Archive - August, 2014

Six Critical Questions

For the past year and a half, the Cabinet of the Central Texas Conference has been working with the Lencioni organization (The Table Group) in assimilating and implementing lessons from Lencioni’s bestselling book The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else in Business.  We have been seeking to do so in a manner that integrates such thinking with scriptural guidance and theological fidelity to the Wesleyan understanding of faithfulness.  (Many of you might be aware that Patrick Lencioni is a very active practicing Roman Catholic and engages in such work with the Roman Catholic Church in the United States.  Our consultant, David Simpson, is a very active Southern Baptist layman and is likewise committed to integrating the insights of organizational health with Christian theology and practice.)

In our recent Cabinet retreat we examined six critical questions.

1)      Why do we exist?  (Mission)
2)      How do we behave? (Core Values)
3)      What do we do?
4)      How will we succeed?
5)      What is most important right now?
6)      Who must do what?

Our focus was in particular on questions two and five.  In a spirit of transparency and an invitation to join in reflection, I offer the following notes of our work.

1)      Why do we exist?
To energize and equip local churches to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

2)      How do we behave? (Core Values)
i.  Missional (service)
ii.  Christ-like community (worship, lifting up Christ, inclusive)
iii. Engaging, grace-filled, witness [Evangelism] (new people new places, resurrection Jesus, reaching outside the walls)

3)      What do we do?

4)      How will we succeed? (Strategic Anchors; the anchors offer guidance for decision making. We are establishing a “word-smithing” team to refine wording and communication of our strategic anchors.)
– Christ at the Center
– Focus on the Local Church
– Leadership Development

5)      What is most important right now?
1
.      Increasing the number of vital congregations (the current Thematic goal) with five “Defining Objectives” (as follows):
i.     HCI (point guard = Gary Lindley)
ii.    Personal Evangelism & Witness (point guard = Carol Woods)
iii.    30 new church in Risking Taking Mission with the Poor (point guard = Randy Wild)
iv.    Maintain and grow the number of 126+ (average worship attendance) churches (point guard = Bob Holloway)
v.    Lay and clergy leadership development & recruitment (point guard = Georgia Adamson)

We committed to having at least a monthly check-in conversation where we are pointing to these five.  I named “point guards” (drivers or champions) for each of the five defining objectives.

Additionally we outlined some actions steps (some of which are already in process)

Action steps for #5 re Evangelism/Witness:
1.  Bob will visit with Board of Ministry with regard to candidates qualifying for ordination having the ability to tell their personal story of salvation.  Individual DS’s will convey this concern to District Committees on Ministry.
2.  Establish a “Task Force on Conference Evangelism” strategy – Bishop and Carol
3.  The Cabinet will share with each other who they are evangelizing.

Action steps for #5 re Leadership Development:
1.  Continued Recruitment (Georgia)
2.  Laity teaching module for local church (Kim Simpson and Kevin Walters are currently work on this project in conjunction with Georgia Adamson.)
3.  Rewriting HCI curriculum (Gary)
4.  Develop 10+ lay supply (part-time) preachers (Don)
5.  Improving acculturation of newly ordained clergy for the first five years
6.  Leadership succession planning (Bishop)

6)      Who must do what?
There is much thinking and praying that remains to be done to fully complete this work.  And, in a larger sense, it is ongoing work which is never really finished but always in various stages of beginning and refining.  Nonetheless, with Mr. Wesley we celebrate that the “best of all is that God is with us” (Matthew 28:16-20).

LISTENING TO FERGUSON

During the past week I have been out in Colorado (Grand Lake, near the western edge of Rocky Mountain National Park) on vacation with my wife and some friends.  During that, I intentionally exercised a “media fast.”  Upon returning home, we reconnected to hear the news of the tragedy in Ferguson, Missouri.

As we watch, listen and learn, the situation and people of Ferguson have much to teach us.  The need for racial justice remains large.  The capacity for misunderstanding is huge.  Amid the cacophony of sounds and images coming from Ferguson, we need to sift through the noise and see Christ.  God is calling us to engage in faithful healing.

One of the very best pieces of writing on the situation in Ferguson comes from Bishop Robert Schnase (United Methodist Bishop of the Missouri Conference).  In particular Bishop Schnase highlights the Christ-revealing work of Rev. Willis Johnson and others.  I share Bishop Schnase’s letter with his permission and strongly urge the reader to follow both links back to source and listen to the reports.

Dear friends,

 People have asked about what The United Methodist Church is doing in response to the events in recent days in Ferguson, Missouri, and so I’d like to lift up a few significant points of engagement and offerings of ministry.

 The Missouri Conference launched a new church start in Ferguson two years ago after identifying the community as underserved by The United Methodist Church.   Wellspring United Methodist Church is located two blocks from the area seen frequently on television news in recent days.  The congregation has offered services of prayer and reconciliation and provided meeting space for community and church leaders.  Under the leadership of Rev. Willis Johnson, the church has been on the forefront of efforts to ease tensions, offer consolation and prayer for those who grieve, and to seek the truth about the events that led to the death of Michael Brown.

Let me strongly suggest that you listen to the following National Public Radio interview with Rev. Willis Johnson for the program All Things Considered.   The interview and the accompanying photograph are powerful, and they bear witness to the courage and faith of United Methodists on the front lines as they engage issues of race, anger, fear, and a longing for reconciliation.

 http://www.npr.org/2014/08/14/340422502/ferguson-pastor-this-is-not-a-race-issue-this-is-a-human-issue

 I would also draw your attention to the article by Heather Hahn of the United Methodist News Service.  Her article highlights the involvement of other United Methodist Churches in the St. Louis area and from across Missouri that have reached out with volunteers to help with educational ministries for children and youth during the time that the Ferguson schools have been closed.   The Missouri Conference Office of Mission, Service, and Justice has also offered support and volunteers to help with such basic tasks as clean up and support for those businesses that have been looted or suffered damage.   Heather’s article can be found at:

 http://www.umc.org/news-and-media/church-leaders-strive-to-be-peacemakers-in-ferguson

 United Methodist voices, including that of the Missouri Governor Jay Nixon (an active United Methodist himself), have sought to de-escalate rather than to intensify, to work toward peace and justice rather than to avoid, blame, or ignore.

 We continue to hold in our prayers all those who have most personally and painfully been affected by the violence, and we continue to look for opportunities to serve and to bring a ministry of healing to a community that has been deeply hurt. . . .

 Yours in Christ,

 Robert Schnase
Bishop, Missouri Annual Conference
The United Methodist Church

There are important lessons to learn in listening to Ferguson.  I invite us to join in our prayers and then take the next step in service and ministry as the Holy Spirit leads us.

That’s Path 1

At the recent meeting of the Path 1 Advisory Board in Charlotte, North Carolina, Rev. Martin Lee the new church developer for the Northern Illinois Conference shared a story of the start of a new church in Brookfield, Illinois (in the Chicago metropolitan area).  The old First United Methodist Church of Brookfield had been closed and sold to the public library.  The congregation had dwindled and could not maintain the old facility.  There was not parking and attempts at outreach had not succeeded.

After a season of having no United Methodist Church in Brookfield, the Conference decided to go back into the area and plant a new church.  An effective new church developer was appointed and soon a new church was discipling people in the area.  With help from the Conference New Church development office and sacrifice on the part of the new people, they were soon able to purchase land for a new church.

The land was in a core urban environment and quite expensive.  The purchase required some form of zoning approval because it would be removed from the city’s tax role.  Rev. Lee along with the new church pastor/planter went to the hearing.  The room was packed with people opposing the sale and removal of the land from the tax rolls.  A restaurant owner led the charge to deny the church the land.  (A decision is still pending.)

Karl Sokol, the new pastor/planter, got involved in the community including the business community.  He reached out and made friends.  One of his new friends was the obdurate restaurant owner.  As they visited Greg shared his need for space to worship.  The restaurateur learned that the time they wanted to meet at was when his restaurant was closed so he offered his restaurant as a place for them to worship.

Soon there were worshipping in the very restaurant that had tried to block their entrance into the community.  The owner would periodically peek in to see how they were doing.  After a while, instead of just looking in occasionally the restaurant owner was sitting down and staying.  Gradually he lingered to help.  And now, he has been baptized, confessed faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and joined the church.  His life has been transformed by Christ and the community of the faithful.  (By the way, the name of the new church is Compassion UMC.  The restaurant owner and now member of Compassion UMC has changed his position on the sale 180 degrees.)

In sharing the story, Rev. Lee finished by saying, “and that is Path 1.”

Path1 is formally, institutionally, a branch of the work of the General Board of Discipleship of The United Methodist Church.  It works to establish new churches is a part of the crucial focus area “New Places for New People.”  (The other major part of the “New Places for New People” Focus Area is building vital congregations in existing churches.)  The Path 1 Team works with Conferences and local churches to reach new people for Jesus Christ.

This is our Connection Mission Giving (apportionment) dollars at work.  It is at work in transformation in the name of Christ.  Rev. Lee was reminding us that it comes down to the transformation of an individual life.  Bottom line, Path 1 is ultimately about conversion and life transformation.

Here in the Central Texas Conference we are intimately linked with Path 1 through the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth.  Currently Rev. Jennifer Pick is serving as our second Path 1 intern in new church development.  She is appointed to First United Methodist Church of Mansfield.  Rev. Shane Reyna, who served as our first intern at White’s Chapel, is now building a new faith community in the northeast corner of the Conference called 1709 United Methodist Church.  Through the Path 1 LMPN (Lay Missioner Planting Network), Teresa Sims (a lay person) is starting a Hispanic community at Wesley UMC in Arlington.

Path 1 is a Spirit led, life transforming work of God, offering Christ to all. That’s Path 1.

Writing and On the Road Again

For five blissful days I had the opportunity to outline and then begin writing on a possible book about the church as it moves to a new future.  A rough draft (or part) of the introduction goes something like this:

As the waters of secularity recede, a chaotic wasteland lies around us.  And yet, even as church after church closes, the label “wasteland” seems at once appropriate and wildly inappropriate.  There are pockets left where churches can function within an old style Christendom mode. There are places of new exciting ministry emerging that open our eyes to a work of God unfolding among us and around us.

Gil Rendle notes that our struggles of the past couple of decades have not been wasted.  We have been learning.  It is the contention of this book [hopefully this will become part of a book] is that at the heart of our struggle are issues of theology and missional purpose.  We have forgotten the essence of what we are to be about.  As good as our current emphasis on social engagement through deeds of love, justice and mercy (and it is a good! but seriously incomplete emphasis), we need to reclaim, recover and re-appropriate the essential good news of Jesus Christ if we are to complete our exodus journey to a new land.  At its heart, our own reformation is a theological and spiritual pilgrimage of the first order.

Back in November of 2006 General John Abizaid appeared before the Senate Arm Services Committee to defend the then failing strategy of turning the war in Iraq over to Iraqis.  Then Senator Hillary Clinton sharply noted in an exchange while questioning General Abizaid on the strategy, “General, hope is not a strategy.”  Senator Clinton was right.  Shortly thereafter under the leadership of General Petraeus, a new strategy known as “the surge” was adopted.

So too however was General Abizaid in his response to Senator Clinton.  “With regard to hope not being a method, Senator, I agree with you, and I would also say that despair is not a method.”  The General continued, “This has been a very hard and difficult process, and over the length of time, we have learned some hard lessons.”

Today neither hope nor despair may count as faithful and sufficient strategies.  Hope alone is not the implementation of the necessary theological, spiritual and practical journey that the post-Christian church must take.  To be sure, any faithful strategy will involve hope, but it will also involve a deep embrace of core doctrines and practices of the Christian faith that have been too long forgotten or ignored.  Despair is, on the face, unfaithful to the Christian gospel.  We are people of the cross and the resurrection.  History is His (Christ’s) story!

Meanwhile, I am back on the road again.  We drove in from Angel Fire on Sunday evening and went right over to First United Methodist Church in Fort Worth to hear Rev. Ray Simpson, the spiritual retreat director at Lindisfarne, England (Holy Isle).  It was an engaging presentation of the spiritual hunger and renewal taking place currently all around us.

After ½ a day’s work in the office, I flew out Monday night for Charlotte, North Carolina.  Currently I am presiding over two days of meetings for the Path 1 Team of the Board of Discipleship.  Path 1 is the name which refers to new church development as a key path to engaging a secular culture with the gospel.  Those who attended the breakout session led by Rev. Candace Lewis at our Annual Conference will recall that she is the Director of Path 1, our denomination’s new church development efforts.  It is outstanding, creative, engaging ministry which reaches deep into a post-Christian culture with the gospel of Jesus Christ.  In my opinion Path 1 is one of the bright spots in The United Methodist Church.

Thursday I will address the Network of New Church Developers – an informal group of Conference staff in charge of new church development.  Currently, Rev. Gary Lindley from the Central Texas Conference is a part of the group.  Before I was elected bishop I was a part of this informal but vital network from the Southwest Texas Conference.  I’ve been asked to share what I have learned now that I have served as a bishop for 6 years.  As a friend of mine put it, “what have you learned now that you’ve gone over to the dark side?”  With apologies to Darth Vader, it should be a fun time!

I fly home on Thursday afternoon and fly back out on Friday morning for a week vacation in Grand Lake, Colorado (the western end of Rocky Mountain National Park).  While I love what I am doing right now, a week of rest in the Rockies with Jolynn and some dear friends sounds wonderful!