Saturday, October 27, 2012

Repost: "Nurture and Cultivate Spiritual Disciplines and Patterns of Holiness"

Originally blogged on July 21, 2010

"Nurture and cultivate spiritual disciplines and patterns of holiness..." That's not from The Rule of St. Benedict. Nor is it from an objective of a spiritual growth retreat. It is ¶304.1 (b) of the Book of Discipline, the United Methodist's canon law, under the heading "Qualifications for Ordination."

In midst of the numerical decline of much of Protestantism, it seems that we are putting a great deal of emphasis on hospitality, worship, church programming, and communications - and we should be, because those are certainly areas that need shoring up. But when you talk to pastors about spirituality, spiritual direction, spiritual disciplines, etc., you often get a stare in return. I've even heard some say, "That's just too personal." I even heard this one once: "It's all about Jesus, preaching the Word, and getting into the Bible. That spirituality stuff is too Catholic." The smart ass in me considered quoting Scripture to this learned colleague about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, but I resisted. So I simply asked him, "If it's all about Jesus (and it is!), but we can't teach people to pray and be Christologically grouded and formed, who will?" His response was classic: "Well, people should get that at home."

The problem is, I heard that EXACT same thing said when I served on an advisory committee at the seminary I graduated from - by a colleague who should have known better. I had voiced my concern that while we were giving a good theological and historical education, we were doing very little, if any, spiritual formation. To which I was told, "That's not the job of the seminary. Pastors get that on their own." I was much younger at the time and so I kept my young mouth shut. Now I wish I had opened it a little.

But do seminaries engage their students in a conversation about the gravity of choices that they will face or prepare them to make those choices? Does the larger shape of theological education draw their attention to the formative character of the questions asked and answered by its professors? Does the shape of their preparation help them to grasp the difference between a vocation that demands a certain kind of performance from them and the vocation into which they have been called, which requires them to be the kind of people who are possessed by that "basic sense" of what is being asked of them? Are their professors prepared to shape souls as well as intellects? When they graduate, do students have the sense that they have already embarked on that vocation?

As a product of, and participant in, theological education for over three decades, I am inclined to think that the answer to these and other questions is, more often than not, "no."
- Frederick W. Schmidt, "What Is Being Asked of You? Canonical Theism and Theological Education", from Canonical Theism, 2008, pp. 273-4.
Schmidt goes on to say that the blame can be place into three areas:

  • The quest for credibility from the larger academic community - which preferred historical discussions over faith and spiritual experience.

  • The adoption of the university model for graduate education - which drove professors to be more specialized in a few disciplines and led to religious vocational amnesia

  • The issues of praxis which diverted the theological task away from spiritual formation towards the importance of leadership, administrative prowness, psychological therapist, and social prophecy

  • In short, we're teaching pastors a lot about church administration, biblical form criticism, systematic theology (the Barth & Tillich show), social psychology (the Freud and Jung show), and philosophy of religion (the Schleiermacher and Schopenhauer show). I learned these things - and they are certainly important things.

    But what about lectio divina? Patristics (the Early Church Fathers)? Prayer offices? Spiritual disciplines?  Spiritual discernment? Incarnational theology? Pneumatology (study of the Holy Spirit)? Sacramental theology? Discipleship and disciple-ing? Sanctification? I was very blessed by Don Saliers and Ted Hackett, mentors of mine, to develop an interest and passion for these things. But it was self-directed - it was not a mandatory part of the seminary curriculum for United Methodists (or any other Protestants), and to my knowledge it still is not. That leads me to believe we need to quit calling them "seminaries" and start calling them "schools of theology." Good information, but no anchor or undergirding of where these things fit in a life lived with Christ.

    If we clergy cannot locate ourselves in our Christian quest and pilgrimage, we certainly cannot lead our churches to see where they are located in the Kingdom of God. We cannot lead with any sense of spiritual or theological authority (only that which is granted by the Book of Discipline!). We cannot tell the Christian story from a standpoint of faith - just from the standpoint as recorded by history.

    Schmidt says, most importantly, those who teach present and future clergy must "remember that it is not enough to learn what it is that clergy do. They need to be in touch with what it is that clergy are meant to become. Their own relationship with God, their growth in faith, and the practice of spiritual disciplines are keys to that becoming and to the knowing that accompanies it. In turn, those same experiences are indispensable to the seminarians' own ability to make disciples of others." (p. 285)

    If we pastors are mandated to "nurture and cultivate spiritual disciplines and patters of holiness" for our congregations (and we are), then we had better learn them ourselves. According to the Book of Discipline, it's not just "Catholic" - it's Methodist, too. I'm convinced it's Christian to the core.

    Sounds like we better get on this. Soon.


    Wednesday, October 10, 2012

    Not Your Parents' D.S.

    Recently passed legislation changed the job description of a district superintendent in the United Methodist Church for the next four years. New language is highlighted:
    ¶ 419. As an extension of the office of bishop, the district superintendent shall oversee the total ministry of the clergy (including clergy in extension ministry and ministry beyond the local church) and of the churches in the communities of the district in their missions of witness and service in the world. 
       1. The Church expects, as part of the superintendent ministry, that the superintendent will be the chief missional strategist of the district...working with persons across the Church to develop programs of ministry and mission which extend the witness of Christ into the world.
    I've always believed that superintendents were largely managers in the denomination, basically functioning as suffragan bishops for a particular geographic area. But in many ways, this new Disciplinary language is reshaping the superintendency - and I think for the better, with more emphasis on mission and ministry and less upon administration. But like so many things in the United Methodist Church, it's a radical shift in thinking and doing. Some conferences (like North Carolina) are beginning to hire assistants to the district superintendent (mostly laity) to aid in the transition. My conference has had district lay resource leaders in place for a few years that serve as deployed conference staff in our districts (and they do a fantastic job!). So already, some conferences are transitioning and adapting to a new way of helping local churches be more vital and have more clarity in focus and mission.

    I wrestled last winter and spring on how to handle charge conferences for 2012. Some church leaders believe that having individual charge conferences are outmoded and worthless. Others say that resorting to cluster charge conferences adds to the crisis of relevance and disconnect. After a lot of prayer and discernment, I resolved to do individual charge conferences, but to make them more of a dialogue and conference - in the spirit of John Wesley - where we talk about the things that matter: vision, mission, what was effective, what was not.

    Having completed about half of them, I've learned quite a bit:
    1. There is a lot of distrust out there. We superintendents have sometimes kept congregations in the dark and often made clergy the priority instead of the local church. In short - we haven't always been transparent.
    2. Both clergy and laity are uncomfortable using language about mission, evangelism, and salvation. In the defense of clergy, it hasn't been a priority of seminaries who train clergy or boards of ministry who credential them. Superintendents really didn't mentor pastors very well - again, in their defense, it wasn't a priority: keeping "the machine running," making sure apportionments were paid, and getting appointments made were the priorities.
    3. There are more than a few churches who are 1 or 2 funerals away from having to make very tough decisions about budgets and personnel - affecting not just the local church and district, but the annual conference and larger Connection as well.
    But I've also learned something wonderful and encouraging: we have some wonderful, talented, gifted, and very generous laity in our churches! And despite the mistrust and misgivings of many, their faithfulness endures! I can't explain it otherwise in a local church which is, in essence, a voluntary organization. In our annual conference, the work of the district lay resource leader is becoming pivotal in short and long-range strategies, giving local churches a model for effective lay leadership. God is FAR from done with us! As our bishop, Bishop McAlilly continues to tell us: expect greater things!

    I am slowly realizing that, like John Wesley, we district superintendents need to "submit to be more vile and proclaim the glad tidings of salvation." Being the "chief missional strategists" of the district, I think we can do no less - and Christ expects no less.


    Tuesday, October 02, 2012

    Silos among Silos

    Silo Mentality: An attitude found in some organizations that occurs when several departments or groups do not want to share information or knowledge with other individuals in the same company. A silo mentality reduces efficiency and can be a contributing factor to a failing corporate culture. (definition from

     I am not a fan of silo mentality, and in fairness, Jim Winkler (General Secretary of the General Board of Church & Society of the UMC) wrote an article a few months ago how some United Methodist's have used the word "silo" as code for a "good guy courageously standing up against the big, bad general agencies of the denomination." While I disagree with that characterization, I do agree with a statement he makes at the end of his article: "...let’s admit that The United Methodist Church doesn’t have silos only at the general church level. We have more than 40,000 silos sprinkled across Africa, Europe, the Philippines and the United States."

    Yes. We do.

     If we boil these things down to a conference, district, and local church level, we find silos everywhere: at a conference level, we have board of ministry silos and cabinet silos. We tell each other that boards of ministry credential pastors, and cabinets appoint them, and the twain shall never meet, and do so (or rather, don't) under the guise of accountability and check-and-balance. Now that sounds good on paper (it's in the Book of Discipline!), and it's probably a good way to run government. We preachers learned in seminary or course of study that our church polity is set up like our government: we have an executive branch (bishops), a legislative branch (the General Conference), and a judicial branch (the Judicial Council). My question is this: is this the way to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? I think if we were honest, we've been less about accountability and more about distrust. Hence, a silo mentality: you do your thing, and we'll do our thing, and not let the left hand know what the right hand is doing.

    At a conference level, it goes beyond cabinets and boards of ministry: Connectional ministry teams/conference council offices, United Methodist Women & Men, conference camping ministries, conference trustees, campus ministries, conference agencies and committees. At the local church level: trustees, Sunday School classes, UMW circles, PPR committees, cemetery committees, finance committees... you get the idea. Again, if we are not careful, silo mentality will trump making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, every time. All of our structures look good on paper, but without prayer, sacrifice, and a servant-mentality, they lend themselves to become silos among silos.

    What a negative image! And how obtuse of us to think that we are better by distancing ourselves from each other instead of working together! It's certainly not a biblical nor traditional model of life and servanthood in the Kingdom.

     Enough of the negative - what about the positive? What about the genius of Methodism - being connected! Being connected in Spirit, being connected in structure, being connected and united in purpose and being! We have one of the greatest methods of being Christ for the world and making disciples, but we superimpose our individualism and need to "protect our own turf" over our connection, and by doing so we get the results that logic would expect us to get: silos instead of tables. Fences instead of bridges. Fenced-in backyard decks instead of open front porches. When we're not set up to foster relationships and work with each other, we'll become insular and intolerant instead of the community-oriented and collaborative disciples Christ taught us to be.

     This year, the district I serve is doing individual charge conferences as opposed to cluster or a district-wide charge conference. What I am rediscovering is that the United Methodist Church is ignoring one of its greatest resources: the people who make up our churches, ordained by their baptisms and gifted by our Lord with talent and ability beyond our imaginations. We are a rich Church, and yet if we are not willing to be changed we will bankrupt ourselves into a structure that is not only lifeless, but unsustainable.
    “Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.” “Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us. Truly I tell you, anyone who gives you a cup of water in my name because you belong to the Messiah will certainly not lose their reward. 
    “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea." - Mark 9:38-42 (NIV)
    We're all on the same team! Cabinets and boards of ministry, UMW's and Sunday School classes, trustees and youth fellowships, laity and clergy, General Boards and local churches. Whoever is not against us is for us, and we are a gifted and talented bunch: ordained by our baptisms, and sent forth to make disciples. That's not just a good idea, it's our mission and mandate.


    Monday, October 01, 2012

    How Long, O Lord...

    Because it is October, and I haven't been paying attention to what's happening in baseball (my father's ashes are churning in his urn), I checked the league standings online. Man... the Cubs can't buy a game! It looks like the only thing they can give thanks about is the Astros.

    I thought they had a chance in '08, and I rooted for them hard, only to be disappointed in the end. I blogged about it then, and I think the 13th Psalm is still in order - and for things other than baseball!

    Keep praying for the Cubbies. They need it.


    (Originally posted Monday, October 6, 2008)

    I am not a die-hard Cubs fan, though I do have a preference for the National League. But it's hard not to root for the Cubs if they get into post-season.

    All I can figure is that the Cubbies must be cursed. A great regular season... and then in the playoffs, they boot the ball out in the field, and have no bats at the plate.

    I just don't know what else to say. I'll just let the psalmist lament for me:
    1 How long, O LORD ? Will you forget me forever?
    How long will you hide your face from me?
    2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
    and every day have sorrow in my heart?
    How long will my enemy triumph over me?

    3 Look on me and answer, O LORD my God.
    Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death;

    4 my enemy will say, "I have overcome him,"
    and my foes will rejoice when I fall.

    5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
    my heart rejoices in your salvation.

    6 I will sing to the LORD,
    for he has been good to me.
    - Psalm 13

    Please keep Cubs players and fans in your prayers. Their mourning will not be short.