Month: November 2011

Exploration Profile #1

As part of my blogging for Exploration, I wanted to interview random participants and ask them a few questions.  Here is the first interview of the weekend.

Name:  Thomas Bannister

Age:  18

Location:  Shelbyville, Tennessee

Stage in Life:  High School Senior

What brought you to Exploration?:  I told my preacher that I was interested in going into ministry and so that started the conversation and he told me it would be a good idea to come check this out.

Who was or is most influential in your sense of call?:  I wouldn’t say that it was one person but a bunch of people.  They didn’t tell me directly but they were like “hey this is probably what you need to do with your life.”

What excites you the most about the church and serving Christ?  To be honest, just going out and helping people.

What scares you the most about the church and serving Christ?  That the church might not be open to all these people that have been cast out by everyone else but we still need to reach.

What do you see as the greatest strength of the church?  The people, because church is always a community to me. Not one building. Not one guy standing in the pulpit. So that is its greatest asset that it is more than one person.

What do you see as the greatest challenge to the church?  To be 100% honest, the church itself because there are so many different denominations and sometimes people will look down on you because you aren’t a member of their denomination.  And I think that really impedes our ability to reach out to the lost and our ability to reach out to God.  Just some of the hypocrisy the church has.

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Remember Your Baptism….

How many of you remember your baptism? Many of us as United Methodist might not be able to “remember” our baptism in the form of “recollection” because many of us were baptized as infants.  However, I am not one of those United Methodists who were baptized as infants because I didn’t become United Methodist until I was a teenager and the faith tradition my family came from “dedicated” infants.  So when we are told to remember our baptism, I can remember it clearly because I was in 7th grade.  I can remember Rev. Donald Baker pouring the water over my head at Faith Community Reformed Church and I can remember the feeling of overwhelming awe.

There was a great video to begin worship here at Exploration where a woman shared coming to terms with “remembering” her baptism after being told in school to “Remember the Alamo” and struggling with how to remember something she didn’t witness.  Her teach said something to the effect that she is to remember as to remind herself of the experience.  It is different than recollection of some stored memory but rather the practice of remember the reality that did happen.

In baptism God acts upon us and makes us a new creation, but with that act of creation God also calls us into ministry.  Everyone gathered here this weekend was called into ministry through their baptism.  That means that no matter how that call takes shape (ordained ministry or lay ministry) we are all called as followers of Christ.  I was struck by the way that Rev. Adam Hamilton framed our call as Christians:  “As Christians we are called to be the light of the world….so go punch holes of light in the darkness.”  That brings our call down into something manageable.  In all our walks of life we are called to bear light to the world around is.  Can you imagine what the world would be like if every Christian approached every interaction by asking, “How can I punch a hole of light into the darkness that may be present in this situation?”

My hope is that everyone who reads this recognizes that the call has already been placed upon you.  It is not something in the future, but something that happened in the past with ramifications in the present and future.  You were called in your baptism.  You already are in ministry and here this weekend the exploration for everyone is really this: to which context of life are you called to live out that calling.

My God’s whisper tickle your ear and soften your heart to gain clarity for the amazing things God can do through you.  In the words of Adam Hamilton, “Dream God Sized Dreams!”

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#occupystl and Exploration

I am sitting here at Exploration 2011 in St. Louis getting ready for a weekend full of talking about ministry.  Exploration is an event put on by The United Methodist Church (specifically the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry) that is geared towards 18-26 year olds who are discerning a call into ministry and want to explore and learn more.

I arrived here early and after having a meal with some current Duke Divinity Students and a few alumni, I decided to walk around the neighborhood of the hotel a little bit.  Only a few blocks away is a gathering of people involved in #occupystl.  As I walked by the gathering, I decided to stop by and listen for a little bit.  I heard about six different people speak and it was interesting to hear the different voices share their frustrations and their desires.  Then something interesting happened: a gentleman got up and started speaking and telling the crowd that their chants and “occupy” methods would not work and that the only way they could find success was to respond with violence.  Many in the crowd started to boo and yet others reminded the crowed that every individual had a voice and a right to share even if it was something they disagreed with.  There was back and forth and eventually the gentleman was drowned out because people just wouldn’t listen.  The rally continued as the gentleman walked off.  Later as I walked back to the hotel I saw the individual in his car with another individual from the #occupystl gathering talking to him through his window and trying to explain why he believed violence was not the answer.

This experience was interesting to me because it got me thinking about the many young adults that are gathered here exploring the call God has placed on their lives.  It got me thinking about the challenges that many will face in ministry.  The church, just like those gathered at the #occupystl rally, is filled with individuals who don’t always agree.  Not only that but how people deal with those disagreements will be very different from individual to individual.  As a leader in the church the importance is to always be listening in prayer to where God is calling the particular gathered body that one may be called to shepherd and lead.  When challenges arise it will be tempting to just “shut down” the voices we disagree with but all that will do is cause them to leave and that will nto lead to growth or understanding for either party.

I think the answer and the important thing to remember is the action of that one individual who sought to share his opinions and listen to the other individual who had a differing opinion.  The crowd was not moved by the individual proclaiming violence but he wasn’t moved in his thought either.  No growth happened that way, but I am willing to bet that the conversation between the two individuals through the car window exchanging ideas and thoughts led to growth and challenge for both individuals.

Remember as you go forth in ministry to not only speak but also listen even when you don’t agree.

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Ministry Challenges

I know, I know.  It has been almost an eternity (especially in “internet” years) since I have posted on the blog.  To be honest, I had to take a sabbatical from some aspects of my life and the one of those things that was chosen was the amount of time I was spending on social networking, etc. and when I did that my “blogging” also went out the window.

However, I am excited to say that this weekend I will be blogging like no other as I reflect and post on Exploration 2011 which will be happening in St. Louis.  I will have a mix of posts which will include my own thoughts/reflections but also I am hoping to interview some young adults about their exploration of their call and their expectations of ministry, etc.  So check back regularly starting Friday!

But now on to topic of this post: ministry challenges.  There are many challenges to ministry but one that might seem debilitating to some I find rewarding and a great challenge and that is the tired cliche:  “Expect the Unexpected.”  My placement in Winona has been an adventure in the unexpected.  You see I was placed here under one set of expectations:  to help the church connect with young adults and young families.  To be honest that is what excited me about this placement, but as I have discovered in ministry what we often expect does not always align with God’s purpose.

You see within months the ministry setting began to change as two of the United Methodist churches here in Winona began to discuss what United Methodism in Winona should look like and began the process of merging.  Within one year of my placement I found myself the associate pastor of a newly merged congregation moving towards rebirth.

Mergers and rebirth take energy and time and because of this the original expectations of my position had to switch and work to help the church accomplish what it needed (a process that isn’t over yet).  As I have reflected on my ministry here I have seen how the “unexpected” has actually been a real blessing (a challenge but a blessing).

The “unexpected” can be accepted as a gift or blessing or it can be rejected and seen as a hindrance.  I choose the former because I have seen how God has often worked in the lives of so many through the “unexpected.”  Perhaps it has been my own experiences that have been most formative in my attitude towards the unexpected.  In the fall of 2004 I began my first year of seminary at Duke expecting to dedicate my time and energy fully to my studies.  It was going to be a time for my wife and I to grow in our marriage while she started her first teaching job and I prepared for my career in ministry.  Then the “unexpected” happened and we found out we were expecting a child within the first month of school.  Through the unexpected there was challenge in balancing parenting and school (especially since I did the full-time care for Micah) but there also was extreme blessing to see how God moved through the community of professors and classmates in our lives.

It was a lesson in how the “unexpected” can be a true blessing and I think that is a lesson that can apply to anyone heading into ministry:  “expect the unexpected and accept it as a gift and blessing.”