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Annual Conference Focuses on Making Disciples

I am often asked, “What is the theme of this year’s Annual Conference?” For me, the answer is always the same. Our theme is “to energize and equip local congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” The theme is the Conference’s core mission – to energize and equip local congregations. The second part of theme reflects the core mission of every local United Methodist congregation – “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” I don’t believe in a theme de jour or flavor of the year. To borrow from the slogan made famous by Ford Motor Company… This –“to energize and equip local congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world” – is Job 1!

Underneath that theme we try to have a focused teaching piece (usually two or three major presentations) that will guide us as an Annual Conference through our local churches to better accomplish the mission of making disciples. Sometimes the best laid plans go astray.

I typically work a year and a half ahead in scheduling Conference teachers. About 18 months ago, I asked Rev. Rudy Ramus the Sr. Pastor of St. John’s UMC in Houston to be our Conference teacher for 2014. My intent was that he would lead us in a focused teaching on how we might be more culturally and ethnically sensitive. Rev. Ramus graciously agreed to come lead us. However, he recently found out that his daughter will be graduating from medical school that day! We celebrate for her and for the whole Ramus family but have had to scramble to change our plans.

Rev. Rasmus has consented to come lead us in the same teaching piece in 2015 instead. I had planned to have us focus on intentional faith development – how we in fact grow and mature as disciples of Jesus Christ in 2015. Instead we have flipped the two subjects. We will focus on discipleship development (the path of disciple-making) in 2014 and receive Rev. Rasmus’ great teaching on cultural and ethnic sensitivity in 2015. (For those interested, our Conference teaching in 2016 will be on evangelism and witness.)

I am pleased to announce, with great appreciation for their willingness to come on short notice!, that we will have Bishop Scott Jones on Monday afternoon share an overview of intentional faith development using his material from Cokesbury’s The Wesleyan Way. Rev. Candace Lewis, Executive Director of Path 1 (the United Methodist Church’s new church development initiative) will share the critical learning that her Path 1 Team have made in discipleship development. Dr. Phil Maynard, a noted pastor, consultant and leader in the church, will share a path to discipleship based on his book Shift. Rev. Sue Engle, a leader in the field of intentional faith development, will use the material developed in the Illinois Great Rivers Conference called Charting the Course of Discipleship as a model for how local congregations can set out a clear and cogent path of discipleship. Each of the three presentations/break-out sessions will be for 1&1/2 hours. They are designed to help pastors, lay leaders and congregations work on drafting their own plans for discipleship formation in their respective ministry settings. It is our intent to give every congregation some very practical tools by which they may think through and enact a path of discipleship from a new Christian to a deeply committed discipline-follower of Christ. They will have components that involve education, Bible study, spiritual formation and applications in practice.

Over the next 5 or 6 blogs I intend to write on intentional faith development. My material will hone in on elements of a path for discipleship that move us beyond vague assertions in to practical applications.

What do we mean by a disciple of Jesus Christ? Arguments about definition (which clergy tend to love and laity tend to have their eyes glaze over!) are often exercises in work avoidance. While we may quibble about the words, the essence is straight forward. A disciple is a committed disciplined follower of Jesus Christ. Dallas Willard says a disciple is an apprentice of Christ. The great Saint Athanasius reminds us that Christ became like us that we might be like Him! It is an audacious claim with a missional call into evangelistic witness and ministry of love, justice and mercy for all – literally all! – of God’s people. Discipleship has membership intentions. We are to be followers of the way of Christ! And, we are to be a part of the living, loving, forgiving body of Christ, the church!

Discipleship is at the heart of what the Apostle Paul calls sanctification. “He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (I Corinthians 1:30, NRSV). I love the way the Common English Bible translates the same passage: “It is because of God that you are in Christ Jesus. He became wisdom from God for us. This means that he made us righteous and holy, and he delivered us” (I Corinthians 1:30, CEB). Eugene Petersen’s The Message paraphrase renders the passage, “Everything that we have—right thinking and right living, a clean slate and a fresh start—comes from God by way of Jesus Christ” (I Corinthians 1:30, The Message).

In one sense discipleship is clear. We are followers of Jesus who seek to imitate Him in our life and witness. In another sense, discipleship can involve different, complex, and contextual applications. In all senses it is a life journey with the Lord living, as Wesley put it, in the full house of God.

Think about it. What is the path of discipleship for your church? How clear and clearly understood by all is it? Are you walking on that path? “O Master let me walk with thee in lowly paths of service free; tell me thy secret; help me bear the stain of toil, the fret of care” (“O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee,” Hymn No. 430, The United Methodist Hymnal).

Joyful & Triumphant – Really?

I realize full well that it is January 17th but I am still stuck on Advent and Christmastide and their resulting connection to Epiphany Season. The word “epiphany” means a manifestation, a making known, an appearing. For Christians in particular the season of Epiphany connects the birth of the Savior with the arrival of the Magi (or wise men) on January 6th. It is the celebration of the light of Christ coming to the gentiles (those who are non-believers).

With that reminder as a backdrop, I invite the reader to step with me back into Advent and Christmas. The great hymns of the season float through heart and mind. In the days immediately after Christmas and leading up to Epiphany, I found myself stuck on a familiar refrain. Do you remember the great hymn “O Come, All Ye Faithful”? It is opens with the line: “O come, all ye faithful, joyful and triumphant, O come ye, O come ye, to Bethlehem” (Hymn No. 234, The United Methodist Hymnal). It sounds so full and wonderful! But wait a minute, “joyful and triumphant?” Really?

I get the joyful part. Who doesn’t? We are joyful because of God in Christ being born in a manager for us and for all. But triumphant? Really? It is here that the Christian claim takes a giant step into the bizarre.

In the so-called “West” (America and Europe), the steady decline of Christianity hardly makes this feel like a triumphant rendering of good news. The move from Christendom to a post-Christendom age feels threatening and confusing not triumphant. Read the paper or watch the evening news, there is still a brutal civil war in Syria. Afghanistan is still a bloody morass. We are still deeply divided as a nation on a host of social issues. Families up and down the spectrum of economics, ethnicity, marital status, and region still struggle mightily. Spiritually we are still a culture adrift from moral roots and saturated by the idols of personal preference and pleasure. The list could go on and on. Despair can seem like a reasonable response to the trials of modern living.

Joyful and triumphant? Really? Yes, amazingly enough, really. Our joy is not just for December 25th. It is for January 17th and all the other days of the year. Why do Christians dare sing about being triumphant? They (WE!) brazenly proclaim the transformation of human life and society in the name of the God with us. Christ’s appearing, epiphany, demonstrates God’s love and affirmation. Charles Wesley wrote of this in a little-sung Christmas hymn.

“He deigns in flesh to appear,
Widest extremes to join;
To bring our vileness near,
And make us all divine,
And we the life of God shall know,
For God is manifest below.” (Charles Wesley, “Let Earth and Heaven Combine”)

Far from a time to be lost in the doldrums, this is a season to be joyful and triumphant! What a wonderful January! What a great time to be in ministry together! Human heartache and divine love are welded together in the Son. The strife of ours or any time has met its match in the very present love of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit. Joyful and triumphant? Absolutely! We need to “Go, tell it on the mountain, over the hills and everywhere!”

Celebration and Reflection

Last Friday I flew to Nashville, Tennessee for a special retirement celebration.  With many (including a large passel of bishops and General Secretaries), we honored Rev. Karen Greenwaldt for 32 years of service to the general church at the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD).  This celebration included special recognition of her last 13 years at GBOD as the General Secretary.  I had the privilege of formally representing the Central Texas Conference and the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops.  More personally, as a seminary classmate and as her bishop, I had the joy of expressing my personal thanksgiving for her lifelong ministry.

Greenwaldt_web1Karen was the first women ordained an elder in the Central Texas Conference.  As such, she pioneered the way for many.  Today, we are engaged in a major challenge to build the next generation of lay and clergy leadership.  We need both men and women who will step forward for the high call of God in Christ through the power of the Holy Spirit to bring the good news of the Lord’s healing love – grace – to a battered and bruised world.  Biblically speaking disciples are made, not born.  Discipleship – disciplined, committed following of Christ – comes through the whole of one’s life including dynamic holiness on both (!) a personal and social level.

As I sat through the celebration dinner in Nashville listening to a variety of speakers give thanks for Karen’s ministry, I could not help but reflect on this wider task.  The night before I flew out to Nashville, I taught a class to the Missional Academy of the TCU and UTA Wesley Foundations.  We are examining Alan Hirsch’s The Forgotten Ways Handbook.  Hirsch writes about disciple-making that it is “perhaps the most critical element in the mDNA [missional DNA] mix, because it involves the critical task of becoming more like our Founder, Jesus – of actually embodying what he was about” (Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways Handbook, p. 63).

In the celebration we were offered an invitation, or maybe it was a challenge, to build the next generation of women clergy leadership.  Instead of gifts for her, in the invitation she noted “the gift of your presence is all that’s needed.  Should you wish, please donate to the Karen A. Greenwaldt Endowment.  The endowment will provide scholarships for women clergy candidates from the Central Texas Conference attending Perkins School of Theology at SMU in recognition of Karen who was the first woman ordained by the CTC.”  Wow!  The next generation is built by the generosity of friends and the grace of God.

Jolynn and I have already made a contribution.  If the Holy Spirit so moves you, I invite you to join us in doing so.  You may do this by sending checks payable to the Texas Methodist Foundation Karen A. Greenwaldt Endowment, 11709 Boulder Lane, Austin, TX 78726.  If you wish to apply, hang on a bit.  Karen shared with me the following:  “The agreement with the Texas Methodist Foundation includes the language that they will provide to the Board of Ordained Ministry [of the Central Texas Conference] by January 31st each year the amount of funds that can be distributed. The agreement says that the Conference BOOM will manage the process for how the funds will be distributed. The funds will be distributed to Perkins by TMF once the recipient(s) is named.”

I celebrate her faithful ministry and look forward with anticipation to next generation of great women clergy leaders!

karen g_group

CORE STRATEGIES: Accountability

I was fascinated by the leadership advice offered in comment about his own organization, The Pittsburg Steelers of the National Football League. Head Coach Mike Tomlin commented, “We seek to have a no excuse culture.” The comment came back in 2009 when, under Tomlin’s leadership, the Steelers won the Super Bowl (making him the youngest coach ever to win the Super Bowl and earing him the NFL’s 2008 Coach of the Year award). Today the Steelers are 0-4. However with such a commitment to excellence in accountability, they will get better. (For the record, I am not a Steeler fan!)

I am a fan of excellence in ministry. I believe this is a way we honor Christ and fulfill our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Bishop Robert Schnase writes about the importance of excellence in his book The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. Greg Jones (former Dean of Duke Divinity School) and Kevin Armstong wrote a provocative book entitled Resurrecting Excellence: Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry. The very concept of excellence when attached to faithfulness in ministry harkens back to honoring Christ with our best. The more excellent way of which Scripture speaks is anchored in love (I Corinthians 12:31). A straight line runs from excellence to fruitfulness to faithfulness.

The notion of disciplined accountability was built into the original equation of early Methodists’ understanding of faithfulness and fruitfulness. Richard Heitzenrater in his marvelous history Wesley and the People Called Methodists reflects on the growing Methodist movement and its penchant for accountability (see especially chapter 4 “Consolidation of the Movement”). It is no mistake that the title for our book of Church law is The Discipline.

Most of us can readily agree with the concept of accountability as a reflection of the excellent way of faithfulness and fruitfulness in ministry. It when we come to the particulars that we choke. We know that metrics (measurement) is needed and yet we also know that any standard of measurement by itself is incomplete. Thus it is important to ask “how many people attend worship” yet this alone is not a faithful determiner of the biblical fruitfulness of a congregations’ (or pastors’) ministry.

Furthermore a part of our struggle in adopting accountability as a core strategy lies not just with the question of metrics but also with our tendency to use measurement to apply blame rather than seeking to learn and develop. Put different, we tend to (falsely!) use the concept of accountability as a punishment first and only later ask, “What is the ‘learning’ we might gain from this outcome (fruitfulness) or lack thereof?” Our defensiveness in learning is a crippling form of sin. So, too, is our tendency to blame and look for a scapegoat (a biblical concept – read the story of Abraham and Isaac – Christ came to put an end too!).

I am convinced that accountability is a key strategy we must employ if we are to be faithful. But we must engage in accountability as a strategy aimed at learning and not blaming! Accountability is about faithfulness and fruitfulness. The two biblically go together. We need to be a no excuse culture that is committed to faithfulness and fruitfulness in learning and application.

[For in-depth learning about the issues related to applying “metrics,” I commend to the reader a series of monographs that Dr. Gil Rendle is publishing online through the Texas Methodist Foundation. You may find them at]


A remarkable event took place at the 2013 meeting of the Central Texas Conference.  During the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth report, four specific initiatives related to our core strategy of new church development were launched.

  • 1. Lance Marshall was appointed to 7th Street, Fort Worth for a new church start parented by First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth.  (To the best of my recollection this is the first time someone has been appointed to a street!)
  • 2. Shea Reyenga was appointed a Path 1 Intern at White’s Chapel.  Path 1 is the core strategy of the larger United Methodist Church in the United States on new church development.  (The title “Path 1” comes from the original seven vision pathways laid out by the Council of Bishops for the recovery/transformation of the United Methodist Church.  New church development was designated the first of those seven pathways.)  White’s Chapel, through the mentoring of Dr. John McKellar, is working in coordination with our Center for Evangelism and Church Growth and the Path1 team headed by Rev. Candace Lewis of the General Board of Discipleship. Each of those three entities is contributing expertise, time, and financial resources to this internship.  It is our intent that this would lead to a new church start with Rev. Reyenga and partnered by White’s Chapel UMC sometime in the fall of 2014.
  • 3. Rev. Louis Carr, Jr. was appointed to Thompson Chapel with the intention to relocate and re-launch Thompson Chapel.  This action was taken in conjunction with work done by the congregation (and voted on by them) to take this historic risk-taking mission with the expertise and involvement from both the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth and the Cabinet leadership from the Dr. Luther Henry and District Superintendent Dr. Ginger Bassford.  Pastor Carr tells me that they have already surpassed 100 in worship and are looking to close a deal on new land!
  • 4. A second site start with Rev. Daniel Hawkins serving as the pastor as a part of the staff of First United Methodist Church Keller.  Again the courageous and visionary leadership of the parent church for this second site (1st UMC Keller) is yoked with resources from the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth.

Each of these four ministry initiatives are concrete examples of how we are living out our core strategy of new churches.  No church, no Christian community, no denomination has ever grown in the two thousand year history of Christianity without a deeply committed emphasis on new church development.  None!  Check it out for yourself.  Read Kenneth Scott Latourette’s multi-volume History of the Expansion of Christianity.

Notice further how the core strategy of new churches is yoked with the first core strategy of a focus on the local church; that is, the transformation of existing congregations.  (See my blog entitled “The Transformation of the Local Church” posted September 18, 2013.)  For me, hopefully for us, the need for new places for new people is a conviction – no, more than that – a call that God has laid upon us as a people of faith.  It is one that comes out of the heart of the Christian gospel.  Matthew 28:16-20 and Acts 13:1-3 are two of many passages that provide a biblical anchor.

These are exciting times for the United Methodist Church in Central Texas and around the nation and world!  We are re-engaging and embracing the forgotten ways of Christianity and Methodism.  Praise God!  While writing this blog I received the following note from Dr. Tim Bruster, the Senior Pastor at First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth:  “I want to let you know that we have exceeded our goal of $100,000 from First Church to name the Evangelism and Church Growth Center after Lamar Smith.  We are at nearly $108,000 and the money is still coming in.”

What a great testimony to name the center of Evangelism and Church Growth in honor of truly outstanding leader of Methodism in our Conference (and the Texas Conference) as well as a former President of Texas Wesleyan University – Dr. Lamar Smith.  A double praise God for such faithfulness and vision!

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.

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.

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
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. 

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

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.

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

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.

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

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.

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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