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)

Inventory and Ministry Matters

I have just returned for the Cabinet’s annual inventory retreat.  At this retreat, we take stock of coming retirements, incoming seminary graduates and new licensed local pastors, those pastors and or churches considering or requesting moves, etc.  As we live into the new reality of a post- Christendom age, we continue to be governed by the notion of trying to make mission field appointments.  Our focus/guide remains:  Our clients are: 1) God, 2) The Mission Field, 3) The congregation, and 4) The clergy – In that order!  People readily agree with that focus.  The implementation, however, is painful.  The old “ladder” system no longer holds.  This is a painful part of our exodus journey.

Switching topics, I want to call attention to some recent articles in Ministry Matters (www.ministrymatters.com).  F.  Douglas Powe, Jr. has written a thoughtful article entitled “Revitalizing African American Congregations for the Post-Civil Rights Generation” (Posted on February 1st, 2012).  It is an excerpt from his book Pouring New Wine into New Wine Skins: Revitalizing African American Congregations.

 Another Ministry Matters (www.ministrymatters.com) article worth reading is Church, Take Up Your Mats by Christian Piatt, Posted January 30th, 2012.

 

 

Monclova ’73

 Wednesday I returned from our mission investigation trip to Monterrey with Randy Wild and Dawne Phillips. Reports of violence tend to dominate the news from Monterrey.  Our trip was quite different.  Under the gracious hosting and guidance of Bishop Raul Garcia (Eastern Conference, The Methodist Church of Mexico), we felt (and were) quite safe.

I came away not only enthused about mission possibilities but inspired by their faithfulness and spiritual courage.  We have much to learn from our brothers and sisters in Mexico.

One of the great inspirations was hearing about the work of the Holy Spirit at Temple el Buen Pastor.  In 1973 with the church and conference in steep decline, a regular district preachers’ meeting was held.  In the midst of their worship, a powerful intervention of the Spirit happened.  During the sermon people started to confess their sins, pray out loud and seek the Holy Spirit’s guidance.  That event marked the turnaround of the Methodist Church of Mexico.  Today it is a growing church (both the local church and the larger Methodist Church of Mexico) sending missionaries out to others!

Temple el Buen Pastor seats about 150 in worship in a cramped physical facility.  Every time they get up to that amount they start a new church somewhere else in Monclova. They’ve started something like 13 new churches.  The most recent was just this year.  They are reaching out dramatically with ministry to the poor and engaging in deep conversion experiences. They look like what early Methodism sounds like.  I cannot help but wonder if God sent the 3 of us to Monclova to learn what the Lord longs to do for us.

Insights Worth Reflecting On

Currently I am in Monterrey, Mexico.  The Central Texas Conference has an ongoing covenantal relationship with the Eastern Conference of the Methodist Church of Mexico (an affiliated church).  I will blog about our learnings on returning.

In the meantime, I have been collecting some insights worth reflection in my reading, which I pass to you.  They are episodic but interesting (at least to me).

In a recent research article in Background Data for Mission (put out by the General Board of Global Ministries, http://new.gbgm-umc.org/), Rev. John Southwick, the author, writes lifting up the outstanding ministry of some non-UM churches:  “Some might question why this newsletter, and last month’s, did not feature United Methodist Churches.  There are certainly many of them doing wonderful ministry.  Those highlighted here happen to be those I have personally encountered within a short time prior to writing.  Of more importance, these churches are doing remarkable ministry in places where others have not fared so well.  Seattle and New York are among the least churched cities in the US and yet these ministries have not only done well, they have gone over the top.  The two churches noted last month, City Church in Seattle and Brooklyn Tabernacle in New York, along with Redeemer Presbyterian, are reaching more people, younger people, and more diverse people.  They are doing it with excellent music, strong preaching, an emphasis on evangelism, a love for their context, and a driving sense of vision and purpose.  All churches can strive to improve in these areas and may be pleasantly impressed with the results.”

Catch the emphasis near the close.  It is critically important and bears repeating.  “They are doing it with excellent music, strong preaching, an emphasis on evangelism, a love for their context, and a driving sense of vision and purpose.”

On another subject, many have reported on the United Methodist Church having a positive image among Americans in general.  The following quote is worth reflection.  “(United) Methodists are well liked — and there is great opportunity if (United) Methodist churches will seize the opportunity that this positive perception provides,” said Ed Stetzer, president of LifeWay Research. “If they will show and share the gospel with their neighbors and plant evangelistic churches – they can turn a good reputation into a gospel opportunity.”  I have heard Ed Stetzer speak.  He is graciously ecumenical and often on target.  His writings are worth a look: www.edstetzer.com.

Celebration and Grief, Adventure and Change

Today (Friday, January 27, 2012) I have the joy of representing the Central Texas Conference and The United Methodist Church at the installation of Dr. Fred Slabach as the 20th President of Texas Wesleyan University. I believe the Trustees have chosen well. President Slabach is already engaging the church in the ongoing ministry of “uniting the two so long divided: knowledge and vital piety.”

Tomorrow (Saturday, January 28, 2012) I will share with my esteemed colleague and friend Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe in a Memorial Service for his granddaughter Hannah Moran. The tragic death of young girl so full of hope and promise hits us all hard. I ask you to lift up Bishop and Leslie Bledsoe and their entire family in prayers and love. I am deeply grateful for the love and care of the gathered and scattered church at such a time as this. Dr. Tim Bruster and the staff at First UMC, Fort Worth have been especially helpful and grace-filled.

Monday, I will fly to Monterrey, Mexico with Rev. Randy Wild (Executive Director for the Center for Mission Support) and Dawn Phillips (Director of Missions) to meet with the Methodist Bishop of Mexico. Our two conferences have long had a covenantal arrangement of missional support and engagement. We hope to explore how we together might serve Christ and especially our neighbors in need in the future. This is an adventure in service and sharing that I look forward to being a part of!

The following Saturday (February 4, 2012), Jolynn and I will travel back to Dallas for a regular meeting of the South Central Jurisdiction College of Bishops. As we look forward to General Conference, the bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction are exploring together how we lead this great church through our current period of change. We seek to be open to the Holy Spirit and attentive to God’s guidance. We remain committed to the core mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Tell Conference

A special event is coming up on faith sharing. Most readers of this blog know my deep passion for us to reclaim a Wesleyan way of faith sharing. One of the great leaders in this movement is Dr. Bob Pierson. Bob was a tremendously faithful and fruitful pastor for many years in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Since retiring he was led Leadership Nexus, an organization providing training and leadership in recovering the Wesleyan way of faithfulness.

First United Methodist Church of Brownwood is hosting the “Tell Conference” on February 11-12. “The conference-wide event for clergy and laity is on Saturday, February 11. For those that attended the Needs Based Evangelism Conference [that First UMC Brownwood] held in 2009 that name will sound familiar. Dr Pierson has a new book entitled Tell, and it has quickly become one of the top resources around the world in regard to helping disciples of Jesus Christ to know how to tell their faith story to someone else. On Sunday, February 12, Dr Pierson will lead worship in all three services at Brownwood FUMC. The cost of the conference is $40 a person for those who will be attending from around the Central Texas Conference on Saturday.”

I commend this opportunity for learning and spiritual development greatly!

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!

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. Project-44.org 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 kyle@project-44.org.

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.

HONORING THE SABBATH ON CHRISTMAS DAY

This was one of those rare years when Christmas Day (and New Year’s Day) fell on a Sunday.  In Methodist tradition our high celebration of the birth of Christ is on Christmas Eve.  At least originally the notion of Christmas Eve worship was to greet the Christ-child at the start of Christmas Day in worship (that is at midnight).  It “fits” with the angelic greeting of the shepherds in their fields at night.  Symbolically at least, we are joining the shepherds in adoration.  (Ancient Orthodox tradition has it that the animals are the first to greet the newborn Savior by speaking at midnight!  You might check out the hymn “The Friendly Beasts” (UM Hymnal, No. 227).

What draws my reflection is the morning after – Christmas Day, a Sabbath Day for Christians – the Son’s Day or Resurrection Day.  After multiple Christmas Eve services (including one at 11:00 p.m.), Arborlawn (my wife’s church) held one worship at 10 a.m. on Christmas Day (instead of the usual 3).  We went (and yes, I was late).  They ran out of bulletins!  Far more people showed up than were expected.

Christmas Day afternoon we drove to Oklahoma to have Christmas dinner with my mother-in-law.  Her United Methodist Church held a Christmas Eve service but no service on Sunday – the Christian Sabbath day! – Christmas Day.  My mother-in-law and her friends were disappointed (if not disgusted) by the lack of a Christmas Day (Sunday) service.  Politely but pointedly she noted that worshipping God on Sunday, especially a Christmas Day Sunday, was a part of keeping the commandment to honor the Sabbath.  The lack of worship on Christmas Day seemed unfaithful.

I can’t help but wonder in all this if the lay people are telling us (the clergy) something critical to faithfulness.  These laity appear to take the commandment to “honor the Sabbath and keep it holy” as more important than the clergy.  In the case of Arborlawn (where the clergy leadership was clearly faithful and provided excellent worship leadership), the laity were telling us (the clergy) about the importance of such worship.  The commandment to honor the Sabbath still applies; even … no make that especially, on Christmas Day.

The Year of Our Lord (Anno Domini) 2012

As we step in the New Year I wish to challenge the assumption of 2012 as being in the “Common Era” – C.E.  Please don’t misunderstand.  As a matter of courtesy and the use of the phrase “C.E.” by Christians with others is often a matter of politeness and courtesy.  It is appropriate.

And yet, among those who are Christ followers, it is not adequate or even accurate.  To be a Christ follower is live the conviction that this is the year of our Lord – Anno Domini – 2012.

The Christmas story isn’t over.  It is barely beginning.  As Adam Hamilton states in The Journey, “Something astounding had begun in the cave in Bethlehem – yet something that would not be completed until this child walked out of another cave thirty-three years later, following his crucifixion” (p. 118).

My new year opens in Austin with the other active bishops of the South Central Jurisdiction of the United Methodist Church.  Our TMF bishops group (called “The Conclave”) gathers traditionally the first week of the New Year. Together we are wrestling with issues of leadership and direction facing us and the church in this new year of our Lord.

More significantly (far more significantly!), January 6th is Epiphany Day.  In search of the real spirit of Christmas, the Holy Spirit of God, we are led not just to Christmas but into the new year.  Like the wise persons of old, what we must embrace is the importance of the continuing search for Christ in our lives.  With those gentile pagans, we are led to embrace the great truth that God is for all!  Ephipany Day (the light to the gentiles) focuses us on the gift and its surprising nature.

Notice I said gift not gifts.  So often we focus on the material gifts the wise men bring – gold, frankincense, and myrrh.  These were stupendous gifts, no doubt about it.  But, they were not the gift.  The Bible tells us, “On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh” (Matthew 2:11).  “The greatest gift they brought was their devotion: their willingness to endure whatever it took and to look as long as it took to find what God had promised them through the sign.  Their physical gifts paled in comparison. . . . What greater gift can we bring to Christ than our commitment to find Him no matter what the cost, and when we have found Him, to worship Him?” (Dan Schaeffer, In Search of the Real Spirit of Christmas, pp. 162, 163).

The search for the real spirit of Christmas will always find its conclusion in such homage, such worship.  Here lies the “epiphany” of God: 1) To seek Christ constantly in all our living, 2) to embrace Christ who embraces all in sharing His love, and 3) to offer Him our unstinting worship.

Gazing at the stars, truly wise men beckon us on a journey of faith that experiences the joy of worshiping Christ, offering Him our treasure, and sharing His love who those who do not yet have the privilege of knowing Him.

May such a blessing be yours in this year of the Lord, 2012.