Friday, January 28, 2011

Confessions of a New District Superintendent

As I write this, I am at an Emerging Leaders Conference for younger clergy. Before some of you snicker: yes - I am aware that I am not one of the younger clergy anymore. I was invited to attend to get a feel of what younger clergy are experiencing, as I am going to become a district superintendent in March. For those of you who are not United Methodist, a couple of definitions for district superintendent can be found here and here.

Several years ago, a colleague of mine told me, "You better be praying about what you are going to do when the bishop calls you to be a superintendent." I poo-pooed that off and assured him that no bishop in his right mind would ask me to be a superintendent. I am too blunt, too critical of church hierarchy, and don't smile enough. I didn't give it much further thought until that very same thing was said to me more recently: "You better be praying about what you are going to do when the bishop calls you to be a superintendent." This person added, "I bet you are going to be asked."

One part of me thought of my previous response. But the contemplative in me reminded me of a time when I was at church camp in college, working on staff, and three young women on staff told me that they thought I should be a preacher. I laughed. I told them what people from my hometown would say. I told them what I wanted to do in life. They insisted, "We've prayed about this."

In discerning my call to ministry, I realized that it is less about what we WANT to do, and more about what we are CALLED to do. It goes all the way back to our baptism: God ordains us (clergy or lay), equips us, gifts us, and graces us with what we are called to do as disciples. And sometimes that takes us to places we will enjoy and will thrive, and sometimes it will take us to places that are difficult and may even suck the life out of us. So after a lot of prayer, a lot of discernment, and a lot of listening to what God was saying, I realized that if I were asked to be a superintendent, I would say yes. And I did.

Bishop Wills, our resident bishop, preached last night at the conference. He is retiring in September and shared with us that while there are some things about being a bishop that are very blessed, it can also be very difficult work. It was honest, it was heartfelt, and parts of it were hard for me to hear. I know that in Methodism, our bishops are really more like archbishops, and our superintendents are essentially bishops. I know there will be distasteful work ahead. I know I will have to make gut-wrenching decisions. And I am well aware that God is calling United Methodism to go in a different direction, for if we don't, my generation could end up burying the denomination instead of serving it.

I know myself well enough to know that my love and my joy in life comes from being a parish pastor. I also know that sometimes, God doesn't call us to go where we want to go. As Bishop Wills shared, it not about ourselves - it is about being faithful.

If any Methodist preacher is honest if asked which story in the Bible is the one they hate the most, it would be Jonah. God calls Jonah to go to Ninevah; Jonah wants to go to Tarshish. We all know the story. And, if most Methodist preachers are honest, we know the sin of lust - we want to be liked, we want the admiration and respect of our peers, we want that "big" church. The true test of our calling is resisting the temptations of the flesh so that we might be faithful.

Some say becoming a district superintendent is a promotion or elevation; indeed, among many United Methodist circles some would say that you "have arrived" when you have been appointed such. I hardly think I have arrived, and I certainly don't think it's a promotion. A grave responsibility? Yes. Necessary? Yes. I am sure there are some things that I will like about it, and some things that I will detest. I just hope that I can be faithful. I feel a lot like the prophet Jeremiah: a bit reticent and young, with an excuse for everything that God might ask of me, but not rebellious enough to not hear what God is saying: "Get yourself ready." (Jer 1:17).

May we all be faithful to our call: clergy, laity... even D.S.'s and bishops.


1 comment:

Joel Peterson said...

Just wondering (regarding the beginning of your post) how many "young clergy" you have in your conference. Here in Western PA we have very few. Most of our ordination classes are second career anymore. As someone who plans to one day be identified as a "young clergy" in the UMC, I have found an interest in talking to others about this issue. Is God not calling young people anymore, or are they just not listening?

Also, if you're interested, I recently published a novel which attempts to find answers to the vocational dilemmas of young people today through a fictional context. It is available on if you are interested. Either way, I would be interested to hear your opinions on the issue of young clergy.