Friday, February 27, 2009

Ordained Ministry in the UMC - Part II

omeone asked me when I was going to write a book about my thoughts about the UMC. I told him in light of my last post, writing such a book would fall under Category Three of the Magliozzi's theory: "Reinvent Everything." Plus, if I did write a book and got it published, someone might get the idea that I was considering a run at the episcopacy. Yikes.

There are way too many good things already written that need to be heeded. Related to ordained ministry, a document that REALLY needs to be read, studied, and implemented is "Becoming a Pastor: Reflections on the Transition into Ministry." You can download it by clicking here. The Alban Institute did the work, and the Lilly Endowment funded it. That's enough authority for me.

The report looked at 800 beginning pastors in their first call or appointment in parish ministry, a collective endeavor that was named Transition into Ministry. It shows, with damning evidence, the wide disconnects between beginning pastors, seminary education, and denominational judicatories (in the UMC, that would be our Cabinets and Conference Boards of Ministry). The bottom line is that the transition into ministry is an increasingly complex and lonely process which is not just undermining clergy effectiveness, but starving churches of leadership and spiritual direction.

Seminary doesn't always help. The report quoted a book that a Lutheran pastor had written several years ago about his first church (Richard Lischer's Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey through a Country Church). Years of theological and ministerial preparation, along with a Ph.D, had not adequately prepared him for the average church in Southern Illinois (just a hop, skip, and a jump from where I presently live). He made it through, but came to a very shocking discovery. In his words:
Eight years of theological education had rendered us [Lischer and his seminary classmates] uncertain of our identity and, like our professors, unemployable in the real world. After years of grooming, we were no longer sure what it meant to be a pastor or if we wanted to be one. (Open Secrets, p. 40, and "Becoming a Pastor", p. 9)
It is quite possible that we have approached arrogance in our model of educating and training clergy. A cookie-cutter process, psychological evaluations, and theological evaluation of clergy candidates may have their place, but it is not contributing to the essentials that are evidently not being taught: being the local spiritual leader in a community, being able to work collaboratively with a parish that has a broad range of viewpoints and inviting shared vision to church ministry and mission. Seminaries tend to reward folks with self-initiative. Congregations need leaders who can work with people. Before we knock seminaries too hard, most seminary professors are folks steeped in academia, not ecclesia. And in all honesty, at least in United Methodism, our seminaries are really not seminaries - they are schools of divinity/theology.

While I don't want to knock academia, it is possible that we have made it the focus of the learning experience for those called to pastoral ministry. That seems misplaced to me, and I agree with the report: the congregation should be the focus of the learning experience for training clergy. We have probably gotten too academic for our own good. I think we should co-opt the model used for the training of medical physicians: academia AND residency. The report says it better:
Only when both domains of pastoral formation - the seminary and the congregation - recognize and resource one another can the full range of formation be accomplished. (p. 20)
We need to look at ways to approach addressing the inadequacies. And if anyone says that we don't need to do this, ask yourself: are we making disciples for Jesus Christ? So far, the United Methodist Church, since its birth in 1968 from the merger of two denominations, hasn't gained in membership - it's only lost membership. While it might not ALL be due to pastoral ineffectiveness, leadership DOES play a big part.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Ordained Ministry in the United Methodist Church

Can you say, "What a mess?"

Twenty-some years ago, I went thru the "process" to become ordained in the UMC. I have since served as a supervising elder (which later was renamed "clergy mentor") for those who were exploring candidates for ministry, those who were certified candidates, those ordained deacons and then on probation (but now we don't ordain folks deacons before becoming elders, and they aren't on probation anymore, they are considered "provisional"). Folks who wanted to be ordained were at first ordained deacons 1/2 way thru seminary, then could be ordained and elder after two years of completing seminary, then it was three years, but now you aren't ordained a deacon (unless you want to be a Permanent Deacon), and then it became two years, and now it can be two or three years depending on your annual conference. In the past few years, I've been on the district and conference board of ministry, and just last week got "re-certified" as a clergy mentor. We have ANOTHER new book. And new procedures and policies. The wheel has been re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-reinvented. And it still looks square.

In the UMC, only the ordained can preside over Word and Sacrament. Unless you are a local pastor. Or a provisional pastor. But then your authority to baptize or preside at Eucharist is limited to the parish that you are appointed to. And if you've been a local pastor in the past but aren't currently serving a church, then you are just a lay person. So when your visiting Baptist or Catholic friend asks you, "I heard your pastor wasn't ordained. How does s/he do their job, then?" you can say, "Well, they are appointed, just not ordained." And then you'll get a blank look.

The mess isn't confined to local pastors. The Book of Discipline covers extensively the rules and regulations of ordained ministry, and you find very quickly that the UMC covers the authority of ordained ministry very well. But there is one thing that is greatly lacking: theology. We have no theology of ordination. None. Nada. Zippo. It goes against the basic understanding of ministry and discipleship in general: we have to know WHY we do what we do. It seems like when it comes to the ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church, we will try and do just about anything.

The problem is, when we ordain someone, we have no idea what we're doing.

During the recent ice storm, i had some time in the evenings to catch up on "light" reading. One treasure of a book was a book by Tom & Ray Magliozzi (yes, Click and Clack of NPR's "Car Talk"), entitled In Our Humble Opinion. Being a shade-tree mechanic, I loved reading it. But these guys aren't just car greasers - they are geniuses about life.

One chapter was entitled, "Blatant Ergonomic Blunders." They talked about how cars have gone from being simple and functional to being so technologically advanced as to be useless. Tom noted that his 1963 Dodge Dart took three knobs to work and adjust the heater control; since one is driving a car, one doesn't need to be taking their eyes off the road to adjust such things as heat and air. He recently drove a car that had 14 buttons to adjust the car's heat and air - with all of the buttons the same in size and shape, indistinguishable by touch, which meant you had to squint and read the miniature icons on each button to determine its function.

It led Tom to believe that as "advanced" as we have gotten, we are making more blunders than we are advances. After driving 100's of cars, he categorized all of these blunders into these seven (7) categories:
1. Use a technology not because it's appropriate, but because it's there.
2. Be different at any cost.
3. Reinvent everything.
4. Copy nothing; not even great ideas. It's embarrassing to admit that you didn't think of it yourself.
5. Just plain stupidity (noting that baseball great Ted Williams once told a teammate, "If you don't think too good, try not to think too much.")
6. Too many cooks.
7. Oops! Where the hell are we gonna put this?
After reading those, I thought: MAN. THESE GUYS HAVE THE UNITED METHODIST CHURCH PEGGED. Not just where ordained ministry is concerned, but in general!

More thoughts coming...


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Worse Than We Thought

When I first heard the initial estimates some people being without power for a month, and of the ice storm clean up taking up to a year, I thought it was hyperbole. Now, I am slowly realizing the reality. Our disaster has been classified as a major disaster. Hurricane Katrina was "only" a disaster. The death toll in Kentucky is up to 33.

The people that have come to the church to eat at meals we have prepared daily are from all walks of life: some are our own church members who are still without power or other utilities, while others come from other parts of the Greater Paducah area suffering the same fate. Some are lineman from telephone, cable, and electric companies from all over the U.S. Others are professional tree cutters. Many of the volunteer groups coming in have eaten with us. And some folks have been gracious enough to simply sit down with folks, listen to their stories, and pray with them. We in the Reidland community have learned a lot about fellowship, community, and Christian servanthood & discipleship. All of us have been humbled.

Some disasters that have spun off from the major disaster have broken my heart. The schools tell us that many children are going home to dark houses that are empty - not just from absent parents, but empty of food. Because of costs incurred by many in the ice storm, those who were already living check-to-check find themselves in dire straits. Also, there are some who are out of work or working fewer hours because their employers are not running full strength, and with less pay coming in and the added expenditures of gasoline for generators and non-perishable food, they have less money to pay the bills that continue to come in the mail. All of this in a sour economy is creating a disaster of its own.

There are disasters spinning off of the ice storm disaster. A Minnesota lineman was killed and another one critically injured while working on a pole trying to restore power. Yesterday, winds of 50+ mph undid some work done, and created new work to do. Trucks have accidentally snagged low-lying temporary electric and communications lines (I've never seen a telephone pole temporarily erected in the median of an Interstate highway, have you?).

So, along with feeding folks one hot meal a day, we are also distributing bottled water and family-size MRE's for those in need. Those in rural areas without electricity are often dependent on wells for their water, and without electricity they have no access to fresh water.

I am blessed that the conference disaster recovery coordinator is a member of my church. Tomorrow, he, along with our bishop, district superintendent, conference director, and conference communications director are going to be here to help us spread the word and encourage outside groups to help us in clean up and in counseling storm victims.

I'm also blessed to live in Reidland. Folks from Reidland UMC, Reidland Baptist, Reidland Church of Christ, and Gospel Mission Church have been so helpful with meals, cleanup, and serving. What a wonderful way to exhibit the Body of Christ!

I know from being in the midst of a disaster before that healing of land, homes, and people is slow. Yet, life continues, and the need for balance and patience is great. But I also know that when things are at their worst, the Body of Christ is often at its best. I continue to pray that this is the case, and hope you will join my prayers.


Thursday, February 05, 2009

Starting the Clean Up

It will certainly be a long haul, but area faith-based work teams began their work today to take a dent out of the mess. The turnout has been initially slim; I think people are still busy digging themselves out before they can think about digging others out. I am still proud of my church; they continue to serve hot meals each day, and treating each person that comes in as an honored guest.

A few of us went to an area veterinarian's home to help him get rid of fallen trees. While several put in a whole day's work, complete with some heavy equipment (and a skilled operator of it to boot!), we didn't quite get done. But there were several joys to celebrate, and as always, this pastor came away with much more than he gave.

For one, three of us minister types worked together: Todd Belt (youth director of Woodlawn C.P.), the Rev. Dr. Larry Lewis (pastor of Reidland Baptist), and myself. While this doesn't strike me odd, I am sure it strikes lots of people odd given the fact that most people think we only work one day a week and that none of us know a hammer from a nail. "Doc" was so impressed he took a picture of us. What a blessing to work with colleagues of different denominations and finding common ground in our laboring together.

The other blessing that I received was watching Doc, a man in his 80's (still full-time at his vet clinic, able to run a chain saw, and as the picture shows, is still able to walk on the roof of his house), drop all that he was doing amidst the tragedy around his own home to meet a family in his driveway concerned about their dog. He got into the car with them, went to the clinic, and delivered bad news to them that their dog had cancer. He wasn't put out, he didn't seem inconvenienced - he was compassionate and gracious. Being the lover of all the things that God created, he lamented over all the beautiful trees that are now so damaged and deformed.

Doc's not your normal veterinarian - he's also a philosopher and theologian and an author of two books (click here and here). But today, amidst being ministered to, he also witnessed to us and reminded us of the wonder and responsibility we have to God's creation, whether it be some one's pet or the wonderful trees that give us life-giving oxygen and wonderful beauty. The cross of Christ doesn't just remind us of the crucifixion - it also reminds us of the resurrection and how we should embody the joy of creation.


Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Discipleship In Action

[From Today's Church Newsletter]
As members of this congregation will you faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts, your service, and your witness?
I know that RUMC gets tired of me saying this every Sunday before the offering in worship. But I also know how generous our church is - and as a congregation, you have certainly offered all of these things in the past week. Removing brush, continuing to build wheelchair ramps, and preparing daily meals has required the service of many people and differing gifts. 

Our own Bill Carr, who serves as the Memphis Conference disaster relief coordinator, is sharing his vast gifts and experience. Melinda Warriner, one of our church staff, is coordinating the preparation and serving of daily meals. Our church youth have been present in so many ways and in varying places. So many of you have stepped up and heard the call.

What lifts my spirits is the participation of area pastors and churches, businesses and individuals, once again working together. Reidland Baptist is very involved with our meal serving. Starting tomorrow morning, we will serve as a meeting place for those who want to begin organized brush and debris cleaning. Golden Eagle Distributing brought us 50 cases of drinking water (I must say it's the first time I've ever been happy to see a Budweiser truck in the driveway of the church!).

Are we blessed? Most certainly. Are we blessed to be a blessing to others? I think that is what God created us to be, isn't it?

Mother Teresa spoke at the National Prayer Breakfast several years ago, and reminded us this:
It is not enough for us to say: "I love God," but I also have to love my neighbor. St. John says that you are a liar if you say you love God and you don't love your neighbor. How can you love God whom you do not see, if you do not love your neighbor whom you see, whom you touch, with whom you live? And so it is very important for us to realize that love, to be true, has to hurt. I must be willing to give whatever it takes not to harm other people and, in fact, to do good to them. This requires that I be willing to give until it hurts. Otherwise, there is not true love in me and I bring injustice, not peace, to those around me.

It hurt Jesus to love us. We have been created in His image for greater things, to love and to be loved. We must "put on Christ" as Scripture tells us. And so, we have been created to love as He loves us. Jesus makes Himself the hungry one, the naked one, the homeless one, the unwanted one, and He says, "You did it to Me." On the last day He will say to those on His right, "whatever you did to the least of these, you did to Me, and He will also say to those on His left, whatever you neglected to do for the least of these, you neglected to do it for Me. 
- Mother Teresa of Calcutta, National Prayer Breakfast in Washington DC, on Thursday, Feb 3, 1994.
Be blessed. And be a blessing. I am very proud of you, RUMC.



Monday, February 02, 2009

Reidland UMC Serving Meals Daily: 1-4 PM

Folks from Reidland UMC and Reidland Baptist Church are pooling their resources to serve a hot meal daily from 1-4 PM. There are still many without power or means to cook meals, as well as relief workers already in place who can use a good meal. Please spread the word.

Thanks to all of those who are serving, preparing, purchasing, and planning all of the meals. It is a blessing to serve here!