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Human Sexuality Statement from the Council of Bishops

BishopCrest (4)The following statement was adopted unanimously by the Council of Bishops in the afternoon executive session on November 7, 2014:

As bishops of The United Methodist Church, our hearts break because of the divisions that exist within the church.  We have been in constant prayer and conversation and affirm our consecration vow “to guard the faith, to seek the unity and to exercise the discipline of the whole church.” We recognize that we are one church in a variety of contexts around the world and that bishops and the church are not of one mind about human sexuality. Despite our differences, we are united in our commitment to be in ministry for and with all people.  We are also united in our resolve to lead the church together to fulfill its mandate—to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. As we do so, we call on all United Methodists to pray for us and for one another.

 

Lessons from Jerusalem to Antioch to Central Texas

I am nearing the end of Michael Green’s book Thirty Years that Changed the World: The Book of Acts for Today.  While the first edition was published over 20 years ago (1993) and the second edition was republished 12 years ago, I find its relevance increasing for our time.  As we push deeper into a post-Christendom America (not necessarily a bad thing), there are lessons we need to apply from those first Christians.

At one point in the book, Professor Green (Wycliffe Hall, Oxford University) details the shift of the center of Christian leadership from the mother church in Jerusalem (i.e. the church of Pentecost) to Antioch.  The Church at Jerusalem was originally known for its missionary (both evangelistic and missional outreach in love, justice and mercy) zeal.  Dr. Green comments:  “The Jerusalem church members were remarkable for their apostolic doctrine, their willingness to sacrifice, their outstanding unity, their social concern, their prayers both informally and in the liturgy of the temple.  Spiritual gifts were clearly in evidence.  Evangelism flourished.  Large numbers became followers of Jesus” (Michael Green, Thirty Years that Changed the World. p. 194).

Through the second half of the Book of Acts, the Jerusalem church fades and Antioch takes center stage.  Scholars note a number of reasons for the decline of the Jerusalem church.  Foremost among them was a fading of the evangelistic and missional (love/justice/mercy) zeal they first had.  Slowly Antioch replaced Jerusalem.  If you read the Book of Acts carefully, you will realize that it is from Antioch that the great missionary journeys were launched.

Reflecting on the change Professor Green continues:

“It is hard to escape the conclusion that the Jerusalem church began well but failed to fulfill God’s number one priority, world mission.  [By world mission he means a very Wesleyan understanding of evangelism/conversion growth and missional outreach in love/justice/mercy.]  The torch was passed to Antioch, which had a blazing zeal for mission, and Jerusalem thereafter shrank into insignificance.   No doubt there were contributory reasons for their decline, but the most crucial one was their satisfaction with their own church life and failure in missionary commitment.  They are a serious warning to us.  Even the most flourishing church can be eclipsed and become an irrelevance if it fails to maintain the outward orientation that Christ laid upon his followers” (Michael Green, Thirty Years that Changed the World. p. 194).

I read the words and sat back in my seat.  The correlation to our day and time is plain to see.  It is so tempting to fold back in on ourselves taking care of those we know and love.  There is nothing wrong and much right and good about excellence in the pastoral care of church members.  And yet, churches that make pastoral care their greatest priority inevitably lose their great calling to outreach and in the end deliver impoverished and inadequate pastoral care because of the failure.  This is all counter intuitive and yet empirically, experientially, and biblically true.

My reading drove me back to an earlier book that I had read back in 2005 when I was the Senior Pastor of University United Methodist Church in San Antonio – Reggie McNeil’s The Present Future: Six Tough Questions for the Church.  McNeil shared the following story and commentary:

“In the summer of 2002, the country spent several anxious days concerned about the fate of nine mine workers trapped in a mine in Pennsylvania.  Rescue efforts involved several innovative strategies, including pumping heated air down the shaft.  As the workers emerged from their ordeal, so did the story of their survival.  One key element was their decision to huddle together to stay warm and touch one another in the cold darkness of the collapsed mine.

“The church in North America far too often resembles these miners.  Feeling trapped in the collapse of the church culture, club members are huddling together in the dark and praying for God to rescue them from the mess they are in.  This is the refuge mentality that pervades the mentality of many congregations and church leaders.  Instead, the church needs to adopt the role of the rescue workers on the surface.  They refused to quite, worked 24/7, and were willing to go to plan B or whatever it took to effect a rescue.

“That’s the church’s mission: to join God in His redemptive efforts to save the world.  People all around us are in darkness.  They are going to die unless someone finds a way to save them.  Trouble is, the church is sleeping on the job.  Too many of us have forgotten why we showed up for work.

“Even worse, many of us never have known” (Reggie McNeal, The Present Future, pp. 18-19).

The lessons move from Jerusalem to Antioch to Central Texas.  Let those with ears hear and those with eyes see; may we see and hear.  Even more, may we obey the call of Christ!

Episcopal Address to the Central Texas Conference

EPISCOPAL ADDRESS TO THE CENTRAL TEXAS CONFERENCE OF THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH

June 9, 2014

By Bishop Mike Lowry ©

Be glad in the Lord always! Again I say, be glad! Let your gentleness show in your treatment of all people. The Lord is near. Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.

From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. (Philippians 4:4-8)

This passage from Philippians 4:4-8 has been a committed part of my devotional life over the past few months.  In a world awash in bad news, we need to be a people of the good news, the gospel news.  The peace of Christ really will keep us safe in these perilous times.

I rise for my 6th meeting of the Central Texas Annual Conference with joy in my heart and song on lips.  I think God is doing a good and wonderful thing among us.  For the last five years we have focused on the cardinal mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Indeed, we have consciously rejected slogans and fads for the towering vision of Churches alive in Jesus Christ all across the conference.  The Conference Center has one clarion goal – “to energize and equip local churches to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

The news is good.

During the past two years the Central Texas Conference has participated in a pilot project with eleven conferences from across the nation working to build vital congregations.  In the Vital Congregations project of the UMC there are five vital signs we track.  These signs are similar to a physician tracking our blood pressure, cholesterol, heart rate, etc.  They are:

  1. Worship attendance (the spiritual vibrancy of the congregation to attract and engage disciples to praise God) New Disciples (the congregation’s ability to reproduce)
  2. Disciples engaged in small groups (the congregation’s ability to engage disciples in faith formation)
  3. Disciples engaged in mission (the congregation’s ability to inspire disciples to engage in the purposes of God and effect transformation)
  4. Generous giving, particularly to mission (the congregation’s ability to fund ministry and mission)

[As I have said over and over again, by themselves vital signs never tell the whole story.  They are imperfect metric measurements designed to help us look deeper and more coherently at the fruitfulness and faithfulness of a congregations life.  At the same time, just as I learned from the pain in my knee (which led to arthroscopic surgery 2 months ago), vital signs can’t be ignored!

By themselves vital signs are always incomplete.  They must be linked with the narrative or story of what is going on in the life and outreach ministry of a congregation.  Often the narrative changes before the metrics.  We begin to hear stories of life transformation through commitment to Christ as Lord and great service through risk-taking missional outreach in love, justice and mercy.  But I digress.  The news is very good.]

In every single category we are up as a Conference.  The number of vital congregations has increased to 31%.  Professions of faith (that is new converts and confirmation classes) have risen.  The number of people engaged in missional outreach to the hurting, hungry and homeless went up.  Worship and Giving showed a rise!  Furthermore it is not just the numbers or metrics.  We are increasingly hearing stories like this one.

Tom Beaty moved from full time pastoral leadership a few years ago to serving as a part-time pastor in Palo Pinto UMC and Cedar Springs UMC.  He has engaged in his own evangelistic outreach through a part time job at Stewart Tank out in Palo Pinto County. Tom just retired from Stewart Tank Company (largely due to health issues) but he reported. “The fruit of the ministry included four professions of faith followed by baptism and one reaffirmation of faith.  I conducted one funeral service for the father of an employee and made several hospital visits to visit employee family members.  Additionally, I helped Mexican employees with legal paperwork and sent a letter to the U.S. Consulate in Mexico trying to help an employee unite with his son here in the U.S.”[1]  Tremendous!

Look at this: http://vimeo.com/97584491

True life transformation through allegiance to Christ as Lord and Savior is taking place!  Disciples are being made through the ministry of faithful and fruitful local congregations.

Behind the good news of wonderful ministry taking place in Central Texas, there lives the reality of engulfing waves of deep cultural change crashing over us.  Today it is common for many to see the church as irrelevant and Christianity as quaint.  Intellectually Christianity and the Christian church are often dismissed by high culture.  Amid signs of spiritual starvation, we in the church are wrestling with deep institutional change and embattled in a crisis of relevancy.  Toss into this mix a growing fiscal crisis as a giving generation that is only partially being replaced by a generation that does not give regularly but episodically and related to a cause and not to an institution.  Stir in huge portions of aging and the concomitant leadership crisis that comes with it.  Season with deep theological divisions.  And then frost this concoction with a heartfelt soul deep argument over same gender issues, inclusion and the role of biblical authority.  Small wonder the church is sagging to the point of splitting.

Nicky Gumbel tells the story of “a [who] young police officer was taking his final exam at a police training college in north London.  Here is one of the questions:  ‘You are on patrol in outer London when an explosion occurs in a gas main in a nearby street.  On investigation you find that a large hole has been blown in the footpath and there is an overturned van lying nearby.  Inside the van there is a strong smell of alcohol.  Both occupants are injured.  You recognize the woman as the wife of your Divisional Inspector, who is at present away in the USA.  A passing motorist stops to offer you assistance and you realize that he is a man who is wanted for armed robbery.  Suddenly a man runs out of a nearby house, shouting that his wife is expecting a baby and the shock of explosion has made the birth imminent.  Another man is crying for help, having been blown into an adjacent canal by the explosion and he cannot swim.  Bearing in mind the provisions of the Mental Health Act, describe in a few words what actions you would take.’

The officer thought for a moment, picked up his pen and wrote:  ‘I would take off my uniform and mingle with the crowd.’”[2]

Aren’t’ you glad you’re here!  The United Methodist Church has been struggling to engage this new cultural reality during most of my 40 years of ministry.  Amazingly, it is when we are at the end of our machinations that God is most active!  It is an exciting time with wonderful new ministries emerging.  It is trying time with vast change sweeping like tsunami waters over existing congregation.  To paraphrase Dickens’ marvelous quote; “it is the best of times, it is the worst of times.”  I really mean it.  I am glad I’m here. It is good to be a part of the Central Texas Conference!  I believe we were called for “such a time as this.”[3]  These are “the best of times, the worst of times.”  The Lord reigns, let the earth be glad!

So what do we do with news that is very good and very bad; what do we do in the best of times and the worst of times.  Today I want to not only report but lift up two crucial acts of faithfulness that we individually and collectively as churches and as a conference must live out in faithfulness to Christ as Lord and Savior.  For such a time as this, we need to live in perseverance and hope!

The Healthy Church Initiative and its partner The Small Church Initiative are making a difference.  There are things we need to improve – shorter waiting time for the consultation and ramping up our coaching – but the difference of HCI & SCI is demonstrable.

There are other outstanding options.  The Holy Conversations initiative from the Texas Methodist Foundation is tremendous.  Some churches and pastors have worked with individual coaches and organizations to great effect.  There are still others.  We are open to various possibilities.

I firmly believe that we must work with the coalition of the willing.  No one is forced into an option.  However, doing nothing is not an option!  Let me be unmistakably blunt.  Pastors, if you reject all the offered options, refuse to come up with your own, do nothing and expect to move to a new church with a higher salary.  It is not going to happen!  Lay Leaders, if you church rejects every opportunity to move into a new future and yet requests a wonderful new pastor.  You will not get first pick in the draft!  Pastors and congregations that show a demonstrable willingness to move forward in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world will be strengthened and encourage (“energized and equipped”) to the best we are able.  Don’t get squirrelly on me here.  We – the Cabinet – understand context and we understand narrative.  Judgments will be made on more than just metrics (though the metrics will be carefully looked at and are a part of the assessment).

This is a time for faithful perseverance.  I call on us to live Philippians 4:4-8; remember especially verses 6 & 7.  “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus.”[4]

It is also a time for hope.  Hope not in ourselves but the leadership of the Holy Spirit who is calling us into a new church for a new age.  We have to live the promise of Jeremiah 29:11.  “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.”[5]

In a memorable speech given to the graduating class of The University of Texas this spring, Admiral William H. McRaven, the ninth commander of U.S. Special Operations Command, shared 10 critical life lessons he learned in SEAL Training.  The ninth of those lessons is as follows:   “9. The ninth week of SEAL training is referred to as Hell Week. It is six days of no sleep, constant physical and mental harassment and one special day at the Mud Flats. The Mud Flats are an area between San Diego and Tijuana where the water runs off and creates the Tijuana slues—a swampy patch of terrain where the mud will engulf you.

It is on Wednesday of Hell Week that you paddle down to the mud flats and spend the next 15 hours trying to survive the freezing-cold mud, the howling wind and the incessant pressure from the instructors to quit.

As the sun began to set that Wednesday evening, my training class, having committed some “egregious infraction of the rules” was ordered into the mud. The mud consumed each man till there was nothing visible but our heads. The instructors told us we could leave the mud if only five men would quit—just five men and we could get out of the oppressive cold.

Looking around the mud flat, it was apparent that some students were about to give up. It was still over eight hours till the sun came up—eight more hours of bone-chilling cold. The chattering teeth and shivering moans of the trainees were so loud it was hard to hear anything. And then, one voice began to echo through the night—one voice raised in song.

The song was terribly out of tune, but sung with great enthusiasm. One voice became two, and two became three, and before long everyone in the class was singing.

We knew that if one man could rise above the misery then others could as well. The instructors threatened us with more time in the mud if we kept up the singing—but the singing persisted. And somehow, the mud seemed a little warmer, the wind a little tamer and the dawn not so far away.

If I have anything learned [said Admiral McRaven] in my time traveling the world, it is the power of hope. The power of one person—Washington, Lincoln, King, Mandela and even a young girl from Pakistan named Malala—can change the world by giving people hope.”[6]

This is a time for hope.  Ezra, of Old Testament fame, once wrote in the 3rd chapter, the 13th verse of his book:  “No one could distinguish the sound of the joyful shout from the sound of the people’s weeping, because the people rejoiced very loudly. The sound was heard at a great distance.”[7]

Sing with me, and in the singing not only remember but lean forward into the great future the Holy Spirit is leading us to.

“For all the saints, who from their labors rest,
Who thee by faith before the world confess,
Thy name O Jesus, be forever blest.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

Thou wast their rock, their fortress and their might;
Thou Lord, their captain in the well-fought fight;
Thou in the darkness drear, their one true light.
Alleluia, Alleluia!

And when the strife is fierce, the warfare long,
Steals on the ear the distant triumph song,
And hearts are brave again, and arms are strong.
Alleluia, Alleluia![8]

It is my joy and high honor to serve the Lord together with you.  Let’s keep singing!


[1]               Tom Beaty, personal email, June 6, 2014
[2]               Nicky Gumbel, Questions of Life, pp. 234-235
[3]               Esther 4:14
[4]               Philippians 4:6-7
[5]               Jeremiah 29:11
[6]               Admiral William McRaven, May 17, 2014, The University of Texas
[7]               Ezra 13:3
[8]               “For All the Saints,” No. 711, The United Methodist Hymnal

MISSION TO FORT WORTH

 What comes to your mind when you think of a missionary?

I must confess that my usual image is both anchored in the past and colonial in genre. I imagine Albert Schweitzer and pith helmets.  Intellectually I know better. Here in Central Texas we are living into a new world where the whole world, including Fort Worth!, is missionary turf.

For a long time the Central Texas Conference (CTC) has had a formal (covenantal) relationship with the Eastern Mexico Conference of the Methodist Church of Mexico.  Over the last couple of years we have worked to strengthen our relationship with the Easter Mexico Conference. A couple of years ago, Randy Wild, Rev. Dawne Phillips (CTC Director of Missions) and I traveled to Monterrey, Mexico and spent time with Bishop Garcia and their Conference leaders in Monterrey.  Bishop Raul Garcia and the members of the Conference have been wonderfully receptive!

As God led the two Conference in reconnecting, it became clear that we had much to offer each other.  While we initially talk about CTC missions trips to Eastern Mexico, it quickly became clear that mission runs both ways. After visiting their seminary, I came home thinking about internships for seminary students to help train us an outreach in our own neighborhoods.

God had even bigger dreams! Last June at Annual Conference, we were blessed to have LaTrinidad UMC transfer from the Rio Grande Conference to the Central Texas Conference. LaTrinidad is a great church with a long history of outreach in the Diamond Hill area of Fort Worth. As the North District Superintendent, Dr. Ginger Bassford, worked with them on a pastoral change, it quickly became clear that a special skill set was needed for a new pastor.

Again the Lord moved through the Holy Spirit!  Contact between folks at LaTrinidad, the North District Superintendent and a reciprocal visit by a District Superintendent from the Eastern Mexico Conference led to conversations between the two bishops (Bishop Raul Garcia and myself).  Through the gracious leadership of Bishop Garcia, the hard work of Dr. Bassford, and the courageous optimism of Rev. Macias (along with the support of Rev. Macias’ family), the Rev Samuel Macias will become (after we clear all the immigration hurdles and he receives a guest worker permit – “green card”) the new pastor at LaTrinidad UMC in Fort Worth!  Rev. Macias will be with us from two to four years and then return to the Eastern Mexico Conference of the Methodist Church in Mexico to continue his ministry back in his home country.

We, the Central Texas Conference, are the recipients of a missionary from the Eastern Mexico Conference. It is a great mission of outreach in sharing the gospel through love, justice and mercy in Fort Worth.  Praise God!  A new mission to Fort Worth will soon be launched.  You can read more about this mission to Fort Worth here.

Even as we are receiving a missionary from Eastern Mexico Conference, we are sending missionaries ourselves. Tuesday we had our first team meeting of a conference mission trip to Kenya in September.  I look forward to being a part of the Kenyan mission team next September.  The mission road runs both ways!  We are all working together to share the love of God in Christ through the Holy Spirit and spread the gospel of salvation!

All of this is as it should be. Spiritually we are Wesleyan Christians. John Wesley, the founder of the Wesley (Methodist) movement declared, “The world is my parish.” We are living this great legacy of mission in the name of Jesus Christ!

Stay Focused!

The Dictionary defines distraction as:  “Having the attention diverted” or “Suffering conflicting emotions; distraught.”  From an online Thesaurus the following notation was offered, “having the attention diverted especially because of anxiety.”  I am intrigued by these definitions because I believe this season in the church’s life is awash in distractions.  Our attention needs to stay focused tightly on our mission – “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  That is to be the focus!  This is our primarily mission!  Let me deliberately repeat.  Our attention and focus needs to stay fixed on making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!”  (Matthew 28:16-20).

And yet, consider all the worthy (and unworthy) distractions.  We might wander off into deep social commentary about the gridlock and shutdown in Washington D.C., about a concern for health care or immigration reform or any other type of reform we care to image.  Time might be justly exercised on returning to civil society and respecting those who disagree or fighting poverty, in justice or any of a host of social problems.  Conversely we can, with some merit, be distracted by the moral relativism of our time, the lack of social cohesion, the breakdown in marriage and parental responsibility.  We might justly tackle deep and corrosive issues like the dearth of biblical knowledge, the failure of leadership, or the decline of worship attendance.  One could rightly argue that our attention needs to be fixed on ministry with the poor, combating AIDS/HIV and-or Imagine No Malaria, starting new churches, leadership development, or the Call to Action.  A current distraction is the ongoing fight in the denomination and larger society around issues of same sex union (marriage), ordination, and civil rights for all people.  We might, in the local church focus our time and attention taking care of our members and raising the budget (stewardship), supporting the next mission trip or lifting up children and youth.  We might let our attention wander into ….

The list could go on and on.  If you read carefully, virtually everything listed above merits engagement.  Furthermore, if you read carefully, virtually everything listed above reflects in some way on the issue of discipleship.  They are all good things in some manner but they are not the main thing!  Crying out over the whole is the question of lordship – who really rules our lives as individuals and as a church?

I do believe we must both speak and live gracefully into the issues that confront our day and time.  At stake is the question of how we so speak and live gracefully in this time of distraction.  My contention is straightforward.  Local churches (pastors and lay leaders) need to stay focused on making disciples.  Disciples of Jesus Christ by definition are grace-filled and graceful in relationship to these and other tough, trying issues.  We need more talk about Christ, His rule and reign in our lives and our churches – not less.  We need more sharing of the good news of God’s love and presence – not less.  We need more, much more, evangelistic outreach that invites every single person to put their life under the reign and rule of Christ.  We need more world transforming actions of love, justice, and mercy – not less.

I am intrigued that a key definition of distraction relates to having our “attention diverted especially because of anxiety.”  The driver of anxiety is our timidity (failure?) in really trusting the Lord.  In times of similar societal tumult, the Methodist Movement thrived because at its heart we Methodists lived the connection of spirituality and faithfulness that blooms from true discipleship to Christ.  We need in these times of distraction to move closer to embracing again (or maybe for the first time) what it means to be a radical Christ follower (i.e. a disciple).

Allow me to close by offering two simple resources.  First, embrace quiet time and prayer by laying your life before the Lord.  Recently I’ve taken to praying a song lifted up at Taize and sung at Arborlawn UMC. “In the Lord I’ll be ever thankful, in the Lord I will rejoice!  Look to God, do not be afraid.  Lift up your voices, the Lord is near, Lift up your voices, the Lord is near.”  Try praying and meditating on that every day at the start of the day for 5 minutes (or just 2 minutes!).  It will change your perspective and your life.  I promise you if you spend 5 minutes at the start of the day praying and meditating on that song you will be blessed beyond measure.  Your own walk of discipleship to Christ will take on a different hue and tone.

Second, let me suggest that we continue to recover what it means to be a Wesleyan Christian in the fullness of the original discipleship vision of the Wesleyan Movement.  Cokesbury has recently put out an outstanding resource that any small group or Sunday School class would benefit from.  It is entitled The Wesleyan Way: A Faith That Matters and is authored by Bishop Scott Jones of the Great Plains Episcopal Area (Nebraska & Kansas).  Just go to www.cokesbury.com.

Whatever we do individually and together:  stay calm; stay focused.  Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Remember, “The Lord is near.”

Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #8

(This Blog is a part of a series of blogs sharing insights from the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  This report analyzes key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.  I will follow the reporting with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.)

Finding G: Pastoral leadership patterns are evolving and changing.

Implications
Over the past ten years, there have been many changes affecting clergy deployment. It is important to stay abreast of the many variables that will determine the number of elders and other pastoral leaders needed in the future. Your conference has remained relatively stable in the makeup and deployment of pastoral leaders. However, it is important to remain attentive to changing patterns.

Recommendation
Develop a comprehensive clergy supply and placement strategy.
The Board of Ordained Ministry, Cabinet, District Committees on Ministry, and others need a common understanding about the changing dynamics of church demand and clergy supply to make appropriate decisions for the future. Division of tasks among groups makes sense, but the overall strategic plan needs to be developed for the whole. Some components include:

  • The changing makeup of churches by size
  • The types of ministers needed (elders, deacons, full-time local pastors, part-time local pastors, lay ministers, supply)
  • Standards for each of these types of ministry given how they will be used in placements
  • Criteria for determining appropriate placements for various types of ministers
  • The impact of minimum salary on placements
  • The needs among large churches for clergy in associate staff roles
  • The implications of new church starts on the types and numbers of clergy needed
  • Monitor carefully trends that impact clergy supply and demand

Years ago I heard a lay person comment about pastors, “Pastors are like toasters.  You unplug one and plug another in.”  He did not mean this as a compliment.  In fact, it really was a statement of grief.  He felt denied the development of meaningful friendships because his pastor was moved so often.  Today this is largely not the case.  In general terms appointments are longer.  (I am aware of many exceptions but the phase “in general terms” does accurately reflect reality.)  The Cabinet works hard to appointment people to the mission field (the area of service including but not limited to the church).

Furthermore, the Board of Ordained Ministry wrestles diligently with the complex task of preparing people for ordained ministry.  The Residency Program (for provisional deacons and elders), as one example, requires hours of tough, committed labor on the part of Board members.  Efforts are underway by the Board to improve Licensing School, enhance the discernment process, train and support District Committees, and the list goes on and on.  Countless people both lay and clergy are to be thanked for their efforts!

Yet in the midst of these common ongoing tasks we are being challenged with a new way of thinking and working.  There is an old adage that goes:  Bishop and Cabinet appoint; Board of Ordained Ministry credential.  This is true.  It is a good division of labor but silos cause problems!  We have a growing number of retirements, a gap in the 40 to 55 aged clergy, the desperate need for a new generation of younger clergy, and all this taking place in an environment with more and more church closings.  What this means is that it is harder each year to tell how many clergy we will actually need!  Collaboration between the Cabinet and the Board of Ordained Ministry is not an option!  We have to collaborate for each to properly accomplish its mission!

Add to this the changing roles in clergy and ministry.  The day of the general associate pastor is largely over.  Senior Pastors and Pastor-Parish Relations Committees of large churches need associate pastors with a high skill level and a high degree of specialization.  Today we have a new position called (variously) teaching pastor, senior associate, executive pastor, etc. that largely did not exist 30 years ago.  The Cabinet and the Board of Ordained Ministry have to be collaborative!

As I come to the close of this summer series of blogs, I ever am mindful of how the Holy Spirit is blowing in our midst.  It is a new day and together we are learning a new way of being.  All this is for the sake of the gospel of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Our mission in clergy recruitment, training, and deployment is to energize and equip local churches through leadership development so that those local churches can more faithfully and fruitfully make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

 


 

[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report

Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #7

(This Blog is a part of a series of blogs sharing insights from the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  This report analyzes key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.  I will follow the reporting with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.)

Finding F: A few more churches served by typically part-time clergy
Implications
Your conference serves most of its churches and charges with full-time clergy. However, it is likely that part-time clergy will play an increasing role in pastoral leadership. If this develops, new systems and structures are required to account for this reality. 

Recommendation
Develop a plan to supply those churches where part-time clergy are appropriate.
Develop a specialized enlistment, training, and mentoring plan for those called to a part-time, bi-vocational, or supply ministry built exclusively around the context and needs of small membership churches. Develop a tailored program of enlistment, encouragement, and support for retired pastors willing and able to continue serving churches.

The findings and recommendations of “a few more churches served by typically part-time clergy have an air of déjà vu about them.  This was the original Methodist Movement!  We were largely a movement of lay preachers, many of them part-time.  We are going back to the future.

I believe the Holy Spirit is leading us back into a day and time of clergy and lay leadership that is “close” to the people.  Put differently, we are moving away from having a mostly classically seminary-trained clergy and back to a clergy who need the specialized training and support that comes out of the licensed local pastors and lay supply network.  We must carefully note that this is not anti-seminary education.  We will still have and need many high quality seminary-educated clergy.  Rather it is a Spirit-driven opportunity to go back to our roots.

We will have to re-think and re-apply training for local pastors and lay supply clergy.  Such training will need to be in conversation and careful interchange with a host of partners – Boards of Ordained Ministry, District Committees on Ministry, Cabinet, Seminaries, special study opportunities (including offerings from par church organizations, etc.)  Last year a gathering of Texas Conference Cabinets (cabinets of the 6 UMC Conferences currently residing within the bounds of the state of Texas) began discussions of how such education needed to be shaped both formally and informally.  In September at the SCJ Bishops Conclave, we will be continuing discussions.

In the Central Texas Conference, District Superintendents are always looking for quality leadership (both lay and clergy) who are willing to serve in a part-time or supply relationship.  We are on the front end of rethinking how we go about the full range of tailoring a program of “enlistment, encouragement, and support.”  Prayers are welcomed!


[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report

Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #6

(This Blog is a part of a series of blogs sharing insights from the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  This report analyzes key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.  I will follow the reporting with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.)

Finding E: Changes in ages of elders

Implications
In the past ten years, the United Methodist Church has shifted from being a church primarily served by middle-aged elders to one in which over half of elders are older (55 to 72 years old). This trend has depleted the number of middle-aged elders available for appointment. And it brings a challenge for the coming decade as this huge cohort of older clergy moves into retirement. Your conference has maintained a strong and growing cohort of young elders. But you have suffered the same decreased in middle-aged elders and increase in older elders seen across the denomination.

 Recommendation
Continue efforts to identify, enlist, and retain gifted younger clergy.
Apart from clergy supply and demand issues, gifted young clergy are needed for their energy, passion, and closeness to the culture of emerging generations. No conference is in danger of having too many young elders, especially given their relatively low numbers across the denomination.

When I first came to the Central Texas Conference, I visited every congregation.  It took me eight months and was one of the most marvelous experiences of my life.  Learning from so many lay leaders and clergy around the Conference, I gained immense insight and wisdom.  A common refrain I would hear (especially from lay leaders of smaller churches was “how about sending us a young person for our next pastor?” A part of my response was to ask every congregation to tell me about the last person to go into the ordained ministry or some form of dedicated Christian service from their congregations.  I heard some wonderful stories of the Holy Spirit moving in the lives of people and churches.  I also ran into a fair number (far more than I would like!) of comments that went something like this.

Lay Leader X turns to Lay Leader Y, “What was the name of that guy who became a pastor from here?”  Lay Leader Y in response, “Who are you talking about? Oh, do you mean that guy (gender neutral) back in the 60s?”  I kid you not.  I am not making this up!  The number of times I heard a dialog extremely similar to this one was a fairly high, double figure amount (it may have even reached triple figure).  Such reports even came from people serving in Wesley Foundations (our College and University ministries)!

Pastoral leadership doesn’t fall out of the sky or grow on trees.  It comes from vibrant healthy congregations.  There is a direct correlation from the way a congregation treats its pastors to its production of ordained clergy.  The effort to “identify, enlist, and retain gifted younger clergy” is everyone’s business!

A key element we are wrestling with is the development of the next generation of clergy leadership.  I have said it before, but it is worth restating.  Thank God for the number of faithful second career clergy who have provided leadership across the congregations of The Central Texas Conference.  We have been incredibly blessed by their faithfulness and service.  And yet, it doesn’t take a genius to know that we absolutely must raise up new generations of young clergy.  This is a mission and ministry imperative!


 

[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report

Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #5

(This Blog is a part of a series of blogs sharing insights from the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  This report analyzes key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.  I will follow the reporting with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.)

Finding D: Little change in churches and charges served by an elder

Implications
The total number of elder positions has declined somewhat but not nearly so much as in other conferences. But the downward trend may continue, especially if the number of 100+ AWA churches continues to decline. The number of elders needed for new church starts and as associate pastors will impact the numbers. In 2012 there were fewer elders appointed to church staffs than in 2002. Despite these trends, there probably will not be an oversupply given the number of retirements coming.

Recommendation
Set high standards for elders to meet the challenges facing the church.
While elders may serve somewhat fewer churches in the future, the demands on them will be greater as the church seeks to deal with changing cultures and contexts. More and more churches will require the full engagement of an adaptive leader who can guide the people in facing their challenges. Priority should be given to identifying new elders who have the spiritual, personal, intellectual, and professional skills to serve effectively in their early appointments and across the full range of church sizes over the course of their ministries.

Most of us who serve in clergy leadership today were not trained to do so in this environment.  By that I do not mean to blame seminaries, or Boards of Ministry, or Bishops & Cabinets, or clergy or lay leaders.  Rather, I write to simply reflect reality.  The very nature of training and skill development needed to be a faithful and fruit people is different today than when I entered the ministry.

Back in the day (I was ordained a probationary Deacon in June of 1974), we were instructed “stay close to God and close to your congregations” and your ministry will be successful.  Pause and think for a minute.  Who is left out of that equation?  The answer is all those who are not a part of any church or Christian movement.  It assumes that evangelism and discipleship engagement through the church will be engendered through a culture that encourages people to be active in local churches as a basic part of being a spiritual person.  Such is obviously not the case today!

I tell lay people and clergy in speeches that if you think it is harder to be a pastor today than it used to be, you’re right!  It is harder today!  The culture is no longer our ally.  The demands are greater.  This makes ongoing training and learning an absolute must!  It means Boards of Ordained Ministry have to follow the stated recommendation – “set high standards for elder to meet the challenges facing the church.”

I think that is exactly what makes this an exciting time to serve.  No longer can the Board of Ordained Ministry be a union shop designed to protect clergy.  No longer can Bishops and District Superintendents simply serve as mangers.  No longer can the laity passively assume that the clergy will do ministry for and to them.  Today all of us are engaged in mission and ministry to often unbelieving society.

We are in a situation akin to the refrigerator salesmen sent to Alaska.  One replied to management, “I’m ready to come home. Nobody has refrigerators here.” The other urgently call back, “Please sent more order forms!  Nobody has refrigerators here!”  One saw only winter with little need.  The other beheld the coming spring and the great opportunity before him. With Paul let’s give thanks as we proclaim that we are “a slave of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for God’s good news!” (Romans 1:1).


[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report

Insights on Changes in Congregations, Clergy and Deployment[1] #4

(This Blog is a part of a series of blogs sharing insights from the “Findings, Implications, & Recommendations” reported by Dr. Weems about the Central Texas Conference.  This report analyzes key trends related to church size and clergy deployment over the past decade.  I will follow the reporting with some of my own reflections on these findings and recommendations.)

Finding C: Modest increase in proportion of smaller churches

Implications
Yours in not a small church conference in that the median worship attendance of 60 is relatively high for conferences. However, with the presence of very small churches (144 with 50 or fewer AWA), it is likely there will be somewhat fewer churches in the foreseeable future. For the denomination as a whole, the decline will be about 23 percent between now and 2030. Most of these churches will be very small churches. Your loss rate should be much lower given the relatively low death rates among members of your churches of all sizes.

 Recommendations
1. Identify the small churches capable of growing for consecutive years.
Among even the smallest churches, about one-third will grow each year. So, the challenge is to identify and help those with the potential and leadership to grow and achieve the size needed to serve even more people. As churches get smaller, the likelihood that they will grow decreases, but when churches grow, the likelihood of further growth is enhanced.  

2. Provide resources to help very small churches discern their future.
Provide resources the smallest churches can use to consider ways to renew their witness or to evaluate whether they might best sustain their legacy by discontinuing their congregational ministry and using their assets to expand the United Methodist witness elsewhere. Such efforts can be simple and modest lest they overwhelm the time and energy of conference leaders due to the sheer number of these very small churches.

As I have noted in other blogs, the Central Texas Conference’s Center for Evangelism and Church Growth has made the Small Church Initiative (SCI) a major aspect of our Conference activities.  No church is too small to matter to God and to us!  Every church has mission given by God.  Faithfulness and fruitfulness is not a matter of size but a response to a God given mission.

For a number of years we have been investing major Conference resources in strengthening the small church and helping those who pastor small churches.  This is an area of historic strength for the United Methodist Church and will remain so if we are faithful.

The challenge before the small church is to adjust to a changing, post-Christian America religious setting.  Embracing the intertwining of missional outreach and evangelism (put differently in five practices language – risk-taking mission and service with radical hospitality) is THE central challenge the small church faces.  As with larger congregations, the conference strategy will continue to be one that works with the “coalition of the willing.”  What that means is abundant Conference resources have been, are and will be available to small church that desire to step up and step out in faith for God’s new day.  No one will be forced to embrace SCI or Holy Conversations or any particular faithful initiative.  Conversely, resources will not be committed to maintaining the past.  They will be available to embrace the future in faith!



[1]               Based on A Lewis Center Report on Changes in Congregations, Clergy, and Deployment 2002-2012 South Central Jurisdiction The United Methodist Church, Central Texas Conference Report

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