Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Missional Strategy and Mindset

In an earlier blog (click here) I wrote about the changing role of District Superintendent in United Methodism. It is certainly requiring all of us cabinet members to adapt and adjust from the "old ways" of superintending.

But in a larger picture, whether intended or not, it is preparing all of us for a major shift change in how we "do" church. As I learned from Gil Rendle last week, we church folks are in the midst of a shift that goes beyond even the most radical ideas we had in earlier times. Simply put: the organized church in America is no longer an established entity anymore. People aren't just going to come to church because it's what good people do - "good people" can and do get along without a church home. The world got bigger overnight, the word "community" got redefined overnight, and the institutional church didn't adapt. While the church is driving a 1957 Chevy, the world is driving a 2013 Honda Accord. The '57 Chevy is certainly cool-looking, nostalgic, and if you're a car enthusiast like me it's AWESOME. But if you're going on a long journey, would you rather drive it or the Honda Accord?

I think that's where we're at, Church.

I have no illusions that what is ahead is an easy task. In order to transform the church and our past way of thinking means a HUGE shift in just about everything we do. The transforming power of Jesus Christ and His message to us hasn't changed, but we have no adapted to the tools and methods of evangelism we need for today. The mission field changed. Our cultural mores and milieu have changed. There is as much community found on Facebook and other virtual gatherings than in person. We are a multi-ethnic and far less homogeneous culture than ever before. If we don't embrace change - DEEP change - we will slowly fade into an esoteric society.

It has to start with us: laity and clergy alike - the baptized. We have to live out the fact that God has claimed us and called us to be disciples. We have to quit teaching and preaching the means of grace, the simple rules left to us by church fathers and mothers, the tried and true disciplines of prayer and fasting - and start DOING them. Bishops and cabinets will have to be less tied to "salary sheets" and tenure when making pastoral appointments and see ALL appointments as MISSIONAL - putting gifts and abilities above tenure. As Gil Rendle has warned us, our "clients" are no longer churches and pastors - the MISSION FIELD is our client. If we're truly going to be missional, our clergy can no longer expect to be served by our congregations and our laity can no longer expect their clergy to simply keep them happy. Indeed, if clergy and laity are to lead together, both will find that we will be meddling in each others' lives and the lives of others. Being disciples means living a higher standard and expecting greater things. It also means that we adopt the shift toward making disciples rather than making "members." Membership in the Church doesn't have its privileges; it has responsibilities.

EVERYTHING we do must be geared toward mission, and should be - not just for institutional survival and relevance, but to fulfill our Great Commission, which is missional and not institutional: Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The institution is a TOOL, but it's not the end-all.

It means some really rough and tough work is ahead. We are going to have to ask some churches if they aren't willing to be missional outposts who cultivate and make disciples, what then is your role? We are going to have to ask some clergy if they aren't willing to be missionaries and spiritual leaders, what then is your calling? Both are going to have to sort out the difference between purpose and preference. The institution is going to have to wrestle with trust and regain it by living with integrity and purpose while doing so in the midst of tough and radical shifts in purpose, functioning, and action. I know as a district superintendent/chief missional strategist, I have to lead and be faithful and not count the costs. So much for the thought of being a D.S. means "I have arrived..." I feel like Elisha; part of me honored to have the mantle placed upon me. However, the other part of me says, "That's it?!?! Just an old blanket?!?!? What the...."

Bishop Will Willimon says that there is no better job in the world than to be an elder in the United Methodist Church. I'd go further: there is no better job in the world than being a disciple of Jesus Christ. By our baptism, we are ordained for ministry in this world, given all the gifts we need by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Can we let go of what was to be what God wants us to be - not for ourselves, but for others? Can we give up what we used to think of as sacred and holy to go out into the mission field to do what is essential and faithful? We can only if we believe that Jesus Christ is our source of hope, and instead of panic we embrace maturity, non-anxiety, and calm. What we are about to embark on will be disruptive - transforming churches and congregations is the most difficult thing we will ever do, and embracing the mindset that we do not exist for our members but for the world is going to be a hard task indeed. But we can no longer remain cloistered, huddled together out of fear of change. If we want to have a faithful presence in the world, and indeed dare to transform it, worship on Sunday morning just won't get it.

If we'll think about it being about relationships instead of membership - I think that will get us on the right path.

We can do this, Church.


Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Citizenship, Politics, and Christianity - A Repeat

(Note - my writing muse of late has been nonexistent - so has my memory, and I had forgotten I wrote this a couple of years ago. Enjoy... or critique).

My fellow blogger and U.M. pastor Allen Bevere writes some great blogs. I want to highlight one he wrote at the end of 2009. Here is an excerpt:
Small town journalism is among the best reporting in the country, unlike the national media which continues to be a disgrace. Most journalists in the mainstream media think the square root of pi is coconut cream.

Local politicians are usually better behaved than national ones, probably because they are more accountable to their constituencies (there are, of course, exceptions to this).

Nowhere is the lack of serious and deep thinking more present than in Washington DC.

I do not understand why liberals say they are progressive. There is nothing progressive about wanting more government control over individual lives. There is nothing progressive about believing that government is the answer to most things. FDR believed that and enacted the era of big government. Today's liberals are not forward-looking, but rather nostalgic for earlier times. If 1935 ever returns the Democratic Party is ready.

By the same token, what is so conservative about Republicans? They are big spenders and have become foreign policy activists. There is nothing conservative in that philosophy. And it also appears that they have run out of ideas with no one standing out to lead the party. So much of late that comes out of Republican mouths is embarrassing. When 2012 arrives, the Republican Party will not be ready.

There were those in 2009 talking about the coming evangelical collapse. I disagree. Evangelicalism will not collapse, but it is in the process of being reformed. That is a good thing.

Theological liberalism is in large part repetitive and uninteresting.

Theological fundamentalism is in large part repetitive and uninteresting.

Fundamentalism and liberalism are simply two sides of the same coin.

-from Allen Bevere's, "Brief and Random Thoughts at the End of 2009," 30-Dec-09

Ever since I read Allen's above post, it has provoked a myriad of thoughts. One is that I fear our country will embrace rugged individualism to the point where, "I can do whatever I want," and everyone else be damned. Before you think that's far fetched, consider American Christianity, where you can pretty much believe whatever you
damned darned well please.

I really have to do some soul searching occasionally and remember where my allegiances are, and to know that being a good citizen does not negate being a good Christian... and vice versa. I was officiating at a basketball game a few weeks ago at a private high school, and we began with a prayer followed by the singing of the national anthem. Those are really not incompatible things - prayer is our communication with God, and the national anthem is our respect and love for the country in which we live. The test comes in what we do with what God communicates to us, and how we live our out love for our country.

If Christianity is experiencing loss of it's spiritual depth in America, I fear that patriotism is equally experiencing loss. Our continued fervor for partisan politics above a politic/policy for the common good is killing America (at least, the America that was founded many years ago). And no - I am not talking about health care. I am talking about politic. Πολιτικά. The affairs of the state. To be honest, I'm tired of what is passing for politics today. My language is atrocious enough without saying what I think today's politics resembles, so I'll stick to a safer and more polite term: self-gratification. We're all about ourselves.

Ultimately, if we are a country that (at least claims to be) Christian, we believe this: God has the last word in all things. We ARE our brother's and sister's keeper. Jesus redeems all things, and that includes justice, peace, and eternal life. It doesn't mean we have to be pacifists, but it certainly means we should at least have the goal of beating swords into plowshares. It doesn't mean we have to adopt Marxist socialistic ways about health care (which don't work anyway), but it doesn't mean we can avoid dealing with those less fortunate than ourselves, either. It doesn't mean that it's wrong to make money - as long as we remember the Source from whom all things come, and that to those who have much given, much is expected. The bottom line: do we trust God? If we don't, we will have a hard time living out the politics of being Christian.

"I Vow to Thee My Country" is a British hymn - and some critics say that it shouldn't even qualify as a hymn - but I think the words are poignant and can fit America as well as Britain. The words are below:

I vow to thee, my country, all earthly things above,
Entire and whole and perfect, the service of my love;
The love that asks no question, the love that stands the test,
That lays upon the altar the dearest and the best;
The love that never falters, the love that pays the price,
The love that makes undaunted the final sacrifice.

And there's another country, I've heard of long ago,
Most dear to them that love her, most great to them that know;
We may not count her armies, we may not see her King;
Her fortress is a faithful heart, her pride is suffering;
And soul by soul and silently her shining bounds increase,
And her ways are ways of gentleness, and all her paths are peace.

- Words: Sir Cecil Spring-Rice, 1908

Music: Gustav Holst, 1921

If we're American, and we're Christian, we should have no trouble singing either verse. The politics of Jesus and the costs of discipleship require our vow and and our sacrifice. But we do so as a community of faith, not individuals. Love doesn't insist on it's way, but insists on the truth.


Thursday, January 03, 2013

No One to Imitate – We Have to Trust Each Other

Make no mistake about it – I miss officiating basketball. I miss being on the court, I miss having the best seat in the house to watch a game, I miss watching the strategy and ingenuity of coaches in smaller schools getting the most out of the players from their very shallow talent pool. Kentucky remains “open division” – and the smallest high schools often have to play the largest ones. I still keep up with the latest in basketball, and a friend directed me to this article today. 

What does John Calipari have to say that’s relevant to United Methodist ministry? Plenty in this season. D.S.’s are no longer managers, but extensions of the episcopal office and (as of January 1) the chief missional strategist for the district they are appointed to. So to adapt Calipari’s article, we are a denomination that, in many ways, has to adapt to a new way of doing ministry – what we have been doing isn’t working. As such, we don’t have anyone to imitate or mimic anymore, no upperclassmen to show us the ropes – we have to become the very best version of ourselves, and then - in true Methodist form - become a covenant community in which we just don’t tolerate each other, but we NEED each other.

My role is to help us get there – and I do so knowing that I am going to be struggling in some areas, but also see the writing on the wall: the facts about our wonderful denomination do not lie, and we need to be proactive and adaptive NOW to be effective at doing Kingdom work. So with apologies to Coach Cal, here’s how I see my role:

1.     Instead of beginning with pastors to build around, we have to start by quickly evaluating what each pastor and church needs, their skill set and how you have to deal with them as individuals. Every one of these pastors and churches needs me in different ways.
2.     I will have to convince them how hard they have to work consistently. That means task to task, day to day, week to week – not when they feel like it.
3.    I must get through to the pastors and churches that my job as superintendent and missional strategist is to care about each one of them and love them. Their job is to care about each other and love each other.

It’s more than just challenging churches and pastors – it’s about our spiritual health and evangelical effectiveness. If we are to be the ones who make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, we have to start adapting and conditioning ourselves to do so. I’m convinced that there is nothing wrong with doing so in a Methodist ethos. But how that looks in the 21st century has to be different than what we did in the 20th… because it didn’t work.

Results won’t happen overnight – it’s going to take time. But it will never start until we are willing to submit to it. Isn’t the Kingdom worth it?