Leadership That “Gets” It

Four years ago, when I was a reserve delegate for General Conference, I got this book in the mail, United Methodist @ Risk – A Wake Up Call, written by Leon Howell and sent from the “left” leaning folks of the UMC. A couple of days ago, I got this book in the mail: Taking Back the United Methodist Church, written by Mark Tooley of the Institute of Religion and Democracy – the “right.” Both are small books, and after having read both of them again, I am placing them on my shelf next to Bill O’Reilly’s The O’Reilly Factor and Al Franken’s Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them. They all belong together, really. Entertaining rhetoric, but not really too helpful at solving the woes of the United States or the United Methodist Church.

As I said in an earlier blog, both “sides” of the UMC would tell you that homosexuality is the reason we are losing members; “If we were more progressive... If we were more conservative...” Given the Southern Baptist’s recent announcement that they are in decline for the 3rd straight year, I’m not sure the argument can be made that the UMC becoming more conservative will gain us more members. And given the Episcopalian’s decline in membership since 1965, I don’t think we could make the argument that becoming more progressive will gain us more members, either. In fact, I don't think ideology has anything to do with it at all.

The recent news from the General Conference is that we’re going to commission another hymnal and that a new Judical Council has been elected. Lots of news about the goings on of denominational bureaucracy, the ethics of giving out cell phones, and the polarizing views of the special interest groups. Not much news on how we’re going to make more disciples and enable more effective leadership.

Instead of looking to Mark Tooley, Jim Winkler, Riley Case, Kathryn Johnson, James Heidinger, or Troy Plummer for leadership, let me suggest two other folks – two folks that I think "get" it: The Rev’s Adam Hamilton and Jorge Acevedo.

Adam Hamilton. I only know Adam by attending some seminars. But he is a proven leader – taking a church from a beginning of 4 people to over 14,000. He approached ministry in Kansas City this way: what needs does this community have, and how can we address them? No lofty goals or unattainable mission statements. Church of the Resurrection picked just a few aspects of ministry and decided that they would excel in just those few things.

I worshiped there once on a Sunday morning a few years ago. It is a fairly traditional service from a United Methodist point of view, yet utilizing state of the art media aids. Adam’s preaching is solid, biblical, and prophetic. Nothing flashy, nothing gimmicky – faithful, orthodox, and prophetic. COR also offers contemporary worship, but I would place it more in the “traditional” realm aimed at younger adults.

The results are known well to anyone who is United Methodist. And Adam’s philosophy about what his church has done brings out the teacher and leader in him: “Anything we have done you are welcome to have.” Church of the Resurrection majors in Christian hospitality. Their mission statement/purpose? To build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians. This is what the UMC desperately needs to do.

Adam strikes me to be fairly orthodox in his theology and practice of ministry. Yet he is prophetic enough to realize that sometimes, there are shades of gray in the world, as well as our faith. Some things are simply not black and white, and the “line” sometimes moves. While God’s truth is sure, our discernment of it is not always so sure. Adam’s not afraid to go out there, name the issues, and struggle with them. He gives us a good model to do so.

Jorge Acevedo. I met Jorge (pronounced just like “George”) at General Conference 2004. Our delegation ate supper one night with some of the Florida delegation, and Jorge and I sat next to each other. I had no idea who he was. Once I did (later), I was floored. When he spoke at our Annual Conference a few years later, I walked right past him and he grabbed my arm, called me by name, and we had a nice conversation (he’s better with names than I am, obviously).

As I’ve learned more about his work in ministry, I am floored. The church he pastors, Grace Church in Coral Beach, FL, has expanded (as has Church of the Resurrection) into another campus, with a third campus expansion in the works. They offer both traditional and contemporary services, and a unique opportunity on Saturday evenings: “Celebrate Recovery,” an opportunity for “anybody with a hurt, a habit or a hang-up.” Including a meal, worship service, small groups, and café time.

Why do I think Jorge “gets it?” Read what he said in a Q&A with the Florida Conf. Communication folks:
People want that deep, authentic, Christ-centered spirituality. They want that connection that comes with Christ. They want to develop their Christian spirituality in all of its rich diverse ways in which people connect to Christ. But they want that expressed in tangible, hands-on, experiential, life-changing mission, where they see that they’re making a difference in the world. It’s not simply sending money up stream to some denominational entity that somehow takes care of “those people” over there, whoever those people are. Those kinds of loyalties died off in the 60s, in terms of denominationalism. People want to know that their life, their giving, their prayers are making a difference in their community and around the world. And if the stated mission and these initiatives around that stated mission can be lived out by the people called United Methodist, our best days could be in front of us. If not, it could be a sad day for our denomination.
It’s interesting that the growing North American churches and movements — the Saddlebacks, the Willow Creek-type churches — have really hijacked our theology and our practices. Here are these folks who are typically out of the reformed tradition — we’re on the same team, just different sides of the bench — but they’ve stolen our message. So you have Rick Warren with his peace plan talking about attacking the big giant issues of the world: disease, illiteracy, hunger, poverty, AIDS. And I’m thinking, “That’s our job!” That’s who we are as Wesleyans. That’s what John Wesley lived for.
Jorge nails it: other churches have become effective because they ripped us off and filled the void that Methodists were birthed to fill! Jorge and the folks at Grace Church aren’t doing something new-fangled – they’re doing something very old and time-honored in the best of Methodist tradition; it just has a 21st century bent to it. I don’t think Wesley intended us to be anachronistic in our mission; indeed, Wesley was quite the innovator himself in his day.

I certainly am not trying to elevate either of these guys to sainthood, nor am I trying to run their campaigns for the episcopacy (please guys... don’t do it); I am sure that they have their faults. However, they are growing churches and membership in a time when denominations are losing ground, and they are doing it in the framework of a Wesleyan ethos.

It seems to me that every special interest group in the UMC, regardless of stripe or leaning, just wants to enter into lament and accusation. No one there seems to want to lead; they just want to gripe and moan and tell us how to vote. These guys refuse to enter into the bitchfest – instead, they see the glass half-full and want it to overflow. They just do it - and they do it well.

That’s effective leadership. I hope we can emulate it as a church, instead of being political wannabes who are noisy gongs and clanging cymbals.



PamBG said…
In the UK, the church in general is losing members. British Methodists blame it on 'not enough contemporary worship'. I think it's far too simplistic to blame decline on any one factor or issue.

Without wanting in any way to be complacent or not passionate about proclaiming the Gospel, I suspect that decline may simply be something our generation needs to endure in faithfulness and hope.

I do think that one big factor is that people are less inclined to 'join' things or go out and do communal activities. Civic organisations, scouts and guides and even choral societies have the same problem of decline in the UK. Pubs are closing at a much faster rate than churches (which should warm the cockles of the Methodist heart! *grin*)
Anonymous said…
Let me echo some commentgs from SB friends.
The Baptist churches around here (Dallas- Ft. Worth) they are becoming more progressive, and more like the "seeker" friendly churches. They looking to bring in new members, but the old members are leaving. This is due to trying to be "fresh", "exciting", and "relevant".
There is something to be said for being traditional and grounded in something that has stood the test of time. I seem to recall someone saying something at one time about building on rock or sand....
TN Rambler said…
I'm not familiar with Jorge Acevedo, but it looks like I need to be. Adam Hamilton and Jorge Acevedo are leaders in our United Methodist connection that we should emulate...they seem to "get it".

Steve Bruns said…
Sky, I both agree and disagree with you completely. We need to move past the political infighting and get on with Kingdom business. That much is absolutely true.

However, we have to remember that we are not the servants of a black, white, or grey belief system. We are servants of a person, Jesus Christ. And as a person, Jesus does not hold contradictory opinions on matters just so people can get along and move forward. On the contrary, Jesus' opinions on issues were part of what got him killed, precisely because he was uncompromising.

He is our head, and we need to be following the leadership of our head. Otherwise, we simply are not being faithful.

Pubs closing? Man... that's just wrong. I thought pub culture was the coolest thing ever when I was in England. As well as having REAL Guinness.


I am about as orthodox as they come. But I think Adam's point isn't that the truth of Christ wavers, but our wisdom often fails. As Christ told us, we are to honor the Sabbath... but if someone needs healing, then we need to heal. Jesus' opinion on the matter (and others) doesn't waver... but that doesn't mean we always "get" it.