group #28, the large worship churches.  Using the kind of initiative and insight we want to encourage, they decided on the need for a convener/facilitator/coach.  Independent from their insight, we received similar advice from the Healthy Church Initiative (HCI).

The Cabinet is working on how we move forward and apply this learning to cluster groups.  We are currently drafting plans to run some pilot cluster groups that  incorporate facilitation/coaching.  We will be using the HCI model of Pastoral Leadership Development groups, Lay Leadership Developments groups, and Small Church Initiative workshops.

Things are in the development stage right now, but we are listening and we are learning – together!

Dr. Sidney Roberts

Monday I joined so many of the saints of the Central Texas Conference in paying tribute to one of the true giants of CTC – Dr. Sidney Roberts.  Dr. Mike McKee, Rev. Henry Radde, and Rev. Randy Wild each spoke with grace and eloquence  (intermixed in delightful humor) of Dr. Roberts’ work and witness in our midst.  As a late comer among you, I had met Dr. Roberts a few times but did not have the privilege of truly knowing him.  For that lack I find myself impoverished but I also know the blessings of reaping the benefit of so much of his ministry.

Rev. Wild shared the title of Dr. Roberts’ first sermon:  “The Greatest Question.”  Sidney preached on Acts 16:25-35; the story of Paul and Silas offering salvation to the Philippian jailer.  “The jailer called for lights, and rushing in, he fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.Then he brought them outside and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’ They answered, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ They spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:29-32).  Sidney shared the word of the Lord by his life and ministry.

Today I am in Chicago serving as a member of the Council of Bishops’ (COB) Unity Task Force.  We are engaged in a church form of shuttle diplomacy with members of the Common Witness (a coalition of groups seeking to change the churches’ stance on human sexuality) and a coalition of various renewal groups (The Confessing Movement, Good News, etc.) seeking to maintain the current verbiage.  I appreciate the deep faithfulness of all involved, experience deep pain for all engaged, and pray hard.  Careful listening and prayerful dialog are exhausting.

GCFA Report on Finances and Generosity through Apportionments

Recently I received a letter from General Secretary Moses Kumar of the General Board of Finance Administration. I pass on a significant portion of that letter. It is good, for which I give you and God thanks!

“The lingering effects of the recession have had differing impacts throughout our annual conferences and local churches in the United States. But through the power of the United Methodist connection, and as harsh as the reports are about the recession and unemployment, giving to the general Church apportioned funds through September, 2011 is up 1.1% or over $770,000.

“As we approach the end of 2011, we gratefully acknowledge that by the gracious giving of the people in your conference, there has been an improvement in giving year-to-date. Our prayer is that trend will continue so that the ministries throughout the connection continue to receive funds for ministry through the remainder of the year and beyond. During these times of financial uncertainty we can, as followers of Christ, acknowledge that God provides all we need. In his book Five Practices of Faithful Living, United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase talks about the grace of giving. Among the reasons for giving graciously he lists ‘giving changes us.’

“As you consider your gifts to your local church, to ministries of your annual conference, and to global Church initiatives to ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,’ remember that all we have comes from God. When we support these ministries we are advancing the work God has called God’s faithful to do. Giving changes us. By giving, we can change our world.

Together in ministry,

A. Moses Rathan Kumar”

Meeting at the Bridge

Thursday and Friday I have been at a South Central Jurisdictional College of Bishops meeting at Lydia Patterson Institute.  Lydia Patterson Institute is a mission of the United Methodist Church and more specifically of the SCJ to share the gospel of Christ in a bilingual border setting.  There motto conveys the essence: “Building Bridges on the Border, where Faith and Knowledge Interact.”

I must confess that I have been blown away by the power of this ministry to change lives.  At dinner I visited with a high school senior who hopes to win a scholarship to a one of our United Methodist Universities.  Living in Juarez, the morning trip to school is dangerous but she “trusts God” to keep her safe.  She wakes at 4 a.m. to be at the international bridge by 6 a.m. “for the lines are long.”  She is engaged in a Christian ministry through the Methodist Church both in Mexico and in the United States.  After a nursing degree at College, it is her intent to answer a call from God to enter seminary.

The parents have formed a group to see the students (6th grade through high school) safely to the bridge.  At the International Bridge, the students patiently cross over to the United States.  Despite the early hour (7:15 a.m.) the smiles and energy offers a sense of the Spirit’s presence.  Our College of Bishops met the students this Friday morning to walk with them the remaining 5 blocks from the bridge to Lydia Patterson.  We were the ones blessed by the walk. As we met these determined students at the bridge, the sacrifice, commitment and courage overwhelm me. I see both the love and power of Christ at work in this ministry.  Truly God is out and about in our world.  Healing, hope, and new horizons are dawning in dangerous circumstances.  The United Methodist Church is engaged in a redemptive work worth being both proud of and humbled by.

Living with the Common English Bible

A particular delight in my devotional life during the last few months has been discovering the Common English Bible.  The Common English Bible or CEB for short is a new translation encompassing the best of current biblical scholarship from across the spectrum.  The translation is fresh and exciting.  It moves beyond the theological positioning of other biblical translations to embrace a deep accuracy with the original biblical text.  “The Common English Bible is committed to the whole church of Jesus Christ. To achieve this, the CEB represents the work of a diverse team with broad scholarship, including the work of over one hundred and seventeen scholars—men and women from twenty-two faith traditions in American, African, Asian, European and Latino communities. As a result, the English translation of ancient words has an uncommon relevance for a broad audience of Bible readers—from children to scholars” (www.commonenglishbible.com). With joy, I enthusiastically recommend the CEB translation!

Taste the fresh CEB translation of Jeremiah 29:11-12.  “I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope. When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.”  The promo blurb is right.  “The Common English Bible is not simply a revision or update of an existing translation. It is a bold new translation designed to meet the needs of Christians as they work to build a strong and meaningful relationship with God through Jesus Christ.”

Tomorrow I fly out to El Paso to visit The Lydia Patterson Institute.  Lydia Patterson is a mission of the South Central Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church (of which the Central Texas Conference is a part).   The bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction will be meeting together at Lydia Patterson as we seek to strengthen our mission and witness to the greater Hispanic community  (www.lydiapattersoninstitute.org).

Their mission is to:

  • “Represent Christian Faith as understood by The United Methodist Church.
  • Provide quality bilingual, cross-cultural academic education.
  • Provide a Center where local church leaders, clergy and lay, may receive training and experience in effecting Christian witness and ministry with persons of other races and ethnic backgrounds.
  • Develop leadership skills in persons interested in cross-cultural and international positions of Christian ministry.”

A Place to Detox

I read the words during my daily devotional time.  “Our communities should be places where people can detox, whether that be from alcohol, tobacco, gluttony, shopping, or gossip. We long for a place that tips us towards goodness …” (Shane Claiborne, Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove, & Enuma Okoro, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, p. 286).

That struck me like a bolt of lightning. It was not the “newness” of the words. I’ve heard them before; I’ve said them myself before! What struck me was my own longing for such a place. Even church can be too busy. We need less promulgation and more ministry; less injunction and more immersion; less stridency and more peace. Worship, at its best, is both an oasis and stopping area. It both refreshes and sends us back out.  The same can and should be said for our quiet devotional time.

This longing washed over me at 37,000 feet while flying to Nashville for yet one more meeting. Last Saturday, I preached at the Conference UMW gathering at First UMC Brownwood on Phil. 4:4-7 on “The Peace That Passes All Understanding.”  I long for peace …. and engagement. How about you?

Building Healthy Churches

I have written in a previous blog that as a Cabinet we went to a Healthy Church Initiative (HCI) workshop.  As we continue to live in the “Exodus Project” we are consciously seeking to invest prayer, time, energy and learning to energize and equip local church to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  In conjunction with HCI, I am reading Bob Farr’s new book Renovate or Die.  I commend it to you for its practical helpfulness.

In Renovate or Die, Bishop Robert Schnase writes the eleventh chapter  entitled, “Overview: Changing the Conference Culture.”  He writes: “A church consultant began a teaching session with the provocative statement, ‘God doesn’t care whether your congregation thrives or declines, lives or dies.’  God cares about whether the transforming truth of Jesus Christ changes people, and changes the world through them, and God will gladly use our congregations for that purpose or work around our congregations for that purpose.”  Bishop Schnase goes on to comment, “Congregations are not ends in themselves.  Local churches are particular expressions of the body of Christ existing to further the mission that we see revealed in the life, death, and resurrection” (Bob Farr, Renovate or Die, p. 104).

I think God does care whether our churches thrive or decline, live or die.  But I take the basic point as true.  My way of putting it is that churches are not to be the object of our love.  They are an instrument of God’s love.  Outwardly focused churches driven by the winds of the Holy Spirit thrive as they engage in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Churches that inwardly focus solely to take care of each other die.  The church doesn’t have a mission.  The church is a mission post of the advancing kingdom of God. It is an instrument of God’s redemptive mission to this world.