The Clergy-Laity Disconnect

“The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.” – 2016 Book of Discipline, ¶ 127, “The Ministry of the Laity” 

When Methodism was getting on its feet in the 18th Century, the movement was largely one spread by… wait for it… the laity! That’s right, it wasn’t ordained or licensed pastors who were out beating the bushes with the good news of the gospel for all people who the church either couldn’t or wouldn’t reach – it was lay persons who were trained in Wesley’s teachings and on how to preach. Laity were the class leaders and the primary leaders within their societies and congregations. The pastors were there to be the spiritual leaders whose primary job was to equip the laity for ministry. The laity were expected to make most of the major decisions and to be the movers and shakers within the church.

Read that again: It was the laity, not the pastors, who were charged with the responsibility of doing ministry. These were not the prominent people of their day, rather they were the marginalized of British society – the poor.

There were first of all the itinerating lay preachers, assigned in pairs to circuits throughout the British Isles, and eventually sent in pairs to America. There were also the non-itinerating local ministers and the stewards who oversaw the various societies. Most important were the leaders of classes, who provided spiritual oversight for those under their care.

What Wesley did is open the door for hundreds of men and women to become leaders in the vast missionary endeavor of spreading scriptural holiness across the nation. Since most of these were not from the upper classes, British society did not provide avenues of leadership. Indeed some evangelical pastors criticized Wesley for disrespecting the class distinctions they believed God had established. But Wesley recognized their gifts and commitment, and enlisted them into God’s service.

“Wesley and Lay Leadership” – Dr. Henry H. Knight, III – St. Paul School of Theology https://www.catalystresources.org/consider-wesley-51/

At some point this began to change. Dr. Knight points to the merger that created the United Methodist Church in 1968 as a major turning point where the laity became passive consumers – largely due to their lack of education on our doctrine and theology – and the clergy were highly educated providers of religious services for the congregation, specialists in the same vein as lawyers and doctors. As Dr. Knight states, “This was hardly a recipe for vibrant outreach into their communities.”

That perception has only increased as the years have passed. Today, the UMC is hardly the movement where the laity are the primary leaders and the clergy are the equippers and providers of guidance and teaching. Today the pastors are expected to be the CEOs and to make most of the decisions. In the typical UMC congregation, the laity are not involved beyond roles such as Sunday School teacher or the lay leadership roles mandated by the Book of Discipline (which, let’s be real, are often only on paper in many congregations). This is a major problem for many reasons, but the main reason is because the widening gulf between the clergy and laity is yet another way in which we have forgotten who we are.

It’s time for Methodists to get back to our roots.

I was reminded of the width of this gulf is yesterday when I published my proposed re-write of WCA’s proposed church clergy deployment plan. I want to digress for a moment and express my appreciation for most of the feedback given being constructive and helpful. As the comments on social media continued, I realized that the tone and type of the feedback differed between clergy and laity. The reason is because we have different points of view on what is most needed in our churches and how to meet those needs. As I mentioned to someone yesterday, the answer probably lies somewhere in the middle. I believe clergy and laity ought to come together and to hear one another. You know, like John Wesley and the early Methodists did.

We need to get back to our roots.

In the United Methodist Church, we say that we believe in the priesthood of all believers – but do we really? Our Book of Discipline affirms the ministry of the laity but as I read the paragraph that contains this affirmation, I can’t help but question how we actually practice this aspect of ministry.

“The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which all people will come to know Christ and The United Methodist Church will fulfill its mission.”

2016 Book of Discipline, ¶ 127, “The Ministry of the Laity” 

Spoiler alert: We suck at this.

There is plenty of blame to go around for how we got here. Part of it is societal norms changing where worship attendance is now largely seen as optional, therefore so is becoming involved in the ministry and leadership of the church. The clergy also have been afraid of feeling less important and have failed to equip their laity for ministry in addition to other failures to teach the doctrine of the church that would not be popular with many within their congregations. I could go on but you get the point.

Pastors, you may not like what I’m about to say but I’m going to say it anyway: We need to give the laity their church back. What I mean by that is, we need to reclaim our roles as the spiritual leaders and the equippers of the laity to conduct the ministry of the church. We need to allow our people to take the lead and we need to let go of some of the control that we have claimed. This is more than a great thing that Wesley taught; allowing the laity to lead is a biblical mandate.

“Now these are the gifts Christ gave to the church: the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, and the pastors and teachers. Their responsibility is to equip God’s people to do his work and build up the church, the body of Christ.”

Ephesians 4:11-12 (NLT)

I realize that this is not the case in all congregations. I’m thankful to be able to say that I know of many churches that are doing great work because the laity took ownership of the ministry of their church. But when it comes to the majority of congregations, we still have a major disconnect and we need to address it quickly. We, the clergy, certainly have our place but so do the laity. It’s time we set aside our pride and our ambitions, took a step back, and started equipping the saints again.

Sports teams are made up of individuals with different responsibilities but with the same goal in mind: To win. On scoreboards, teams are shown as winning or losing, just one individual on the team. The same goes for the church: We all have different jobs but we are on the same team and we ought to have the same goal: To win souls for God’s kingdom. Our job is to minister to the people with the gospel but also by being the hands and feet of Christ. By being doers of the word, we allow God to use us in this endeavor. If the church is failing, it’s because we have failed to carry out this mission. We have all become power hungry or consumers. It’s time for this to change.

It’s time to get back to our roots.

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.

Help Me Get to General Conference!

42301730_1569501283728286_rLast week, I received word that I have been chosen to serve as a marshal at the upcoming General Conference of the United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. I counted this as a blessing because I have wanted to serve at General Conference for many years but never had the opportunity. I count this as an honor to be able to serve the larger church with my time, service, and witness.

A lot of people don’t realize this but serving as a marshal or as a page at General Conference is a completely voluntary position. I will receive no funding from my annual conference or elsewhere to subsidize my expenses. I am responsible for paying all of my expenses – travel, lodging, food, all of it. I don’t like the thought of “begging” but I definitely can’t pay for this trip on my own. We’re talking probably around $3,000 or so by the time it’s all said and done. With that in mind, I have set up a couple of fundraisers and would love any help you can give me!

The first is a t-shirt with the theme verse for the 2020 General Conference on it. You will have a choice of colors for your shirt. They make great gifts as well! Every shirt sold helps me meet my goal. This fundraiser has a closing date of October 14th so hurry! Find my page right here!

If t-shirts aren’t your thing, you can give at my GoFundMe page, or send donations via PayPal (if you use this method, include a note that this is for GC 2020, that way I will know why someone is sending my money).

I very much appreciate all of the support I have received so far and thank you for any help you offer from this blog. It would mean a lot for me to be able to serve at General Conference.

Jonathan

Being One is Not Being the Borg

“Being one does not mean that we all think alike.”
Bishop James Swanson on “The Power That Makes Us One.”

Last week, Bishop Swanson – the resident bishop of the Mississippi Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church – was in my district where he met with the pastors followed by preaching at a district-wide laity rally in the evening. The theme of this rally was “The Power that Makes Us One,” referring to the power of the Holy Spirit that unites us as Christians. Bishop gave the above quote during his sermon and it made me think of some of the rhetoric I have witnessed as the United Methodist Church has continued to debate LGBTQ inclusion. My thoughts then turned to Star Trek.

If you’re a Trekkie, you know of The Borg. The Borg are a hive mind collective made up of cybernetic beings that are forcibly “assimilated” by injecting nanoprobes into the host and where their brains surgically altered. The point is to collect the knowledge of all alien species into a common brain with the goal of achieving a perfect linked society where all think as one.  Anyone within the collective who begins to exhibit signs of independent thought is terminated as quickly as possible. The Borg are famous for the phrase “resistance is futile,” as they believe that all lifeforms must and will submit to assimilation.

There seems to be a concerted effort by organizations on all ends of the political and theological spectrum trying to assimilate members of the UMC. The idea is that a church can’t be a church unless all of the members agree completely… or else. I believe such thinking is contrary to the reality of our humanity and denies that we are all independent creatures with our own ways of understanding the nuances of doctrine. One thing I have noticed from all of those involved is that they love Jesus, know that He loves them in spite of their flaws, and want others to know that love as well. And yet, because of disagreement on a piece of doctrine, so many of us are content to throw all of that away. For the life of me, I can’t reconcile that with, well, really much at all.

The founder of Methodism, John Wesley, stated: “If we can not think alike, can we not love alike?” I believe this is a profound statement that acknowledges the scriptures that teach us that we will be known as Christ’s disciples by our love (John 13:35) rather than our agreement on doctrine. While doctrine is important, it’s not the end-all, be-all. The main thing is to keep Christ the main thing as he is the main thing. Some argue that the disagreement is over the authority of scripture. I say the issue is interpretation rather than authority. There is a major difference between the two and we must stop conflating authority with interpretation.

We are a church made up of imperfect people from all walks of life, different places, different races, and different experiences. This is exactly what the church has always been. The first disciples were all people from different backgrounds, did not understand things all the same, and yet Jesus used them in mighty ways and even considered them his closest friends. They were not a hive mind and neither are we. The church was never intended to be The Borg. The only way in which the church can and ought to be one is through the power of the Holy Spirit, in the name of Jesus Christ, and to the glory of God the father.

Thanks be to God.

Back to our Roots: Going to the Market Cross

john_wesley_preaching-264x400In 2016, I took a trip made a pilgrimage that had a major impact on my life and especially my ministry. The Wesley Pilgrimage sponsored by United Methodist Discipleship Ministries took me and my fellow pilgrims around several places where John Wesley and others began what we know today as Methodism. One of those places was Epworth where John and his siblings grew up while their father, Samuel Wesley, served as rector of Saint Andrews Church in Epworth. After touring Saint Andrews and its rectory where the Wesley family lived we went on a walking tour of Epworth on our way to have tea at Wesley Memorial Methodist Church. One of the places we came to was the market cross at High Street. John Wesley used to preach here, in fact preaching at the market cross was a common practice for him. This was because the market cross was a gathering place for the people, where they would come to do their shopping and to meet with one another. With this in mind, it made sense for preachers like Wesley to gather people for worship and proclamation.

In other words, he went to where the people were rather than expecting them to come to him.

In 2019, we find ourselves in challenging times for those of us in ministry. The old ways of “doing church” are still alive but are barely hanging on by a thread. The idea that people will come to the church, while sometimes true, is often not the case anymore. Depending on who you are or what study you look at, there are many reasons for this including distrust of institutions, pain from previous negative experiences, and the church’s (speaking collectively) reputation for being judgmental and unaccepting of those who are different. Really, the reasons don’t matter. Nothing will change the fact that the days of people coming to church “just because” are over and they are not going to come back.

Truthfully, those days should have never been.

I shared with my congregations on Sunday that when Jesus gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28, he did not say anything about making disciples of the people who show up for worship at our campuses. Here’s what the text actually says – read it carefully. “Therefore, go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” (Matthew 28:19 NLT) The keyword is “go.” The Greek language used here is used in an imperative sense, meaning that going is not optional. Further, Jesus did have people come to him but he always went to them first. The people are not going to come to us just because we have a nice building or a reputation for having vibrant worship (though those things are good). We must go to the people and give them the good news.

I say again: We have to get back to our roots.

The American church is in a challenging time but, truthfully, it’s a time that largely of our own making. We have forgotten why we exist. William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, is quoted as saying that, “the Church is the only institution that exists primarily for the benefit of those who are not its members.”We are more worried about our own survival as an institution and our own comfort rather than bringing those who are outside of our walls into the fold. We must remember our purpose and get back to it.

We must get back to our roots.

In the movie Sister Act, the nuns who Whoopi Goldberg joins as Sister Mary Clarance hide behind their walls because they are afraid of their neighbors. The neighborhood in which their convent is situated is not the best in the world, with adult stores and bars all over, along with homeless and poor people all around.  Finally, they have a wake-up call and start ministering to their neighbors and otherwise being part of the neighborhood. The result was people learning to trust them and the church’s pews were packed during worship. You may be surprised to know that this exact same thing happens in real life everyday when congregations step out of their walls and go to the people.

I say again: It’s time to get back to our roots.

How can we do this? It’s simple, yet difficult: We have to be the church. We have to find our own market crosses and proclaim the gospel to those who are there. But, we don’t have to use a firey sermon like John Wesley. We do this by meeting needs, showing compassion, and accepting people as they are. We have to step out of our comfortable boxes and do some ministry. We have to stop expecting people to come to our buildings simply because they are there and we have to stop expecting people to be just like us, including how they dress and even how they talk. Change occurred because Jesus accepted people as they were without trying to put them into a mold.

I say again: It’s time to get back to our roots.

#GC2019: God Don’t Like Ugly

cross-and-flame-color-1058x1818The question that a lot of people have right now is, “How do we move on?” For people who support the traditional interpretation of scriptures related to human sexuality, the mood seems to be like that of a “win.” For our LGBTQ brothers and sisters, the level of sadness and hurt is palpable. Many who are gay or who support including LGBTQ persons in ordained ministry and allowing UM clergy to perform their weddings would consider General Conference 2019 to a “loss.”

I would make this submission: There were no winners, only losers.

With few exceptions, I watched almost every moment on the live stream. I felt that I should witness as much of this pivotal time in the church as possible. I was sorry that I made that decision for a lot of reasons but one of the biggest regrets I have is witnessing the amount of ugly from so many people. Where I come from, we have a saying: “God don’t like ugly.”

I highly doubt he liked the shenanigans that took place in Saint Louis.

Especially on the final day, much of what I witnessed made my skin crawl. One scene, in particular, was a lay delegate quoting scripture very much out of context. Ok, proof-texting is common so I was not too shocked that this was happening. But when she quoted Matthew 18:5-6, it was revealed that many took this as implying that LGBTQ persons should be drowned. Whether this was her intent or not – and I pray it wasn’t – this was ugly and poor use of scripture.

God don’t like ugly.

I’m afraid things only got worse from there. I saw traditionalists implying the worst about progressives and vice-versa. I saw accusations of unethical behavior happening on the floor. I saw tempers getting the best of people, Need I go on? It was all ugly.

God don’t like ugly.

I hope that, regardless of how we feel about the outcome, we can all agree that a lot of harm was done. One of the most significant bits of harm was done to our witness for Christ. Some will argue that God was honored with the adoption of the Traditional Plan. Some will argue that God was not honored. One thing I can tell you for certain is that God was not honored in how everyone treated one another.

As God’s people, we have to do better.

On Sunday, I preached out of Luke 6; the title of the sermon was “Love Your Enemies, Even the Ones You Don’t Agree With.” The title might be a bit of a misnomer, however, in that part of my argument was “is someone you disagree with really your enemy or do we just like to think they are?” I would say such a person is not.

Regardless of how you feel, you are entitled to grieve, lament, or celebrate as you are led. But, please, remember that every single person you ever lay eyes on, talk to, or encounter on Twitter is of infinite sacred worth, even if you disagree with that person about anything or lots of things. We are commanded by scripture to treat one another the way we want to be treated.

Let’s start doing it. That’s how we move forward, because “God don’t like ugly.”

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