From a Christendom Mentality to a Missional Reality

Monday afternoon (May 2, 2011) at the Council of Bishops (COB), we heard Professor Dana Robert of Boston School of Theology address the historic leadership role of the office of bishop from the 3rd paragraph of the Nicene Creed.  “We believe in the one holy catholic and apostolic church.” Dr. Robert posed the following questions to the bishops gathered:

1.  “What does it mean for United Methodist bishops to represent the ‘oneness’ of the church?
2.  What does it mean for United Methodist bishops to represent the ‘catholicity’ of the church?
3.  In changing from a Christendom to a missional context, how should the role of the bishop evolve?
4.  What are the most important spiritual qualities necessary to be a bishop today?”

Even more pointedly Dr. Robert framed the questions from a historic perspective with the telling comment, we are “caught in transition from a Christendom mentality to a missional reality.”

This discussion may sound somewhat dry and technical, yet it directs our attention bluntly to the 3rd point of the Call to Action to “reform the Council of Bishops” focusing on the active bishops assuming responsibility and public accountability for a new missional culture with measureable fruitfulness.  I have often said that, in my experience clergy, understand that Christendom is over but haven’t yet really engaged in a new missional reality (i.e. are still operating out of a Christendom modality).

 Like much of the church, the COB is wrestling with the painful change from an old mentality to a new reality.  One thing is clear.  God is calling us to a new world.  Like the Exodus of old the Lord is going before us.

 I ask you to keep in your prayers two special areas of concern that we have lifted up in COB – the victims of the tornados in Alabama and the people of the Ivory Coast recovering from a civil war.  I also ask for continued prayers for those recovering from the Possum Kingdom Fires.

Spring Council of Bishops

Tomorrow morning, I will fly to St. Simons Island, Georgia for the spring meeting of the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church.  We, that is – the Council of Bishops or COB, meet twice a year (the first week in November and the first week in May).  While most people focus on our responsibility for a particular Conference where we serve as resident bishop, the “job description” of a United Methodist Bishop includes shared oversight of the church as a whole.  On becoming a bishop, I quickly learned a short summary of how a bishop’s time was spent from Bishop Monk Bryan – 1/3 of the time in the resident Conference in the office;1/3 of the time in the resident Conference out of the office in the various churches and institutional settings; 1/3 of the time engaged in General Church work, most often out of town (and usually out of state).

At this COB meeting we will continue to focus on the Call to Action report and the ongoing work with the Four Focus Areas.  I carry specific responsibility for the Focus Area on “New Places for New People and Transformation/Renewal of Existing Congregations.”  In my report I will be sharing that we have started 421 new churches in the United States (with a goal of 650 for the quadrennium).  45% of those new churches are predominately ethnic minority plants.  While we do not have reliable data on the Central Conferences (outside the U.S.), new church planting and growth is multiplying at a Holy Spirit-led rate.  In the “New Places for New People” report, we will share a tentative definition of a transformed congregation from the work of the Transformational Table:  “A transforming congregation is a growing community of committed disciples of Jesus Christ, constantly compelled by the Holy Spirit to go beyond its current reach of ministry into the broader mission field.”

Together at the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church, we will worship and pray, discuss and wrestle with issues facing the church.  I ask you to join us in prayer for the United Methodist Church and our mission to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

The Day After

A good number of years ago, a disaster movie came out about an ocean liner that capsized.  The plot dealt the survivors climbing out of the capsized ship to the light of the new day.  The theme song, “There’s Got to be a Morning After,” highlighted the fight for safety and the dawning of a new day of hope and possibility.

Today, the day after the Easter of resurrection glory, I find myself thinking about the day after.  How was it for those first disciples?  Their world had tilted and shifted.  They had lived through a tsunami of emotions.  The one thought dead and defeated had encountered them alive and triumphant.  I find myself smiling and remembering the delightful Avery & Marsh hymn, “Every Moring is Easter Morning.” The hymn closes with the line “from now on!”

On reading the morning paper, I could not help but notice that the world seemed little changed.  War still rages.  Hatred, bigotry, violence and want still stalk city streets around the world.  Greed, selfishness, and gluttony still parade unashamedly across the world.  Power, hedonism and consumerism still offer claim to the throne of human life.  And yet, and yet because of Easter it all is different.  Grace triumphant in Christ the Lord reigns.  Every morning is Easter morning from now on! 

When I first started writing this blog, I chose to entitle it “This Focused Center.”  The title is based on The Message (a paraphrased translation of the Bible by Eugene Peterson) version of II Corinthians 5:14-15.  “Our firm decision is to work from this focused center: One man died for everyone. That puts everyone in the same boat. He included everyone in his death so that everyone could also be included in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.” 

On this the day after I remind myself, and hopefully the reader, to hold to this focused center – the crucified and risen Christ.  In this battered and bruised world of ours, He – Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – is our only sure and final hope.  May all our days after, even the bad ones, be glorious reflections of our focused center!

The Journey of Holy Week

Sunday morning I began the journey of Holy Week to the cross and beyond.  I was a husband that morning and joined my wife for her Sunday school class and then worship at her church (Arborlawn UMC).  The worship – liturgy, music and sermon – was deep, spiritually rich, moving and thought-provoking. 

Sunday’s worship ushered me into a deeply reflective semi-confessional journey.  Recently I had received a promotional copy of a new book by Kyle Idleman entitled Not a Fan.  The book reflects sharply on the differences between a fan and a follower.  Many of us are content to be fans of Jesus.  We sit in the crowd admiring and cheering.  I cannot help but wonder to what degree that is true of me.  As nice as fan behavior is, it doesn’t work for Holy Week nor for life as a whole either.  Jesus doesn’t want fans; he wants followers.

My spiritual director has kept me focused in the prayer of Aelred of Rievaulx – “To see Him (Jesus Christ) more clearly; to love Him more dearly; to follow Him more nearly.”  (If it sounds familiar it is because Godspell took the prayer, altered it slightly and added the words “day by day.”)  To see Christ more clearly means to see Him on the cross.  It also means that I need to follow him to the foot of the cross.  The words of Jesus haunt me – “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).  This is my fearful desire.

Today, Good Friday, as I kneel before the cross in worship, I find myself wondering what the true nature of my cross is.  I find myself asking, am I willing to pick up the cross, my cross, and truly follow the Lord?

Possum Kingdom Fire

Many have followed the news of the Possum Kingdom fire (and other wild-fires) in Palo Pinto County.  Saturday morning Dr. Ginger Bassford, Weatherford District Superintendent, called to inform me that Cedar Springs United Methodist Church (an open country church near Brad) burned to the ground.   We have recently learned that at least one member of Cedar Springs lost their home to the fire.

The church is over 100 years old and was located off Highway 180 back in a cedar break with a brush arbor.  While small (average worship attendance of 10-12), it is made up of bold and tenacious disciples of the Lord.  They love their church and their community.  Faithfulness is lived out in a quiet integrity.  Rev. Jim Senkel is pastor of Cedar Springs UMC.

Monday Dr. Bassford and I rode out to Palo Pinto County.  Her 4-Runner was stuffed to the ceiling with supplies we dropped off at the Palo Pinto Fire Department.  Pastor Tom Beaty (Palo Pinto/Strawn) and his wife Cindy took us out to Cedar Springs UMC and the fire area.  All that is left standing are two stone pillars that held the roof over the entrance to the church.  The beautiful brush arbor is charred remains.  Later we met up with Pastor Barry Holmes (Graford/Central, Mineral Wells) gathering up supplies to take out the fire station.    

I ask the reader to be in prayer for the people of Palo Pinto County and especially Pastor Jim Senkel and the members of Cedar Springs UMC.  Please lift up those fighting the fires that God might protect them.  The Conference web-site has directions for donations (   











Texas Wesleyan University

This morning I attended the Board of Trustees meeting at Texas Wesleyan University.  I am grateful that, under the leadership of new President Fred Slabach, TWU is engaged in strengthening its connection with the church. There is a creative openness to learning and intellectual exploring that is exciting. From my perspective, there is openness to church relations, to the Christian faith, and comparative religion that is refreshing!

The mission of Texas Wesleyan is clearly stated: “Our mission at Texas Wesleyan University is to develop students to their full potential as individuals and as members of the world community. …The University also strives to develop a sense of civic responsibility and spiritual sensitivity, with a commitment to moral discrimination and action.”

President Slabach has articulated a clear vision emphasizing the importance of “critical thinking, analytical reasoning and creative problem-solving” in intellectually, nurturing, small classes. “Texas Wesleyan aspires to be a values- and student-centered university where motivated students prepare for graduate school and leadership in professional careers.”  Recently ranked in the top tier of regional liberal arts universities by US News & World Report, TWU is engaging culture in ways that unite knowledge and vital piety.

There was a day when TWU served us a pipeline for clergy leadership development. Looking around the Central Texas Conference, many of our best pastors are TWU graduates. I hope for the day when the pipeline of leadership development for our churches again runs through Texas Wesleyan University. If we as a church are serious about leadership development (as we must be if there is to be a future to The United Methodist Church), then we must re-engage in serious deep Christian dialogue with our church-related colleges and universities.

When the Dogs are Barking

A good friend of mine, Bishop Paul Leeland, says, “When the caravan is moving, the dogs are barking.”

As we have wrestled with appointments and are going through transition at the Conference office, I am reminded of Bishop Leeland’s pointed phrase.  It is one thing to know intellectually that Christendom is over, that we live in a post-denominational world.  Of this much we are clear.  Yet the struggle of wanting to operate as if that is not the case is still present.  Pastors walk a delicate balance of guiding and challenging their churches to serve Christ in new ways in a new age and yet still minister to those who signed on in the old order.  It is not easy. 

Recently I visited with a layman who has, by any measurement I know, an excellent pastor and yet wants him/her moved because they have introduced too much change.  I think I can get in touch with the fears this man expresses.  Yet I know, if these changes don’t take place, if the church does not engage in new ministry reaching out to a new generation, it will die.  Jesus has it right.  “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it.” (Mark 8:35)

The dogs are barking and the caravan is moving.  It is both glorious and tough at the same time.

Global Leadership Summit

 I just returned from the Global Leadership Summit (GLS), a simulcast meeting across the world of lay and clergy leaders in the United Methodist Church. We (the Central Texas Conference) held two major sites for presentation and discussion (Fort Worth and Temple). We opened the summit to all and invited anyone to attend!

 Together we discussed “the adaptive challenge of the UMC” – to redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

 The GLS looked at the four core commitments endorsed by the Council of Bishops and the Connection Table:

1.    The need for all levels of the UMC to align and focus for at least ten years on growing the number of vital congregations in part by employing statistical measures for tracking key performance areas;
2.     A call to reform the Council of Bishops to emphasize active bishops’ accountability for improving ministry results in the churches and annual conferences they serve as Resident Bishops;
3.     The need for improvements and aligning the process for identifying, training, credentialing, appointing and evaluating clergy leadership;
4.     Better coordinate the work of general agencies by sharpening their focus and reducing their cost.

We also focused on local church and more specifically how the Conference might engage in “fostering congregational vitality in fulfilling our mission of making disciples and transforming the world.”  There was much to pray about, wrestle with, and learn from in our discussion. It was a good event.

 I was struck by how much our discussion paralleled the congressional discussion of the U.S. budget. Everyone can agree on vague generalizations. The struggle comes in naming concrete specifics. It is easy to talk about transformation and reform. The pain and glory come in actually doing something.  “Doing something” involves hard choices and painful changes.

 The session can be seen in its entirety with a survey by going to

A Sacrificial Circuit Rider

Recently a dear friend died – Rev. Burney Cope.  Burney was a member of the Oklahoma Conference. More personally, Burney served as my wife’s pastor when she was a middle school aged young person.  Later, he served as the Ardmore District Superintendent.  During that time I served as a part-time Youth Director at First United Methodist Church in Ardmore, Oklahoma.  He was wonderfully supportive of this young seminarian.  On August 16, 1976, Rev. Burney Cope performed our wedding service.

During his remarkable and remarkably faithful ministry, Rev. Burney Cope had the distinction of being perhaps the last Circuit Rider who had begun his first circuit riding a horse.  Burney lived for Christ and His church in a way that was both joyous and sacrificial.  It is the combination of the two that blesses me.

He was committed to itinerancy, to the notion that he was called to serve even when he didn’t get the appointment he wanted.  He was committed to the conviction that joy and sacrificial service are connected.

All of this is rolling around in my heart and mind as I approach the next appointive Cabinet session on Monday and Tuesday (April 4-5).  Increasingly people are unwilling to fully itinerate.  We routinely have more (far more!) requests to serve in the urban/suburban areas than we have appointments available.  The sacrificial notion of itinerancy is often treated as unfair.  And yet, such sacrifice lies at the heart of the Wesleyan vision of the Christian faith. 

Starting his ministry on horseback, Burney understood this truth.  Today we are challenged to embrace this conviction.  Furthermore, a lack of willingness to itinerate is incompatible with the guaranteed appointment.  There is much to reflect on and pray about as we head to another session of making appointments.  I am blessed by Burney’s life and witness.

Answering the Why

The recent tragedy in Japan lifts up again a perennial question as to why.  This is especially a pointed question to Christians with our belief in an all-knowing and all-loving God.  Years ago Rabbi Kushner wrote a bestselling work entitled Why Bad Things Happen to Good People.

Abingdon Press has just published a new book entitled Why? written by Rev. Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of Church of the Resurrection UMC in Kansas City.  It wrestles deeply and faithfully with this tough issue.  A variety of secular publications have picked up on Rev. Hamilton’s book.  Recently, Adam wrote an article entitled Japan’s Earthquake and the Will of God.

Allow me to share a sampling:  “As a pastor, I’ve spent 25 years working through the problem of suffering with my congregation. While it is natural, in the midst of intense grief and loss, to blame both God and ourselves for terrible tragedies (God is punishing me for something I’ve done/God is punishing our nation for something we’ve done), these answers miss the mark.

From a Christian theological perspective there are two challenges to this view: The first is that the Bible consistently teaches that God is loving, merciful and just. There is nothing loving, merciful and just about thousands of people being buried alive in mudslides or rubble or washed out to sea by a tsunami. There is nothing loving, merciful and just about a child being born with cancer, or a young person being raped and murdered. These acts of violence and widespread destruction are inconsistent with the character of God. Further, when considering whether these acts may be punishment for human sin, the central focus of the Christian gospel, which the present season of Lent is pointing us towards, is that Jesus Christ bore the punishment for human sin on the cross, there offering a prayer that would echo throughout history, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” 

The answer to the question why is not to be found in a vengeful God who wreaks havoc on the human race. It is to be found in understanding that we live in a world of cause and effect. Our actions can have negative consequences for us or others. Others actions can have negative consequences for us. We also know that our bodies are not indestructible, and that there are genetic and external factors that affect our health. These can be exacerbated by our lifestyle and actions. And we know that there are forces of nature at work in our planet — atmospheric, environmental and geological — that are destructive. These very forces, which can be so destructive when human beings are in their path, are also essential to our planet being able to sustain life. Our actions as human beings can exacerbate these forces, but the forces themselves are a part of our planet’s essential operating system.”

For the full article you can follow this link .  Even better, I invite you to read the book and lead a study group in your church through this thoughtful and helpful piece of writing.

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