Saturday, August 23, 2008

Parsonages & Itineracy: Out of Date or Just Ignored?

I cleaned our house today - I usually do this earlier in the week, but schedules never quite worked out for that to happen. Our house is three years old - built new right after I moved to Reidland. It's hard to believe three years has gone by. As you can see in the picture, we live in a very fine house.

Even though the house is still like new, there are a few things that need some attention. I contracted someone today to clean the gutters and pressure-wash the deck, which will need staining before it weathers too much more. I need to remove some mulch and replace it around the perimeter of the house where the landscaping is. Our church was very gracious in building a new parsonage, and I am going to do my best to be sure we keep it looking new. My family has always covenanted to leave the parsonages we lived in in better shape than when we moved in them.

I've been lucky throughout the years that I've never moved into a less-than-standard house. No house is perfect, but there weren't holes in the bathroom floors or leaky roofs or substandard wiring in them like some of the horror stories I have heard from others over the years.

However, I have to confess that some of my colleagues have given all of us pastors a bad name over the years. It is hard to believe, but some pastors simply trash their parsonages. They not only don't clean them, but they don't bother to repair them and alert folks to needed repairs. The word gets out that "You don't want to follow so-and-so, because you won't be able to move in to your house for two weeks - it won't be fit to live in!" It's been my experience that most church trustees are more than happy to address parsonage issues if you and the your family show an interest in maintaining and even improving it.

Some pastors resist such help - they see such as an intrusion of their privacy. While folks can certainly snoop more than they should, churches have a valid right to keep their property and assets in good condition... and if they've had previous (or present) pastors who don't take care of their parsonages, churches get understandably nervous, or even resentful, when yearly inspections or maintenance are not met with open arms by pastors and parsonage families. As a result, when it comes time to make a decision on whether to build a new parsonage, renovate a present one, or offer a housing allowance, the housing allowance is often chosen.

In our conference, parsonages are becoming an endangered species; more and more churches are moving toward a housing allowance. Financially, of course, this is advantageous to pastors - it allows them to build up equity. But from the point-of-view of the United Methodist itineracy, it can be disastrous: it puts another variable in a system that already has a lot of variables. In my Annual Conference, folks in Memphis tend to stay in Memphis - which ties the hands of the cabinet in making appointments. Add to that the "We have a house that we'd have to buy/sell" argument, or "We haven't amortized our house yet" plea, and it puts another kink into the itineracy - maybe a pastor needs to move, maybe a church needs the pastor to move, or both - but the pastor's finances (or lack of them!) end up making the final decision... something that the parsonage system eliminates. Add to that the fact that the spouse may have a job that they can't or don't want to leave, and itineracy becomes nearly impossible.

As a result, a multi-tiered itineracy becomes a reality. Our large membership churches are already in a tier by themselves. The next tier are churches who offer housing allowances, particularly in metropolitan areas: the advantage here is that pastors can be moved around in metro areas without worry about a pastor having to sell a house - they can usually keep the present house they live in. And then there are churches with parsonages. The advantage is that there are no homes to sell or buy, and pastors in this category are much more mobile and able to itinerate from farther distances away.

The snafu is when someone moves from one situation to another: you either have to buy a house, or sell a house. In our conference, that can happen with relatively short notice - and in this present economy, the housing market is very poor. Our parsonage is located in a new housing development of Paducah, and there are three houses for sale on our street... and they have been up for sale for nearly six months. The absolute worst case scenario is moving from an appointment that has a housing allowance to another appointment that has a housing allowance, and buying a house at your new location and being unable to sell the house in your previous location.

I'm not naive enough to think that other professions don't have this problem, but in theory, the itinerancy was designed to be able to deploy clergy to serve every church in an annual conference, sometimes very quickly. Parsonages helped the itineracy in this regard.

Given the increased difficulty of making pastoral appointments, and the present realities of parsonages, housing allowances, and two-income and two-profession families, it seems that United Methodism needs to do some thinking and rethinking.
  1. Is the itineracy really just dead - and should we bury it?
  2. If not, are we still committed to itinerant ministry?
  3. If so, do we need to reconsider the move toward housing allowances as the norm?
  4. Do we need to hold pastors financially accountable for damages, and insist on yearly inspections with D.S.'s present?
  5. Or do we need to ditch the itineracy and go to a modified call system?

Right now, it seems to be that we are in the worst of all worlds where the above is concerned. Any ideas?


Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Six Degrees of Separation

I did something last week I said I’d never do – I signed up for Facebook on the Internet. It is a social network that began as a college campus networking tool, but soon expanded to anyone and everyone. And it’s been incredible how many old friendships I’ve renewed in so short a time… and how many new ones have begun.

There is a phrase that comes to mind: Six Degrees of Separation. It is a theory that if a person is one step away from each person they know and two steps away from each person who is known by one of the people they know, then everyone is an average of six "steps" away from each person on Earth. It’s even led to a game called “Six Degrees of Separation from Kevin Bacon,” a party game in which you can take any actor and link him to actor Kevin Bacon. Let’s see… Kate Winslet was in Titanic with Leonardo DiCaprio, Leonardo DiCaprio was in Catch Me If You Can with Tom Hanks, Tom Hanks was in Apollo 13 with Kevin Bacon [I’ll be darned]. Ronald Reagan was in The Young Doctors with Eddie Albert, Eddie Albert was in The Big Picture with Kevin Bacon… well, you get the idea!

Small world, isn’t it?

Jesus said, “Go and make disciples.” John Wesley said, “The world is our parish.” It seems clear that God uses encounters with believers to draw people to Himself. In that respect, if we allow ourselves to be used as vessels, there is only one degree of separation between people and God.

The world really isn't that big of a place - or parish.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

Pastor as Spiritual Leader - Part III

Take Thou Authority?

In one of the last posts on this matter, I noted that the UMC has no theology of ordination, but we have a host of procedures and policies. We are one of a handful of denominations that will place someone as a pastor of a church without ordaining them, such as local pastors, commissioned pastors, etc. Whether one is ordained or not, one is a pastor of a United Methodist church not because of ordination (a means of grace and sacramental action), but because of authority being granted to them by the Book of Discipline.

Herein lies a problem, I think: we are granting pastors authority from a standpoint of church law and ministerial office, and pastors often assert their authority by persuasion (which can be good and bad). But in a day and age where people are suspect of authority and disillusioned with the Church, none of those standpoints really grant any empowering authority at all. Pastors are going to have to realize that true authority comes from God, and pastoral authority comes from God's grace. This is where ordination SHOULD be couched, but I fear (at least in the UMC) that it is not.

Authority is power - but power misplaced gets us nowhere. Ministry is done by all of the people, not just the pastor. In fact, the word liturgy literally means "the work of the people." It may be that pastoral authority's real power comes from shared leadership and vision. It is clear that pastors do not know best and our education is not helping us - or our denomination would be growing instead of dying. Unlike the paradigms of the world, the parish model is to use the power and authority God gives us WITH others, rather than OVER others.

Author Howard Rice contends that until pastors can be straightforward about their own spiritual journeys, those that they pastor will never be able to recognize similar movements of the Spirit in their own lives:
The deeper we [pastors] go in our own experiences, the more general those experiences turn out to be; the more we dare to lift up the struggles and successes of our own faith pilgrimage and share them with others, the more others are helped to articulate events along the way of their own journeys. All too often laity keep their deepest religious experiences from pastors. Parishioners fear that pastors will not understand or accept their experiences. They may worry that they are not good enough. They don't show themselves for fear of rejection. They hide behind walls and hope that someone will notice them and pay attention. They hope that the pastor will say words that validate their experiences...

People need help to sort out their deepest experiences. They need someone they trust to help them recognize the dangers of some choices. They need help to reorganize their tendency to spiritual pride. They need guidance to distinguish the voice of God from the welter of other voices. At heart, therefore, the pastor must be a guide to the spiritual life, a person others trust to share the struggle. The pastor offers assistance, not as one who has already arrived but as one who is on the same journey, going alongside the people and perhaps a step or two ahead.
- Howard Rice, The Pastor as Spiritual Guide, pp. 185-6.

Those two paragraphs are damning to many pastors - are we as adept and (more to the point) bold as we should be in matters spiritual? Can we share our own spiritual journey and struggles competently and articulately? As well as we (claim to) preach? Can we speak the language? And can we be humble enough to realize that we have not "arrived" yet? We learned - and indeed, were trained - to be the resident theologians to our churches. Can we honestly say that we are also the resident spiritual directors of our churches?

It'll take work - and prayer - to get there if we're not the spiritual directors or guides of our churches. And in the process of shoring ourselves up, we cannot shirk off our other responsibilities. Effective ministry requires priorities. We still have to be managers and administrators. The sick need visited. The youth need instructed. People may need the pastor and not have an appointment. Some pastors have been labeled as lazy, and it is hard to refute the label. Others don't heed the signs of needing sabbath. Still others work hard, but don't prioritize well. Working and taking sabbath require spiritual adeptness and maturity to discern! I know that I am still learning.

For a season, we UM pastors may have to see "being connectional" as being connected to God and discerning the Holy Spirit, instead of being connected to Annual Conference, continuing education seminars, and district gatherings - these are tools, not ends to themselves. And instead of prayers of petition, we may need to be praying in silence and listening to what God has to say to us, instead of telling God what we want to say. God is certainly essential to the task of pastoral ministry - no duty can call us higher (not even duty to the district or conference!!!); secondary and tertiary matters must yield to the primary.

A lot of pastors burn out or get jaded because they either think they are alone, or that they believe that they alone have the wisdom, education, and authority to do ministry. The fact of the matter is that Christ empowers us - and "us" includes laity and clergy alike. In order to empower the masses, we have to be spiritual leaders who derive authority from the witness of their personal integrity and model, rather than deriving it from the pastoral role or office. As Rice says in his book, that kind of authority becomes authentic, powerful, and changes lives.

It may be that we pastors need to lead and follow... or get out of the way.


Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Oops, Crud, and Doh!!!

Since fuel prices have gone up, some folks have been buying motorcycles and scooters to defray costs, and I've gotten an occasional call or two asking for my advice, tips, what to have in the saddlebags, etc. The main thing I tell them is to remember to check the weather each day, and to remember which vehicle you have if shopping. My saddlebag list:
  • flashlight
  • road flares
  • cycle jumper cables
  • tire kit/gauge
  • rain gear
  • crescent wrench
  • towel
  • Leatherman tool
  • sunscreen
  • 1st aid kit
  • lip balm
  • hand purifier
  • bungee straps

Having said that... I goofed yesterday. I have been riding my motorcycle (a Kawasaki Vulcan Classic LT) just about every clear day this summer to work and for errands. The office needed a new computer monitor, so I went to Best Buy and got a good deal. As I walked out into the mall parking lot with a computer monitor and box in my hand, I realized that I had forgotten my own tip I had given new riders... and saw my two wheeler parked.

This is why you carry bungee straps. Glad it wasn't a 60" television.


Monday, August 04, 2008

Pastor as Spiritual Leader - Part II

Congregations are demanding entities. The church I serve has around 450 members, and if I were to poll them on what they expected out of me as their pastor, I would probably get several responses. I think it would be safe to say that being a competent manager and being a spiritual leader would be chief among them. While theologically and scripturally there is a problem with just being a "hireling," the reality is that people do pay some pastors a fair amount of money - and they rightfully have some expectations.

Church Management/Administration - "Being Martha." I hate administration and management. But the reality is, there needs to be a rhyme and reason to what we do in the church. The Apostle Paul may have said it best: "All things be done decently and in order." My reason for trying to do it as well as I can is so I don't have to do any of it over.

But how do you do it? Some looked at Niebuhr (I can't remember which brother) during the 50's and 60's (and into the 70's and 80's, since I studied it also) who suggested running with the business and military models of the day (i.e., Management by Objective) to organize and prioritize ministry and programming. Some folks went to Steven Covey seminars. Some heard Herb Miller lecture. Some, like me, paid major bucks to attend Ken Callahan events at Calloway Gardens (I don't remember much, but I did play one of my best rounds of golf there!). And while these models were designed to prevent reinventing the wheel and to allow more of church ministry to be shared, they had one fatal flaw: very little theological underpinning, and virtually no evangelical underpinning. In short - they managed what was present, but encouraged little innovation or visioning. That ran tangent to the Christian proverb, "Where there is no vision, the people perish." You certainly cannot blame any one thing for the Mainline decline of the 60's and following, but one can be sure that the Management by Objective or 12-Step models certainly weren't the answer to the problem.

Spiritual Leadership - "Being Mary." I think some rebellion occurs somewhere along the way when called men or women begin parish work and encounter realities and conflicts. Somehow, a shift away from being makers of disciples and caretakers of church souls and a shift toward being the Chief Administrative Officer (the Book of Discipline's words, not mine) takes place. Why didn't someone along the way say, "it's not either/or, it's both/and?" Naturally, cynicism creeps in. Pastors feel like they are losing their identity.

I'm old enough now to realize that my own church polity is far from perfect. Has anyone realized that the UMC has virtually no theology of ordination? We have a lot of rules and regulations about it - but no theology. It only makes sense that viewing the pastor as spiritual leader is difficult in a denomination that has no theology of ordination. I will say this: we DO have an excellent PROCEDURES AND POLICY section for ordained ministry in our church law. Just no theological underpinning for it.

We have 10's of classifications for pastors: full-connection elders and deacons (who are ordained); commissioned probationary elders and deacons (who are not ordained); associate members (some ordained formerly, some not); part-time local pastors, full-time local pastors, student local pastors, supply pastors (who are not ordained). However, what do people in the pews called the person behind the table and pulpit in their church, regardless of the permutations listed above? "Pastor."

It is no wonder, then, that pastors have a hard time seeing themselves as spiritual leaders, given our denomination's confused look at matters of ordained (or unordained) ministry! The fact is, layfolks could care less about conference membership and clergy classifications; they want a spiritual leader. It's not only what they're paying for, it's what they desire and yearn for!

What is the tool most needed for pastors to be spiritual leaders? It has nothing to do with workshops, schools of ministry, or even a curriculum geared toward a degree: it is the pastor's very own faith. It requires maturity. It requires an understanding of the needed balance between being a manager and administrator AND incorporating one's own spiritual life into directing others. Henri Nouwen said it much better: "Ministry means the ongoing attempt to put one's own search for God with all the moments of pain and joy, despair and hope, at the disposal of those who want to join the search but do not know how." (from Nouwen's Creative Ministry, p. 111).

In short, sometimes we need to be preparing the house (Martha), and sometimes we need to pay attention and seek the Master's will (Mary).

I'm not through letting this go just yet...


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Pastor as Spiritual Leader - Part I

In the past few days, I have been blessed with casual conversations with two lay persons, neither of whom are members of the church I serve (one a Southern Baptist). In our conversations about church and faith, they both stressed to me the importance of a pastor being a spiritual leader. So I got curious and looked up my job description as it’s outlined in the Book of Discipline. Here’s the gist of it:
All pastors have the same general responsibilities that fall into four main categories, described as Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service. This fourfold ministry includes (but is not limited to) preaching; worship; studying and applying Scripture to daily life; celebrating the Sacraments; developing congregational leaders; attending to the day-to-day business of the church; caring for the spiritual and temporal needs of the congregation and community; modeling for and leading the congregation in acts of compassion, mercy, and justice; and nurturing the congregation for mission and ministry in the world as faithful disciples of Jesus Christ. – from The Book of Discipline ¶331, and Guidelines for Leading Your Congregation 2005-2008: Pastor (Abingdon Press, 2005), p. 6

When you look up ¶331, you find that the Discipline lists at least 15 different responsibilities of the pastor (¶331), which can be clustered into seven major areas:
  1. Spiritual leader: The pastor is the primary spiritual leader in the congregation and is responsible for helping members grow closer to God through worship and spiritual disciplines. 
  2. Worship leader, preacher, and teacher
  3. Trainer of laity: The pastor seeks to equip lay persons to discover how they have been called to ministry in the world and to accomplish those ministries. 
  4. Administrative leader and steward of the congregation's vision of how they are called to accomplish the mission of making disciples.
  5. Custodian of institutional integrity: The pastor protects the integrity of the reputation of the church in the community—as a place of honesty, safety, hope and reconciliation—and upholds the traditions, polity, and beliefs of The United Methodist Church. 
  6. Participant in the United Methodist connection: A United Methodist pastor is part of an extensive network of ministry as a member of an annual conference, a district, and the denomination. He or she has responsibilities to participant in and support these connections and to inform the congregation about its participation in this connectional system. 
  7. Minister to the community: Pastors are in ministry beyond the walls of the particular congregation to which they are appointed by being involved in the life of the community in ways that witness to the mission of Christ in the world. 

Being "the primary spiritual leader in the congregation" seems to be a priority - and not just because the Book of Discipline says so - laity certainly think so... and not just Methodist laity, I might add.

The question is: are we as UM pastors presently equipped to be spiritual leaders?

My answer is, it depends on the pastor. But I will risk a sweeping statement - in the UMC, a pastor must prepare him or herself for the role of spiritual leader, in helping people get closer to God and teaching spiritual disciplines to do that for life. For the most part, seminary doesn't do that. Before we start slamming seminaries, we need to be objective and to realize that seminaries - and indeed the UMC and Boards of Ministry - have not seen that as a priority. It's one of those things that you're just supposed to "get" on your own. And, in all honesty, in the truest sense of the word, our seminaries are really schools of theology. I know that I got a very good theological education. But what I learned about spiritual disciplines, direction, and leadership were not required courses. I was prepared to be a worship leader, an in-residence theologian, an educator, and a chief administrative officer for a church. All certainly important things.

But do they trump being a spiritual leader for the congregation you are appointed to serve?

More to come...


Friday, August 01, 2008

Violin Camp at RUMC

Logan and Amy Blewett held Violin Camp at RUMC this week, and we were treated to a concert this afternoon!

Pictured left to right: Ben Gamble, Maiah Lambert, Kylee Meeks, Evelyn Stewart, and Meah Jordan

Psalm 150

1 Praise the LORD.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.

2 Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.

3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,

4 praise him with tambourine and dancing,
praise him with the strings and flute,

5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.

6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD.