Rescue the Lost Sheep

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A few years ago, I attended a ministry conference where the featured speaker made a statement that I often recall: “God is in the rescue business.” One of the occasions where I found myself thinking of this statement was in a conversation this morning with one of my friends, who said, “I don’t like churches because of my issues and hang ups and what happened to me growing up there. I’d absolutely feel safe in your church. And that’s what’s important. Taking in the lost sheep and helping them feel like they have a sturdy shelter again.” Honestly, a statement like this is something every Christian ought to long to hear, that someone has even an ounce of faith because of their witness. Especially as a pastor, I like knowing that someone has rekindled their faith because I allowed them the space to explore and safely ask questions and express doubts. As a shepherd, my job is to seek the lost sheep and bring them safely into the care of Jesus, the great shepherd.

Unfortunately, especially in the western world, Christians seem to have lost sight of the mission and of who God really is. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous, but for the sinner (Luke 5:32). Yet, this doesn’t stop many Christians from judging who is and is not worthy to attend their church. The idea often seems to be that people must all be alike and think alike in order to join a particular church. Here’s the thing, though: That’s entirely a modern construct. From its earliest days, the church – as in, the collection of people – was meant to be diverse in its make up and perspective. If you look at Acts 2 and other parts of the new testament that reveal the look of the early church, you’ll see that they were people from all sorts of places, walks of life, and outlooks. Some were totally convinced of Jesus being the Messiah while others had their doubts. Some were certain of how to express their faith from their Jewish background while others had never been Jewish and had no idea what was going on. Now, we want homogony in every facet and if a “sheep” wants to come to a particular pen who doesn’t fit with the other sheep, then that sheep is often ignored and sent back out into the world even more hurt and scarred than they were when they walked in.

In such churches, any sheep who does not look and think the same as the current sheep aren’t welcome.

The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-7) is a perfect example of what evangelism is supposed to be. The Pharisees aren’t happy that Jesus has been associating with “tax collectors and other notorious sinners” because, as the Pharisees saw it, they were not worthy of being loved by God. They had decided that these “sinners” were not welcome. Jesus uses the example of a shepherd who tends a flock of 100 sheep leaving 99 to find the one who wandered away and brings the lost sheep back. There, the sheep who wandered off and was malnourished, dehydrated, and injured can be cared for and healed. Jesus closes out this lesson by saying, “In the same way, there is more joy in heaven over one lost sinner who repents and returns to God than over ninety-nine others who are righteous and haven’t strayed away!” (Luke 15:7 NLT)

This is the job that Jesus wants His people to carry out: Find the lost sheep and bring them home, even if the sheep don’t quite “fit.” Bishop James Swanson once said in a sermon, “Being together does not mean being and thinking alike.”

Our job is to go out, find the lost sheep, and bring them to Jesus to be made whole and healed. It doesn’t matter what we believe is “wrong” with them or how different they are, it’s still our job to show them to the rescuer. We don’t get to pick and choose who comes to the table because it’s not ours; the table belongs to Jesus.

Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one,
Lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.

Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying;
Jesus is merciful,
Jesus will save.

“Rescue the Perishing,” a hymn by Fanny Crosby

The New Worship Wars

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I remember several years ago that one of the big churchy buzzwords (or maybe “buzz term” would be more appropriate) was worship wars. Basically, this was a term used to describe the struggles many congregations faced about traditional versus contemporary music in their worship services. Many churches opted to have separate traditional and contemporary services and, often, the result was turf wars over which service was better or which service’s attenders mattered more. Some opted to have blended styles of worship with contemporary and traditional music, liturgy, and other elements mixed together. The result of the blended approach has often been the fans of contemporary and traditional approaches arguing amongst themselves over which style was proper and appropriate. Still other churches have opted for either traditional or contemporary only styles of worship which has often resulted in people opting not to attend a particular church due to their worship style. I want to note that, in my experiences, the arguments for or or against contemporary or traditional worship have been rooted in personal preference and not in anything related to biblical teaching or to church tradition (remember: There was a time when even the organ was considered “contemporary”) and the resulting strife was anything but glorifying to God.

The church has always been involved in such debates since there has been a church. Ever since this thing called “the church” has been in existence, we have been arguing about everything from the proper way to baptize to the color of the carpet in the sanctuary. While many of these arguments don’t become major in the sense that it can impact the entire church, we see a new front in worship wars emerging: In-person versus digital/online and hybrid forms of worship. Almost daily, I’m seeing posts on social media decrying one continuing to engage with their church virtually. Such posts essentially have the same message: “You have to come back to church,” as in physically and in-person. The strong suggestion is also made that virtual forms of worship are fake and that one who engages digitally is not actually worshipping.

Baloney.

Now, I know not everyone will agree. People will quote scriptures like Hebrews 10:25 as proof that not going to a worship in a physical space is invalid. Participating in the life of the church is vital but there are many more ways to do this than simply occupying a seat on Sunday morning (and if that’s al one does, they’re not really engaged). We have many ways by which we can participate in the life of the church and engage in worship – attending in-person services and activities are just one of the ways we can connect with one another.

First, let me present some anecdotal evidence: I and many of my brothers and sisters in ministry have been able to reach far more people by live streaming our services and using tools such as Zoom and Google Classroom than we have ever been able to reach from our pulpits and our buildings. While people are obsessed with things like views on Facebook, there are ways to estimate who’s truly engaged online and who simply spends a few seconds watching and scrolls away. On average, my two churches have an addition 10-30 people engaged online every Sunday morning, people who would not be with us in any way otherwise. These are people who may not be regularly connected to a church and, somehow, found the Facebook page. One of my churches has even seen someone with no apparent connection to the congregation begin giving occasionally through our online giving platform. For all we know, this would have never happened otherwise. Colleagues of mine have told of similar events within their contexts.

I recently attended the Leadership Institute at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas (as in, Adam Hamilton’s church) and found some great insights about digital and hybrid worship. Barna Group has done extensive research on preferences of digital, physical and hybrid worship and discipleship activities. What was revealed to those who attended a break out about digital and hybrid worship was:

  • While 52% of all churched adults surveyed preferred primarily physical gatherings, 35% preferred a mix of both (hybrid).
  • 41% of Gen Z prefers physical while 37% prefer hybrid (only 13% wanted digital onl).
  • 42% of Millennials prefer physical while 40% want hybrid (again, 13% preferred digital).
  • For Gen X, 47% prefer physical while 39% want hybrid (wow!).
  • Baby boomers: 71% prefer physical gatherings, but 24% want a mixture.
  • The biggest take away: A total of 87% of churched digital discipleship participants feel that digital forums for discipleship provide a safe space to speak openly,
  • Source

Here’s the bottom line: Most people still prefer to gather physically (yes, even younger people) but significant portions of each generation group want a hybrid approach. One reason is being able to still interact with worship even if they can not be present at the time of worship. There’s also more: People also feel more free in asking questions and having more open dialogue online rather than in person. As an introvert, I completely understand as sometimes asking the tough questions in physical groups can be very intimidating. Reality is, some physical spaces within the church are not safe for tough discussions. With the modern tools at our disposal, we have opportunities to be more real with one another. The people have spoken: The winner of this latest incarnation of the worship wars is “both,” not just physical or just digital.

Sunday morning is never going to go away (nor should it) but the church will evolve into a mix of digital and physical, and not just on Sunday morning, but throughout the week.

In these discussions, one must also be careful not to discount those for whom digital is really their only option. We are still in a pandemic. Some people are simply not comfortable gathering in public spaces right now (this is a choice we ought to honor, not mock or try to persuade otherwise) and still others who have weakened immune systems who would surely die if they contracted Covid-19 or some other sickness. When we make statements that say “it’s time to come back to church,” we are not being sensitive to these groups (made up of people made in God’s image).

We must be sensitive to the needs of our neighbors and respect their choices for their own health, regardless of our own preferences.

The church has an opportunity: Resist the changes taking place and fight against it (which history should teach us does not work). Or, we can meet people where they are. Social media has a lot of bad stuff happening on it but, like anything else, it comes down to how we choose to use it. We can choose to use social media and other online platforms to meet people where they are, which is largely on social media. For a prime example of someone who excelled at meeting people where they are and communicating with them in ways that were accessible, see Jesus.

Let’s put down our weapons of worship warfare and pick up our ability to love. As long as one is engaged with God – regardless of whether that takes places in a pew or on the couch – they are bringing him glory. Let’s do the same.

“We Don’t Need to Stream:” Lies Churches Believe

I want to tell you a story about a guy named Vlad. First, you need to know that Vlad is not this man’s real name, it’s an alternate identity he crafted for himself as part of his hard rock lifestyle. Vlad is a guy from Kentucky who found the Facebook page for the church I was serving while I was in seminary. At some point, I noticed that this guy named Vlad was liking the streams of the sermons from our services. Soon after that, he reached out to chat about faith and I came to realize that he had experienced a lot of judgment and hurt at the hands of the church due to his hard living. Finally, one of my final Sundays in Kentucky, he showed up to meet me in person and to experience a service in-person. We lost touch a while back but I continue to pray for him and give thanks for his being receptive to God’s grace.

All of this happened because of streaming.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, I’ve had some conversations with pastors who simply do not see the value in streaming. The excuses run the gamut from a lack of equipment to “my people don’t use Facebook.” I get that there are true challenges for some churches and people to be able to stream but the vast majority can be overcome with a little creativity. We don’t need fancy productions and equipment. As for people within the congregation not using Facebook or being receptive to streaming, my experience has been that that is not entirely true. In fact, when I first started to really look, I was surprised at the people within a congregation that do use social media more than I was at who does not. I can promise you, if you believe streaming is of no value because your people aren’t using social media, you might be surprised.

Also remember that we don’t stream only for the people who are currently in the church. Consider the Vlads of the world who might discover your stream and decide to check out your worship service or even Jesus for the first time.

There has been much discussion on how the church will come out of the pandemic and whether or not we will cling to the lessons we have learned during this time. I pray that we do. I pray that we continue to embrace new ways of doing worship and discipleship. Your website and social media are the virtual front doors of your congregation. Continue to welcome people and to invite them to your physical doors but know that virtual you is the first taste most people will get of you and your congregation.

“We don’t need to stream” is a lie straight from the enemy to keep you from reaching more people than you ever could only from your pulpit.

May we not forget these lessons and may we continue to embrace them. Only by continuing to embrace these new opportunities will the church come out of the pandemic stronger than when we entered. The Vlads in your midst are not going to come to you, you must go to them. From the largest congregations to the smallest, it’s time for us to embrace new opportunities at reaching new people for Jesus.

An Open Letter to Pastors Still Having In-Person Worship Services

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Dear Brothers and Sisters:

First, you need to know that this comes from a place of deep love in Jesus Christ. My intention is not to start a fight or to bash you. However, I need to have some real talk for a minute. If you’re continuing to have worship services with your congregation in your building, you’re not making good decisions. These choices are anything but faithful or loving. You’re putting your people in danger and for what? To show how devoted to God you are? If that’s your idea of faithfulness, you’re doing it wrong.

I’m a Methodist and, like any good Methodist, I believe there is credibility in John Wesley’s General Rules for the early Methodist Societies. Wesley came up with these rules as a summary of the teachings of Jesus Christ. The rules are:

  • Do no Harm
  • Do Good
  • Attend to the Ordinances of God (or: “Stay in Love with God”)

How can we justify placing our people in harm’s way? How are we doing good when we expose our parishioners to a disease that could kill them? How are we attending to God’s ordinances by taking such a big risk? The short answer to all of these is, “We aren’t.” Thinking that we are somehow immune to a disease like COVID-19 is arrogant and prideful. As I saw on social media post just this morning:

“The blood of Jesus is a vaccine against sin, not against viruses.”

COVID-19 does not care how strong your faith is. COVID-19 does not care big, small, or loud your church is. There has been a direct link to churches and the spread of COVID-19. Again I ask: Why are we being so reckless?

Pastors, we have got to love our people enough to shut this down. We have got to love God enough to not put our people in harm’s way. Doing so does not please God. Frankly, you can throw all the scripture (and I’m sure a lot of it way would be used way out of its context) you want at me but we do not please God when we mistreat our flocks in such ways. Are we not shepherds, whose jobs it is to care for the flocks that we have been entrusted with? Sometimes being a shepherd means doing what’s best for our people even if they don’t like it. Sometimes it means saying no. In this season, being a good shepherd means telling our people to stay home.

If you’re having drive up services and think this will keep the virus from spreading, well, I don’t believe you’ve thought this through. I considered doing this at Easter and then I researched it further. Upon studying, I decided that even a drive up service was not a good idea. Mississippi’s United Methodist Bishop, James Swanson, sent a note to pastors strongly discouraging such gatherings. First, depending on who you ask, these gatherings may violate shelter-in-place orders and bans on gatherings over ten people. Second, let me give you a hypothetical situation to consider:

Let’s say there are people in cars next to each other and have their windows down (reality is not everyone is going to leave their cars cranked even if there is low power FM). One of them coughs and the droplets go into the next car. Say someone walks through the droplet field when they go to the bathroom. And say any of them have severe underlying conditions. You’ve not only infected people but probably killed someone all in an attempt to be faithful.

Even if you give instructions to remain in vehicles or to keep windows up, there’s no guarantee that people will do this. And, really, what can we do to compel people to follow these instructions? Not much, and really nothing concrete.

Is this blood really what we want to have on our souls and on our hands?

I love being together as much as anyone else and I miss this terribly, but I love my people more. I want them to be as safe and healthy as possible, which is why I have indefinitely called off all in-person activities at my churches. My love for my people is why I’m taking advantage of modern technologies like Facebook Live, which I count as a gift from God, to facilitate worship and discipleship. Keeping my people away is the best way I can love them right now. This does not mean that I like making such decisions but these decisions are ones I know needed to be made.

I know you love your people too. I know you want what’s best for them. But please consider suspending in-person activities as an act of love. Perhaps you’re afraid of resentment, being undermined, or losing your job. I get it. But, as I stated above, sometimes being a shepherd means doing what’s best for our people whether they like it or not. If you decide to start using Facebook Live and I can help in any way, please reach out. You can also read some thoughts I’ve already posted about streaming here.

Do no harm. Love your people enough to tell them to stay home.

We're Not Called to be Selfish

True disciples of Jesus are not selfish people; we are called to be selfless

Yesterday, I ran across an account of a priest in Italy who was stricken with COVID-19 and on a ventilator. USA Today ran an article about him and his sacrifice.

Don Giuseppe Berardelli, 72, was the archpriest of Casnigo, a town in northern Italy about 50 miles northeast of Milan.

According to Italian news site Prima Bergamo, Berardelli died sometime between March 15 and 16 and was being treated at a hospital in nearby Lovere, as his condition worsened.

A health care worker at the hospital told the Italian online news outlet Araberara that Berardelli was given a ventilator but the priest refused it so someone who was younger than him could use it.

USA Today https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/world/2020/03/24/covid-19-italian-priest-who-donated-his-ventilator-has-reportedly-died/2906351001/

This is who I want to be when I grow up.

We’re not all called to give up a life-saving machine for the sake of another but Christians are called to show sacrificial love to our neighbors. After all, sacrificial love is the example that Jesus gave during His ministry in this world and at the cross. This is love in action, proving that love is not a mere emotion. To draw inspiration from prominent theologians Toby Mac and dc Talk: “Love (I can’t misspell it like they did, sorry) is a verb.”

COVID-19 has revealed a lot about the world. As for whether these things have been good or bad, I believe we can agree that the result has been a bit of both. We have seen so many people coming together for the common good, doing whatever they can to make sure children continue to have food and that other vulnerable persons are taken care of. Unfortunately, we have also seen another side: Jacking up prices on essential items in light of a crisis. And, perhaps even worse, we have seen people hoarding items such as bottled water, frozen food, and even toilet paper out of fear of the items running out. I have found myself at a major loss in light of these events. The term I used just today in response to Texas Lt. Governor Dan Patrick saying that our grandparents should be willing to be sacrificed for the good our economy was, “I’m out of evens. Completely out.”

Last week, I took to Facebook Live to encourage my friends not to respond to our current crisis with fear but out of a place of love. I used the account out of Exodus 16 to illustrate how God had always provided for our needs and always would. But God something something else: He instructed the people to to take only what they needed for the day and no more. If they gathered more than they actually needed…

Then Moses told them, ‘Do not keep any of it until morning.’ But some of them didn’t listen and kept some of it until morning. But by then it was full of maggots and had a terrible smell. Moses was very angry with them.

Exodus 16:19-20 (NLT)

God gave them the instructions to only gather what they actually needed for a reason: He was always going to supply the manna (bread) and the quail that they needed and would never forget to feed them. If they gathered more than they needed – that is, if they hoarded – then the leftover would rot and no one would be able to benefit from it. Later, Jesus said to His disciples (yes, that includes those of us who want to be His disciples today), “Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal.” (Matthew 6:19 NLT)

Friends, disciples don’t hoard. We are people of faith, not fear. We know that God is always going to look out for us and that he will never forget to feed us, clothe us, or to give us implements for the cleanliness of our tush.

We are called to share, to give sacrificially. I encourage you to please only take what you need so that others can benefit. God could be using you to enable the provision for one of your neighbors. We are not creatures of fear, we are creatures of hope and love. This is the example that our Lord gives us.

Let us go and do likewise.

Got a Smartphone? You Can Stream Your Service

If you have a smartphone, you have everything you need to stream your service.

With COVID-19 causing many congregations to shut their doors to the public, there has been a lot of discussion of streaming worship. There have been articles about everything it takes in order to stream, several of which includes a laundry list of expensive equipment to buy. I’ve been streaming my sermons since 2015 and when it comes to needing an expensive set up in order to stream effectively, I only have this to say: Bullbutter.

If you have a smartphone, you have everything you need in order to stream your worship service.

Typically, I go with a very basic set up using my phone. Here, I will lay out what I typically use and give some tips. I will also talk briefly about copyright issues.

A note: I’m not a “guru” or some other expert. I’m just a pastor who has been doing this for a bit and can offer some tips. I will also list the equipment that I employ and provide links for you to look at these for yourself but know that this is only for information – I receive no compensation at all so feel free to buy or not buy what you wish.

“Why Should I Stream?”

Some believe that streaming the service will keep people from attending in person but the opposite is actually true. Streaming the service is a way in which new people can find us in order to connect in community. Online worship is not a replacement for physical community. Unless someone has a reason that they simply can not attend worship physically – such as frequent travel or health issues – most people will use a streamed service as a “first look” at a congregation they are interesting in visiting. Putting a stream online can reach new people and act as an invitation to join the community in person (after the pandemic is over, of course).

Equipment

Again I emphasize that you do not need a fancy set up to stream. As I stated above: If you have a smartphone, then you have everything you need in order to stream. Seriously. Typically, I use my Apple iPhone X on a small tripod made for smartphones placed on the pulpit (here is one similar to the one I use). This works since all I have been typically streaming is the sermon. You will want something adjustable so that you can make sure your shot is level and steady. If you plan to stream more than just the sermon, I would recommend a bigger tripod such as this one so that you can make sure to include shots of worship leaders and the choir.

Another important thing on using your phone: Turn your orientation lock off and turn your phone to landscape (sideways). Doing this will provide a wide shot which will make the video look better on many kinds of screens. You want your video to give the best possible presentation for you and your congregation. Taking this step will go a long way in improving your quality.

When it comes to sound, if you’re only streaming the sermon you can likely use your phone’s built-in microphone and be just fine. However, if you want better sound quality or if you plan to stream more than just the sermon, you will want to invest in a better microphone. The one I use and have found to be of amazing quality is the Shure Mv88 iOS Stereo Microphone. This microphone plugs directly into your lightning port and provides excellent sound quality. If you choose to use audio recording for podcasting – something else you can do straight from your phone – you can use the Shure app to adjust the settings on the microphone and to capture audio. For Android phones, there are several options that will plug into your USB port. I can’t speak to these so I encourage you to consult an audio professional for guidance. My personal recommendation would be either a local music supply store or the amazing folks at Sweetwater.

EDIT: I’ve since exchanged emails with a sales engineer at Sweetwater who has educated me on feeding sound directly from a mixer/soundboard to your device. The audio interface he recommended is the PreSonus AudioBox iTwo and even included a tutorial on how this works. I am going to look into this and will provide a follow up should I work this out.

Internet?

With most cell phone plans having unlimited data, this should not be a major hurdle. I use my carrier’s LTE signal and this works just fine for streaming. If your church has any kind of wifi that reaches your worship space, you should also have enough bandwidth. The more bandwidth you have available – that is, the faster the connection – the better quality of video you can stream. If you have no cellular signal or wifi available at your church, don’t let this stop you from putting your worship service online. You can use your smartphone’s video recording feature to record the service and then upload it afterward.

Which Streaming Platform?

If you search Google for streaming services, you will be overwhelmed with the sheer number of services out there that cater to churches. Many have their advantages and disadvantages and if you hope to grow your streaming later on these services may be worth investigating. But if you’re only wanting to get through the pandemic or do something very basic, you need not worry about this. If you didn’t know, you don’t have to pay for a streaming provider because you can access Facebook Live or YouTube for free. If your church has a Facebook page, I would highly recommend streaming via Facebook Live from the church page. YouTube may be nice if you want to reach a different audience but Facebook is where I would start. All you need is the Facebook mobile app and you can go live on your church page from your smartphone.

Edit: I have since found out about a service offered by Outreach.com that allows churches streaming their services on Facebook Live or YouTube to provide a stream to their church website. The best part: It’s free! Click here to check it out.

Staying Legal

If you’re only streaming the sermon along with other spoken parts, you will be fine and won’t have to purchase any sort of license. However, if you plan to stream any music, you will probably need to purchase a streaming license in order to be covered. Copyright is a tricky thing and I won’t discuss all of the ins and outs of the laws here. Unless all of the music you use in your church is in the public domain – and I can almost guarantee must of it is not – then you will need to ensure that copyright is protected and you make sure that royalties are paid.

There are several options to be in compliance and, thankfully, this is not overly complicated. If your church already has a CCLI license, you can add on a streaming license for a small additional fee based on your average worship attendance. One License is another organization that you can also utilize in order to be compliant. One License is also offering a free month of stream licensing in the wake of COVID-19. The license is good until April 15, 2020. Click here for more information.

“Wrap, Wrap, Wrap”

To wrap up, I hope you see that streaming your worship service is not as scary as you may think it is. In all likelihood, you already have most if not all of the things you need to stream well. If you have other questions, fee free to reach out in a comment or by my social media and I will gladly give any help I can. Engaging with the world through social media is vital to ministry in the 21st century. Streaming our services is an important way to connect.

One More Time: “Why Should My Church Stream?”

“The world is my parish.” – John Wesley

Pastoring in a Pandemic

This has got to the most challenging time for ministry so far, at least in my short career. When I began candidacy and seminary, I never imagined that I would find myself ministering in the midst of a global pandemic. There were no classes offered on how to manage a congregation in the midst of a true global crisis. And yet, like so many other clergy, here I am learning as I go. Trial by fire has been a constant in my life so why not now? I’m here, do the best I can, making mistakes, but trying to learn from them. It helps to know that I’m not alone.

And as a reminder: Neither are you. You are not alone.

So, at least for this season, this is our new normal. I’m having to get use to doing nearly all of my pastoral care by phone since I can not go visit any of my parishioners right now. I’m having to navigate coordinating an online worship service and making sure we do things like stay in compliance with copyright and have the best sound possible on a shoestring (thankfully, I believe we’ve figured this out). I’m resigning myself to the fact that, for the first time in my career, Sunday I will be preaching to only the musicians and to my phone while people watch on our Facebook page. It’s absolutely different but it’s also the best we can offer to our folks, all things considered.

I’ve come across some people who have said that online worship streaming is invalid. To them I say: Save it. Streaming is not meant to be a permanent replacement for a community of faith but also it’s simply not safe to gather as a body at this time. In the early church, the body was disbursed and had to meet in small groups in houses. They used what they had available to them to continue worshipping in the face of persecution. In this situation, we must do the same but, thanks be to God, we now have modern technology whereby God can work in ways we never imagined. The awesome part about that is, he is using everyday people to do this. I have long been a proponent of using streaming technology for worship and we are now at a place where this can truly become mainstream.

I have no sage advice to offer from a ministry standpoint. Like everyone else, I’m fumbling my way through this and learning how to do ministry in the face of a pandemic. But I will say this: I am a former healthcare worker and, while I was no doctor (I was a paramedic), I learned a few things in school and educated myself on many topics that school did not cover. I’m no epidemiologist by any means but I can say this: COVID-19, and diseases like it, is no joke. This is highly contagious. The numbers are honestly frightening. Reuters did a great graphic that illustrates how COVID-19 spread in South Korea. One person attending worship ended up infecting over 1,000 people. You can see the data for yourself here. If this happened in your congregation, how many would that impact? How many outside of your congregation could it impact? How many people could die as a result?

Shut it down.

Please, take the warnings seriously. Do your part to flatten the curve. Swap to online worship and discipleship with the knowledge that this is not permanent. Reach out to your parishioners and make sure they’re cared for. Do visits by phone and FaceTime. Is all of this different? Absolutely. But it’s also necessary.

“And the best of all is, God is with us.” – John Wesley

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.