Archive - September, 2013

CORE STRATEGIES: Clergy and Lay Leadership

The third major core strategy that we have in the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church is to engage and develop clergy and lay leadership.  This is both simple and profound in its essence.  A church, any church, will not exceed the capacity of its lay and clergy leadership.  The sage reader of this blog might well (should!) ask, “But what about the Holy Spirit?”  My response is straightforward.  Leadership needs to be (must be!) open to the leading of the Holy Spirit.  Romans 10:14 states:  “So how can they call on someone they don’t have faith in? And how can they have faith in someone they haven’t heard of? And how can they hear without a preacher?”

A great example of this core strategy in action took place Saturday, September 7th.  Under the coordination of Leanne Johnson in conjunction with deep staff support from both the Center for Leadership and the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth, we had a Discernment Discovery Retreat at Austin Avenue UMC in Waco for those considering going into clergy or dedicated lay leadership.  It was a truly great praise God event!

Another example is the recent work of the Conference Lay Servant Ministry Team through the leadership of Kim Simpson (CTC Lay Leader) and the Dr. Georgia Adamson (Ex. Director of the Center for Leadership Development).  The Lay Servant Ministry Team is moving forward with far-reaching plans for lay leadership development.  Additionally, the Healthy Church Initiative (HCI) has Lay Leadership Development (LLD) groups as a key component of its transformation strategy.  I could go on, but you get the picture.

When Jesus gathers the initial group of disciples around him, our Lord is engaging in deep leadership development.  Our greater investment in leadership training for all ages, both lay and clergy, is following in His steps!

Alan Hirsch, one of the deeper Christian thinkers of our age, comments in his book The Forgotten Ways: “The quality of the church’s leadership is directly proportional to the quality of discipleship. If we fail in the area of making disciples, we should not be surprised if we fail in the area of leadership development.”  To which I add a hearty AMEN!

Warren Bennis in his classic book on leadership, On Becoming a Leader, writes:  “Leadership guru Abigail Adams was right on the mark (as she so often was) when she wrote to son John Quincy Adams in 1780 that hard times are the crucible in which character and leadership are forged: ‘It is not in the still calm of life or the repose of a pacific station that great characters are formed,’ she counseled. ‘The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulty.  Great necessities call out great virtues.’  Just as World War II forged the leaders of the second half of the twentieth century, I predict that 9/11 and the dot-com implosion will be the crucibles that create a whole new generation of leaders.  If so, we will have reason to celebrate as well as to mourn.”  The Bible says, “But not only that! We even take pride in our problems, because we know that trouble produces endurance, endurance produces character, and character produces hope. This hope doesn’t put us to shame, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).

CORE STRATEGIES: The Transformation of the Local Church

Tuesday morning I shared in my weekly time my spiritual guide. He lives in Lakewood, Colorado not far from the site of both the recent fires and current flooding. As we visited he shared some of their trials. I offered our prayers and so ask you to join with me in praying for all those who are affected by the flooding (and fires) in Colorado. I also ask you to join with me in praying for all those involved, especially the victims and their families, in the Washington Navy Yard shootings. May God’s healing love pour over all who are hurting this day!

As we lift our prayers, I invite us to turn our attention the second of our Conferences’ (The Central Texas Conference of the UMC) core strategies. “I tell you that you are Peter. And I’ll build my church on this rock. The gates of the underworld won’t be able to stand against it.” (Matthew 16:18) Those words ringing out from the mouth of Jesus come on the heels of the apostles confession of who Jesus is; “You are the Christ, the son of the living God.” (Matthew 16:16)

The second core strategy which we hold to in the Central Texas Conference is anchored to this great biblical conviction. Numerous other passages uphold the church as chosen instrument of God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. I Corinthians 12:27 labels the church the body of Christ. The Discipline of the United Methodist Church states: “The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs. It is a community of true believers under the Lordship of Christ. It is the redemptive fellowship in which the Word of God is preached … the local church is a strategic base from which Christians move out to the structures of society. The function of the local church, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, is to help people to accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God.” (Paragraphs #201-2)

There is more, much more, that can be said and quoted both for the Holy Scriptures and from The Discipline of the United Methodist Church to cement the importance of the local church. Truly, in the ancient words, “the church is of God and will be preserved until the end of time.”

This high and holy conviction is to be framed by a deep understanding that the church exists for the redemption of the world (and not for the institutional maintenance or survival, nor still the cozy comfort of the club). The mission of the Church, given by Christ and recorded in the Bible is both simply and profoundly “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” (See Matthew 28:16-20)

In a larger sense we know all this but we need to remind ourselves of its truth periodically. It is easy to fall off the rails in one of two ways; either by thinking the local church is unimportant and can be dispensed with or, by believing that institutionally the church is an end unto itself. Both are false heresies which lead to biblical, theological and practical ship wreck.

This theological, biblical and practical backdrop leads to the intense conviction and committed core strategy of the transformation of the local church. This is central to the being and purpose, the mission, of the Conference – “to energize and equip local churches to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The basic (but not only) tactic for carrying out this core strategy is the Healthy Church Initiative (HCI) and the Small Church Initiative (SCI). As I have often said to lay leaders and pastors, both individually and in groups, you don’t need to engage in HCI/SCI. Feel free to adopt another tactic for implementing this core strategy. What is unacceptable is not implementing the strategy. (Put differently: A core strategy for carrying out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is “the transformation of the local church.” One tactic for accomplishing this strategy is HCI/SCI. There are other acceptable tactics – Holy Conversations, the use of a targeted outside consultant, etc.) The local church and its transformation into a mission post of the advancing kingdom of God is nonnegotiable.

Reflecting on our post Christendom age, Professor Jason Vickers appropriately comments: “If this reading of the culture is even half right, then the time has come for the church to regain her confidence that she really does have a gift of inestimable value to offer to the world – something that the world cannot readily acquire elsewhere, namely, incorporation into the Trinitarian life of God…. But even if we are wrong about the intellectual and moral sensibilities of the wider culture, the fact remains that this is the only gift that the church has to offer. And even this she does not really have. Rather, she receives it anew and afresh each day from the Holy Spirit. Therein is the source of our hope for the future. (Minding the Good Ground by Jason E. Vickers, pg. 106-107)

To which I add, Amen and Thanks be to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit!

CORE STRATEGIES: Wesleyan Spirituality and Theology

My recent participation in the 13th Oxford Institute for Wesley Studies has given me much reason to pause and reflect on the importance of our Wesleyan essence. With this blog I am beginning a series of blogs on core strategies of the Central Texas Conference. These are the strategies designed to energize and equip local churches to carry out their mission, namely to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

John Wesley famously wrote: “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast to both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out” (John Wesley, “Thoughts Upon Methodism,” 1786). Wesley both assumed and argued for the essential importance of doctrine. His genius is the way doctrine is combined with spirit and discipline. Such a connection is a reflection of what early Methodists called “primitive Christianity.” They reached back to the first expression of the Christian faith found in the book of The Acts of the Apostles as well as the writings of Paul and the Gospels to grasp again at what was essential and central to the Christian movement. Among a number of distinctive elements the Methodist movement brought back to the fore was the embodiment of theology in spirit and discipline. Properly understood for Methodists was the notion that theology – core doctrine – was not an idle aside but a central expression of the faith to be lived out or embodied.

All of this seems fairly obvious at first glance; yet, the scene on the North American mission field has largely tried to divorce orthodoxy from orthopraxy; a vital set of core teachings, beliefs, and convictions has been separated from core practices. Wesley’s fear that we should exist as a “dead sect, having the form of religion without the power” has now largely become the case in the mission field called North America. We have held fast to neither the doctrine and spirit nor the discipline on which we first set out. Far from a casual academic exercise, recovery of a core orthodoxy at the heart of our teaching and preaching is central to any faithful future for the Methodist movement in North America. One shudders in recalling the casual comment of a church staff person to her pastor, “We’re Methodists; we can believe whatever we want, can’t we?” No, we can’t. We have to reclaim the past for the future if that future is to be faithful and in any sense enduring.

Yoked with a theologically core orthodoxy must be a deep spirituality. Here is a simple test. How much time have you spent in prayer and quiet with the Lord this day? How much time have you spent actively seeking the Lord’s will and guidance? Holiness of heart and life was and is at the essence, the essential core, of Methodism. Our understanding of holiness has always had both personal and social dimensions. It is anchored in the “still more excellent way” of I Corinthians 13, the way of love. It gains its impetus from time spent with the Lord of love and is lived out in justice and mercy for all humanity. All really means all! Biblically speaking, Wesleyan spirituality is an expression of the great commandment of Christ to love God and love our neighbor, every accessible human being we may reach!

I am convinced that reclaiming a vibrant and robust core orthodoxy for the United Methodist Church in North America is at the center of our currently theological agenda and crucial to the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Likewise, so too is the embrace, the energizing, which comes from a deep Wesleyan spirituality built on the foundation of a daily walk with Christ. My essential claim is that we need to move back to the past in order to reclaim a faithful future as a Methodist movement for the greater Christian movement and the Church Universal. The witness of the original Wesleyan movement offers a vibrant guide today in its full orthodox enthusiasm. God through Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit is calling us to a new future anchored in that past.



September 8th through 11th the Cabinet of the Central Texas Conference gathered for our annual fall retreat.  This is a yearly retreat wherein we re-gather, having been out for summer vacation trips and other activities.  As a part of this event we review, update and again covenant together.  Below is the Covenant with commit to/with each other for our collective ministry of energizing and equipping local churches to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Central Texas Conference Cabinet Covenant
September 10, 2013

1.   We will make the mission of the Church (to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world) the first priority in everything we do.

2.   We recognize as a cabinet we are to be co-leaders of the vision, resource leadership development and deployment, lead/model spiritual formation, and resource and support Bishop Lowry.

3.  We will conduct our work in ways that fulfill the mission, vision and core strategies of the Central Texas Conference. Committed to doing our best to live into the spirit of the Exodus Project.

4.  We are first and foremost Conference Leaders (Superintendents, Lay Leader and Executive Directors).What is best for the whole of the conference takes precedence over what is best for our individual districts/centers.

5.  We affirm that in appointment-making our clients are: First, God-The Kingdom of God; Second, The Mission Field; Third, Congregations; and Fourth, Clergy. In this order!

6.  We will maintain confidentiality in appropriate ways.

7.  We will feel free to conduct appropriate conversations with members of the Cabinet or Task Groups of the Cabinet, but all appointive decision-making will occur with the whole Cabinet.

8.  We will be honest and vulnerable with each other in our discussions, including sharing our questions, concerns, frustrations and failures.

9.  We will encourage healthy discussion and not shy away from conflicts about ideas, strategies and issues because we believe it will result in better outcomes.

10.  We will hold each other accountable for our mission, responsibilities and assignments.

11.  We will keep talking until there is clarity about issues and decisions. Once a decision has been made, everyone will support it.

12.  We affirm that Bishop Lowry has clarified with us that we likely will not leave the cabinet at the same compensation or appointment level we currently have as cabinet members.

Signature: Bishop/District Superintendent/Executive Directors of Centers/Conference Lay Leader

Representative Granger Working with Imagine No Malaria

Tuesday, September 3rd I had the privilege of visiting with Representative Kay Granger, Congresswoman for the 12th District in which I reside.  On behalf of the other bishops of Texas (Bledsoe, Dorff, Huie and McKee) along with Bishop Tom Bickerton (who heads the Imagine No Malaria campaign for the Council of Bishops), Rev. Clayton Childers (Director of Advocacy for Imagine No Malaria from the General Board of Church and Society) and I presented Congresswoman Kay Granger a letter of gratitude and appreciate.

taken by Mattie Parker

Photo of Bishop Lowry, Rep. Granger and Rev. Childers taken by Mattie Parker


Congresswoman Granger has been an instrumental force in funding the Global Fund, which participates in the Imagine No Malaria Campaign.  The United Methodist Church through Imagine No Malaria is both a financial supporter of Global Fund and a recipient from the Global Fund.  We team with the Global Fund, the Gates Foundation, the NBA, and others in combating killer diseases across our globe.  Our letter in major part read:

On behalf of the United Methodist Church (UMC), our Imagine No Malaria campaign, and our members all across the country, we want to thank you for your leadership and work on H.R. 2855, the Fiscal Year 2014 State, Foreign Operations and Related Programs Appropriations Bill, and for your robust and faithful support of the U.S. contribution to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, especially during these times of fiscal austerity.

 As you know, a child dies of malaria every 60 seconds, a still alarming statistic but vast improvement over just a few years ago when we lost a child every 30 seconds to this preventable and treatable disease. Much of this improvement can and should be credited to the Global Fund, a critical tool in the fight against malaria. Global Fund-supported programs save lives. In fact more than 100,000 lives are saved each month in 150 countries around the world because of the work of the Global Fund. In terms of the malaria specific work being supported by the Global Fund, we would like to offer a few key highlights: by 2012 Global Fund-supported malaria programs had distributed over 270 million insecticide-treated nets, provided indoor residual spraying in dwellings 44 million times, and leveraged donor funding to finance the treatment of 260 million cases of malaria.

 The success of the Global Fund is a success of the United States. We are grateful for your bipartisan leadership. Your hard work and efforts as Chairwoman make it clear that the United States and the U.S. House of Representatives will continue to ensure that funding for malaria eradication efforts remain a key priority even during difficult times. … Your leadership in Congress remains critical to the success of global health programs worldwide and on behalf of your fellow United Methodists, we would like to extend our sincerest gratitude and appreciation for all you do.

Representative Granger shared with us how extensive this work is.  The Congresswoman talked about her work with Bono and others emphasizing the bipartisan nature of this United States government aid.  She noted the progress we have made against polio. Recalling how her mother was stricken by polio and she along with her sister babysat a neighboring child when others were afraid to do so. Her words echo the compassion of her heart for this effort.

We had a great visit and amid all the congressional wrangling we hear about, I want the people called Methodists to hear about one of our own engaged in a godly work.  God bless you and thank you for your leadership, Representative Granger!

Watch this video, The Global Fund, Be the Generation to Defeat AIDS, TB and Malaria ft Charlize Theron and Bono.



Saint Aldates, A Vision Alive

It was Sunday morning, August 18th, and as we dressed to go to church the music floated in the open window at Pembroke College, Oxford University.  The night before we had been debating whether to go to Wesley Memorial Methodist Church (think First Methodist Oxford) or Christ Church Cathedral (the church where both John and Charles Wesley had been ordained).  We had decided on Christ Church Cathedral located in Christ Church College across the street from where we were staying.

As we left our rooms and walked over, we passed a plain looking old English Church nestled between Pembroke College and Christ Church College.  The music we had been listening to poured out of this plain church – “How Great Thou Art” sung to drums, guitars and a fast paced beat.  I peered in an open door.  “Look Jolynn, that place is full of young people!”

We turned in front of the church, which was named St. Aldates, intending to stop at a nearby coffee shop.  (St. Aldate, the person not the church, was Bishop of Gloucester and died a martyr’s death resisting pagan invasion forces in 577 A. D.)  The music and self-evident joy was intoxicating.  We paused to read the sign board outside the church.  One of the greeters came outside to the edge of the street and invited us in.  Now that is really radical hospitality!  At first we demurred.  Weren’t we late?  No, he assured us, they were just finishing the first hymn.  The Holy Spirit spoke, and we slipped inside.

The church was reasonably full. (Something we were told was never the case in England.  We had been assured that except for special occasions all churches were mostly empty with just a scattering of older people.).  All ages were present in abundance with a fairly even mixture (though tending to the young side) age-wise.  There was an ethnic diversity that we dream of accomplishing on our best days.  Worship had a passionate intensity, depth and biblical integrity.  The sermon was faithful, thoughtful, and well delivered.  People were friendly and genuinely glad we had come without being clingy.

In the service they spoke of opportunities for service.  It turns out that St. Aldates is active in a large Christian ministry to the homeless in Oxford.  They offered opportunities for continuing spiritual development in prayer and Bible study.  While my conference was talking about a post missionary age, they prayed for a young couple who was leaving on an evangelistic and social (love, justice & mercy) mission to a predominately Muslim country.  Evangelism wasn’t something debated and defined.  It was something engaged in with sensitivity and love both right there in Oxford and around the world.  All of this was wrapped in faithful denominationally obedient Church of England cloak.

Afterwards, we learned that even though it seemed full to us (and even though they had multiple services) the members thought attendance was down because students weren’t present (school was out for the summer at Oxford).  They have a major, as in mega-major, student ministry.  “Usually” one couple told us, “it’s standing room only.”  As I mentally ticked off the five practices of healthy fruitful congregations – radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, extravagant generosity – I realize that all the elements were there.

As we walked away, Jolynn and I reflected on how we thought the Holy Spirit had led us to St. Aldates.  Out of my personal desert, I came to the well of living water.  As a couple, we came to church and God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit spoke to us that day.  Struggling in parched land of a dry and at times contentious gathering of Wesley scholars, I recalled the original Methodist movement.  Here it was at St. Aldates, in an Anglican church no less.  Go figure.  Only God could pull something like this off.   We saw a vision of what the church is to be and be about.  I saw again the vision I have for Central Texas.

This is the vision I have and have had since I came here for the Central Texas Conference.  I see vibrant, spiritually healthy, fruitful and faithful local churches spread all over the area; churches in cities and suburbs; churches in towns and fields; new churches and old churches and even in-between churches.  I can name a host of churches in the Central Texas Conference that are our versions of St. Aldates.  We have a goodly number of healthy fruitful congregations that are vibrantly serving the Lord.  Once again I thank God for the privilege of serving in the Central Texas Conference.  On deep reflection of our St. Aldates experience, this is my vision for the churches both here and all over the world.