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Conclave and Kenya ©

Like many of you, my year has begun with a full slate of ministry activities.  It began January 3rd with a day and a half in the office to answer emails and plow through paperwork accumulated from the Christmas – New Year break time.  The afternoon of January 4th I drove to Austin, Texas for the twice yearly South Central Bishops Conclave.  The Conclave is a gathering of the active (i.e. residential or non-retired) bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church under the sponsorship of the Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF).  It is an invaluable time of learning and sharing.  Using the Harvard Business School case study approach, we wrestle together with leadership challenges facing us and the church as a whole in our work.  Often we have a special presentation on a critical subject or issue facing the church.  We engage in this time of significant learning and sharing under the guidance of Dr. Gil Rendle, Senior Consultant for TMF.  His most recent article on Courage is a seminally insightful document about leadership in the Protestant Church in America during the second decade if the 21st Century. The Conclave is one of the most valuable times of learning that I have.

 I arrived home from the Bishops’ Conclave on Friday evening in time to finish packing for a Saturday morning flight to Kenya (via Dubai).  For the second time it is my great privilege to take part in an ongoing ministry the Central Texas Conference has (along with about 10 other U.S. Conferences and teams from Germany and the British Methodist Church.  Many churches and individuals from across the Central Texas Conference (CTC) have been involved in this God-honoring ministry.  Dr. Ken Diehm, then Senior Pastor of First UMC, Grapevine, Texas helped pioneer this work.  On this trip, under the leadership of Rev. Dawne Phillips, Director of Missions for CTC and Dr. Randy Wild, Executive Director of the Center for Mission Support, we have joined a key group from the Oregon-Idaho Conference led by Rev. Jim Monroe and Rev. Sue Owen.  Jim and Sue have served as pastors and District Superintendents in Oregon and more recently as missionaries at the Maua Methodist Hospital in Maua, Kenya.

 Bishop nThombura asked that we come back to share in teaching clergy along with engaging in other critical mission ministry.  Jim Monroe and I have spent the two previous days teaching a seminar on the Bible and Preaching for pastors in the Methodist Church of Kenya (MCK) at Kenya Methodist University (KeMU).  It was an exciting and challenging time of teaching.  Some of the Pastors have seminary degrees from Schools of Theology in Kenya, England and the United States.  We dealt with a question related to the controversial “Jesus Seminar” and I had a challenging conversation with a graduate from Wesley Theological Seminary in DC.  Other pastors have very little education and almost anything we can share is greeted with appreciation. We will be heading to Nairobi, to repeat our two-day seminar there.  Overall, we will have addressed approximately 350 to 400 pastors.

 Meanwhile the combined team made of folks from both Conferences have been holding a medical clinic out in a remote area of Kenya that does not have regular access to medical treatment.  Sharing with schools (a deworming clinic, supplies, etc.), the ongoing historic work of Methodism in education is bearing rich fruit in Kenya!

 While the outlying clinic work is taking place, half of our combined group has been rotating in and out working on a project high in the hills.  Through the great ministry of Maua Methodist Hospital, a single mother of four (including a three month old infant) with AIDS (from the Father of the infant who has disappeared) was living in a shack (barely standing) made of two wood walls and two plastic sheets.  It is poverty and desperation at its worst and lowest.  Additionally the elderst daughter (11 years old) also has AIDS.  A Christian neighbor brought her tremendous need to the attention of the hospital and working together hospital staff, the local village and our mission team have built a house for the family (two rooms; the kitchen is outside and the “restroom” is about 15 feet behind the house) in one short week!  Frank Briggs, Jim McClurg, Randy Wild, and Tom Larson (from Bend, Oregon) left before dawn over nearly impassible roads to finish the house building before the 11 am community wide celebration and dedication of the house.  It was a Kenyan version of an emergency “Habitat” house build!

 Tomorrow I have been asked to preach and assist Bishop nThombura in the installation of a new Synod Bishop in Thaarka, Kenya.  A Synod Bishop is the equivalent of our District Superintendents.  (Bishop nThombura is called the Presiding Bishop.)  While I am there, the rest of the team will be spread out preaching at other churches in the area.  We are tired but phenomenally blessed by this ongoing shared ministry.  The CTC and its member churches should be deeply gratified to learn that the ministry so many of our congregations have taken part in is continuing to share the Word and Way of Christ.  Together we are sharing with Christians around the world in building a vibrant Christian witness in Kenya! 

 I must give a special shout out to Grapevine UMC in closing.  There is a “Guest House” (the Kenyan version of a Retreat Center) in Meru, Kenya (the center of Methodism in Kenya) named after Dr. Ken Diehm.  I had visited it two years earlier and after our Pastors School presentation I got to stop by for a brief visit again.  The work continues to go forward.  Most of the 2nd floor is now finished and initial construction is taking place on the 3rd floor.  For those who are from the CTC, think of the Diehm Guest House as their Glen Lake.  I learned that follow-up teams from First UMC Grapevine have continued to come and work on the Guest House.  What a tremendous blessing of faithfulness!  This is truly a work of the Lord.

 We will land at DFW the afternoon of January 22nd after a 6 hour flight from Nairobi to Dubai and a 14 hour flight form Dubai to DFW.  After a day of sleeping and recovery, I hope to be back in the office on Tuesday, January 24th.  We have a Cabinet meeting coming up on January 30th.

Membership on “The Commission on a Way Forward” ©

Bishop Bruce Ough, President for the Council of Bishops has announced the selection of membership on the “The Commission on a Way Forward.”  He has noted in his press release that the Commission is made up of 8 bishops, 11 laity, 11 elders, and 2 deacons.  Furthermore Bishop Ough has noted “the makeup of the 32-member commission is roughly comparable to U.S. and Central Conference membership.”

Of special interest to members of the Central Texas Conference is the inclusion of Casey Langley Orr who is serving as a Deacon and appointed to First United Methodist Church of Fort Worth, Texas.  I ask us all to keep the entire Commission, and indeed the United Methodist Church as a whole, in our prayers.  Those who share the privilege of being related to the Central Texas Conference, I especially ask that you be in prayer for Casey.  I believe Casey to be an outstanding choice who will prayerfully see a way forward in these tumultuous times.

In the words of Martin Luther: “Did we in our own strength confide, our striving would be losing, were not the right man on our side, the man of God’s own choosing.  Dost ask who that may be?  Christ Jesus, it is he.” (“A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” Number 110, verse 2, The United Methodist Hymnal.)

MEMBERSHIP IS ANNOUNCED AS FOLLOWS:
Jorge Acevedo – USA, Florida, elder, male

Brian Adkins – USA, California, elder, male

Jacques Umembudi Akasa- Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, laity, male

Tom Berlin – USA, Virginia, elder, male

Matt Berryman – USA, Illinois, laity, male

Helen Cunanan – Philippines, elder, female

David Field – Europe, Switzerland, laity, male

Ciriaco Francisco – Philippines, bishop, male

Grant Hagiya – USA, California, bishop, male

Aka Dago-Akribi Hortense – Africa, Côte d’Ivoire, laity, female

Scott Johnson – USA, New York, laity, male

Jessica Lagrone – USA, Kentucky, elder, female

Thomas Lambrecht – USA, Texas, elder, male

Myungae Kim Lee – USA, New York, laity, female

Julie Hager Love – USA, Kentucky, deacon, female

Mazvita Machinga – Africa, Zimbabwe, laity, female

Patricia Miller – USA, Indiana, laity, female

Mande Guy Muyombo – Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, elder, male

Eben Nhiwatiwa – Africa, Zimbabwe, bishop, male

Dave Nuckols – USA, Minnesota, laity, male

Casey Langley Orr – USA, Texas, deacon, female

Gregory Palmer – USA, Ohio, bishop, male

Donna Pritchard – USA, Oregon, elder, female

Tom Salsgiver – USA, Pennsylvania, elder, male

Robert Schnase – USA, Texas, bishop, male

Jasmine Rose Smothers – USA, Georgia, elder, female

Leah Taylor – USA, Texas, laity, female

Deborah Wallace-Padgett – USA, Alabama, bishop, female

Rosemarie Wenner – Europe, Germany, bishop, female

Alice Williams – USA, Florida, laity, female

John Wesley Yohanna – Africa, Nigeria, bishop, male

Alfiado S. Zunguza – Africa, Mozambique, elder, male

MODERATORS
Sandra Steiner Ball – USA, West Virginia, bishop, female

Kenneth Carter – USA, Florida, bishop, male

David Yemba – Africa, Democratic Republic of Congo, bishop, male

An Opportunity not to be missed ©

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N.T. Wright, Professor of New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of St. Andrews University in Scotland, author and retired Anglican bishop of Durham, England is coming to Perkins School of Theology at SMU November 15-17.

Perkins School of Theology has issued a public invitation to join them in Professor Wright’s presentation. “We hope you can join us for lectures and discussion related to his book, Simply Good News: Why the Gospel is News and What Makes it Good. More information and registration can be found at the following link: http://www.smu.edu/Perkins/Events/NTWright .

I believe that Perkins offers us a rare opportunity not to be missed in learning from Bishop N. T. Wright. Three free public lectures are offered:

November 15 at 7:30 p. m                  “The Jesus We Never Knew”
November 16 at 7:30 p.m.                  “Jesus at the Crossroads of History”
November 17 at 7:30 p.m.                  “Jesus and the Future”

There are two special workshops offered (a fee is charged) on Wednesday which will focus on five books by Professor Wright’s:

I strongly urge you not to miss this great opportunity for learning!

 

Statement from the United Methodist Bishops of Texas

In response to Gov. Greg Abbott’s recent press release regarding Texas’ intention to withdraw from the federal refugee resettlement program , the United Methodist bishops in the state of Texas have issued the following statement. You will notice in our signing of this statement that each bishop is listed by Episcopal Area. Please know that the Fort Worth Area (of which I am the bishop) includes all of the Central Texas Conference; the Northwest Texas Area is the Northwest Texas Conference; the Houston Area includes all of the Texas Annual Conference; the Dallas Area is the North Texas Conference; and the San Antonio Area includes all of the Rio Texas Conference.
-Bishop Mike Lowry

As bishops of The United Methodist Church in Texas we join with other faith leaders in our state to encourage Governor Greg Abbott to seek a pathway that will affirm the worth of all humankind.  

As Christians and as Texans our values are grounded in respect and hospitality toward newcomers. Those values lead us to welcome refugees to our state. We recognize that these are difficult and complex times but as Christians, we rely on Jesus Christ to overcome our fear of those who may be different. 

The United Methodist Church in our Social Principles states, “We recognize, embrace, and affirm all persons, regardless of country of origin, as members of the family of God…. We urge the Church and society to recognize the gifts, contributions, and struggles of those who are immigrants and to advocate for justice for all.” 

We ask for God’s blessing on those who will step in to serve in the absence of our state’s participation in the resettlement effort, for they are truly being the hands and feet of Christ. 

Bishop Earl Bledsoe, Northwest Texas Area
Bishop Scott Jones, Houston Area
Bishop Michael Lowry, Fort Worth Area
Bishop Michael McKee, Dallas Area
Bishop Robert Schnase, San Antonio Area

Discipleship as Spiritual Formation

Last Fall Bishop Ken Carter, The Florida Conference, wrote a series of blogs on “Fresh Expressions of the Church.”  Taken as a whole they are outstanding and well worth reading.  As a part of my own recent writing about deeper discipleship centered on allegiance to Christ, I reprint, with his permission, the 9th of those blogs entitled Discipleship as Spiritual Formation and Mentoring: The Heart of Fresh Expressions of Church.” – Bishop Mike Lowry

The Bishop’s Blog

(Ninth in a series of reflections on Fresh Expressions of church, the Florida Conference and United Methodism, and our relation to the “Nones,” “Dones” and the “Spiritual but Not Religious.”)

If we are listening to God’s call in the present moment, in increasingly non-churched and de-churched environments, we may discover that we are being led back to a fundamental experience—an encounter with the living Jesus. We encounter him in the gospels, even as he is anticipated in the Old Testament and as his message is embodied and proclaimed in the later writings of the New Testament. The encounter is always one that calls us into deeper relationship, which we call discipleship.

Discipleship as Spiritual Formation
So how do we become a disciple of Jesus?

Becoming a disciple or apprentice of Jesus is a cumulative process. It involves small steps and giant leaps of faith. It is like swimming against the stream and riding the rapids. It is unconscious and intentional. It is planned and spontaneous. It is work and at the same time a gift.

1.  As a cumulative process, discipleship is a daily spiritual practice: reading scripture, sending a tweet about a passage of scripture or a God-sighting, memorizing a verse, offering an intercession, acting with kindness, writing in a journal.
2.  Discipleship is also a weekly activity: an hour of worshipping God, a meal with a mentor or with friends, reflecting deeply on the neighborhood as a context for mission, encouraging a small group of Facebook friends, contributing money to God’s mission.  Note: While the Christian life may begin as an individual search, it can only be sustained and supported through participation in a small group, where we are loved, blessed and held accountable. The contribution of the Fresh Expressions movement is that these groups are not confined within our local churches, although they may happen there—this is the “mixed ecology.” And, as we have noted, this is deeply embedded in the practices of the early Wesleyan Christian movement (class meetings and band meetings).
3.  Discipleship as a sustained habit might include monthly experiences:  a day of silence and prayer and deeper scripture reading, meeting with a spiritual director, reading a book/spiritual classic, a deeper act of service in the community, serving in a leadership role.
4.  And discipleship as a more reflective and long term way of life might include annual practices: an extended pilgrimage or retreat, a mission trip, an evaluation of financial giving to God’s mission.
5.  Discipleship is a lifelong process; in Eugene Peterson’s language, it is a “long obedience in the same direction.” It will help to document your spiritual formation; for some, there are life-changing events, and for others, the process is more gradual and even generational. In the Wesleyan tradition we have called this sanctification.

The Bible itself can be read in this way:

  • it is the journey of God’s people from slavery to freedom;
  • the passage of Jesus from baptism and wilderness to suffering, death and into resurrection;
  • the experience of the disciples who follow Jesus, listen to his teaching, witness his death and resurrection, receive the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and are sent into all the world.

For the non-churched (nones), the language of becoming a disciple is entering a new world of practices, habits and relationships. For the de-churched (dones), the path of discipleship requires a detachment from negative experiences of church in the past and a turning toward the gift of new forms of church. And for leaders, lay and clergy, there is the essential and lifelong basic work of spiritual formation. At our best, we will be most effective and faithful as we accompany each other into the future that God is preparing for us.

Making Disciples as Mentoring
Once we are on the path of being a disciple, we soon discover that we are also called to invite others into this way of life. Thus, we want a simple method for making disciples or mentoring friends to be closer followers of Jesus.   So how do we mentor (or make) new disciples?

1.  Listen to the other person. This may happen in a meeting, perhaps in everyday life and in planned or unplanned ways, or over a succession of conversations. In a culture that is cynical about faith, it is not wise to rush this step. Listening is a lifelong activity!
2.  Reflect back to the person that you are wanting to get to know and understand them. For many persons, this is a rare experience to discover that others are listening to (honoring) their stories.  Note:  These first two steps are essential and cannot be bypassed.
3.  Connect their story with your own story and a part of the gospel. This assumes that we know the gospels (the importance of daily reading) and can access the presence of Jesus in most any human situation: fear, loss, anger, poverty, betrayal, confusion, pride. You may share an experience where the power of Jesus helped you to overcome an obstacle. This connection is not about institutions or denominations, but is instead about relationships and the spiritual journey.
4.  Ask how you can be in prayer for the person. And ask if the other person will pray for you. This places you together on the same level.  Note:  Here you will want to be as humble as possible, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to speak through the gospels and the act of prayer. At this point the action is more important than the response, which you cannot control.
5.  Seek to connect the other person to your community. In our time, the basic steps will be a group that meets outside the church (say, in a coffee shop) or in a context of mission and serving, or in a new group in formation. Don’t worry if you get stalled here, but don’t hesitate to name your own worshiping community. It is a relational process.
6.  Stay in touch with the person, and continue to develop the relationship, no matter the response. You are investing in the friendship for the sake of the other person, and not for any congregational or institutional gain.
7.  Continue to pray for the other person each day, and occasionally let the other person know you are doing this.

There is a mutually reinforcing relationship between becoming a disciple (spiritual formation) and making disciples (mentoring). We often learn best by teaching and leading; and at the same time, our lives are shaped, formed and enriched by deep friendships.

It is also true that where spiritual formation and mentoring are not present, our Christian life can become stagnant and rigid. How do we break this cycle?

If we are stuck, we might seek out a spiritual director, pastor, coach or guide.  This person is likely less appealing to us because of credentials and more through an authenticity and depth of faith.   Note:  A word about generations. Many younger adults have a strong need to live in relationships with persons who are older (not of their generation). At the same time, many younger adults have a great deal to teach older adults. This is sometimes called reverse-mentoring. There is a need for both mentoring and reverse-mentoring in our church.

By definition, Fresh Expressions “come into being through principles of listening, service, incarnational mission and making disciples.” And, so, our first priority is not to create Fresh Expressions of church; instead, we listen, serve, and become incarnationally present and discipled. In our time, this will take the form of spiritual practices that shape us, and intentional relationships that empower others.

Questions:
What two or three spiritual practices or habits would strengthen your life as a disciple of Jesus? What happens weekly, or monthly, or annually? And, is there someone near to you who might be open to your spiritual mentoring?

-Bishop Ken Carter, October 26, 2015

Beware of Nostalgia ©

Two pieces of reading and variety of reflective conversations with a wide and extremely diverse collection of people have caught my attention recently.  As he commonly does, Gil Rendle offers insightful reflections on the challenge a nostalgic longing presents to the church.  Almost simultaneously, I have been reading Yuval Levin’s The Fractured Republic: Renewing America’s Social Contract in an Age of Individualism.  Dr. Levin forcefully notes that much of our current political malaise (and dearth of leadership) stems from being “blinded by nostalgia” through looking back on mythic ideal age in America (the late 1950s –early 1960s for liberals and the early 1980s “Regan era” for conservative) and trying to somehow recreate that age (which can’t be done!).

What has captured my immediate attention is how both point to the danger of being so enamored by the past that we have trouble addressing the present.  In one of my early workshops under the great Methodist leadership guru Lyle Schaller, I remember him saying, “The most important vote an Administrative Board [or Council] takes every year is to decide what year is next year.”  Schaller went on to explain that if you think next year is 1957 you will vote, act and commit your resources differently than if you think next year is 2017.

In a Texas Methodist Foundation, August 15th blog entitled “Nostalgia and Three Changed Questions“, Dr. Rendle shares how he has added the critically important word “now” to his “Holy Conversations’” questions.  [“Who are we now?  What does God call us to do now?  Who is our neighbor now?”] He goes on to comment:

“I have come to believe that one of our key challenges in the church is nostalgia.  An antidote to nostalgia is to keep reminding ourselves when we are (i.e., now).  I am an early baby-boomer and grew up in the church when it was strong, growing consistently and at the center of the culture.

“When nostalgia kicks in, I am tempted to conjure that image of the church and assume that with a bit more hard work, we could be like that again.  (By the way, I’m also tempted to think of myself as having more hair and energy as well as less weight and complaints.)  The problem with nostalgia is that it leads me to think that’s how the church is (or I am) supposed to be and that somehow the world is supposed to be like it was before, as well!”

I am captured by the idea that the first task of leadership is to draw an honest picture of the current reality, which in this case is a picture of the church no longer in the center of a changed culture.  Nostalgia doesn’t help, and in most cases reminds us of what we cannot have anymore.  Instead, we need to ask what we are going to do with what we do have.

We in the church and in the larger American society need to beware of nostalgia. The temptation to try to “turn back the clock” to an imagined better time is powerful for all of us! Various scripture examples abound. There is Mordechai’s proclaim to Esther, “But who knows? Maybe it was for a moment like this that you came to be part of the royal family” (Esther 4:14).  The prophet Isaiah shares a word of the Lord.  “Look! I’m doing a new thing; now it sprouts up; don’t you recognize it?  I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness” (Isaiah 43:19-20).  Perhaps greatest of all, there is the Lord himself proclaiming, “Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news!” (Mark 1:15).

God doesn’t need to get with our program.  We must enlist or re-enlist with the mighty workings of God.  In a serious of recent presentations, I have intentionally made a point of emphasizing what the Lord is doing now(!) in, through and around us by the power and presence of the Holy Spirit.   God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing!  We are called to ministry for such a time as this!  The Kingdom of God is at hand!

In the South Central Jurisdictional Conference Episcopal Address, I reached for this great truth.  I said, “Please, I bid you, step with me carefully into the new future God is even now leading us to.  This is not the stuff of Pollyanna dreams nor still an ostrich-like head-in-the-sands denial of reality.  It is the stuff of our faith.  Here we find our footing in these turbulent times on the solid rock of Christ as Lord and Savior (Matthew 7:24-25).  ‘For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. Then when you call upon me and come and pray to me, I will hear you. When you search for me, you will find me; if you seek me with all your heart, 14 I will let you find me, says the Lord’ (Jeremiah 29:11-14a).”

Beware of nostalgia!  It can call us away and lead us astray however well intended.  The Lord God is birthing a new church out of the old and in some places in the old!

Flood Relief for Our Neighbors ©

The pictures and news reports are graphic.  The flooding is historic in size and scope.  The impact has been described as “catastrophic” by The Central Texas Conference’s Coordinator of Disaster Response Rev. Laraine Waughtal.

Already the response by Central Texas Conference (CTC) churches has been tremendous!  Rev. Waughtal and a team of trained Early Responders have already delivered a 6×12 trailer full of supplies with more than 200 buckets of cleaning supplies plus many school kits and health kits. Well done you saints of the Lord!

LA flooding responseWhen I asked her what more was needed, Rev. Waughtal responded with a trinity of needs – Money, buckets and trained Early Response Teams.  The detailed instruction in the lead story of our conference website bears repeating by way of emphasis.

  1. Please cover everyone with prayer.  From emergency personnel, to churches, the people who have been directly affected, families who are still trying to reach loved ones and all those helping with the continued rescues and the start of recovery, etc.
  2. Please make more cleaning buckets!  Louisiana needs anything and everything you can make at this time. Flood buckets generally cost about $65 and contain basic supplies such as detergent, sponges and soap that allow flood survivors to begin the overwhelming job of cleaning up. You can click here to see a list of supplies and how to build “flood” buckets. Once they have been built, please take your cleaning buckets to First United Methodist Hillsboro (315 E. Elm St. Hillsboro, TX) as this is where we store our CTC Disaster response supplies. The CTC Disaster Response team will make another run to Louisiana as soon as the cleaning buckets are ready and take them to the appropriate location.
  3. Please do not go to Louisiana at this time. This is at the request of the Louisiana Conference as well as state officials. They need to be able to focus on what is happening right now and keep visitors, even those with the best of intentions, to a minimum at this time. [Trained early responders can be of big assistance and should coordinate going through Rev. Waughtal.]
  4. If you feel led to give financially, please give to the UMCOR advance # 901670.

It wasn’t long ago (this past June) when we were reaching out (with support for our neighbors in Louisiana!) to those suffering in the Central Texas Conference due to flooding. Once again we hear all call from the Lord to Christian service and generosity which echoes the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke10:25-37). The admonition of Christ lingers in our hearts and minds … “Go and do likewise.” (Luke 10:37).

 

Bishop Cynthia Fierro Harvey, One Week Later from Louisiana Annual Conference on Vimeo.

On the Road Again ©

This week finds me on the road again for the greater United Methodist Church.  Last week I preached at Winters UMC for their 125th  Anniversary.  This last Sunday (August 14th) I had the joy of teaching the Warm Hearts Sunday School class at the Arborlawn UMC (where my wife is a member).  Both occasions were a joy for me (and I hope a blessings for Winters UMC and the Warm Hearts folks at Arborlawn). But early Monday morning, August 15th, finds me waiting in line for a flight to Jacksonville, Florida.

Monday to about 11 a.m. on Tuesday, I will be with a team of folks meeting at the site of a great Extended Cabinet Summit sponsored by the Council of Bishops (COB).  On behalf of the COB, I am chairing the preparation efforts for this event.  Together, District Superintendents, Lay Leaders, Conference Finance, Church Development, and Missions Directors along with Assistant to the Bishop folks, will be meeting in Jacksonville the first week in November to focus on a primary task – building vital congregations.  This will be more than just a cheerleading time.  It will be a time to help the United Methodist Church focus on our central task of building vital congregations who “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  There will be four other such “Summits” around the world to focus the global United Methodist Church on building vital congregations — 2 in Africa, 1 in Asia, 1 Europe (which might split into to a Northern Europe gathering and a Southern Europe gathering … that decision hasn’t been made yet).

From Jacksonville I’ll fly on to Chicago.  Unfortunately I won’t be able to spend time watching my beloved (AND MAJOR LEAGUE LEADING!!!!) Chicago Cubs.  Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday I will be chairing the United Methodist Church’s Path 1 Advisory Team.  Path 1 is the name of the great denominational effort to grow the number of new faith communities all across the United States and the world.  It is attached to Discipleship Ministries.  Significantly, this ministry is called Path 1 because the transformation and renewal of new churches and communities of faith is the vital first step in renewing the denomination as a whole.  A part of this great effort reaches into the life of existing congregations helping them grow in vitality of mission and ministry.

Thursday, I go down the street about 4 blocks (from the Path 1 meeting) and join the School for Congregational Development.  This great time of learning and sharing has been going on for about 12 years.  The focus is on both the transformation/renewal of existing congregations and the development of new faith communities.  Together with Bishop Hee-Soo Jung of the Wisconsin Episcopal Area, we will be teaching a course entitled Developing a Conference Strategy for New Faith Communities.  I have immense respect for Bishop Jung.  He is one of the most creative innovators I know.  It should be a great time of learning!

Friday morning I will fly on to Dayton, Ohio where the Board of Trustees for United Theological Seminary will be meeting.  I have just been elected to serve on that Board and am excited about the opportunity to help shape a historically great seminary that comes out of the Evangelical United Brethren side of the formation of the United Methodist Church.  [A quick historical divergence.  Do you know why the Wright brothers came from Dayton, Ohio?  Their Dad was Bishop Wright, a leader of the Evangelical United Brethren (essentially German speaking Wesleyans) who was bishop of that area back when Orville and Wilbur were just getting going with their bicycle shop and heavier-than-air flying experiments.  The invention of the “airplane” has Methodist roots!!  A really cool replica of the original Orville and Wilbur Wright airplane hangs in the Seminary library!]

The Dean of United Theological Seminary is Dr. David Watson.  Dr. Watson did his Ph.D. in New Testament at Perkins School of Theology, SMU.  His parents are members of Arborlawn UMC.  All of which is by way of saying we are part of larger worldwide connection to which we properly give thanks and carefully nurture as stewards of God’s good work!  I am honored to serve on the Board at United.

My plane lands at 8:44 p.m. at DFW Saturday night.  Hopefully I’ll be home by 10.  I’ll need some rest.  I’m teaching the Warm Hearts Sunday Class next Sunday.

THE COURAGE TO MARCH © PT 4

Central Texas Conference Episcopal Address given by Bishop Mike Lowry
June 6, 2016

PART IV – “A Time for Courageous Leadership”

Leadership development for both lay and clergy remains and must remain a top priority. To this end two years ago we brought in Dr. Kevin Walters to buttress our development of a new generation of lay leaders.  The Vital Leadership Academy as noted is already making a difference. Soon Dr. Walters along with our Lay Leadership Council will be rolling out a new Lay Servant Ministry program.  We are indebted to our Lay Leader Kim Simpson for her pioneering efforts along with Dr. Walters.

Mr. Jeff Roper has been hired as the Associate Director for Leadership Development freeing Dr. Georgia Adamson to focus on the task of Assistant to the Bishop.  It is my hope that you as a Conference will approve the splitting of those two positions, which was the original intent in the Exodus Project at its inception.  We did not do so because of budget considerations.  I am pleased and proud to say that we are now able to add the position of Leadership Development on a half-time basis in a way that is budget neutral; that is to say, it will not increase our apportionment one dollar.  [This action was approved.]

Jeff brings a wealth of superb senior leadership to us from Alcon Labs. Already he is helping us to develop a system of clergy leadership development which we call LASP.  LASP stands for Learning Agility Sustained Performance. This will enable us to significantly retool as we engage the post-Christendom environment we live in.

Concomitant with the LASP system of clergy training and assessment is what we are tentatively calling SPKP which stands for Sustained Performance Kingdom Potential. It is potentially a way of helping churches assess the degree they are will to step up to higher mission and ministry to which the sovereign Lord is calling them and us together to engage in.  Laity let me put this plainly.  We cannot hold clergy accountable unless churches are themselves open to such accountability.

It will take us awhile to figure all this out. We will go through field testing and pilot project in some districts.  It will be threatening to all of us.  Changes will need to be made.  But it also has the courageous possibility to help us step into the brave new world of church the Lord is calling us to.

There is a famous speech taken from Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar which addresses to our situation.

“There is a tide in the affairs of men. Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune; Omitted, all the voyage of their life Is bound in shallows and in miseries. On such a full sea are we now afloat, And we must take the current when it serves, Or lose our ventures.”[1]

These are tough times for the church. There is no way around it.  It is harder to be a pastor today than at any time in my 41 years in ministry (thirty of which have been spent as a pastor of a local church).  Easy answers do not apply.  Complexity is the nature of the situation.  It takes nerve to stand for Christ in today’s environment.  Courage is not a nice bonus in a pastor but a necessity.  Lay leadership demands discernment and uncommon wisdom linked with the fortitude to navigate the storm.

Ross Douthat in his engaging book Bad Religion reminds us of Christian reality in the following quote.

“In The Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterston describes what he calls the “five deaths of the faith” – the moments in Western history when Christianity seemed doomed to either perish entirely or else fade to the margins of a post-Christian civilizations. It would have been natural for the faith to decline and fall with the Roman Empire, or to disappear gradually after the armies of Islam conquered its ancient heartland in the Near East and North Africa. It would have been predictable if Christianity had dissolved along with feudalism when the Middle Ages gave way to the Renaissance, or if it had vanished with the ancient regimes of Europe amid the turmoil of the age of revolutions. And it would have been completely understandable if the faith had gradually waned during the long nineteenth century, when it was dismissed by Marx, challenged by Darwin, denounced by Nietzsche, and explained away by Freud.

But in each of these cases, an age of crisis was swiftly followed by an era of renewal, in which forces threatening the faith either receded or were discredited and Christianity itself revived. Time and again, Chesterston noted, “the Faith has to all appearance gone to the dogs.” But each time, “it was the dog that died.”[2]

It is not Demosthenes speaking to us[3]; still less Shakespeare. It is Jesus, the sovereign Lord of the both the church and universe.  More importantly it is Christ himself who calls and commands. Do you recall the verse I opened this address with?  “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”[4]

Friends, the risen Christ stands this day and says again to us, let us march! So it is, so it is. Fear not! It’s time to march!

 

[1]               Brutus; Julius Caesar, Act 4 Scene 3
[2]               Ross Douthat, Bad Religion, pg. 277-278
[3]               “When Cicero spoke we said, ‘How well he speaks.’ But when Demosthenes spoke we said, ‘Let us march.’”
[4]               Acts 1:8

THE COURAGE TO MARCH © PT 3

 Central Texas Conference Episcopal Address given by Bishop Mike Lowry
June 6, 2016

PART III – “The Sinews of Methodism and the Recovery of Evangelism”

A second element in focusing on local congregations coincides with the importance of small group development. The key is that it is not just any old small group but much more specifically about small groups that develop spiritual depth and muscle.  The central element to the rise of early Methodism was class meetings (small groups) that watched “over one another in love.”

I don’t care if we call them life groups or discovery groups or reunion groups or the original Methodist class meeting or the even more original initial Christian small group experience put together by Jesus the and 12 apostles. What we need to do is rediscover their essence and get intensely insistent on re-engaging this central component of the original Methodist movement.  The Christian church from bible times onward has never sustained discipleship growth without such an emphasis. Consider these two comments taken from Kevin Watson’s marvelous book The Class Meeting,

  • Never omit meeting your Class or Band … These are the very sinews of our Society; and whatever weakens, or tends to weaken, our regard for these, or our exactness in attending them, strikes at the very root of our community. – John Wesley[1]
  • We have no doubt, but meetings of Christian brethren for the exposition of scripture-texts, may be attended with their advantages. But the most profitable exercise of any is a free inquiry into the state of the heart … Through the grace of God our classes form the pillars of our work, and, as we have before observed, are in a considerable degree our universities for the ministry. – Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke, 1798 Doctrines and Discipline[2]

Dr. Watson goes on to comment, “I am worried that our approach to Christian discipleship is too often like a person who prepares to run a marathon by buying shoes without actually running in them. Please don’t misunderstand me; just as good running shoes are essential for long-distance running, the Bible and the church are essential for discipleship. Discipleship, however, is about a way of life, not only the life of the mind. Disciples follow Jesus. They are sent out in ministry by Jesus. They heal the sick. The feed the poor. They tell people about Jesus and what he has done.”[3]  We will hear more from him next year.

The third element of our relentless focus on mission through a focus on the local church is the continuing nascent recovery of the evangelism impulse. We have to relearn how to engage in evangelism. This is not optional.  It is biblical and practical.  We won’t be here if don’t!  Obviously, I think the issue is tied to the reassertion of an orthodox theology.  Lovett Weems’ “more people, younger people, and more diverse people” is prophetically accurate.  If we evangelize, more people they will by definition be younger and more diverse.

One of the issues is that generations of clergy were taught how to do pastoral care but not how to engage in evangelism. Gil Rendle’s comment sticks in my mind, “I was taught how to change people’s affiliation not how to change their lives.”  If we are honest, real evangelism is foreign to most clergy and often scary.  We tend to hide behind a theology that says the Holy Spirit does the converting, we don’t.  This is true as far as it goes but fails to recognize that the Holy Spirit often intends to use us as instruments for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ.  The word evangelism itself means “tactics for sharing the good news” of Jesus Christ.  Our failure to engage in evangelism is largely driven by fear, work avoidance and at times masks our theological poverty.  It is time, well past time, to learn again how to engage in a core work of the gospel.

To that end, on September 19th of 2016 at Whites Chapel UMC we will be holding an evangelism summit.  The Evangelism Summit is intended to offer a short course on evangelism for clergy but all (laity emphatically included) are invited.  We have placed the Summit on a Monday in the 10 to 4 time period to enable clergy to attend.  We have some of the best thinkers and practitioners in the field coming to share with us including Dr. Olu Brown, Lead Pastor of Impact UMC in Atlanta and author of Zero to Eighty: Innovative Ideas for Planting and Accelerating Church Growth, Dr. Billy Abraham from Perkins School of Theology and author of The Logic of Evangelism, and Dr. George Hunter, the first McCreless Professor of Evangelism at Perkins School of Theology, retired Dean of the E. Stanley Jones School of World Mission and Evangelism at Asbury Theological Seminary and author of many books on evangelism notably including The Celtic Way of Evangelism.

Clergy, only three times in the past eight years as your Bishop have I asked you to make attendance at an event a priority in your life. I am asking you now for a fourth time.  I ask you, I will go so far as to plead with you, do not miss this event.  Laity, especially those of you on Pastor-Parish Relations Committees, I ask that you help clear your pastor’s schedule so that she or he may attend.  I invite you to come along too!

Pastor Roger Ross in his new Meet the Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share the Faith reports the following 7 ways to share the faith from the original Methodist movement:

  1. Be Devoted to Prayer
  2. Go Where the People Are
  3. Speak Plain Truth
  4. Use the Music of the Culture
  5. Place Everyone in a Small Group for Spiritual Growth
  6. Give the Ministry to the Laity
  7. Use Mass Communication to Get the Word Out

 He adds:  Why Not Now?[4]

 

[1]               Kevin Watson, The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience, p. 19
[2]               Kevin Watson, The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group Experience, p. 53
[3]               Watson, IBID, p. 60
[4]               Roger Ross, Meet the Goodpeople: Wesley’s 7 Ways to Share the Faith

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