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Lessons from the Dean

Beginning Monday, June 10th we will have the joy and privilege of having Dr. Kenda Creasy Dean as our Conference Teacher.  She is renowned for her insight in ministry to youth and young adults.  Significantly those insights translate beyond ministry to young persons.  They are profound in their implications for what it means to be a Christian and to recovering the essence of the Wesleyan movement of faithful discipleship to the Lord.  Her book, Almost Christian: What the Faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, is exceptional.

Dr. Dean will be speaking to the Conference on Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning.  These addresses are open to all.  Visitors to Conference are asked to sit in the balcony.  If you are not a delegate to the Central Texas Conference, please receive this blog as an invitation to come and hear Dr. Dean offer us lessons for discipleship.

In March of 2012 Dr. Dean wrote an article for Leading Ideas (The Lewis Center for Church Leadership’s online magazine) entitled “Characteristics for a Healthy Youth Ministry.”  She shared (in part) the following:

“Congregations that succeed in nurturing the faith of young people tend to demonstrate certain key characteristics. What are the top characteristics of a healthy youth ministry?

11. Safe space.

10. A culture of creativity. Young people need practice in multiple “faith languages” — words and actions, art and prayer.

9. A culture of theological awareness.

8. Integration into a congregation’s worship, mission, and discipleship formation at every level.  Teenagers need people to reflect back to them who they are. This “mirroring” is basic to the process of identity formation. Only in the church do young people begin to see themselves through the eyes of people who try to see them as God sees them: beloved, blessed, called.

7. An authentic, fun, and passionate community of belonging.

6. A team of adult youth leaders actively growing in faith. You can’t lead where you don’t go. Adult youth leaders need to model spiritual investment in themselves, in one another, and in the world because youth need examples of faithful, supportive, Christian community.

5. A congregation where people actively seek and talk about God. The 2003 Exemplary Youth Ministry Study convinced me that congregations where young people reliably develop mature faith “talk about God as the subject of sentences.” Talking about God indicates that people in a church are actively seeking God and believe God makes a difference. And, they talk to God as well as about God. God is alive and present and in their midst. God is doing things through them.

4. A congregation where people are visibly invested in youth.

3. A senior pastor who is crazy about young peopleIf a congregation supports youth ministry,  it will be clear because the senior pastor or head of staff talks about young people (positively) in public, includes them in leadership, embraces the faith development of parents, knows youth and their leaders by name, and makes himself or herself available to young people for spiritual conversations. The senior pastor is youth ministry’s head cheerleader.

2. Parents who model faith and know that this matters to their kids. Parents are the most important youth ministers. The National Study of Youth and Religion found that having parents who are religiously active is the most important variable contributing to a teenager’s faith identity and his or her ability to sustain that faith identity between high school and emerging adulthood. And if young people don’t have religiously active parents, then churches need to be places where kids can find adults who will “adopt” them spiritually.

1.      A commitment to Jesus Christ. Since Christians understand God as Triune through Jesus — whose life, death, and resurrection reveals not only who God is and who we are in relationship to God, but that God continues to act in our lives and in the world around us — doing youth ministry without Jesus is like doing dinner without food: you can come to the table, but there’s nothing to eat. So why bother?”


There is more and, as I indicated above, I have edited the article quoted.  Hopefully this whets your appetite.  We have a rare opportunity to have a world class scholar and deeply faithful Christian leader teach us.  I hope to see you at Arborlawn UMC on June 10th and 11th!

Focus on the Mission

As the Cabinet continues its joint ministry work, we wrestle deeply with how we stay focused on the mission.  By way of reminder to readers, our mission as a part of the United Methodist Church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  The clear focus of our ministry as a Conference staff (Cabinet and Conference Center) is to “energize and equip local congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

This Tuesday (February 19th) we spent a day with consultant Mike Bonem (author of Leading from the Second Chair and In Pursuit of Great and Godly Leadership).  Mike facilitated our discussion on what it means to think about the District Superintendent as a mission strategist.  (I have written on this before in a number of blogs.)  This is a major emphasis of our work together as a Cabinet.  While it may not always be clear from a distance, the “mission strategist” approach has already brought great change to our Cabinet work (both in what we work on and how we work).  One clear example is the way we engage in appointment making. (See my recent Blog entitled “Inventory and Narrative”)

As a Cabinet we are clear that the mission is the driver!  Notice that is not “a driver” or even “the primary driver.”  It is THE driver.  Do we live up to this perfectly?  No, but we are working on it!

In answering the question “what does it mean to say someone is a mission strategist?” we came up with the following list.  A Mission Strategist is:

1)         Led by the Holy Spirit
2)         Clear about the mission
3)         Has a strategy
4)         Externally focused (focused on the mission field)
5)         Points pastors, laity & congregations in the same direction
6)         Focuses energy on the coalition of the willing
7)         Minimizes energy on institutional maintenance
8)         Speaks the truth in grace
9)         Points churches towards resources & fresh ideas
10)       Courageously holds self and others accountable
11)       Not an island; aligned, committed to interacting with the rest of the Cabinet

This list is hardly complete and is an evolving document.  Nonetheless, it offers a guide to what we are about and hopefully gives needed insight to lay leaders and pastors.

As I look over the list and reflect on our work together, what rings in my ears is the command of the risen Christ.  “I’ve received all authority in heaven and on earth.Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything that I’ve commanded you. Look, I myself will be with you every day until the end of this present age” (Matthew 28:18-20).


Extravagant Generosity and Vital Congregations

 As I move through the accumulated paperwork of my office, many different items caught my attention.  Two offer witness to living out of our missional purpose of “making disciples for the transformation of the world.”

Rev. Dawne Phillips shared that in a recent preaching at FUMC Weatherford that she was presented with a check for the Conference in the amount of $17,071 to be contributed to Imagine No Malaria.  The contribution is the first gift from a $440,000 capital campaign for a new bus, audio-visual equipment, long-range planning with an architect, debt reduction and a 10% pledge to Imagine No Malaria.  Their plan is to make periodic payments to the Conference as funds are received.  The faithfulness and fruitfulness of the good folks at First UMC, Weatherford is a prime example of extravagant generosity.

Another (of many) example of faithfulness and fruitfulness is the growing participation by the churches of the Central Texas Conference in the greater Vital Congregations emphasis of the larger United Methodist Church. Gary Lindley and Jeff Jones offer the following bullet points:

  •  Thus far 128 churches are participating. Some of these include: White’s Chapel, Keller, Killeen First, Oglesby, Ranger and Cranfills Gap.
  • Criteria for determining whether or not a church is vital are:
    For each church, we average the metrics from each category (Worship Attendance, Professions of Faith, Number in Small Groups, People in Mission, Dollars to Mission). Churches receive a score from 1 to 3 in each category based on their ranking with other churches. Churches in the bottom 25% of each category receive a 1; those in middle 25-75% receive a 2; and those in the top 25% receive a 3. Those scores are then added together. Churches with a score of 10 or more and with no score of 1 in any single category are considered “Highly Vital.”
  • Data will be reviewed by the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth to determine churches that are considered vital.
  • Numbers represent the narratives – numbers communicate what is happening in our churches, they capture quantitative and qualitative growth.  We need both the numbers and the personal stories.

As I have written before, with the numbers (or metrics) we add the crucial narrative!  (See my blog of March 19, 2012 entitled The Importance of Narrative and my comments on the same subject in my recent Episcopal Address.)  When the Cabinet looks at appointments and assesses faithfulness and fruitfulness, we will examine together both the metrics of vital congregations and the narratives that accompany those metrics.  May the stories of God’s unfolding grace in Christ through the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit abound!

New Fields of Ministry

Just prior to Christmas, I had the joy and privilege to visit the Project 44 Farm.  Many of you know about Project 44 which began as a ministry to refurbish donated cars and give them to those in need.  That wonderful ministry continues to grow.  Not content to rest on one ministry outreach, the folks at Project 44 have expanded to new fields of ministry (subtle pun intended).  They have begun a farm to feed those struggling to find food!

The Farm sits on a 50 acre piece of land in Granbury, Texas. has currently cultivated 2.5 acres of outdoor crop space on this property for planting and has erected a 4500 square foot greenhouse on the property for year-round planting. It was cold day when I went, but the enthusiasm and commitment warmed my heart.  Over the past year the Project 44 Farm folks estimate that they have produced over 15,000 pounds of produce with countless volunteer support to provide food for hungry families all over Hood County. They are partnering with 4 local non-profit organizations to distribute food throughout Hood County including Rancho Brazos, an extension mission ministry of Acton UMC, as well as local charity Rose’s Place and Christian Service Center. They believe the land they currently have cultivated for use could potentially produce over 30,000 pounds of produce under the right conditions and with adequate volunteer support.  They do need more volunteers.  If interested, contact Kyle Roberson, Administrative Director of Project-44, at 214.215.0033 or

They showed me a 3 bedroom 2 bathroom house on the property they have been given permission to use.  I shared my vision of starting a “new abbey” here in the Central Texas Conference in line with the emerging new monasticism movement.  I can imagine an appointed pastor in some multi-assignment capacity (maybe tent-making or a combination of part-time assignments) as well some seminarians in an internship capacity.  The establishment of an Abbey would facilitate not only a place of work and worship but also a place where worship, prayer, and labor could come together as a manifestation of a faith community.

I realize all of this is a distant vision but I am also convinced that we need to “attempt great things for God and expect great things from God” (William Carey). We need to dream dreams and see visions (Joel 2:28 & Acts 2:17). Who knows where the Lord will lead us.

Beyond Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Thanksgiving was great! We had much to be thankful for as our extended family celebrated
together.  And yet, we couldn’t miss the stories of people camping out to shop on Friday morning.  This incredible display of material addiction assaulted our sense and tempted us at every turn.  It didn’t end.  Monday it continued its rising tide with record reports.  The onslaught of things I (apparently?) need to fill the hole in my heart is both dazzling and

And yet,  . . . in the midst of this onslaught came a true blessing.  I think there is something in the commandment to “Honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.”  We went to worship Sunday (my bride of 35+ years was the lay reader at Arborlawn!).  I found worship settling to my soul and challenging to my spirit.  The music, prayers, preaching, and liturgy all were a blessing.  In a deeply perceptive bulletin insert article, Rev. Bryan Bellamy wrote on “Christmas Joy.”  “This [the message of Isaiah 64:1-9] stands in stark contrast to the commercially driven, over-the-top, Christmas ‘spirit’ that surrounds us presently – a message that pushes overspending,  overdrinking, over-hoping, over-getting and over-giving.”  He quoted Bishop Will Willimon. “The hope for us is that we are out of hope and we know it.  We dare not rush to greet the  redeemer prematurely until we pause here, in the darkened church, to admit that we do need redemption.  Nothing within us can save us.  Nothing can save us.  We’ve tried that before.”

Such wisdom is truly good news and genuine cause for rejoicing.  “Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee!”  Honoring the Sabbath in worship put things back in perspective for me.  I hope it did so for you. Oh, and for those of you needing gift ideas.  How about giving to something in honor of a loved one as your gift?  As Michael Slaughter reminds us, “Christmas is not your birthday.”  You might try a life saving gift through “Imagine No Malaria.”  You can do so by giving through your local church to “Imagine No Malaria” (INM).  Just note on the check that the gift is for “Imagine No Malaria.”  Churches remit the INM funds to our office on a Remittance Form, Fund #622.  $10 saves a life.

Meeting at the Bridge

Thursday and Friday I have been at a South Central Jurisdictional College of Bishops meeting at Lydia Patterson Institute.  Lydia Patterson Institute is a mission of the United Methodist Church and more specifically of the SCJ to share the gospel of Christ in a bilingual border setting.  There motto conveys the essence: “Building Bridges on the Border, where Faith and Knowledge Interact.”

I must confess that I have been blown away by the power of this ministry to change lives.  At dinner I visited with a high school senior who hopes to win a scholarship to a one of our United Methodist Universities.  Living in Juarez, the morning trip to school is dangerous but she “trusts God” to keep her safe.  She wakes at 4 a.m. to be at the international bridge by 6 a.m. “for the lines are long.”  She is engaged in a Christian ministry through the Methodist Church both in Mexico and in the United States.  After a nursing degree at College, it is her intent to answer a call from God to enter seminary.

The parents have formed a group to see the students (6th grade through high school) safely to the bridge.  At the International Bridge, the students patiently cross over to the United States.  Despite the early hour (7:15 a.m.) the smiles and energy offers a sense of the Spirit’s presence.  Our College of Bishops met the students this Friday morning to walk with them the remaining 5 blocks from the bridge to Lydia Patterson.  We were the ones blessed by the walk. As we met these determined students at the bridge, the sacrifice, commitment and courage overwhelm me. I see both the love and power of Christ at work in this ministry.  Truly God is out and about in our world.  Healing, hope, and new horizons are dawning in dangerous circumstances.  The United Methodist Church is engaged in a redemptive work worth being both proud of and humbled by.

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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