Saturday, May 18, 2013

Paradigm Shift

I despised this term in college and seminary - it was one of those phrases that people couldn't wait to use, similar to words and phrases used today like "fleshing out," "dichotomy," "postmodern," and "contextual theology." But I can't think of a better term for this season of the Church. A paradigm shift is needed if we are going to be faithful to the mission of the Church. And like most shifts, they are painful and require sacrifice. As Chris Holmes, former DS and now coach-trainer for pastors across several denominations, says in his newsletter: "Shift happens."

I posted the above from Gil Rendle's book Back to Zero a few blogs ago - and I think it still has much to teach us about being the church. It would be very easy to be dismissive of this and say, "Eh, it's the latest fad, I'll wait it out until this wears off and dies down." The problem is that is this is far from a new fad; this is Ecclesiology and Missiology 101. We usurped that and replaced it with our new-and-improved way of doing things which ran tangent to the Great Commission. Membership is important, and I don't think we quit monitoring it. But discipleship is even more important; indeed, the true definition of membership - defined by our baptismal and membership vows - is to not just BE a disciple, but to make/generate/model disciples and discipleship. Any other definition of membership makes it akin to a club that has privileges. Church membership and discipleship has responsibilities.

For United Methodist clergy, the paradigm shift affects how we develop and deploy leadership. Already there is a lot of pushback from changes we are seeing - and pushback is usually a sign that a new reality is present. Changes in clergy deployment are being witnessed for a simple reason: our churches are no longer the churches they once were (economically- or attendance-wise), and the contextual realities where those churches are located are shifting. It's not ageism, sexism, or any other discriminism - it's "shift happening." As a D.S., I realize more than ever how much I have to learn, study, and be present in the district and conference to be in touch with reality. The shift for the superintendency (General and District) is less and less about being a bureaucrat and administrative manager and more and more about coaching, missional strategizing, and relating to people and churches.

I was taught in seminary about having "professional distance" from parishioners; yet intimacy and fostering relationships with people is more critical than ever in a discipleship and mission model of ministry. My style of preaching is having to change. We clergy have got to love people like we've never been hurt and be willing to take the risks for the sake of Jesus Christ and the Kingdom. There is no other way to teach and lead passion for the Gospel to transform a hurting world.

We clergy are going to have to do this knowing that (a) our congregations are shrinking, (b) our denomination is hurting in everyday imaginable (did you know that the United Methodist Reporter is out of business June 1?) and that un-sustainability is a real possibility, and (c) the role of clergy is shifting. Yet, at the same time, (a) our God is an awesome God, (b) there are more opportunities than ever to do ministry and make disciples, and (c) Jesus promises to be with us, to the very end!

There is much to be done - but there is joy in doing it! I remember in the minutes before I was ordained a deacon (back in the "old" days), I was so scared that I wanted to throw up and say, "I can't do it." But I also remember when the hands were laid upon my head that there was nothing else in this world that my heart burned for than to serve the Lord.

My friend Ed Kilbourne sings the most wonderful song, based on some traditional words. I wish I had the musical track to go with it, but here are the lyrics:

You've got to sing when the spirit says sing
And obey the spirit of the Lord
You've got to sing like you don't need the money
Love like you'll never get hurt
You've got to dance, dance, dance, like nobody's watching
It's got to come from the heart if you want it to work
And if you hold back the word that might heal somebody's pain
You're holding back yourself from the light
And if you make your decisions based only upon gain
You will see the world with only partial sight
And if you need some assistance but don't let your buddies know
You're keeping them from being all that they could
And if your heart starts a talkin', better let those feelings show
You don't want to stop the flow of something good
-"When the Spirit Says Sing," Traditional, verses by Missy Stratton Morgan, medely arrangement by Cafe Society,
chorus "Come From The Heart", Susanna Clark/Richard Leigh (©EMI April Music) 

I believe this is the paradigm shift we need to adapt to and adopt. Or, more accurately, re-adapt to and re-adopt.



Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Sky, please keep writing these things. Your observations from the DS POV are helpful to me (and I assume others).

I'd love to hear your thoughts about how preaching needs to change in this environment.

Toni said...

This is cool!