Sending Forth: A Proposal for a Modified Appointment System

Then I heard the Lord asking, “Whom should I send as a messenger to this people? Who will go for us?” I said, “Here I am. Send me.” Isaiah 6:8 (NLT)

Background
It’s no secret that I’ve been critical of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The first time they came onto the scene, I told my wife that I could guarantee that they would seek to become a church (denomination if you’re so inclined) even though they, at least at first, insisted that that was not their plan. I became put off by being told by WCA leadership that forming a church was not going on when the signs were all there. But I digress… Lo and behold, as the situation within the United Methodist Church has evolved, they changed began to lay the foundation for a new church body. This came closer to fruition with the release of their proposed Doctrine and Discipline document. It’s important to note that this document is still a draft and is even only half of a draft at this point. In spite of my apprehensions of WCA, I find that their doctrine seems spot-on with expressions of orthodox Methodist/Wesleyan belief. High regard for the sacraments – including baptism of children and babies – is retained and other important Methodist distinctives are contained. I like that WCA has incorporated the creeds as foundational doctrinal standards as well. I have to admit, overall I like what they have put out so far.

Well, except for one thing: Their proposal for clergy deployment.

The proposed system of clergy deployment is a modified call system. The short version: Congregations would call their own clergy from approved lists provided by their annual conference. There is also a provision included where congregations must include at least one woman and one person of color on their list of candidates to be interviewed. A friend and colleague who is part of the committee putting the discipline together asked for comments and I expressed that I saw the possibility for a lot of unintended consequences. As we talked, he invited me to submit my own proposal and promised to bring it before the rest of the committee working on this portion of the proposed Doctrine and Discipline. I thanked him and believe this was very gracious even though he knows fully that I’ve been critical of WCA’s tactics since its formation. I took him up on this offer and sent my proposal, which I am posting here for you to read as well.

This is far from perfect and I’m sure needs a lot of cleaning up but here it is. All I did was copy and paste the proposed clergy deployment paragraphs, crossed out the portions I wanted to change, with my own proposed language in bold. Several of the unintended consequences I mentioned previously are included at the rationale I included at the bottom of my proposal. I emphasize that this is not perfect. I’m not a parliamentarian or a legal scholar. My goal was to propose a system that would be equitable in allowing congregations to have a say in who their pastor is as well as providing a fair process for qualified clergy to be considered for an appointment.

The Highlights
The system is a modified appointment system. The presiding elder (proposed terminology for what’s now a District Superintendent) would consult with the congregation’s Committee on Staff-Parish Relations to discern the needs, hopes, and desires of the congregation (I know that’s what’s supposed to happen now but…). The PE would then make a recommendation for a pastor to be appointed to the congregation to the Bishop who must give their approval. All parties – the PE, clergy, bishop, and Staff-Parish – must give their consent before an appointment can be made. The initial length of the appointment would be for three years (except in extraordinary circumstances). After three years, the pastor and SPRC would submit consultations and, if both parties agreed to continue the appointment, the appointment would become indefinitely fixed until either the pastor or the congregation wanted to change. The Bishop could still ask the pastor to move but the pastor would be able to say no.

I also included language to give the proposed Hosier Rule (gender and racial equality rule) some teeth.

What follows is what I have submitted. Feel free to share your thoughts on social media or in the comments (but be respectful and civil – I don’t believe that’s asking too much). My proposed additions are in bold. Also, I apologize for some of the paragraphs being split but you should be able to get the general idea.

¶ 518. CONSULTATION AND CLERGY DEPLOYMENT. Consultation is the process whereby the

presiding elder confers regularly with the pastor and the staff-parish relations committee of the

local church to evaluate the ongoing pastoral needs of the congregation. Clergy deployment

should take into account the unique situation of the local church and also the unique gifts and

evidence of God’s grace of a particular pastor. To assist local churches, clergy, presiding elders,

and bishops in the deployment process, church and clergy profiles, a clergy evaluation, and

deployment advisory forms must be completed or updated annually. annual conference boards

of ordained ministry may develop the appropriate forms to fit their context.

1. Church Profile. The presiding elder shall develop with the pastor and the staff parish

relations committee a profile that reflects the needs, characteristics, and opportunities for

mission of the local church consistent with the overall mission of the ___________________

Church. The profile shall be reviewed annually and updated when appropriate, particularly

when a pastoral change is anticipated. The profile shall include:

a. The general context of the geographical area in which a congregation finds itself,

including demographics and economic factors.

b. The size, financial condition, quality of lay leadership, history, and special needs of

the congregation.

c. The congregation’s service programs, evangelism efforts, discipleship model, and

mission to the community and the world.

d. The qualities and functions of pastoral ministry needed to fulfill the mission, goals,

and special needs of the congregation.

e. A tentative job description for the pastoral position the congregation seeks to fill.

2. Clergy Profile. The presiding elder shall develop with the pastor a profile that reflects

the pastor’s gifts, evidence of God’s grace, professional experience and expectations, and the

needs and concerns of the pastor’s spouse and family. This profile shall be reviewed annually

and updated when appropriate, particularly when a pastoral change is anticipated. The profile

shall include:

a. An overview of the pastor’s personal faith, call and commitment to ordained

ministry, and the integration of his or her vocation with personal and family well-being and

lifestyle.

b. A vitae of the pastor’s academic and career background, including his or her

professional experience, academic degrees, professional experience, and publications.

c. A listing of the pastor’s skills and abilities as they relate to pastoral ministry.

d. A statement of the pastor’s preferred type of ministry setting.

3. Clergy Evaluation. The staff-parish relations committee shall conduct an annual

written evaluation of the pastor’s ministry, using forms prepared by the conference board of

ordained ministry, which shall be shared with the presiding elder and the pastor. The presiding

elder shall meet with the pastor annually to review this evaluation.

4. Church-Clergy Advisory Form. At the end of the third year of a pastoral appointment, the pastor and staff-parish relations committee shall

each complete an advisory form annually to declare their desires for continued ministry for the

next ministry year. The advisory form shall offer several options, each of which must be

supported by a descriptive narrative. The advisory options shall be:

a. Stay — The pastor and/or congregation have a missional reason to remain in

ministry together for the coming year.

b. Either — The pastor and/or congregation are ambivalent about whether to

remain in ministry together for the coming year.

c. Go — The pastor and/or congregation believe that it is time for a pastoral

change.

d. Help — The pastor and/or congregation requests that the presiding elder

provide mediation or advisory help to resolve an issue between the pastor

and congregation.

e. If the pastor and committee do not match in their desire for the coming year,

the presiding elder shall meet with both parties to seek resolution or to

advise a pastoral change. No pastor may be removed from a pastoral charge

without the consent of the resident bishop.

f. If the pastor and committee do match in their desire for the pastoral appointment to continue, the appointment shall become fixed until such time as the congregation and/or the pastor express a desire for a pastoral change. Such declaration shall be made during the annual consultation period within the annual conference. Note: This provision does not prevent a Presiding Elder or Bishop from consulting with the pastor about serving another congregation where the Presiding Elder/Bishop believe the pastor’s gifts and graces for ministry are needed. In such a situation, if the pastor desires to remain at their current appointment, they may do so without penalty.

¶ 519. THE PROCESS OF CLERGY DEPLOYMENT. The process used in clergy deployment shall

include the following:

An opening for a pastoral charge may be initiated in a number of ways:

Voluntarily

The pastor chooses to leave a charge to take another pastoral position

in a different church. The pastor must receive written permission from

the presiding elder before interviewing for another pastoral opening.

ii. The pastor retires.

iii.The pastor chooses to go on transitional leave, unpaid leave of absence

or surrenders his or her credentials.

Involuntarily

The pastor dies or is incapacitated for an unreasonable length of time.

ii.The pastor is removed for misconduct after due judicial process.

iii. The local church requests a change of pastors and the change is

approved by the bishop.

When a pastoral charge has been declared open by the bishop, the presiding elder

consults with the local church’s governing board to determine the process by which

clergy candidates for the opening may be identified. the ministry needs of the congregation in order to assist the presiding elder and the Bishop in determining appropriate candidates.

The presiding elder and governing

board may choose together from one or more of the following options:

The governing board may choose to develop its own list of potential clergy

candidates for the pastoral opening. The presiding elder must approve any

candidate(s) before they may be interviewed by the local church.

The governing board may choose to request the presiding elder to conduct a

search and present a candidate or a list of candidates for the pastoral

opening.

The presiding elder may choose to offer additional candidates for

consideration.

The presiding elder shall advise the governing board on the nomination, formation,

and election of a transition team to manage the deployment process, the outgoing

pastor’s exit, and the first year of the pastoral transition.

The transition team consists of up to 15 persons, chaired by the chairperson of the

staff-parish relations committee, which will include the chair of the church governing

board and may include the staff-parish relations committee, or a subset thereof, and

other at-large members elected by the governing board. The pastoral transition within the congregation shall be overseen by the Committee on Staff-Parish Relations in consultation with the Presiding Elder/Bishop.

The transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations are responsible for managing the steps in the deployment process and conducts transition planning with both the incoming and outgoing pastors:

The transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations advises the outgoing pastor (when applicable) to

ensure that he or she leaves well and provides the incoming pastor with

necessary information.

The transition team develops a list of candidates for the pastoral opening

and submits a preferred list to the presiding elder for approval, or receives a

recommended candidate from the presiding elder.

The transition team conducts interviews of a clergy candidate presented

by the presiding elder or candidates on a list approved by the presiding elder

and chooses its preferred candidate.

The transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations advises the incoming pastor, prepares an appropriate

congregational welcome, and meets at least monthly with the pastor through

the first year of the transition to identify opportunities for early wins,

potential points of conflict, and to assist the pastor in learning the

congregation and community.

A list of available clergy candidates for a pastoral opening may be generated from among the

following sources: shall be maintained by the _________________

Church.

A database of available clergy maintained by the _________________

Church.

Clergy who apply for a particular pastoral opening via the presiding elder.

A list of clergy generated by a search firm employed by the local church.

Clergy currently serving another church may be contacted by a local church

to gauge interest in a pastoral opening but clergy must obtain written

permission from their presiding elder before interviewing.

Other sources as determined.

Any list of clergy candidates for a pastoral opening must be approved by the

presiding elder before interviews take place with the transition team. The presiding

elder will also ensure that the list of approved candidates available clergy to be considered for a pastoral appointment conforms to the provisions of

Paragraph 517.

The transition team shall interview clergy candidates using its preferred method. The

presiding elder may act as advisor and coach for the interview process. The Presiding Elder shall make a recommendation of a clergy person to fill a pastoral opening to the Bishop. This recommendation shall be based on discernment through prayer and other means in order to identify the best available candidate with the gifts and graces needed for a congregation or charge. In the case of two Presiding Elders desiring to place the same candidate within their district, the Bishop shall determine which congregation the candidate shall be appointed to.

The transition team shall identify its preferred candidate. After consultation with the

candidate, the presiding elder informs the bishop and cabinet.

The bishop, presiding elder, transition team, Committee on Staff-Parish Relations, and incoming pastor must all give

written consent to the pastor’s placement prior to declaring the position closed. If any of these parties does not give consent, the Presiding Elder will meet with the party that withheld consent to identify and mediate issues that caused the party to withhold consent. As a last resort, if issues cannot be resolved, the process begins again with consultation

between the presiding elder and transition team Committee on Staff-Parish Relations.

In the placement of associate pastors, the senior pastor of the church must also give

consent prior to declaring the position closed.

When a pastoral opening is declared closed, the appointment shall be for a period of three years commencing at a time determined by the Bishop. This minimum term is to allow the pastor and the congregation to form a strong relationship, to establish the pastor’s ministry, and to allow a thorough assessment of the pastor’s ministry and the congregation’s vitality. This three year period shall not be shortened except in extraordinary circumstances as determined by the Bishop.

¶ 520. DIVERSITY IN CLERGY DEPLOYMENT. Consistent with the values and mission of a global

church, recruiting, developing and retaining talented and gifted clergy that can reach all people

is a priority. We welcome and rejoice in the expansion of racial-ethnic and multicultural

churches within our movement. We also encourage and affirm clergy who may be called to

cross-cultural ministry as they follow the pioneering and teaching leadership of the Holy Spirit,

along with both male and female clergy who enhance the witness of the church with their

different lenses and intrinsic gifts and graces. In particular, we seek to attract, equip and deploy

women and those of all ethnic backgrounds so that their ministries may thrive.

To that end, establishing a diverse pool of clergy is critical, as is offering deployment

opportunities for both male and female clergy, from diverse races, ethnicities, and cultural

backgrounds. Each annual conference and bishop shall be charged with developing and

implementing demonstrable recruitment strategies and best practices for attracting gifted and

diverse clergy.

¶ 521. THE HOSIER RULE. The interview slate developed for each clergy opening must comply

to the following parameter, hereby known as the “Hosier Rule,” named in honor of Harry

Hosier, a black Methodist preacher recognized as one of the greatest orators of his time who

often accompanied Francis Asbury during the Second Great Awakening in early American

history. The list of candidates approved to interview with a local church or other

___________________Church entity with a clergy opening for an elder, deacon, or local pastor

in any position, as well as those interviewed, must include at least one cross-cultural and one

female candidate from outside of the church or organization involved All qualified candidates shall be considered for appointment regardless of gender and/or ethnicity.

The ________________ Church will maintain a current record of available female and clergy

interested in a cross-cultural ministry opportunity within its denomination-wide database that

the presiding elder and local church will draw upon for the slate. The presiding elder and local

church may also honor the Hosier Rule by finding qualified female and candidates interested in

cross-cultural appointments to interview from other external resources as well.

Records of interview slates showing a good faith effort to comply with the Hosier Rule shall be

kept by the presiding elder and shall be periodically reviewed by the bishop’s office.

Compliance with the Hosier Rule may only be waived if the transition team of the local church

or entity, along with the presiding elder and bishop, all certify in writing that such compliance is

not feasible in a particular instance, specifying the reasons why such is not possible. Barring

such certification, evidence of failing to abide with the integrity and spirit of this rule In the event that the Presiding Elder or Bishop determine that a congregation has refused to accept the appointment of a qualified pastor based solely on the pastor’s gender or ethnicity, such determination shall lead

to corrective actions as determined appropriate by the presiding elder/Bishop and restricted resourcing to the local church/entity, up to and including withholding a pastoral appointment for a period of up to one year or until the Presiding Elder or Bishop are satisfied that corrective measures have been effective.

RATIONALE

There are numerous reasons for proposing these revisions. While I believe that the modified call system of clergy deployment proposed was created in good faith, I further believe that several unintended consequences were not considered or simply overlooked. Among them:

  • Undue difficulty for women and persons who are not Caucasian in obtaining an appointment/call. The reality is: Numerous congregations will simply refuse to seriously consider candidates that are not white males. This is a sad reality of our fallen world but one that the church must acknowledge and discourage. Especially in a connectional church, a system of clergy deployment that relies on a congregational committee to “do the right thing” with little actual accountability is not wise and is not equitable to women and minorities.
  • Allowing a congregation to contact clergy who are under appointment about serving in their context is unethical. Congregations should not be in competition with one another for pastors. Such competition does not promote a spirit of cooperation or connection. This further would lead pastors to simply go where more money can be offered without regard to their particular calling or the actual missional needs of the church.
  • A modified call system does not offer any sort of security for the pastor or their family. When clergy can be released at any time for any reason, one can argue that this will motivate them to do all they can to be effective in ministry. An effective pastor should not be motivated by fear but rather by the calling that God has placed on their lives. Providing clergy with a set amount of time for an initial time at an appointment will allow both the clergy person and the congregation ample time to discern whether or not the appointment is a good long-term fit and, if not, to begin making necessary preparations.
  • Small membership congregations would suffer. In the early days of the Methodist movement, clergy deployment was conducted by appointment in order to send the best clergy to the places that had need of their gifts and graces. This system further ensured that all congregations desiring a pastor would have one assigned to them. Under a modified call system, small congregations would be particularly hard-hit because they would have difficulty finding clergy to serve them for what is often a very small salary. Without some sort of appointment system being in place, our small congregations would be at a distinct disadvantage.
  • Any sort of congregational call system is antithetical to our Wesleyan heritage. This amalgamation of connectional and congregational polity would lead to confusion and further dilution of the historic Wesley practice of Methodists. We’re either Wesleyan/Methodist or we’re not: A modified call system would lead the church further down the road to being something different.

“Offer Them Christ” (A Response to the Recent Pew Research Report)

revjktullosheader1I remember when I was taking classes to become a lay speaker before I went into the ministry. In the initial class, I will never forget that our instructor said that the best thing we could do when we preach is to do what John Wesley instructed his early preachers to do: “Offer them Christ.” This instruction meant when we spoke we should give the hope of Jesus Christ to the congregation. As years passed and I studied more of John Wesley’s teachings and theology after I entered pastoral ministry, I began to realize that Wesley’s instruction could actually be summed up in another way: “Offer them Christ and nothing else.”

I find the fact that the church in the US has long forgotten its mission to be very sad and, honestly, pathetic. I often hear and read people lament about the “good old days when everyone went to church” being gone but, let’s be honest: Many people looked at church attendance as a means to an end that had nothing to do with glorifying God. There was a time when going to or not going to the “right church” could cost someone a job, standing in the community, or a customer at their own place of business. Church attendance was looked at as a social norm because it was expected. Often, one attended a church without really being a Christian. They were Christian in name only but their private lives reflected anything but discipleship. This is the epitome of cultural Christianity in the United States.

After the 1950s, this began to change and Christianity in America began to decline (so says the experts). So, every so often, a group like Pew Research will conduct a survey to find that there are fewer people who identify as Christian. Next thing you know, preachers are screaming from their pulpits about “the world getting to our kids” or blaming the decline on some group that they personally oppose. Church growth “gurus” will start coming up with books they can sell and programs they can pitch to stave off the decline. Bloggers will blog (yes, I realize the irony of my own actions here). Pearls will be clutched and hands will be wrung with worries about, “What if the church dies.”

Well, what if it does? I’ll tell you what will happen: God will still be on the throne and the kingdom will continue. That’s what if.

When we look at the state of the American church versus the early church and the church in the so-called third world, it’s no wonder that Christianity in the US is “dying.” Years ago, the American church took a faith based on a middle eastern Jewish divine man and turned it into something that could be used for personal gain and political clout. A prime example of this is the rise of the so-called “Religious Right” through Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority. Christianity became equated with politics and parishioners and preachers were just fine allowing this to happen because this meant they had power too. If you want to look at where the decline began, it was around that time after the 1950s and 1960s where people became disillusioned with this junk and began to turn away from the church and from God altogether.

I can’t blame them.

If I believed that God merely wanted me to be the head of a social club that endorsed certain brands of politics and helped people achieve wealth, I would turn away too. I would never have entered the ministry and likely would have never been a Christian in the first place. The gospel is about Jesus’ work resulting in the reconciliation of us to God and to one another and for the hope of all things being made new and set right. God does not care how we vote, he only cares that we love him with all of our being because he first loved us. He further wants us to love one another as we love ourselves.

Our mission is not to go forth and make sure only certain politicians and parties win elections, our mission is to go forth and make disciples of Jesus Christ. Our mission has nothing to do with prosperity and everything to do with preaching and practicing grace. But, yet, the church forgot this. We let ambition take over our pulpits which impacted the pews. A lot of people got tired of it, left, and have not returned.

In other words, we did this ourselves. May God forgive us.

The way this situation changes is not what many would like to hear. It’s not going to be another program, a multi-campus church plant, or even by having a pastor that wears the right clothes and looks a certain way. The only way to stop the decline and to win people back to Christ is to do what John Wesley taught his early preachers. Offer them Christ and nothing else. Forget the ambition, Forget the politics, Forget the prosperity. Just preach, teach, and live the teachings of Christ. Stop alienating one another and blaming other groups for the church declining. Reconcile.

We need to practice what we claim to preach. We need to get back to our roots.

Pew Research Report on US Christianity
An excellent article from Rev. Sky McCracken in response to the Pew report.

It’s Time to Return to Jesus

“When the crowds came to John for baptism, he said, ‘You brood of snakes! Who warned you to flee the coming wrath? Prove by the way you live that you have repented of your sins and turned to God. Don’t just say to each other, ‘We’re safe, for we are descendants of Abraham.’ That means nothing, for I tell you, God can create children of Abraham from these very stones. Even now the ax of God’s judgment is poised, ready to sever the roots of the trees. Yes, every tree that does not produce good fruit will be chopped down and thrown into the fire.’”

Luke 3:7-9 (NLT)

Dear Fellow Christians:

We gotta talk. And this isn’t going to be easy.

We all know about the recent goings-on with ICE raids and immigration issues lately so there’s no need to rehash that here. That isn’t the point of this letter anyway. What I want to talk about is how we have responded to these situations. Just to make sure you’re aware: People, children, actual human beings made in God’s image are impacted by these raids, deportations, and detainments. I have to be blunt: We have been anything but Christ-like in how we have addressed the people involved. Many of us seem to believe that it’s perfectly acceptable to consider immigrants to be sub-human and even to condone their mistreatment. Here are just a few actual statements from people claiming to be Christians that I have witnessed on social media just over the last several days:

“They’re illegal! They have no rights!”

“I shouldn’t have to feed children of ILLEGALS!”

“The Bible says to obey the laws! God is judging them and their children!”

“Illegals have to sleep in cages? BOO HOO!”

Seriously, church? Seriously?

When John the Baptist made his proclamation that I quoted from Luke 3 at the top of this post, people like that were what he was calling a “brood of snakes.” Pharisees. People who saw other people who were different from them as less-than. People who said that people deserved to be treated poorly. God’s word teaches us many things about how we are to treat immigrants, children, and people in general. But lately, it seems that we have been willing to put all of that aside and to trot out some verses from Romans 13 (out of context at that) as justification for treating people as if they are trash with the argument of “they shouldn’t have broken the law.”

We have committed a grave sin and it’s time to repent. That sin: Trading our humanity and compassion for political ideology. We have sold our souls for party allegiance. We have made Jesus into a muscle-bound, American flag-waving caucasian in order to fit our political aspirations.

The facts are: All people are made in God’s image and are worthy of dignity and respect regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. Children should not be traumatized on the first day of school by coming home to find out that mom and dad have been taken away. And for Christians, there is simply no justification for thinking that anything to the contrary is acceptable. It’s not. I’m not arguing against having laws (though I believe our immigration laws do need an overhaul), I’m simply pointing out that we have gone down a very dangerous road of denying dignity and basic rights to people. This is not what Jesus would find acceptable. If you actually read the gospels and pay attention, you may find that Jesus has more in common with these immigrants than He does white America.

It’s time to repent, church. It’s time to remember who we are and to go back to our first love. It’s time to take off our hats, put away our torches, stop being afraid of people who are different from us, and truly be people who love. We simply can not claim to be Christians and continue to believe that conflating our faith with a particular brand of politics is acceptable in God’s eyes. It’s not. In fact, we are taught that this is dangerously close to the line of idolatry.

May God forgive us.

General Conference is Here

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818The lead up to the specially called session of the General Conference of the United Methodist Church has been fierce. I have recorded my thoughts here several times on the various plans, Judicial Council decisions, and the actions of organizations like the Wesleyan Covenant Association (and even gotten more than one “talking to” about it). But now, the time of speculation, commentary, and wish making has come and gone.

General Conference is here.

While I have been outspoken about a lot of this, I’m afraid that my ultimate hope has been misunderstood somewhat. Here’s what I want for the United Methodist Church: A fresh movement of the Holy Spirit to overpower all of us – the delegates, clergy, laity, and everyone – and cause us to once again bring about the kingdom here. Yes, I would love for us to find a way to continue in ministry together but I also realize that God’s kingdom is much bigger than the UMC. That’s the thing: We are supposed to be about kingdom work. We need to get back to the work of evangelism.

While some disagree, the biggest problem in the UMC is a lack of evangelistic zeal. We have been so distracted by debating about LGBTQ inclusion that I fear we have forgotten our first love. Regardless of what happens in Saint Louis, we have got to get back to our mission: To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We – and I definitely include myself – have been distracted for far too long.

When the delegates have all gone home and we are calculating the fallout from Saint Louis, the “last, the least, and the lost” will still be there in the world. They are thirsty for redemption and for new life. No resolution, plan, or debate is going to save them; only Jesus Christ can do that. It’s up to us to reach out and show that love to them.

I have my convictions and I am prepared to stand by them. Support your chosen plan, make your voice heard (with the knowledge that it’s the delegates who will ultimately decide). But no matter what does or doesn’t happen, can we all agree that we have got to get back to work for Jesus? If nothing else, I hope we can agree on that.

I am praying for our delegates, the bishops who will preside, and for the church as a whole as General Conference begins. I hope you will too. Below are some ways to follow along in real time if you would like. Above all, pray… And then act.

Streaming link
Social Media Hashtags: #UMC, #GC2019, #UMCGC

Learning about Outreach from Sears

gettyimages-810465192Although this quote is often attributed to the great Albert Einstein, it was actually a resource from Narcotics Anonymous that first contained the phrase, “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.” I find this statement coming from a group that works with addicts interesting. Addicts are addicted to a substance and will do anything to score their next fix. They do this to feed the need inside them but also to keep up their status quo. People with addictions become so focused on getting their next fix that they ignore ways to truly remedy their situations and to get lives back and keep on looking for their fix. One of two things will happen: They will kick the addiction and begin living better lives and maintaining healthy habits or they will literally kill themselves trying to find the next fix.

Unfortunately, much the same can be said about the church.

Today, Sears – once a mainstay of the American economy – filed for bankruptcy protection to restructure its debt. This move will result in at least 142 stores being closed which means many people will be losing their jobs and some towns will be losing yet another storefront. There are plenty of reasons for Sears to be in this position but what all of this boils down to is that Sears kept doing the same things they had always done in order to keep their loyal customers without reaching out to new ones. The management of Sears refused to modernize their operation in order to appeal to new people and to meet their needs that were being met by the likes of Walmart and Amazon. Sears would have been wrong to change their core, which was selling things at reasonable prices while providing stellar customer service but had every opportunity to change how they practiced this core function. Instead, their strategy consisted of denial and continuing to seek their next fix in order to maintain their status quo.

The American church is in a similar situation. I grow tired of reading article after article decrying the church and of how we are decreasing in relevance every single day. Most congregations thrive on trying to maintain their status quo and fail to adequately reach out to others in their midst who need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. Often, their idea of “outreach” consists of keeping tabs on people who have left and inviting them back. This is necessary but when such is the main focus of outreach activities, this misses the mark of what outreach is supposed to be.

The message of the gospel should never be changed or altered in order to sound more appealing. The core teachings of the church should remain unchanged. But, the way in which the church seeks to reach out to people with the gospel should be up for consideration of how it can be done more effectively. Gone are the days when people flock to their neighborhood church just because it’s there; those days are never coming back. Now, the church has to find ways to go to the people instead of expecting people to come to them. The church has to discern ways to meet the needs of people today and not the needs of people 40 years ago. Doing what worked 40 years ago but doing them better may sound like a good idea but look no farther than Sears to see that that is a terrible strategy.

We have biblical and extrabiblical examples of the need for the church to go to the people. Sprinkled throughout the gospels and much of the New Testament are examples of the people being approached by the church rather than the other way around. Jesus drew crowds but the people were not making pilgrimages to Jerusalem or Bethlehem to see him. Instead, he and the twelve traveled extensively to minister to people. Jesus also sent the disciples out to minister. He never once uttered, “build it and they will come.” Paul likewise traveled extensively to preach the good news and establish house churches. John Wesley, at a time when doing so was not seen as appropriate, went to the fields and market crosses in small towns to reach the people that the church saw as inferior.

Somehow along the way, the American church got the idea that people would come to them. This worked for a time. But now that being part of a church is no longer socially necessary, many people are not as apt to go to the church without an invitation of some sort. That invitation often comes in the form of substantial, prolonged, and personal outreach. The church must go to the people. The church must embrace the people in their midst without expecting them to look and act just like them. The church must live out the teachings of Jesus Christ.

While the mission of the church should remain the same, the method needs tweaking.

HT: Shannon Blosser

Mental Illness Comes to Church

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Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

It’s a typical Sunday morning and the people are filing into the worship space at First Church in Some Town, Some State. The music flows, prayers are lifted up, and the Holy Spirit is very much present. The pastor comes up and delivers a well written and well prepared sermon and even throws in some humor to help drive the point home. Perhaps the people look upon the pastor and think that this is a person who has it all together, someone who doesn’t have many problems. Perhaps people in the congregation who are so inclined follow the pastor on social media and enjoy the engagement the pastor provides, the inspirational quotes, and the humorous posts they share. The pastor regularly makes posts about fun things they have done with their family, community events they have attended, church events put on, and such. In the pictures, the pastor is always smiling. Their words are always positive, uplifting, and give not one indication that anything is wrong in their lives. The pastor has it all together, they are among God’s favorites, and there is nothing bad going on.

Or is there?

Just from looking at your pastor, you may not know that they have some internal battles going on, battles that they have faced for up to their entire life. Specifically, they may have an invisible illness that seeks to destroy them, a disease that is raging in their brain and spreads to the entire body. If we knew that this person who did not look sick but actually had a disease such as cancer, we would be quick to encourage them in their treatment. But when the disease is not cancer but some type of mental illness, the reaction is often not as supportive. Many try to hide their struggles and live as normal of a life as possible. With the wonderful medications we have available today, counseling, and other means of psychological assistance most of the time people who struggle are able to live normally. But sometimes, the struggle gets harder. The patient – especially people who are in positions of ministry – dare not cry out for fear of being judged unfit for their position or as somehow not Christian enough. So, they struggle as quietly as possible until one day they get tired of the voices in their head telling them they are worthless, unloved, and a bad pastor. The person becomes so desperate to end this pain and – in their minds – improve the lives of those around them that they consider ending it all by killing themselves. And sometimes, they succumb to this disease and go through it.

This even happens to pastors such as Rev. Andrew Stoecklein of Inland Hills Church in Chino, CA.

Rev. Stoecklein took his own life last weekend. The Instagram post from Inland Hills Church began to go viral and eventually made its way to my timeline. As I read it, I felt a lot of emotions. Mainly, I felt sadness for the congregation, his wife and children who must now deal with this tragedy, pick up the pieces, and move forward. The second place emotion was fear. Rev. Stoecklein’s suicide hit home for me because, like him, I’m one of the 1 in 6 Americans who struggle with mental illness. For both of us, this illness take on the forms of depression and anxiety, disorders I have struggled with for over a decade.

Why did I feel fear? Because this could have easily have been me.

To be clear, I have never been suicidal and I at least would like to think that if I found myself in that position I would have the wherewithal to cry out for help. Having said that, one thing I have learned from both firsthand experience and from seeing others struggle is that mental illness can make one do strange things. I have had days where I could not get out of bed to even brush my teeth because my mental illness had zapped every bit of motivation from my body. These bad days are rare; most days you would not have any idea that I have mental illness. Most days, I appear perfectly normal (well, normal for me).

Mental illnesses such as depression are real diseases, as real as cancer, hypertension, and diabetes. It’s well beyond time that the stigma that exists about mental illness be ended, to have real and honest conversations about mental illness. People like me who struggle are not crazy. We are sick. We need help. We need love.

It’s time for the church to step up and give love and acceptance to people who struggle instead of judgement. Platitudes such as “You just need to pray more” or “You’re not sick, the devil is trying to steal your joy,” while well intended, are unhelpful and are actually harmful. Collectively, the church recognizes that diseases are real and generally encourage the faithful to seek treatment. But when it comes to mental health, this has not been the case. The church has generally preached that mental illness is purely a manifestation of a poor spiritual condition rather than a brain disorder. This, also, is harmful and toxic. This kind of thinking has caused more spiritual harm than almost anything else. To think that someone is depressed or having anxiety due to being in sin is a ridiculous notion and a gross misinterpretation of scripture. It’s not enough to just want to “pray it away.” In scripture, prayer is always followed by action. We have to act. We can no longer ignore mental illness and pawn it off as someone’s sin or stress.

The church must be a safe place for all of God’s beloved.

I am one of the 1 in 6. So was Rev. Stoecklein. I don’t know all of the details of his situation and it’s none of my business. But I would hope that he was surrounded by love, prayer, and was at least attempting to seek help. The harsh reality is, sometimes the voices telling a depressed person that they are worthless win. Let’s do what we can to be louder than the voices.

We do this with love.

The Journey to Perfection

92aba00b06181159f052f909ec08e648-john-wesley-gospelI came to Mississippi to have my yearly meeting with the District Committee on Ordained Ministry (DCOM) where my ordination candidacy resides. On my way down from Kentucky, my car started having some trouble and it’s currently undergoing automotive surgery, therefore I have been spending some extra time down south. As I obviously was not going to be preaching at Shiloh today, I decided to worship at First UMC in my hometown of Philadelphia, MS. Their associate pastor, Rev. Ryan McGough, preached on the account of Nicodemus’ journey of faith as described in John’s gospel. One of the points Rev. McGough made was that, like Nicodemus, our faith journey is much more than a moment in time, it’s a life-long process of being perfected in the image of Christ.

When I was in paramedic school I was in the midst of my field internship shifts. I was so ready to be finished and to finally be a medic. I was riding with a crew from a rural service one day and I expressed these sentiments to my preceptor. He said, “Paramedic school gets you ready to pass the written test and to pass the skills check off. Getting through paramedic doesn’t make you a paramedic. When you get your gold patch, you are then a paramedic. But that’s all you are. From there, the real education begins. You will have a choice to make: Do you want to be a paramedic or a good paramedic? One will get you a job but the other will make you a better provider every shift and you will advance. Maybe you will go on to be a critical care medic or maybe even an instructor. But know this: The journey to being a paramedic doesn’t take long. The journey to being a great paramedic is a marathon, not a sprint.”

I’ve said such a few times myself and I will maintain this forever: The process of sanctification is a lifetime process, it does not occur overnight. Salvation is much more than a moment in time in front of an altar rail at a church or tent revival, it’s a journey with Jesus that we all take together as one body of Christ. Salvation is not as simple as punching our fire insurance card, it’s something we have to be invested in for the long haul. It takes faith in God to work in our lives, patience, and persistence.

Perfection in Christ has no express lane.

Persons who are being ordained as Deacons and Elders in the United Methodist Church are asked a series of traditional questions that John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and every bishop since have asked ordinands. One of them is this: “Are you going on to perfection?” Saying that one is “going on” to Christian perfection indicates that this is no one-time thing. This is a process. If you think that one sin too many is going to keep God from loving you, that’s just not true. As Rev. McGough said today, “God loves you and there’s nothing you can do about it!”

Persist! Go on! You can do this through the strength of Christ!