Insights from Henri Nouwen ©

One of the insightful and delightful people I have had the privilege of getting to know in recent years in Scott Gilpin.  Scott serves as Executive Director of Fund Development for Discipleship Ministries. Together we have worked on Fund Development for Path 1 (New Faith Communities/Church Development in the United States). This work helps fund the High Impact Residency Program which trains potential new congregation developers. The Central Texas Conference has participated and benefited through the Center for Evangelism and Church Growth and residency ministry at both Whites Chapel UMC and First UMC, Mansfield.

Recently Scott shared some quotes he put together from his reading of Henri Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Fundraising.  With his permission (and my great thank you to him!), I pass them on for our collective wisdom development.  Enjoy and be blessed!  — Bishop Mike Lowry

Top Five Reasons to read Henri Nouwen’s A Spirituality of Fundraising

  1. You will be Encouraged
  • “Fundraising is a very rich and beautiful activity. It is a confident, joyful and hope-filled expression of ministry. In ministering to each other, each from the riches that he or she possesses, we work together for the full coming of God’s Kingdom.”
  • “Fundraising is proclaiming what we believe in such a way that we offer other people an opportunity to participate with us in our vision and mission.”
  • “We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you – your energy, your prayers and your money – in this work to which God has called us.”
  1. You will be Challenged
  • “We will never be able to ask for money if we do not know how we ourselves relate to money. What is the place of money in our lives?”
  • “Are we willing to be converted from our fear of asking, our anxiety about being rejected or feeling humiliated, our depression when someone says, ‘No I’m not going to get involved in your project’?”
  • “The Spirit of love says: ‘Don’t be afraid to let go of your need to control your own life. Let me fulfill the true desire of your heart.’”
  1. You will be Converted
  • “Fundraising is also always a call conversion. And this comes to both those who seek funds and those who have funds. Whether we are asking for money or giving money we are drawn together by God, who is about to do a new thing through our collaboration.”
  • “We must claim the confidence to go to a wealthy person knowing that he or she is just as poor and in need of love as we are.”
  • “Every time we approach people for money, we must be sure that we are inviting them into this vision of fruitfulness and into a vision that is fruitful.” 
  1. You will be Inspired
  • “Once we are prayerfully committed to placing our whole trust in God, and have become clear that we are concerned only for the Kingdom; once we have learned to love the rich for who they are rather than what they have; and once we believe that we have something of great value to give them, then we will have no trouble at all in asking someone for a large sum of money.”
  • “I ask for money standing up, not bowing down because I believe in what I am about. I believe I have something important to offer.”
  • “We do not need to worry about the money. Rather, we need to worry about whether, through the invitation we offer them (the donor) and the relationship we develop with them, they will come closer to God.”
  1. You will become more Prayerful.
  • “From beginning to end, fundraising as ministry is grounded in prayer and undertaken in gratitude.”
  • “Prayer is the radical starting point of fundraising. To pray is to desire to know more fully the truth that sets us free.”
  • “When we approach fundraising in a spirit of gratitude, our confidence in our mission does not depend on how the person we are with responds to our request! We are free to remain secure in God’s love with our hearts set joyfully on the kingdom.”

Henri Nouwen’s Conclusion:

“When we give ourselves to planting and nurturing love here on earth, our efforts will reach beyond our own chronological existence.”

Sharing on the Future of American Methodism ©

In November of 2014 a young faculty member from Candler School of Theology, addressed the Council of Bishops on Christian Conferencing and the recovery of the Wesleyan Class Meeting.  It was a fascinating deep address that unpacked his excellent new book, The Class Meeting: Reclaiming a Forgotten (and Essential) Small Group ExperienceDr. Kevin Watson is Assistant Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler.  With his permission, I am sharing his recent blog posting as a guest blog.  I commend it to the reader for thoughtful reflection.  Dr. Watson will be the Conference Teacher at the Center Texas Conference in June, 2017.  – Bishop Mike Lowry 

The Future of American Methodism: 5 Predictions
Posted: 01 Aug 2016 06:43 AM PDT

Methodism in America is in the midst of change. It is not yet clear how exactly American Methodism is changing or whether change will lead to a bright future for my own denomination in particular (The United Methodist Church). But it does seem clear that it is changing.

During the three years I taught at Seattle Pacific University, I experienced life in a major U.S. city that is profoundly post-Christian. Moving from Seattle to the Atlanta metro area was a kind of culture shock, because cultural Christianity appears to be alive and well in many parts of the southeast. My sense is that within one generation the landscape of the U.S. as a whole will look much more like Seattle than Atlanta.

And so I’ve found my mind wandering again and again to this question: What is the future of Methodism in America? Before I enter fully into these thoughts, let me assure you that I am aware of what a speculative enterprise this is. I offer these thoughts as ultimately nothing more than one person’s thoughts about the kind of Methodism that will be most likely to thrive in twenty years or so.

  1. American Methodism will experience a paradigm shift as the desire to pursue cultural respectability becomes obsolete. American Methodism will slowly recognize its loss of cultural respect, eventually acknowledging it and then grieving it. Ultimately, American Methodism will emerge on the other side with a much clearer sense of its own identity, mission, and purpose and will learn to live authentically from these, even though much of what American Methodism stands for will be alien and perhaps even offensive to the broader culture(s) it is situated within. Moreover, given broader cultural changes, American Methodism will recognize that it must form people into a new worldview, and not merely a few ideas and practices that serve as self-help strategies adorning mostly unchanged lives.
  2. American Methodism will recognize that the Holy Spirit has already given the people called Methodists a theology that is ideally suited for a post-Christian context. Methodists will preach the Wesleyan understanding of grace in its fullness with renewed conviction and boldness. Methodists will insist that God’s grace is for everyone, no exceptions. And Methodists will maintain that God’s grace saves us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ who cancels (forgives) all of our sins. And Methodists will also boldly proclaim the audacious optimism of God’s sanctifying (life-changing) grace, which can enable us to love God and neighbor to the complete exclusion of sin. American Methodists will be known for their passionate belief in entire sanctification and God’s ability to changes lives radically.
  3. American Methodism will recognize that the Holy Spirit has already given the people called Methodists a practice that is ideally suited for such a time as this. In a post-Christian context, a thriving faith community must not only proclaim the gospel, with the accents just mentioned, it must visibly demonstrate its proclamation by embodying what God makes possible. American Methodism will embrace social holiness (communal formation, especially through transformation-driven small groups) as a part of its fundamental and foundational essential practices. Participation in weekly small groups like the class meeting and the band meeting will be seen as more important than attending a weekly worship service. It will be impossible to be a member of American Methodism in the future and not regularly attend corporate worship and a small group focused on God’s work in your life.
  4. As American Methodism passionately preaches entire sanctification and makes an uncompromising commitment to social holiness, it will find God’s deepest blessings through being in ministry with all of God’s children, especially those who seem beyond hope from a worldly perspective. American Methodists will not send money and resources to help those who cannot help themselves, but will be in relational ministry with them as a natural expression of their practical theology. As one example, American Methodism will recognize that recovery ministry is not something that a church lets an auxiliary group anonymously do in their building, but is something that is a core ministry of the church. American Methodists will not see this as a ministry for “those people,” but will seek complete freedom from addiction to the ways of sin and death together, by the grace of God. And many will experience the fullness of God’s amazing grace.
  5. The boundaries of American Methodism will be blurred by close connection and cooperation with global Methodism. Methodist missionaries will both come to and from America. American Methodism at every level will be changed through relationships with brothers and sisters from across the globe, especially Africa, Asia, and South America. American Methodists will place significantly greater weight on the Methodist aspect of their identity than the American. Methodists across the globe will be united by a common mission to spread scriptural holiness across the globe.

There are so many possibilities for the future of American Methodism. It is impossible to predict with certainly what will be. I do know that when I think about this possible future, I get extremely excited. Come, Holy Spirit!

Kevin M. Watson is Assistant Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies at Candler School of Theology, Emory University. You can keep up with this blog on twitter @kevinwatson or on facebook at Vital Piety.

Deep Discipleship ©

While we wrestle with deep divisions about much in The United Methodist Church these days, we are in strong agreement that our collective mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Such a great grand mission erupts from the Great Commission of Christ given in the closing paragraph of St. Matthew’s sweeping Gospel (Good News!).  “Jesus came near and spoke to them, “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).

As I have shared in Episcopal Addresses both to the Central Texas Conference and to the South Central Jurisdiction, “Jesus doesn’t want fans.  He wants committed disciplined followers.”  The dilemma for us is that over the last ½ century plus we have been a low demand church with a high commitment theology.  The two don’t mix well.  Now we find ourselves struggling to move from cultural attachment to the church to deep discipleship to Jesus.

In my recent readings, I’ve been working through Deep Church Rising  by Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry.  In chapter 8, “Deep Transformation: Recovering Catechesis” (which is worth the price of the book alone) the authors note, “living as a Christian in modernity and post-modernity is quite different from living as a Christian before the Reformation.  The sacred canopy of a Christian culture is now virtually gone and the social structures that made Christian belief and lifestyle plausible are no longer in place.  It is harder to believe than it used to be – not because there are better arguments against Christianity than there used to be but simply because the plausibility structures are not in place.  If we want to be conformed to the image of Christ, if we are serious about spiritual formation and discipleship and the plausibility of Christianity in the modern West, then going to a church meeting for a couple of hours a week and having a five-minute ‘quiet time ‘ each day is hardly going to do the trick”  (Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry, Deep Church Rising, p.132).

A part of what fascinates me about Walker & Parry’s detailed insistence on the recovery of catechesis (religious instruction for baptism, confirmation, and life-long discipleship) is the way it dove tails with so many other writings on discipleship.  The importance of deep discipleship training is strongly emphasized in Kenda Creasy Dean’s marvelous book Almost Christian.  It is echoed in the writing of people like Mike Slaughter.  And the list could continue to include many solid authors and Christian leaders across the theological spectrum.  Taken together they point us in the direction of a serious recovery of adult discipleship and training.  This is no small task but rather one that necessitates great commitment and a move away from a simple 6-week curriculum approach.  Walker and Parry note that “According to the Apostolic Tradition, catechesis was a journey that lasted for three years.”  They added:  “catechesis functioned as a kind of decompression chamber that took those seeking entry into the church on a transformative journey, climaxing in baptism and full entry into the Christian Community” (Andrew G. Walker and Robin A. Parry, Deep Church Rising, pp. 133-134).

Such deep discipleship formation training (catechesis) is a far cry from an invitation to come down and commit or recommit your life to Christ at the close of the worship service and possibly take a one to four hour class on Methodism and the church.  [As an aside, one can make a case for coming forward and making a public commitment/ recommitment to Christ and His Church which includes a follow-on commitment to join an extensive class in Christian formation and discipleship after such a public commitment.]

I am reminded of two quotes that Dr. Dean carefully places in the forefront of her book:

“An almost Christian … [chiefly] is one that … is fond of the form, but never experiences the power of godliness in his heart.”  — George Whitefield, “The Almost Christian” (1739)

“The Church is full of almost Christians who have not gone all the way with Christ.”  — John Wesley, “The Almost Christian” (1741)

Reflecting on all this and the concomitant need for small groups (ala the Class Meeting) in deep discipleship formation, the Holy Spirit guides me to one of the towering challenges facing the church of today.  Put bluntly, no matter where one is on the spectrum of church dividing issues (holding fast to current Disciplinary language with regard to LGBTQI questions all the way to being in favor of completely opening the Discipline up with regard to ordination & same gender marriage; or for that matter any other divisive issues – abortion, war, racism, theology, Bible, the role/power of the laity, etc. etc.) deep discipleship is desperately needed.  Casual Christians cannot meet the cry of our divided, terror driven world.  Almost Christians will not answer the Great Commission of Christ to go to “all the nations.” (The Greek word translated in Matthew 28:19 is the root for our word “ethnicities” or ethnic.)  Fans for Christ will not suffice to heed the challenge of advancing the Kingdom of God in love, justice and mercy.  We need committed disciplined followers.

The Lord calls for deep discipleship from ourselves and others.  A new and deeper form of discipleship formation or catechesis is a requirement.  Together we need to recreate the deep discipleship training which the early Christian movement so instinctively embraced.

Summer Sabbath

from abqhomeblog.com

from abqhomeblog.com

A good friend recently sent me a beautiful picture of a full moon appearing over the New Mexico Mountains.  Attached was a comment about taking time to “recharge.”  Most of us are familiar with the commandment to “honor the Sabbath and keep it holy.”  We must confess that we often honor it in the breach.  And yet … in our contentious, chaotic, fast paced world we need more not less time for Sabbath rest.

All of this brings me back to my conviction of the importance of taking a couple of weeks vacation as a “summer Sabbath.” We need time away.  Time physically away from the office and time away from electronic connections (email, cell phone, etc.) is important for both our emotional and spiritual health. There is benefit in gaining distance on our daily struggles, issues and concerns.

In my own casual reflections (and combined with some modest research), I don’t recall much use of the term “burnout” when I initially entered ministry. Today’s language of being “worn out” or “burned out” is common. I confess to being at best a semi-reformed workaholic but in my defense I have always been good about taking time for vacation. A couple of weeks away are life giving. They connect with the concept of a weekly Sabbath to “honor the Lord.”

It strikes me as significant that the British (Europeans as a whole) don’t use the term vacation.  What we label a vacation, they call “being on holiday.”  Following the linguistic connection, the word holiday is a derivation of the term “holy days”. These are days which are set aside to be deliberately holy.  [An aside: I know that under God’s providential care all days are “holy.” However, when something is an everyday part of the background “noise” of life, it loses its impact for reforming the way we actually live as Christians.]  We need time – significant time – where we pause, reflect on life, reconnect with family and loved ones, and recommit ourselves to a life lived for the Lord.  In short, we need days which are set aside to be holy.

A few years ago I had the Chair of a Pastor-Parish Relations Committee call his DS and request a conference with his DS and me.  He didn’t want to see his pastor moved. In fact his concern was just the opposite.  He reported that his pastor was outstanding.  His concern was that his pastor hadn’t taken a real vacation in 5 or 6 years. The District Superintendent concurred with PPR Chair’s shared concern.  Both raised the specter of “burnout.”  Both had talked with the pastor about his need to schedule some time off (vacation or “holidays”) to no avail.  In review of the matter, I came to the conclusion that both were right. One of our most effective senior pastors was showing signs of burnout.  To make a long story short, we held a meeting with the Board Chair of the Church, the PPR Chair, the DS, myself and the pastor.  He offered a series of excuses for not taking a vacation or “summer Sabbath”.  The pastors’ rationale did not stand up to scrutiny.  Finally, with the full support of the group, I instructed the pastor to take a two week vacation and send me a post card of where he went (even if he spent the vacation reading books in the backyard!

A couple of months later I ran into the pastor in a meeting.  He commented, “you’re a hero with my wife.” We both laughed and commented that she was really ready for him to take a vacation.

Now step back with me for a moment and reflect on our world and our individual context.

  • Violence and terror stalks the globe
  • Presidential elections have led to a cultural mood of anger and discourtesy
  • Economic uncertainty heightens uncertainty and angst
  • Church conflict over a variety of hot-button issues (same gender weddings, response to cultural violence, war and peace, abortion, etc.)
  • Personal struggles; and the list could go on

In each instance one of the things we need most is holy time to step back, catch our breath and center ourselves again on the Lord’s grace and guidance.  About 15 years ago I read a book by Bill Hybels entitled Too Busy Not to Pray.  We are too busy not to take time for holy days or a summer Sabbath.  If you haven’t do so already, regardless of whether you are lay or clergy, I encourage you to step back. Don’t find the time, make the time(!) for a summer Sabbath!

Breathe Deep, Jesus is Still Lord! ©

2016-South-Central-Jurisdiction-Conference-logoI returned home from the recently concluded South Central Jurisdictional Conference last night (Sunday, July 17). During the conference, we elected three fine new bishops – Bishops Ruben Saenz, Jr., Jimmy Nunn, and Bob Farr. I am blessed and honored to be reassigned to the Central Texas Conference of the Fort Worth Episcopal Area for a third quadrennium. Along with the whole of the UMC, we also received news of the election of Karen Oliveto as a bishop in the Western Jurisdiction.

Bishop Oliveto has been described as “an openly lesbian clergyperson” who “has been legally married to Robin Ridenour for more than two years.” Bishop Bruce Ough, president of the UMC Council of Bishops, noted in his statement on her election that “this election raises significant concerns and questions of church polity and unity.”

People from across the United Methodist Church have responded to her election with a wide spectrum of reactions. For some, this is cause for great rejoicing. For others, it is a signal that the United Methodist Church is breaking apart in its refusal to honor The Discipline (church doctrine and law) of the United Methodist Church. 

Wherever you find yourself in the vast spectrum from celebration to despair, I urge you to breathe deep.  Jesus is still Lord! 

Jesus Christ is the head of the Church. (Ephesians 1:22)  Colossians 1:18 tells us that “He is the head of the body, the church, who is the beginning, the one who is firstborn from among the dead so that he might occupy the first place in everything.” Christ still reigns and rules. Gabriel is neither heralding the establishment of the Kingdom of God from the rooftop of Glide Memorial United Methodist Church in San Francisco (the church where Bishop Oliveto was Sr. Pastor prior to her election) nor playing Taps over the disintegration of the denomination. 

It is important to not overreact. Good honorable faithful Christians will disagree on how we are to respond. Catch your breath, pause, pray. The Holy Scriptures commend us to “be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone” (Titus 3:2).

The Bishops of the Church remain committed to the process of the Commission on Human Sexuality as established by General Conference. The validity of Bishop’s Oliveto’s election will be appropriately addressed via the normal judicial process in the United Methodist Church. Bishops do not have the authority nor power to rule on the validity of Bishop Oliveto’s election.  That authority is reserved for the Jurisdictional (U.S.) and Central (outside U.S.) Conferences and subject to review by the Judicial Council. The Judicial Council has indicated that it may hear the petition of the South Central Jurisdictional Conference seeking a declaratory judgment on the validity of Bishop Oliveto’s election at its October meeting. The current doctrine and Discipline of the United Methodist Church remains the same.

I will be flying out early tomorrow morning (July 19) to a previously scheduled meeting of the Executive Committee of the Council of Bishops. A primary item on the agenda of the Executive Committee is the establishment of the Commission on Human Sexuality. As a group we are mindful of the issues at stake and working together to seek God’s will and purpose.

Bishop OlivetoOn a personal note, Jolynn and I had the privilege of getting to know Bishop Oliveto at the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies at Christ Church, Oxford, England in 2013. I found her to be a thoughtful, gracious Christ-follower committed to being faithful as best she understands the Christian faith. Later back in the United States, I had the opportunity for a follow-up conversation with her on a subject near and dear to my heart and life witness – evangelism. Once again, I experienced her to be gracious, thoughtful and committed to Christ.  While Bishop Oliveto and I sharply disagree on matters of human sexuality, we are colleagues in Christ. I ask all of us to resist attempts to demonize others.

There is hurt, pain, and grief that runs the gamut on these vexing and contentious issues. Respect each other, especially those you honestly and sincerely disagree with. Let the counsel of Philippians 4 guide you: “Don’t be anxious about anything; rather, bring up all of your requests to God in your prayers and petitions, along with giving thanks. Then the peace of God that exceeds all understanding will keep your hearts and minds safe in Christ Jesus. From now on, brothers and sisters, if anything is excellent and if anything is admirable, focus your thoughts on these things: all that is true, all that is holy, all that is just, all that is pure, all that is lovely, and all that is worthy of praise. Practice these things: whatever you learned, received, heard, or saw in us. The God of peace will be with you” (Philippians 4:6-9).

Breathe deep. Jesus is still Lord! I commend to the reader Bishop Bruce Ough’s response on behalf of the Council of Bishops. I fully intend to allow the process to take place and abide by whatever decision is reached. Until then, I continue to keep Bishop Oliveto, the Western and South Central Jurisdictions and all United Methodists firmly in my prayers. My own stance in upholding the current language in The Discipline has not changed. The Lord God is with us all!

Follow the Prince of Peace ©

To read the official statement from the United Methodist Council of Bishops on the recent deadly shootings, please click here.

This morning, Jolynn and I awoke to news of last night’s deadly shootings in Dallas as we prepared for the final leg of our trip home from our two-week vacation in Yellowstone National Park. Intentionally, I had taken leave from email and text during our trip and had deliberately not followed national and international news. As we watched the morning news, I was slowly able to piece together the full narrative of the police shootings of African-American males in Baton Rouge, Louisiana and St. Paul, Minnesota, which formed the backdrop of yesterday’s tragedy in Dallas. Once again, the toxic mix of racism, injustice and violence reached out to cause great harm and heartache.

With the help of Vance Morton, director of Communications for the Central Texas Conference, I shared deep convictions from my heart via our conference website.dalla prayer vigil Dallas Mayor Mike Rawlings had asked that a moment of silence be observed at noon, Friday, July 8. I called on all members of the Central Texas Conference to honor Mayor Rawlings’ request and stop and pray for the victims of last night’s horrific acts of violence in Dallas. I want us to pray for the police, their families, the people of Dallas. I want us to pray for everyone.

As critically important as prayer is, we must not stop there. We who claim the label Christian are grace-filled followers of Jesus Christ. As such, we must continue to reject the forces of hatred, racism, fear, violence and anger in favor of the fruits of the Spirit – i.e. love, patience, kindness and peace as described by the Apostle Paul in his letter to the Galatians [Galatians 5:22-23].

I cannot stress strongly enough how important it is for us to remember that we are followers of the Prince of Peace. Anger and violence must be laid aside.

Black lives matter to God. Police lives matter to God. All lives matter to the God who gave us his only Son so that we might all have everlasting life. Let us all, everyone, live by the Spirit and follow the Spirit [Gal 5:25] and keep firm in our hearts and minds the commandment of Jesus given to us in John 15 “…love each other as I have loved you.”

I am repeatedly struck in my own devotional life by the charge, the divine orders, for Christians to be a different people. In the words of the mothers and fathers of the faith, we are to be in but not of the world. It is ever significant that Jesus, our Lord and Master, gave us the following gift.  “Peace I leave with you, even as he faced his own unjust death. “My peace I give you. I give to you not as the world gives. Don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14:27)

Our world today is fear soaked and pain racked. Let us be the kind of people who respond not with anger but with grace and peace. We are followers of The Prince of Peace.

While on vacation, I read during my devotional time a brief section of The Bible I rarely read – Titus 3:1-8.  In part it reads:

“Remind them [i.e. Christians] to submit to rulers and authorities. They should be obedient and ready to do every good thing. They shouldn’t speak disrespectfully about anyone, but they should be peaceful, kind, and show complete courtesy toward everyone. We were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, and slaves to our desires and various pleasures too. We were spending our lives in evil behavior and jealousy. We were disgusting, and we hated other people. But “when God our savior’s kindness and love appeared, he saved us because of his mercy, not because of righteous things we had done. He did it through the washing of new birth and the renewing by the Holy Spirit, which God poured out upon us generously through Jesus Christ our savior. So, since we have been made righteous by his grace, we can inherit the hope for eternal life.” This saying is reliable. And I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have come to believe in God might give careful attention to doing good. These things are good and useful for everyone.” (Titus 3:1-8)

May this word of life become our standard for living. Let us be followers of the Prince of Peace.

A Truth to Remember ©

On this 4th of July I pause to invite us to reflect on a truth to remember. Consider the lessons of time some 70+ years in the past.  In June of 1942 the islands of Attu and Kiska, in the Aleutian Islands were invaded and occupied by soldiers from the Empire of Japan. It was the only part of the United States that was occupied by the enemy in World War II. In some of the harshest fighting of the war, U.S. Naval forces fought a desperate battle in high seas and then in May of 1943 Marines retook the Island of Attu; followed later by the conquest of Kiska.

As Naval and Marine forces regrouped following the successful campaign, reinforcements were rushed to the Aleutian Islands. Among the reinforcements was a young Ensign freshly graduated from Officers’ Candidate School in Plattsburgh, New York. Just 8 or 9 weeks earlier the college women (then inappropriately called “girls”) at Plattsburg State Teachers College (now the University of New York at Plattsburg, part of the SUNY system) held a dance for the sailors who had finally reached the point where they were allowed some leave. One of those young women did what her mother had warned her not to do. She fell in love with a sailor. A day or so before the Ensign shipped out, at their last date together, he proposed.

At his heart ever a romantic, the young sailor with brand new shiny ensign bars said, “Consider yourself proposed to.” She replied, “No, let’s wait and make sure you come back.” To this day, now 91, the college coed insists she did not offer the reply in a lack of love but rather wanted to help him face the danger before him and not feel encumbered or tied down. Her response was a response of love in a time of crisis and conflict.

[As a matter of historical record the war swept south and the young Ensign emerged from the conflict as a Lieutenant Junior Grade and skipper of the U. S. Navy Subchaser PC 819. He came home and married his waiting sweetheart.]

One month ago that young sailor died at age 95, just eleven days before they were to celebrate their 70th wedding anniversary. When asked about sailing off to the Aleutians and possible life-risking combat, my father would dismiss the sacrifice as he had numerous times before with the casual comment, “We all did what we had to.” Common courage was the order of the day all across America. Sacrifice and courage sound old fashioned in the false sophistication our hurried age. On this 4th of July, I argue that they are a true to remember and a lifestyle to emulate.

Beside the obviously pride I feel as a son of the then young Ensign Frank, I raise that story for a far deeper reason. I quite recognize, as hopefully so do you, that stories such as this can be repeated all across America on this July 4th.  Furthermore I recognize that such stories where people stepped forward in sacrifice and quiet courage can be told in other lands and other nations as well.  I share the story to raise a far higher, greater, nobler truth that in our relative abundance is easy, oh so easy, to forget.  We are here both as citizens and as Christians because of the sacrifice, courage and witness of others.  We both celebrate on the 4th of July and worship freely the day before because down through the two millennia of the Christian faith and the 240 years of the United States of America people have served and sacrificed.  We too must borrow Isaac Newton’s great phrase, “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.”[1]

I share this personal reflection on the 4th of July in no way to offer some misguided glorification of war.  Those who have valiantly served in combat know full well that its horrors are not to be wished on anyone.  Rather I pause to remember on this special anniversary because this is a time to remember an important truth.  Great living comes in courage, sacrifice, and witness.  It is right amidst the celebration to pause, remember this cardinal truth and give thanks!

[1]               http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/i/isaacnewto135885.html

Faith Sharing Exercises ©

At our recent Annual Conference meeting in Waco, we engaged a series of faith sharing exercises. They are simple tools or exercises that can be used in a Sunday School Class, a United Methodist Women’s group (UMW) or a United Methodist Men’s meeting (UMM).  They are designed so that Youth groups can learn to share their faith.  Taken together they can help us learn or relearn a central part of our faith sharing in the name of Christ.  A good number of people asked about where they could get a copy of these exercises so I am sharing them in this blog.  Allow me to encourage you to employ them and pass them on to others.

Exercise #1: Share with another person your answer to the following question:  How did Christ become real to you?  Reflection: All of us have a meaningful, powerful story to tell.  Sharing this story is a basic way of living Acts 1:8.

Exercise #2: On a sheet of paper, write out briefly three things that are central to your Christian faith.  Cross out two and share with a neighbor the remaining crucial aspect of the Christian faith in your life.  (If time permits, go back and taking turns share the other two.)  Reflection: All of us have a working theology [theology means to talk about God] with the ability to share how God in Christ through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit is active in our lives.

Exercise #3: On a sheet of paper, write out briefly three favorite Bible verses in your life.  Cross out two and share with a neighbor the remaining verse.  (If time permits, go back and taking turns share the other two.)  Reflection: All of us have a working body of Scripture that we can share with other.  In the sharing, elements of exercise #2 are engaged as well.

Exercise #4: We say ‘Jesus saves’, turn and share with your neighbor and answer the question, just “what does Jesus save me from?” Reflection: This engages us in a heartfelt religious witness in the most natural of ways.  It invites others into similar self-reflection and engages us in theologizing together.

Exercise #5: Share with others your answer to the question: What are some of the barriers that keep you from sharing your faith?  Reflection: This exercise helps us confront our fears (which are often irrational) and learn to engaging in living the biblical command from Jesus to witness and share our faith.

These are the five exercises we used at Conference. As you engage in them there are a number of others which you will think of.  For instance, another exercise might involve sharing your favorite movie scene which had spiritual, moral, or theological point that impacted you.  As you share, you will find that others will open up with similar sharing.  It is great opening way of safely discussing faith issues.  Practice of these and other exercises will give you confidence to share in appropriate and graceful ways will be a great blessing to others.

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

Page 5 of 54« First...«34567»102030...Last »