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Struggling with Appointments

Art only wishes it could imitate life.  You cannot make up some of the things said to District Superintendents while consulting on appointments.

At a recent Cabinet meeting, a District Superintendent reported on a consultation with a church whose pastor was moving.  The Pastor-Parish Relations Committee was asked what they would like in a new pastor.  The response was: “Someone who can bridge the gap between the elderly congregation and the younger people that they want to have come in … while helping them not change.”  I kid you not.

News flash!  The goals of no change and bringing in younger people are incompatible.  The great old hymn has it right – “to serve the present age our calling to fulfill.”  Lessons abound in this brief (and to me both sad and humorous) quote from a Pastor-Parish Relations Committee.

Change is loss.  The end of Christendom and the rise of the post-Christian & post- denominational age encompass many of us with deep loss.  An effective pastor must minister sensitively to this loss all the while leading into a new future.  It is not an easy balance.  Congregations that refuse to embrace change are choosing to die.  Simultaneously, pastors that charge ahead without compassionately facing grief are doomed to failure.

Our greatest need is spiritual.  We need an infusion of Psalm 23.  Many of us remember the phrase well from the old King James translation.  “Ye though I walk through the Valley of the Shadow of death, I will fear no evil for thou art with me” (Psalm 23:4).  What is often missed is the second half of verse 4 – “thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.”  That is interesting! A rod to prod and a staff to protect.

Today the word “comfort” connotes a sense of physical or psychological ease, a lack of hardship.  But if I remember correctly the word originally meant to encourage, to inculcate bravery. “Comfort is linked with ‘fortress’ and ‘fortify’. The Bayeaux Tapestry portrays a scene where ‘William comforts his troops’ at the Battle of Hastings. He is not handing out tea and biscuits to his wounded troops. He is poking them in the back with his sword, strengthening and fortifying them for the continuing battle”  (www.ivoroakley.com/2%20Corinthians/2_corinthians_11-11.htm).

We need to comfort in the best sense from the front, helping both grief and change to be sensitively enfolded in the advancing kingdom of God.  Maybe the new Common English Bible (CEB) translation says it better.  “Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no danger because you are with me.  Your rod and your staff—they protect me.”

Sold Out on Purpose

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Extravagant Generosity by CTC!

Way to go Central Texas Conference!!!  At Thursday’s meeting of the CFA (Conference Council on Finance and Administration), we were able to fund our Connectional Mission Giving to the General Church (otherwise called apportionments) at 100%!  Historically, the Central Texas Conference has a tremendous record of being a conference that almost always pays out fully (100%) to Connectional Mission Giving.  (Last year was one of the few exceptions and even then we did extremely well given the recession.)

2011   PAYOUT COMPARISON:
Payout   percentage in 2011

93.41

Payout   Percentage in 2010

93.14

Number   of churches paying 100% in 2011

262

Number   of churches paying 100% in 2010

267

Number   of churches that INCREASED payout percentage in 2011

25

Number   of churches that DECREASED payout percentage in 2011

26

Number   of churches that paid 100% in 2011, but not in 2010

17

Number   of churches that paid 100% in 2010, but not in 2011

19

Total   CMG (apportionment) dollars paid by churches in 2011

10,614,795

Total   CMF (apportionment) dollars paid by churches in 2010

10,746,987

The change in total CMG (Connectional Mission Giving) in 2011 reflects the deep savings that have resulted from the Exodus Project (moving from 7 geographical Districts to 5 Geographical Districts, reconfiguration of staff, elimination of redundant or obsolete structure, etc.).

The extravagant generosity of the Central Texas Conference did not stop with just Connectional Mission Giving and Conference Ministry Support.  Asking and Fair Share Goals for Laura Edwards, Senior Ministry, Justice for our Neighbors – JFON, Mid-Cities Age Level, Global AIDS Fund, United Community Centers and Metro Board of Missions resulted in an additional $189,860.51 in generosity.  Among the 3 pages of special offerings over and above CMG & Fair Share was an Annual Conference Offering of $43,732.45 which went to Glen Lake Camp, twice the normal amount; UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief) offering of $32,015.27 – 1/3 more than ever before; Imagine No Malaria offering of $121,980.56; $13,761.84 for Wildfire Relief in our area, with many churches giving directly to those in need; $49,914.38 in relief for spring storms in Joplin and parts of Oklahoma; and a special Pacific Emergency offering for victims of the Tsunami and related disasters in Japan of $119,106.2!.

Our response has been nothing short of phenomenal.  It represents a true movement of the Holy Spirit among us.  Well done thou good and faithful servants!

A Special Gift

Yesterday I received a special gift from Dr. Michael Patison, chair of the Central Texas
Conference’s History Book Committee.  Fresh off the press, Michael handed me a copy of The Central Texas Annual Conference 1866-2010: At the Center of Texas Methodism.  Dr. Patison (as Editor) and the whole Committee writing team did a wonderful job! I wrote in the preface that this “is a work that encompasses more than history.  It encompasses an Act of God – the birth and life of the Central Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church.”

It is almost fashionable these days to believe that one can be spiritual without being a part of a local church.  It is not true.  The old phrasing comes to mind – “the church is of God and will be preserved to the end of time.”  The other phrase which comes to mind is the one from  Santayana, “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. When change is absolute there remains no being to improve and no direction is set for possible improvement: and when experience is not retained, as among savages, infancy is perpetual. Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

In the special gift of this history few have lessons that may guide into the future God is even now preparing for us.

The Central Texas Annual Conference 1866-2010: At the Center of Texas Methodism will be sold at Annual Conference this coming June in Waco. Those who would like to purchase a copy earlier may do so either at the Conference Service Center through Nancy Schusler or by contacting directly Michael Patison (www.mpatison@charter.net) or Rev. Nancy Bennett  (npbennett1@yahoo.com). The cost is $25 for pick up; $28.50 for shipped.

Missional Renaissance

It is great to be back from my renewal leave and family vacation time.  As I turn my attention to the fall, I am tremendously excited about having Dr. Reggie McNeal with us on September 10th at First UMC, Mansfield for the Fall Summit.  Dr. McNeal serves as the Missional Leadership Specialist for Leadership Network.  His books are must reads for me.  I expect the pastors and lay leadership of the Central Texas Conference to be present. (You can register through the Conference web site www.ctcumc.org or at www.firstmethodistmansfield.org.)

In his book Missional Renissance, Dr. McNeal writes: “Going missional will require that you make three shifts, both in your thinking and in your behavior:

  • From internal to external in terms of ministry focus
  • From program development to people development in terms of core activity
  • From church-based to kingdom-based in terms of leadership agenda

These shifts are the signature characteristics of what missional means. They are not destinations; they are compass settings. They point you into the new world. They will move you from doing church as primarily a refuge, conservator, and institutional activity in a post-Christendom culture to being a risky, missionary, organic force in the increasingly pre-Christian world in North America” (Missional Renaissance: Changing the Scorecard from the Church, by Reggie McNeal, pg. xvi).

I’ll see you at the summit!

Route 122 Group

Recently I learned about a group of church developers who are wrestling on a deep level with the issues of congregational transformation.  Interestingly, they named themselves the Route 122 Group.  The group name is a reference to Paragraph 122 in The Book of Discipline of the UMC 2010 (pg. 88).  It reads:

¶ 122. The Process for Carrying Out Our Mission—We make disciples as we:

  • proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather persons into the body of Christ;
  • lead persons to commit their lives to God through baptism by water and the spirit and profession of faith in Jesus Christ;
  • nurture persons in Christian living through worship, the sacraments, spiritual disciplines, and other means of grace, such as Wesley’s Christian conferencing;
  • send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ by healing the sick, feeding the hungry, caring for the stranger, freeing the oppressed, being and becoming a compassionate, caring presence, and working to develop social structures that are consistent with the gospel; and
  • continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.

The Route 122 Group came up with the following core process for church transformation.

8 ELEMENTS OF THE TRANSFORMATIONAL PROCESS

Provide a Process at the Conference level that engages the following 8 key elements:

  1. Focus on Transforming Grace of Jesus Christ.
  2. Apostolic Leadership
  3. Conference alignment on missional focus
  4. Continuous lay and clergy learning and collaboration
  5. Independent assessment of congregation’s strengths, weaknesses and opportunities including relationship with the mission field
  6. Ongoing coaching for missional performance
  7. Accountable action plan
  8. Openness to the leading of the Holy Spirit

(From Route 122 Group, transforming churches meeting Nov 29-30)

Leading Edge II

            Last week I participate in a meeting of the “Leading Edge” group made up of the Senior Pastors of the 100 largest churches by worship attendance in the UMC in the U.S.  I wrote about it in my earlier blog entitled “Leading Edge.”  Out of that meeting came a number of actions worth prayerful consideration.

            When asked what are the top changes needed in the UMC, the Senior Pastors noted the following six (in order). [Senior Pastors ranking is in bold; my comments are in italics.]

 #1. Improve quality of church leadership – inspire passionate and effective leaders.  This is the critical need!  It is one of the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church.  It will necessitate dramatic rethinking of what effective leadership looks like in the 21st century (i.e. a post-Christendom church).

 #2. Simplify administrative structures of General Church – reduce apportionments.  Amen!  This will require both General Conference and Annual Conference action.  It will also face deeply entrenched interests often protected by The Discipline.

 #3. Develop a common message or clear theological message as UMC with a clear process of spiritual formation.  Theological pluralism has led us to lose our Wesleyan roots.  Recovering a vibrant Wesleyan Christian orthodoxy is a necessity.  I see reason for real hope in this area.  The Holy Spirit is blowing a fresh wind through us.

 #4. Strengthen the role, authority, and leadership of the Bishops.  Please note:  This is what the Senior Pastors voted for!  Everyone is in favor of bishops have greater authority and exercising more leadership as long as what we (bishops) do agrees with them.  When our leadership and authority go in a different direction, we are often greeted with cries of “how dare you!”

 #5. Local church pastors be positive, hopeful and encouraging to others in the denomination.  This is a task that must be place squarely on the shoulders of local pastors.  Holy Scripture commends us:  “Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an account of the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and reverence.” (I Peter 3:15-16)

 #6. End guaranteed appointment.  This will take General Conference action.  It must be made with appropriate provisions for safe-guarding ethical imperatives.  Sooner or later we will economically be forced to take this action.

Bishops’ Week Focus

            Currently I am in Arkansas at our Jurisdictional Conference Center, Mt. Sequoyah.  June 23rd is a day for the meeting of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops.  Wednesday, June 24th we begin Bishops’ Week with a decidedly different thrust.

            In past years Bishops’ week had been essentially a continuing education event hooked on to various Jurisdictional gatherings involving Bishops and District Superintendents.  While the presentations were often excellent, attendance has been spotty at best.  This year, in sharp contrast, Bishops’ Week will focus on the work of the Extended Cabinet.  Dr. Gil Rendle, Senior Consultant for the Texas Methodist Foundation, will be guiding us on leading the church through the wilderness.  Bishop Sally Dyck, Resident Bishop of the Minnesota Conference, will be leading the group on spiritual formation and deepening our walk of faith.  We have read two books in preparation for the time of learning and spiritual growth – The Starfish and the Spider by Ori Brafman and Rod Beckstrom and Finding Our Way Again by Brian McClaren.

            The Starfish and the Spider wrestles with the difference between movements and hierarchical organizations.  Implications for us as a church are obvious.  Once, the United Methodist Church was a movement for Christ.  Today we are best characterized as a hierarchical organization.  Where once we were fluid and nimble, today we are rule-bound and argue about boundaries.  Consider this quote:  “If you cut off a spider’s head, it dies; but if you cut off a starfish’s leg, it grows a new one, and that leg can grow into an entirely new starfish.”

            Finding Our Way Again chronicles the rediscovery of vital spiritual disciplines.  Consider:  “Spiritual practices … are a way of locating ourselves in a present moment no less lighted by the presence of the unseen God from whom we come, to whom we go, and with whom we travel.”  Pilgrimage, fasting, sacred meal, common (disciplined) prayer, giving, Sabbath rest, and liturgical year –  “these ancient practices have formed people of Abraham faith through many centuries.”

            There is much to share, learn and discuss here.  I look forward to this time of learning together.

Identify our Core Values: What I Learned in Meetings

Last Friday afternoon (continuing until noon on Saturday) I participated in a fascinating meeting that has remained on my mind and be lodged in my prayer life. (The previous 5 days were spent meeting as a part of the Council of Bishops (COB) in Columbus, Ohio.) I am still not sure what the name of the group I was meeting with is. The gathering consisted of the President of the Council of Bishops, the General Secretaries of the various United Methodist general church commissions and agencies, the Presidents (Chairs of the agency or commission’s board) of those agencies (some of whom are bishops), the four Focus Area lead bishops (I hold the position for “New People in New Places and the Transformation of Existing Congregations – commonly referred to as Path1), and leadership from the Connectional Table.

The purpose of the meeting was to examine potential reduction/realignment of general church agencies; coordinate budgeting and finances; examine the impact of the global nature of the church related to our current and possible future structures. That is a lot to engage in! Thirty or so dedicated and committed people wrestled hard with preliminary considerations of this huge task. I was impressed with the dedication and seriousness with which the group went about its work.

One of the issues that surfaced is the relationship of the Four Areas of Focus (Leadership, New Places for New People and Transformation of Existing Congregations, Poverty, and Eradication of Killer Diseases) with the disciplinary mandates. Disciplinary Mandates are those items that The Discipline of the United Methodist Church mandates (orders) that the general agencies engage in. I had the privilege of visiting with Erin Hawkins, General Secretary for The Commission on Religion and Race, at a break and she conveyed to me that her agency had some 34 or 35 disciplinary mandates. Hers is one of the smaller agencies. It doesn’t take a genius to know that we have vastly over legislated the church’s work. How does the existing “to do” list converge with our missional priorities? Discernment of convergence (Holy Spirit driven!) is a major task before us! We are far from agreement on this most basic commitment.

What we could agree upon is our mission. The United Methodist Church exists to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We had ready agreement that mission should drive are alignment and budget. From that came the necessary corollary that we should align and budget in a manner that is outcome based. In other words, what alignment will best produce the outcomes we are after in “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”

The huge question that drives off such a conviction of mission and determination to be outcome driven is: what are our shared core values and what are the outcomes we should measure? So, if you have read this far, here is where you come in. I would like feedback on 1) what four or five core values should drive this mission process, and 2) what are the key outcomes we should be seeking.

I want hear what you think. Please, short concise answers to 1) what four or five core values should drive this mission process, and 2) what are the key outcomes we should be seeking? If you can’t put it on a postcard, it is too long. I promise to read all ideas but, due to other time restrictions, will not be able to respond to any individual. Instead, I will share group feedback with you in a later blog. Thanks for the help!

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