Sunday, November 26, 2006

Restoring, Renewing, and Trying Something New

Last week I did all three.

Restoring. My first car was a 1967 VW Beetle. I took it apart and put it back together twice, and learned a lot about working on cars from it. The transmission on my truck is starting to act goofy, so I bought a “new” car – a 1991 BMW 325i. My wife’s brother-in-law (many thanks, Larry) and I put in about 5 hours of work on it on Friday, and it runs like a top. It needs a few other odds and ends that I’m scared to do myself, but it runs great. It’ll be a labor of love restoring it, and a slow process, but I’ve decided to have fun doing it.

Renewing. My family went to visit my wife’s sister for Thanksgiving. Her family, along with my mother-in-law, had a wonderful time together. Food, family, fellowship – what a blessing, and what a gift. We had forgotten what a great time we have with each other when we gather. I also realized how mentally tired I have been for the past several months. While I’ve done a lot better job keeping my body in shape in the past few months, my mind and soul have needed renewal and attention too. Balance is important in any renewal.

Trying Something New. I am a creature of tradition and habit, and at my age don’t take on new things very easily or often. So when my wife’s brother-in-law suggested that I try dirt-bike riding over the weekend, I initially balked; I had visions of an emergency room visit, consults with an orthopedic surgeon, etc. I’ve ridden motorcycles for a while, but never off-road. But I tried it… and found that I wouldn’t need a whole lot of arm-twisting to enjoy it. I had good teachers (brother-in-law mentioned above and my nephew, Matt).

You know… restoring, renewing, and trying something new are things we as Christians should not only embrace – we should be experts in it!! If we are to be in the world yet not of it, how else can we preach and teach in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit? Restoring the truth and tradition that the saints of old handed down to us, renewing ourselves and the Church so that both may be effective vessels of sharing the Good News, And trying something new? Well, at one time pipe organs, electricity, indoor plumbing, and computers were unheard of in churches, and probably frowned upon (i.e., can anything good come out of anything new?!?).

What might God be trying to get us to restore, renew, and try? In the name of Jesus.


Saturday, November 18, 2006

Should I Stay or Should I Go?

I'm showing my age... but one song I remember covering in a rock band I played with was The Clash's "Should I Stay or Should I Go."

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
And if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know...
[Should I stay or should I go.]

It’s a question that United Methodist pastors will start to ask themselves in a few months: “It is time for me to move? Should I go?” More honestly, when word of retirements and “big moves” gets circulated, we pastors may ask ourselves, “Is this a good year for me to move?” Translation: is this good for my career, my family, and my wallet?

There’s a lot of “me” there. What does that say about those laity that we serve?

Church of the Servant United Methodist Church is the largest UM church in Oklahoma, with over 7,000 members. Their senior pastor, Norman Neaves, was appointed there in 1968 to start a new church. He is still the senior pastor there.

Church of the Resurrection United Methodist Church is the largest UM church in Kansas, with over 14,000 members. Their senior pastor, Adam Hamilton, was appointed there in 1990 to start a new church. He is still the senior pastor there.

Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, Alabama, is the largest UMC in Alabama. John Ed Mathison was appointed there 34 years ago as the senior pastor. Frazer Memorial was not a new church start; it was founded in 1889, and relocated when interstate highways were constructed. Since Mathison was appointed there, the church grew from 400 members to 8,400 members. Mathison is still there.

I took enough statistics classes in college to be wary of correlations and causality. But it just makes sense that longer pastoral tenures usually bear more fruit. Consider the words of blogger Paul Lamey:
The things that the pastor is called to be and do take time…lots of time! The common joke is that, “pastors work one hour a week.” While this is no doubt true for many hirelings throughout the land, not so with the man who has been called by God and gives himself to the ministry with complete integrity. The average tenure of a pastor in the US is three years. That’s despicable and horrific when we consider what it takes to effectively minister to God’s flock in the way that He has prescribed. I’m not suggesting that a pastor fill his schedule with programs from the denomination office or with the latest fad from the “experts”. To the contrary, I’m suggesting he immerse himself with the specifics that God has called him to in Scripture (e.g., study, preach/teach, counsel, lead/administrate, visit, pray, practice, etc.). It takes time to do these things and it takes even more time to do them with excellence. This means that every week will be full and when he enters his third year of ministry he’s not looking for an escape but he’s just getting started. We see leaders with this basic commitment as far back as Ezra who “set his heart to study the law of the LORD and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10).

Lamey then found a quote from Calvin’s commentary on some texts from Hosea regarding call to ministry and how long it lasts:
“But when God employs our service for twenty or thirty years, we think it wearisome, especially when we have to contend with wicked men, and those who do not willingly undertake the yoke, but pertinaciously resist us; we then instantly desire to be set free, and wish to become like soldiers who have completed their time. When, therefore, we see that this Prophet persevered for so long a time, let him be to us an example of patience, so that we may not despond, though the Lord may not immediately free us from our burden.” (Calvin’s Commentaries, Vol. 13, “Hosea” pg.38).

So let’s see… the average pastoral tenure in the United States is 3 years. Is it just too much to consider staying somewhere for 20-30 years? Are we that impatient?

Sometimes we pastors often find ourselves asking the question, “Have I stayed here too long?” It may be that we need to instead ask, “Don’t I need to stay here a long time?”


Note: I have since found out that Norman Neaves retired last year.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Looking Behind, Thinking Ahead

A few weeks ago, I walked around the neighborhood where I grew up. I also drove by my home church where I not only grew up in, but was also appointed to as one of the pastors for five years.

Some of the really big trees I remember as a kid are no longer there; time has taken its toll. A lot of trees that I remember as saplings are now big trees. Someone bothered to plant them, and now, 40 years later, others are enjoying them. My home church has changed quite a bit: the old youth center is gone, the education building has been razed, and a new building is being erected to replace both. The parsonage that my family and I lived in 13 years ago now houses the church offices.

I have really fond memories of the youth center and educational building at my home church. But I know in my heart of hearts that it was time for a change. More importantly, I know that the Kingdom of God seeks to minister to others that will be here long after I am gone. The new building will reflect the changes needed to minister to people in the 21st century.

In thinking ahead for Reidland UMC, if you’ve noticed, utility companies are moving lines to prepare for the closing of Old Benton Road. Our church has been preparing for a Long-Range Planning/Master Site Plan committee to meet. I think that the time for us to meet is now. We need to not only plan for today, but plan for 10, 20, even 30 years from now. Some of us may not live to see anticipated changes; I for one will be retired in around 20 years. But that does not relieve me of the responsibility to be sure that our church is still making disciples for Jesus Christ years and years from now.

So I’m asking you to pray. Pray about what needs to happen at Reidland UMC. Pray about how we need to reconfigure parking and our preschool playground. Pray about how what kind of ministries and visions we need to be capturing to serve the Reidland community the best. Most of all, please pray about what sacrifices of time, money, talents, and thoughts we need to make in response for the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made for us so that Reidland UMC continues to make disciples for Jesus Christ.


Wednesday, November 01, 2006


My daughter has unfortunately inherited my occasional bouts of writer's block (I haven't blogged lately, as you can tell) This is a problem for Sarah because she is occasionally graded upon her abilities to write. She was coming up blank for a poem due in class... and this is what she came up with:


Blank, Nothing, Empty.
It stares up at me expecting words, sentences, paragraphs.
But I can't. I'm just
It looks up and asks me
"Why? Why must you leave my pages empty?
Must you forever leave me a book of nothing-
My face bare?"
Sincere apologies my friend,
But I can't. I'm just
I think until I can no longer.
My head is no longer the abyss of words it once was.
And so, my friend, I must leave you
Empty, Nothing, Blank.

- © 2006, Sarah E. McCracken

I wasn't this sharp when I was 13. I'm still not.