Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Covenant, Mutual Care, and Unconditional Love



I wrote this in a couple of circles in response to opinions voiced by both conservative and progressive voices in the United Methodist Church regarding schism. It is heartfelt and from my conviction. I pray it helps unite rather than divide.

Sky+

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On the issue of same-gender marriage... one side is not going to "convince" the other one - and shaming each other by using terms such as "homophobic" and "unscriptural", "discriminatory" and "permissive" is far from covenant behavior. Saying that "The Inquisition Cometh" is not helpful. Conservatives and Progressives alike in the UMC are using all kinds of language that is not acceptable in a covenant community. Both sides are threatening to withhold funds. To some, it seems like we'd rather cut the baby in half.

John Wesley and George Whitefield disagreed. And debated. Vehemently. They argued over grace. Predestination. Universal redemption. Wesley leaned toward the Arminian. Whitefield leaned toward Calvinism. And yet while they argued, and disagreed, and wrote back and forth - there was never a claim of discrimination, or being morally bankrupt, or the taking of cheap shots and denigration. They both labored to teach and preach, to take mission and discipleship to a world that was hungry and desperate for it (and still is). And when Whitefield died, Wesley - of all people - was asked to preach his funeral. And if you read that sermon, it is clear: Wesley loved Whitefield.

It disgusts me that the secular world reads little about the Methodists anymore except for this controversy (and I'm convinced, evil temptation) to schism, divest, disrupt, demonize, divide... instead of going to make disciples of Jesus Christ for a hurting world in need of healing. Not only is it sinful - it is a blood feud, as insular and dysfunctional as most blood feuds. It may be the greatest blow to our pride that if the UMC splits, falls apart, or disintegrates, that it will be with a whimper and not a bang. We won't be news long.

E.H. Sugden wrote this in his introduction about Wesley's funeral sermon for Whitefield and how the two men loved and respected each other: "Two opposing views represent the two sides of one truth, which our finite understanding is not able to synthesize; but which we may nevertheless accept, just as we accept the Unity in Trinity in the Godhead, or the divine-human person of our Lord." Or, to quote the more recent words of Reinhold Niebuhr, Christians must learn to live in the tension of having AND not having the truth.

These would be good things for all of us to remember before we go off thinking "we" are right and "they" are wrong. On this matter, I suspect we all share in ignorance and arrogance.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Not Your Parents' D.S. - Part 2


About a year and a half ago, I wrote "Not Your Parents' D.S.", which were some reflections after doing the job for a year and a few months. I reminded folks of the "new" job description:

¶ 419. As an extension of the office of bishop, the district superintendent shall oversee the total ministry of the clergy (including clergy in extension ministry and ministry beyond the local church) and of the churches in the communities of the district in their missions of witness and service in the world. 
1. The Church expects, as part of the superintendent ministry, that the superintendent will be the chief missional strategist of the district...working with persons across the Church to develop programs of ministry and mission which extend the witness of Christ into the world.

As I've lived into the new focus (more accurately, foci) for three years, I'm starting to see light! Deep change is s l o w... but the changes I am beginning to witness are encouraging and exciting in the Paducah District:

1. Generative Leadership Academy. In a word: wow! The response of the first "class" has truly humbled me. Laity who have participated are energized for leadership and discipleship. The creative genius of the Wesleys showed in how conferencing as means of grace bears fruit! To be sure: GLA is not the answer to all of our problems, but it certainly frames how we should live a life of discipleship and piety. I can't thank those enough who helped plan the first GLA - and am so appreciative of those supporting and praying for GLA 2014. We now have folks from other districts and conferences participating. Amen!

2. Charge Conferences. I have no regrets doing individual charge conferences - and so many churches took seriously the process of evaluating themselves and asking themselves how they might be more effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ. Our decline and loss of focus on mission and discipleship didn't occur overnight, and our recovery will take time as well. But owning and identifying the problems are great starting places. God is not done with us yet!

3. Apportionment Payout. For the third year in a row, the Paducah District has increased its apportionment payout - this year, we paid 90.5% of our apportioned amount. In real dollars, that's $981,811 out of an apportioned $1,084,905. I cannot begin to say how blessed I feel and how proud I am of our district. I certainly want us to have 100% as a goal, but we are getting there!

4. District Strategy Team. These folks just completed a YEAR together in an SLI incubator, praying about our district, our churches, and our mission and discipleship. As you heard at the District Training Day, we have a missional direction and values statement that is in concert with our conference's mission - all to help local churches do the most important work of all: make disciples of Jesus Christ. These folks continue to live, work, and pray together as we discern God's call for the Paducah District in the Memphis Conference.

The Challenges Ahead

1. Loss of Employment. It is hard to see our brothers and sisters hurt and suffer. More than ever, we have to connect and network as a district to take care of each other, pray for each other, and be willing to pool our resources and gifts to be a strong United Methodist presence. I think we have something unique to offer the Purchase Area; more than ever, people need to hear the healing and saving power of God's grace - and we Methodists major in grace!

2. Conference Staff and Program. Even though our total apportionment payout as a conference was a bit higher for 2013, the apportionment for Connectional Ministry Team was only funded at 68% - which is a $340,000+ shortfall. As a result, the CMT budget and personnel committees met and had to make adjustments in staff positions and CMT funding, and you can imagine how difficult cutting 1/3 of your ministries would be. We will certainly go on doing ministry in Jesus' name, but there are challenges ahead.

3. Reduction in Districts. The task force that met the past few months is recommending we decrease the number of districts from 7 to 4, having a Purchase Area district, a Metro district, a Mississippi River district, and a Tennessee River district (those are just geographical locations, not names). This would move the average number of charges per district from 42 to 62. Before you think that's unreasonable, it is more in line with the rest of the Connection in terms of workload. What that probably means for the Paducah District is that we would add Calloway and Fulton counties to our district and truly be a "Purchase Area" district. While there will be some challenges ahead, I think there would also be some bonuses for a unified "Kentucky" part of the Memphis Conference being under one district. Most importantly, this frees up funding to go toward renewed missional and discipleship needs in our conference, rather than funding the "way we've always done things," which we all know isn't working.

There are of course some things the D.S. will continue to do as always, but as I adapt to the new priority of being a "chief missional strategist," the work ahead is exciting - and I am excited about the more excellent way God is preparing for us. But most of all, I am excited to have a district that is on board. We may be moving s l o w l y, but we are moving with purpose. I think that's a work of the Spirit; God is not done with us yet!

Pax,
Sky+

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Covenant and Order vs. Liberty and Chaos


A few days ago Bishop Ken Carter wrote a most excellent blog, "Serving as a Denominational Bishop in a Post-
Denominational Culture." In it he writes:

[W]hile I have promised to seek the unity of the church, the energy in our denomination and many others is often in the polarities. It is at the extremes, where advocacy groups communicate and organize with clarity, even in opposition to each other.

And upholding the necessity of a disciplined life for the sake of the whole church? How am I to do that in a culture where individual desires and discernment are valued while institutional deliberation is often considered suspect, questioned or even sabotaged?

He also quotes leadership guru Edwin Friedman about the positions of those who would disrupt leadership versus those who are in leadership - hence the title of this article. How do we navigate these things?

If you don't think this will affect the local church anywhere in the Paducah District, I would advise you to think again. We are slowly becoming a hot item in the news; the Washington Post picked up Bishop Johnson's press release HERE. And you should be aware that intentional efforts are being made to disrupt the UMC at the local, conference, and General Conference level through LovePrevails, in which people are being urged disrupt gatherings, as well as divest their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness from the UMC. On the other extreme, the IRD and Good News are also launching their strategies which are also less covenant-oriented and more of the "by any means necessary" modus operandi.

Pastors are going to be put in the middle. More than ever.

When I get a phone call asking why a pastor can't rebaptize a church member, or why their former pastor won't come back to do a wedding or funeral, or why a lay person can't preside at a communion service, I point to the UMC's doctrine, polity, and covenant. It is not always an easy conversation, particularly with those who are marginally Christian. Being in a heavily Calvinist area as we are, many don't understand why we don't rebaptize, or celebrate infant dedications, or why we use a specific liturgy for Eucharist and Baptism. Add our present reality of living in a time and culture where an individual's thoughts and opinions trump an institution's, and the reality that the UMC is a global Church and not just an American one, people have a hard time understanding congregational covenants, clergy covenants, and a Book of Discipline.

People like the Book of Discipline and our covenant... when it suits their needs. When we disagree with it, we don't like it. Yet the nature of covenant is not to be selective, but to be faithful to it. Even when we disagree with it. Should we disagree, we fight to change it. Sometimes we win those fights. Sometimes we lose. That's when our trust in God is tested. When we decide to pick and choose, the covenant falls apart. There is no glue left.

The matter of same-gender marriage is one all people do not agree upon. Some believe the UMC's stance on the matter is discriminatory. Others believe that it is faithful. Those who strive to have it changed are convinced it is a civil rights matter. Those who adhere to the present stance believe it is an ecclesial matter about how God's will and Word is lived out.

There is no easy fix for this. Neither side will be able to compromise without feeling like they are compromising on basic matters of faith and understandings of Church doctrine. Unfortunately, name calling has begun - on both sides - fueled by hate and mirroring our political parties in their open disdain for each other.  I've been called anti-gay, a homophobe, and a redneck for keeping my covenant with the church. And I know that those who would like to change our church's stance have been called similar, derisive names.

This is not Christian covenant behavior; this is mirroring our political system in the U.S. We are supposed to be modeling for them, not the other way around, about a more excellent way. It has NO place in the Church, regardless of what "side" one takes.

My advice? Do some serious soul searching. Pray. Discern. Listen. My hunch is that the next General Conference won't change this issue by a vote: our UMC is still composed of a majority of people who take a traditional/orthodox approach to this matter, and the face of the UMC is reflected more and more in the Global South - which is even more traditional in its beliefs about marriage.

Soul searching may lead us to these kinds of questions: "Is the United Methodist Church the best place for me to live out my faith? Can I live in covenant with others who took the same membership and ordination vows? Can I still honor them even if I disagree with some of them?" Those are important questions before us. We must also ask, "Is 'by any means necessary' an appropriate behavior within a covenant community?"

One of my best friends disagrees with me, and he believes the Church is clearly wrong on this matter. Yet we not only continue to be best friends, we continue to live in the UMC covenant together. I'm sure some folks - on both sides - would give him grief about his stance; some because he's not in your face enough, others because he doesn't believe "rightly" Yet, as Reinhold Neibuhr reminds us, Christians must learn to live in the tension of having and not having the truth. That keeps us, just like Jesus on Calvary, in the middle. It's messy.

The reality is, when you invite Jesus to show up somewhere, it's going to be messy. Anyone might show up! He
asks us to live in the tension of  "let the children come to me" and "go and sin no more." In a covenant community, our personal opinions are trumped by the covenant community we choose to live in. Until we choose to be autonomous congregations (or conferences, or jurisdictions), we have to agree to a covenant and honor it. If we want personal liberty to rule, we need to quit being a connectional and covenant church - and we have several models to choose from already.

What do we want? That is one question. But the better question is, What does God want, and how do we get there the way GOD wants?

Pax,
Sky+

Saturday, November 30, 2013

Being In the Middle


United Methodist news circles and the blogosphere have been roused of late regarding same-gender marriage ceremonies. The news, however, is mostly only news to us United Methodists. My casual, un-scientific poll of people outside of the UMC tells me that this is largely unnoticed by the greater society.  Outside of the UMC and a few Facebook pages, few really care or are even watching. Overall, United Methodists are losing their influence on America. In 1970, there were over 10 million UM's amidst 203 million Americans. In 2010 however, that number was down to 7.6 million UM's.. amidst 308 million Americans (from the General Commission on Archives & History). We are in decline in the U.S. No wonder few are losing sleep over what the United Methodist Church does or does not do.

It's not that same-gender ceremonies are an unimportant issue - they are, regardless of what "side" you might support. But most of the arguments that I am witnessing on blog pages, on Facebook, and in denominational articles come from an American perspective. For some denominations, that's the only perspective that matters. But for a long time now, the United Methodist Church has been a worldwide denomination, and in the UM conferences of Africa, West Africa, Congo, and Philippines, membership has gone up 3 million people since 1999 (State of the Church Report, 2011). While it is always hasty to make broad generalizations, these areas of our church tend to be more traditional in theology and doctrine. And in a very recent article released by the Church of England Newspaper (backed by academic research), the Anglican Church in Britain is experiencing new growth - but only in minority ethnic churches. Again, the secular media and average Joe and Jane doesn't seem to notice - or care.

The worldwide nature of the UMC sets up a situation that most American UM's are unused to and frustrated by, something that transcends our either/or, Democrat/Republican, Harley Davidson/Japanese motorcycle, Duke/Kentucky basketball way of thinking: there are others beside ourselves to think about or argue with. Such are the realities of being a world-wide Church. I haven't found that social media has helped the situation much; indeed, I think it has made finding common ground even more difficult. To borrow from Martin Buber, some have left an "I-Thou" way of seeing others and adopted an "I-It" demeanor in this issue. By doing so, we objectify the one who disagrees with us.

For some UM's, same-gender marriage ceremonies represent a civil rights issue. For other UM's, it is not a civil rights matter but rather an ecclesial and doctrinal matter. For our African brothers and sisters, however, many take great offense at equating same-gender marriage and civil rights, as they live with the reality that Apartheid resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands South Africans - for them, there is no comparison. In African provinces, homosexuality is not just a doctrinal/ecclesial matter, it is a legal one as well. With conviction, they cannot be party to changing church doctrine on the matter, as in their society such actions are not only illegal but punishable by imprisonment or even death. For us as American UM's, to ignore this part of the argument is to ignore a large part of our United Methodist Church. Again, such are the realities of being a world-wide Church. There are more issues, more cultural aspects, and more contextual realities than just American ones.

To love God is to love people. All people. Regardless. But it also means to embrace tolerance; tolerance is not kowtowing - tolerance is respect amidst the differences. And inclusivity - as opposed to being generic - means embracing all as a child of God; generic is nothing. The question is: how tolerant and inclusive can we be as a denomination? Can we still see others as brothers and sisters who are as convicted as we are in matters where we do not agree? Are those who are strongly advocating same-gender marriage so willing to say that they have the absolute truth on the matter, in light of Reinhold Niebuhr's words that to be Christian means living in the tension of having and not having the truth? So sure that they are willing to disrupt UMC gatherings of likewise faithful and convicted people?

I've always maintained that the Church is to be counter-cultural and "maladjusted" by worldly standards. No matter what the polls, what the opinions, what the trends - we are called to be in the world while not of the world - and that our discerning of what God wants trumps popular opinion. At the same time, we are better served to support the civil rights of individuals as a concern of what it socially just. These things are not diametrically opposed.

The reason why I have no problem with states deciding whether or not they issue a marriage license for same-gendered couples is because such (getting a marriage license) functions under civil authority. It is a state issue - not a church issue, which a wedding ceremony is. It doesn't mean I agree with it; indeed, I don't agree with how easy the state makes divorce, or abortion, or how cavalierly some states deal with capital punishment. While we Christians should never water down our beliefs or witness, we dare not depend on the state to make our stands for us - we are Christians first, and citizens second. Our calling to be Christ's is a higher calling. I love my country - but I love God much more. And while the Church is a man-made institution, it is led by those who are led by the Holy Spirit - and I believe it is the best hope of making disciples for the transformation of the world. Being United Methodist is, for me, the best expression of the Christian faith. I stand by its beliefs and submit to its authority - even when it pits me against friends and family. It's what I vowed to do.

When it comes to doctrine and belief, the theological milieu in the UMC gets muddier still. Some are liberal. Some are orthodox (or generously orthodox, rigidly orthodox, or neo-orthodox). Some are conservative. Traditional. Postmodern. Post postmodern (always something new - or nothing new - under the sun). Some think Christ was really born of a virgin. Some say that's an ancient legend (and everything in between). Some say Christ was really crucified and risen. Others say that miracles violate the laws of nature and must be discounted. Further, and most confusing to the average person in the pew, some say that Christian beliefs are based less on any one truth and more upon your "circle of interpretation."

My goodness. Where do we stand?!?

My short, inadequate, but I think faithful answer is this: I don't see how Christians can place themselves anywhere else other than the middle. Not the middle as we Americans define middle. More than just the via media. The REAL middle. The place where Jesus was on Calvary. Crucified between a man who wanted Jesus to prove his power and fix things, and a man who knew that one day, he would get far better than he deserved.

I think that's where God would have us: holding the hands of both. It's not clean - it's quite messy. I'd rather stand in the middle and place myself in God's will rather than my own. Left to my own devices, I'll end up wanting a Jesus who will fix it rather than trusting Him to take us where we need to be. That is the danger of taking the extreme positions on either side in our denomination - we run the risk of going where they want, rather than where God would have us.

Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done.

Pax,
Sky+


Thursday, October 24, 2013

Opening Devotional Delivered at Kentucky Council of Churches Assembly


Acts 17:16-34

dialegomai - ("getting a conclusion across") occurs 13 times in the NT, usually of believers exercising "dialectical reasoning." This is the process of giving and receiving information with someone to reach deeper understanding – a "going back-and-forth" of thoughts and ideas so people can better know the Lord, His word, and His will.

Dialogue — defined as “the flow of meaning that requires people to listen respectfully, suspend judgment, offer a full hearing and seek common ground and mutual understanding — to a variety of interpersonal and public communication forums.” (Kim Phipps, president of Messiah College). She continues:

...common ground does not require individuals to surrender strongly held convictions or values, and it does not mean that we cannot engage in debate with people with whom we disagree. But it does mean that both the speaker and the listener commit to articulating their positions in a respectful and thoughtful manner as they earnestly seek to discover points of shared understanding.

In an age of contentious presidential debates, pundit panels and polarizing conversations taking place among state and federal government leaders, the process of citizens engaging in constructive listening, articulating carefully considered positions and determining appropriate actions should be at the very heart of who we are as a nation and a regional community.

My brothers and sisters - that is an ideal. But it is not the current reality. With MSNBC and Fox News, Democratic and Republican members of congress, and several other polar entities modeling debate and discussion in our society, civil dialogue is, pardon the phrase, taking a beating.

In my own life, I have two very strong convictions that come from my life in living with Christ. One is capital punishment - in 2000, I served as the pastor to Robert Glen Coe's family; Robert was the first person in Tennessee to be executed in 40 years, and I find our willingness to so easily embrace what is in essence a premeditated murder to be against all New Testament ethical understandings of justice and moral behavior in times of peace. It is a very strongly held conviction for me. Likewise, I also have a strong conviction about abortion - for the same exact ethical and moral reasons. While these public convictions pretty much assure me that I'll never hold public office in either political party, they have often put me into some interesting conversations.

How we choose to enter these conversations - and in what manner - requires those of faith to choose a more excellent way than the ways of our media, political pundits, and politicians. They require us to embrace the biblical understanding of dialogue/ διάλογος: maintaining our convictions, but articulating them in such a manner that we seek to understand at LEAST as well as we seek to be understood. I think it is instructive that when Paul was in Athens, he spoke gently, firmly, yet civily - as he was in a foreign country seeking to bring a foreign Faith to those who would hear.

My brothers and sisters - we who walk in Faith are foreigners in this country; if we are faithful, we will find ourselves as maladjusted as the prophets and as counter-cultural as Jesus. For us to “adjust” to the debate style that is prevalent in our society today is to give up our salt and light - and our unique message of a crucified and risen Christ.

As a good Methodist, I would be remiss if I didn’t quote John Wesley at least once – and in doing so, I would lift up the General Rules that John Wesley gave those small societies who sought to be more faithful: “Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.”

Regardless of the issue.

If we bite and devour each other, we may find ourselves destroying each other - the antithesis of civil dialogue, as well as our prayer for "Thy Kingdom Come, Thy will be done."

Let us pray:

Almighty God - in the beginning was the Word. Your word. Your logos. As we meet during this week, may we seek more to understand than to be understood, to love more than we seek to be loved, and to find relationships with others - those that we know, and especially those that we don't. Bless those who speak this week, and bless us as we hear. May our prayers increase to where we listen more than we speak, and do more for others than ask for You to do for us. All in Your gracious name we pray. Amen.

Sky McCracken+
Opening Devotional - Kentucky Council of Churches

October 24, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

D.S. as Chief Missional Strategist - and Breaking the Rules



Our episcopal area – the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences – has recently embraced a study of Gil Rendle’s Back to Zero: The Search to Rediscover the Methodist Movement, and it has become the main work of our church’s charge conferences this year. As a district superintendent, I have had a love/hate relationship with this book. It states so clearly what we need to do to regain our mission, but challenges so many things we have grown into, become comfortable with, and accustomed to in our lives and churches.

Of all the sentences in Gil’s book, the two most trying and challenging to this me was this one:
Our denominational life has become more regulatory than missional. We have become a rule-following people.

And there is no denying this fact. The United Methodist Church mirrors our world governments at their worst. We regulate. We have policies and standard operating guidelines. We create watchdog groups to be sure others are “acting right.” We caucus ourselves to get more people on our “side.” And when we end up at General Conference, each side tries to present their rules to be enacted so that they will be followed. Having presented my own petition to the last General Conference (Petition 20769, and getting it approved and enacted with 889 votes for, 20 votes against), I have been part of the fray. Granted, it was not a controversial measure, but still just a “rule.”

And in the midst of all of this we somehow forgot our primary mission: to make disciples. Not to forward social causes, not to triumph or champion our “side” as the right one – but to make disciples in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Discipleship is what Jesus commissions us to do. Anything else is at best secondary to that, and if we believe we are something else first, then we are no longer a church.

Unless we want the Book of Discipline to continue to become larger and the UMC to continue to become smaller, we have to break the cycle – not just because we’re dying, not just because pastors won’t have a pension, but because we’re not making disciples for the transformation of the world – our mission! If we rely on the General Conference to make these bold changes, we will fail. We have to become bold ourselves, and transform into individuals who embrace and enable change.

So this D.S. is willing to break a few rules, not for the sake of going rogue, but for the sake of being faithful to the Kingdom. I don’t want to meet my Maker one day and be asked why I chose to be a Pharisee instead of bold leader and disciple-maker. There has to be a better way.

What are essentials for district superintendents in this season? Permit me to offer these.

1. Hold individual charge conferences. Yes – I used to think CC’s were a waste of time, and the way they were often previously done they usually were. Reports can be filed and read by anyone who’d like to read them. But what if churches were challenged about what programs and ministries they are currently investing in and seeing how effective they are in making disciples? What if conferencing and conversation took place about self-reflection and self-awareness about what needs to change? What if we shared God stories about how lives were being transformed and how we as individuals can change the way we live out our faith so others hear the good news and not only become disciples, but disciple-makers?

For a D.S. to truly be a chief missional strategist, s/he must be involved at the congregational level. Having cluster or area charge conferences is a poor substitute for making relationships and leading clergy and laity in substantive change. Approve the pastoral and staff salaries, approve the church leadership for the next year, and file the rest.  Spend the bulk of the charge conference in dialogue, assessment, celebration, repentance, and prayer. It might not be 100% kosher with the Discipline, but it gets at the heart of what we should be doing in conferencing as a means of grace. And while D.S.’s certainly can’t and shouldn’t micromanage every church’s mission in context, they can certainly challenge congregations to ask the right questions, challenge themselves, and become less insular and more neighborhood minded.

If someone doesn’t like it, I guess they can file charges on me. I’m willing to break these minor rules for the sake of enabling mission, instead of preventing it.

2. Be Willing to Risk Being a Pastor Instead of a Supervisor. It is a very tough line to walk, to be both a steward of order and church law and to be a shepherd to pastors and congregations under their charge. Unfortunately, we have created a climate where distrust is fostered and pastors are understandably reticent to confide and trust their D.S. It is a messy and uncomfortable place of tension. Having said that, D.S.’s have to know when to be a D.S. and when to be a pastor, and be able to live with and discern when to be which. That’s not quite kosher to the Discipline either. But I remain convinced that our mission far outweighs our need to be just personnel managers.

Having a sphere of distrust is antithetical to Kingdom work. It’s doesn’t mean we don’t hold accountability for our leaders – we do. But we cannot continue to operate out of fear or distrust in a Kingdom that is build upon agape and grace. Moreover, if we are asking people to make one-on-one relationships with others to foster discipleship and evangelism, we clergy are going to have to model transparency and vulnerability.

3. Trust Your Bishop (and Bishops, Be Trustworthy). You cannot ask pastors and congregations to trust you as their leader if you don’t trust your leader. Resist the temptation to tell a congregation, “The bishop is saying this – I’m just the messenger,” or “Our bishop believes this is the faithful way to go. He’s my boss so we’re doing it.” Those are dishonest ways of voicing to others that you disagree but are just doing your job. A D.S. is an extension of the bishop’s office – you are his/her voice. If you have disagreements with your bishop, tell him/her yourself. If we disagree, some conversation in is order so we can discern the work of the Spirit correctly. In the cabinet I serve in, we have found that transparency with each other leads us to leave the room with shared vision and focus.

4. Be Willing to Get in Your Car and Drive. I bought a used ‘03 Toyota Avalon in 2011. It was used but well-maintained, large enough to be comfortable for long drives and driving other passengers but economical enough to be a good steward. It’s also designed for high mileage (I’m currently at 230k miles). There is no substitute for being physically present with congregations and committees to engender trust and sincerity, and no other way to lead clergy and laity into shared mission and ministry. It does wear on the soul… but I take some comfort in reading Bishop Asbury’s journals – it sure beats horseback! When the weather is nice I ride my motorcycle or open the windows. It is a wonderful way to enjoy God’s creation.

5. Know your Strengths and be Self-Aware. Bishop McAlilly had all of us cabinet members take the Gallup/Tom Rath StrengthsFinder assessment. I also had taken the Myers-Briggs personality assessment several years previous when in spiritual direction. While no one is solely “their assessment”, these are good tools to know about one’s self in how you follow, lead, and where your gifts and challenges lie.  My strengths lie in Achieving, Relating, Strategy,  Learning, and Arranging. My Myers-Briggs type is INFJ (Introverted, iNtuitive, Feeling, Judging). That means I’m good at being intuitive and have a “feel” for things, and like to work independently and with details. But it also means I have to guard against expecting perfection in others, that I keep in mind the whole picture, and that I seek to be collaborative rather than a lone ranger in my work ethic. If I don’t keep these things in mind, I won’t lead as effectively.

Being a D.S. has never been easy. But in this season, as the UMC lives into a changed reality, it is more crucial than ever that we take thou authority to make sure we are equipping clergy, laity, and local churches to make disciples. That is our mission – and nothing else is sacred but the mission; that is, everything must be on the table for change, revision, renewal, and transformation, so that we might make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Pax,
Sky+