Archive - February, 2012

Reaching More People, Younger People & More Diverse People

“There is one looming adaptive challenge that we can address only through major learning, innovation, and the wisdom of everyone through Christian conferencing. The United Methodist Church in the United States has a future only to the extent that it can find ways to reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people” (Dr. Lovettt Weems, Jr. Focus: The Real Challenges that Face the United Methodist Church, pp. 74-75).

In a provocative chapter under the above title, Lovett Weems focuses our attention as a church and a missional movement of the Lord back to the future. There was a time when Methodism’s reach was breathtakingly evangelistic, young and diverse. To a large degree, the current strength of Methodism with older adults is a reflection and a testimony to this fruitfulness and faithfulness. Our future will be a both/and: that is to say, it will involve continued ministry excellence with and for older adults. It will also engage us with a younger and more diverse population of faith seekers.

Dr. Weems is right when he asserts that reaching more people involves reaching younger people, which necessitates reaching more diverse people. The three are inextricably linked!

There are many elements to such a forward claiming missional movement for Christ. A few (but only a few) are:
1. New places for new people – the development of new churches and faith communities
2. Recovery of an ability and willingness to engage in evangelistic witness – sharing the good news that Jesus Christ is Lord and Savior
3. The growth and development of large congregations
4. Strengthening of ministry that directly impacts a new generation – children, youth, camping and campus ministry
5. An emphasis of professions of faith especially among younger people of color
6. Development of a new generation of leadership

The list could go on. Tomorrow (Leap Year Day – February 29th) I will be in Nashville with the Four Focus Area Bishops (New Places for New People, Leadership Development, Ministry with the Poor, and Imagine No Malaria) preparing for General Conference. No Christian group in the 2,000 years of the faith has grown without a determined emphasis on new church development (“New Places for New People”). None!

It is my joy and calling to help us engage more deeply in Reaching More People, Younger People, and More Diverse People.

FOCUS!

Over the weekend I read Lovett Weems little book Focus: The Real Challenges that Face the United Methodist Church. I have long been a fan of Dr. Weems’ work. His insight and leadership first as President of St. Paul’s School of Theology and now as Director of the Lewis Center for Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary are a blessing to the whole church. I have ve an app for the Lewis Leadership Center website, Leading Ideas, on my iPad (www.churchleadership.com).  All this is preface to the assertion that Focus: The Real Challenges that Face the United Methodist Church is an outstanding read.

Delegates to General & Jurisdictional Conferences should make it a mustread  (!) prior to attending. But the book goes beyond simply dealing with larger church issues. Different chapters deal with different areas: The New Context, Resetting the Financial Baseline, General Church, Annual Conference, Congregations, Reaching More People, Younger People, More Diverse People, and What is Ahead for the UMC. So impressed am I that I have asked John McKellar, Chair of the Conference Council of Finance and Administration, to have the entire CFA read the 2nd chapter on finances. Every delegate to the Central Texas Conference (Lay and Clergy!) would greatly benefit from reading chapter 4 on Annual Conferences. Likewise congregations would be well blessed by reading and discussion time of chapters 5 & 6 on congregations and reaching more, diverse & younger people.

I could go on. I will write further blogs on subjects raised in Focus. For now, read this book!

A Crucial Alignment of Resources

Monday, February 20th, it was officially announced that the Central Texas Methodist Foundation (CTMF) and the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF) have joined forces and resources. There is a detailed article about the joining of “forces and resources” at the Conference web-site.  I applaud the forward thinking vision of both agencies – their leaders, Tom Locke (TMF) and Pat Sprayberry Hall (CTMF), and the respective Boards.  As I stated in the article, “The Texas Methodist Foundation has an unparalleled reputation for providing excellent financial and leadership services to the United Methodist churches and individuals throughout Texas.  We have been blessed over the years by the kingdom building ministry of both Foundations. The wise decision to combine resources will greatly benefit the mission and ministry of the Central Texas Conference.”  We of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church owe a deep debt of gratitude to both organizations and are blessed by their crucial alignment of resources for ministry.

On another topic, Rev. David Alexander (Associate Pastor, First UMC, Mansfield) has been helping me with reverse mentoring.  (Pray for him!  He has his work cut out for him!)  In our work together we have decided to launch a new podcast version of This Focused Center.  It may be accessed on my blog site (the bottom right hand corner), www.bishopmikelowry.com/podcast, or by going to the “Bishop’s Corner” on the Conference Web-site (www.ctcumc.org) and clicking “Podcasts & Multimedia”.  The first two sessions involved David and I together looking at our ministry.  Following sessions will include interviews of Bishop Robert Schnase (author of The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations and The Five Practices of Faithful Living), Rev. Leah Hidde-Gregory, pastor of the Frost-Italy Charge, on explosive growth in professions of faith in a small rural town setting in combination with great missional outreach to those in need, and Mr. Bob Bush, a lay member of Mansfield’s First UMC and leader in Kairos prison ministry.

Everyday Epiphanies

John Milton wrote: “Gratitude bestows reverence, allowing us to encounter everyday epiphanies, those transcendent moments of awe that change forever how we experience life and the world.”

Recently President Neil Alexander of the United Methodist Publishing House (whose Board I am privileged to serve on) opened a speech entitled “Embracing Change” with those words. They have stayed with me as I move around the Conference. I am deeply thankful as I take in so many incredible ministries happening through the members and churches of the Central Texas Conference. In a host of ways, large and small, seen and unseen, we are together living as the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Christ in the world.

I am conscious that bad news crowds out the good. The current Republican presidential primary race is not only exhibit A but actively exacerbates the process. I hardly mean this as a critique of one party. If we were engaged in a Democratic presidential primary race, the same would be true.
Rather, in the midst of all this, Milton’s quote calls me back to an awareness of God’s presence. Recently I visited with someone about teaching confirmation and awakening faith in young middle school age kids. It is a holy work with transcendent moments that can easily be missed. Later I had got to investigate our mission outreach to the homeless in two different cities. “Everyday epiphanies” are common place in this grace filled work. Quietly, powerfully, we are living the focus area of ministry with the poor.

When I pause, I am in awe of the ministry and work God is doing through the Central Texas Conference, its churches and members. We are surrounded by everyday epiphanies; in gratitude they provoke reverence in me. May we, guided by the Holy Spirit, take time to notice.

Sold Out on Purpose

In a recent conversation with Tom Locke, the President of the Texas Methodist Foundation, he made a comment to the effect that he had sold out on purpose.  By that he meant that he placed great emphasis on the organization (in this case TMF) living up to its stated mission and purpose.  Furthermore, as I followed our conversation, it reflected a deeper conviction that a key issue facing both churches and the United Methodist Church is living in deep commitment and alignment with our stated purpose (my words not his).

The TMF mission and purpose is: “The Foundation helps the United Methodist community we serve – individuals, churches, institutions, and agencies – to fulfill their God-appointed mission to the larger community to ‘make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.’”  Here in the Central Texas Conference we take with deep seriousness and high conviction this notion of purpose and/or mission.  The Conference exists to energize and equip local churches to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Indeed, making “disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” is the stated mission of the United Methodist Church! (The Discipline of the United Methodist Church 2008, Paragraph 120)

It is easy to assent to such a conviction.  It is much harder to live it.  Among the various points of friction lie the conflicting values of mission and relationships.  Both are clearly valued, but we have lifted up the importance of relationship over mission and purpose. Sorting out issues like accountability, call to action, vital congregations and the like push us on how the two values relate (pun intended!) to the stated purpose.  There are no pain free solutions.

Not long ago Dr. Vaughn Baker, Sr. Pastor of Silver Creek UMC, passed on an article written by Dr. Frederick Schmidt of Perkins School of Theology on “What Kodak [which recently went bankrupt!] Can Teach the Church.”  It sheds valuable insight on the notion of being sold out on purpose.  In part, Dr. Schmidt writes:

The church never asks itself often enough why it exists. The conversations among clergy are all too often about managing the bureaucracy, nonsense, and dysfunction that are a part of its life. The programming in churches is far too often focused on therapeutic and political topics.

Issues of “ecclesiology” – that dimension of theology that is meant to answer the question, “What is the church and why does it exist?” – have been relegated to the backwater of our conversations. As a result, we have confused what we do with how we’ve done it.

There is nothing more difficult than letting go of the past. And there is nothing more likely to ground us in letting go of it, than grounding in our God-given purpose. There are a lot of good things that a church can do, but if it is not focused on making it possible to encounter the living Christ, there is little about the way we do things that deserves to endure – or needs to, really.
(From The Progressive Christian; January 9, 2012; “What Kodak Can Teach the Church” by Frederick Schmidt)

Inventory and Ministry Matters

I have just returned for the Cabinet’s annual inventory retreat.  At this retreat, we take stock of coming retirements, incoming seminary graduates and new licensed local pastors, those pastors and or churches considering or requesting moves, etc.  As we live into the new reality of a post- Christendom age, we continue to be governed by the notion of trying to make mission field appointments.  Our focus/guide remains:  Our clients are: 1) God, 2) The Mission Field, 3) The congregation, and 4) The clergy – In that order!  People readily agree with that focus.  The implementation, however, is painful.  The old “ladder” system no longer holds.  This is a painful part of our exodus journey.

Switching topics, I want to call attention to some recent articles in Ministry Matters (www.ministrymatters.com).  F.  Douglas Powe, Jr. has written a thoughtful article entitled “Revitalizing African American Congregations for the Post-Civil Rights Generation” (Posted on February 1st, 2012).  It is an excerpt from his book Pouring New Wine into New Wine Skins: Revitalizing African American Congregations.

 Another Ministry Matters (www.ministrymatters.com) article worth reading is Church, Take Up Your Mats by Christian Piatt, Posted January 30th, 2012.

 

 

Monclova ’73

 Wednesday I returned from our mission investigation trip to Monterrey with Randy Wild and Dawne Phillips. Reports of violence tend to dominate the news from Monterrey.  Our trip was quite different.  Under the gracious hosting and guidance of Bishop Raul Garcia (Eastern Conference, The Methodist Church of Mexico), we felt (and were) quite safe.

I came away not only enthused about mission possibilities but inspired by their faithfulness and spiritual courage.  We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in Mexico.

One of the great inspirations was hearing about the work of the Holy Spirit at Temple el Buen Pastor.  In 1973 with the church and conference in steep decline, a regular district preachers’ meeting was held.  In the midst of their worship, a powerful intervention of the Spirit happened.  During the sermon people started to confess their sins, pray out loud and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  That event marked the turnaround of the Methodist Church of Mexico.  Today it is a growing church (both the local church and the larger Methodist Church of Mexico) sending missionaries out to others!

Temple el Buen Pastor seats about 150 in worship in a cramped physical facility.  Every time they get up to that amount they start a new church somewhere else in Monclova. They’ve started something like 13 new churches.  The most recent was just this year.  They are reaching out dramatically with ministry to the poor and engaging in deep conversion experiences. They look like what early Methodism sounds like.  I cannot help but wonder if God sent the 3 of us to Monclova to learn what the Lord longs to do for us.