Christianity

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#GC2012 & Guaranteed Appointments: Part 2

What an eventful morning at General Conference.  From guaranteed appointments being eliminated via the consent calendar to then being asked to reconsider and that being voted down.  What an up and down morning.  What we do know is this: guaranteed appointments are gone and there are measures in place in an attempt to ensure that abuse does not happen.

Again, I have no problem with eliminating them.  I have had this thought since before I was even ordained.  My call comes from God, that has been affirmed by the UMC but ultimately if at any point in my ministry that affirmation is deemed no longer valid I have trust that God is still with me on the journey.  I will always ask questions and challenge because I care deeply about the UMC and about seeing God’s Kingdom advanced.  Job security doesn’t scare me because I trust God will provide wherever that path may lead.

All that being said, yesterday I wrote a post listing some “unintended consequences” that could come from the elimination of guaranteed appointments in an atmosphere of mistrust and decline.  I wanted to write about another unintended consequence that is not meant to say that the elimination is wrong, but rather to make us all aware as we move forward to help address and hopefully build the trust that is so desperately needed if we are to continue in our faithfulness together.  I believe the measures put in place along with the elimination of guaranteed appointments will help guard against many of these, but the truth is often perceived reality is more powerful than actually reality.  If I perceive a threat (whether it is real or not) I am going to react accordingly.  So here is one of the things I believe we are going to have to monitor and address for the health of the entire denomination.

  • Pastor’s who are struggling will hide those struggles out of fear of its adverse effect on their employment rather than bringing it to the attention of conference leadership so that it can be dealt with in a healthy manner for both the clergy, local church, and conference.

There is already a bunch of mistrust in the system even with the guarantee of appointment.  Often clergy who could use help hide that need out of fear of adverse effects on the type of appointment they may get.  I am afraid that with the added fear (again perceived not necessarily actually real) of employment security, many clergy will hide those things that could easily be addressed and then later it becomes a bigger issue with much more damage to all parties.  It is hard to say we need help even in a system of deep trust, but it is even harder in a system where there is doubt and trust issues.

Ultimately, the issue isn’t really about having guaranteed appointments or not having guaranteed appointments but rather it is about trust.  How can we as churches, laity, clergy, and conferences help to address the mistrust and doubt we have within the system.  How can we encourage one another to continue to speak boldly as God leads and to trust that through it all God is with us?  I think it is going to be especially important for clergy to hold one another accountable by building trust and support even in the midst of mistakes and hurt.  We will all need to monitor one another to make sure abuse isn’t happening at all levels of the church.

But basically the biggest question is this:  Can we trust one another and most importantly can we trust God is with us on the journey no matter what?

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#GC2012 and Guaranteed Appointments

One of the things coming before The United Methodist General Conference is going to be the recommendation to eliminate guaranteed appointments.  Before I get into the crux of this post, I have to be upfront:  I have long supported and don’t have a problem with getting rid of guaranteed appointments.  Understanding how they came about, though helps us understand some of the aversion people have to getting rid of them.  They were created in a culture where it was important to have a “check and balance” as reform (the ordination of women) was being instituted to guarantee there was protection (or at least that is my understanding and take on it). I totally get it and yet I still think it is not something that we as clergy should have as an absolute right because it can be abused.  So yeah, I have no problem with getting rid of them.

However, I think those voting at General Conference should think long and hard and pray about this because of the current context.  First, we are instituting this in a time of decline and anxiety.  There are huge amounts of mistrust (that can be scene by just listening to people in conversation or looking at some of the tweets in the twitter-verse) and instituting something like this in a culture like that can lead to all kinds of unintended consequences.  At its core, the ridding of guaranteed appointments is about giving Annual Conferences the ability to gracefully exit clergy who have “check out” and no longer are living fully into their call to ministry.  I get it, but in this system of mistrust here are some things that I fear will be possible unintended consequences:

  • Reformers that the UMC needs will remain silent out of fear.  As much as we would like to think this won’t happen, I fear it will.  One only needs to look at our current “provisional” period to see this already happening.  So often I hear clergy who are in the provisional period hold back on prophetic speaking because they are afraid of not being ordained, or even sometimes they are told not to rock the boat until they are ordained.  This doesn’t help them and it doesn’t help the system face the change it might face.  Whether the “abuse of power” actually exists or not doesn’t matter, it is the perceived power over.
  • Unpopular clergy will be gracefully asked to leave under the auspices of being ineffective.   Perhaps this is different from conference to conference or even region to region, but we live in a connectional system.  That has many benefits, but it also has drawbacks.  The “reputation” of clergy can quickly spread.  I have heard individuals upset because of the pastor they were getting (based on 2nd hand or even 3rd hand knowledge of the individual), this easily could lead to the pastor being viewed as “ineffective” because churches won’t “buy in” to the pastor because if the weather the storm of making him/her look bad by not engaging for a couple of years the reputation will gain momentum.  I hope this doesn’t happen if this legislation passes, but it could be a potential unintended consequence.
  • Newer clergy will not be given the time needed to mature in ministry.   The fact is many of our new clergy coming into the system are being trained to face the new day and the context we now face.  This doesn’t always match up with the lived out culture of many of our churches because they have hunkered down and are still behind the “times.”  It takes new clergy time to understand the churches and there are bumps and bruises along the way.  My fear is that the “fruits” of ministry that might lead to evaluations of clergy being effective or ineffective could lead to earlier exits for many of the clergy we might need the most because they aren’t given time to mature and learn.  (I trust this won’t happen, but is it that far of a stretch for a system to want to cut its losses sooner rather than later…my fear is at the first sign of “problems” the path to exit may be made)
  • Those that challenge the system will face “abuse” to try and keep them from challenging.   Power is an easy thing to use over someone under that power.  I am afraid that those who might challenge the system could easily see that power used to try and “keep them in line.”  Systems are powerful things.  Power has a way of trying to maintain the order that brought about that power.  Basically, what I said about people remaining silent out of fear is looking that this in the best light, but we have to face the facts that real abuse could still be used and even the “accountability” factor of reporting in the exit can be influenced to achieve the desired outcome.

Ultimately, I trust that God will be with us in all of this, but I do fear that we must be aware of the real mistrust that abounds and how something that would be of great value in a system full of trust could have major unintended negative consequences.  May God be with all those voting and may we see the path God has for The United Methodist Church as we move into the future.

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Criticism: Is it Killing the Church?

If there is one thing that the church (and perhaps all of society) is filled with it is this: criticism. Let’s admit it. We are really good at critique. We critique our experience of worship. We critique our leaders. We critique ourselves. We critique.

There is always something we could have done better. There is always something more we could do. There is always something that wasn’t quite good enough.

Well guess what: criticism is killing the church. Yes, I am going to just come out and say it but criticism is a problem for us. (Yes, I get that in righting this post it is a critique of how we critique) Analysis is an important part of life for individuals and equally for institutions. We only change and get better if we are analyzing how we are doing, but I have noticed a trend that often our “de facto” position is one of negative critique rather than starting with positive analysis.

I understand this first hand because of my experience in my first church. I can admit that much of what I wrote about in the above paragraphs aptly describes my own “de facto” analysis of the world around me, but I have begun to see how life draining this can be both personally and to those around me. I can quickly see the possibilities that exist within the church and it was no different in that first appointment. My mistake was using negative critique rather than starting from positive analysis. Want to guess how my first 1.5 years there went? The church was miserable and I was miserable. We got stuck in a rut together because we were full of attitudes of what was wrong. However, thanks to some guidance from my district superintendent I began to celebrate what we were doing well and the attitude within the church began to change and my attitude began to change.

I see this in my children also. My oldest son struggles with reading. When I work with him on his reading my instant reaction is to point out when he says a word wrong. Want to guess what happens? He gets discouraged and thinks he can’t do it and this in turn frustrates me and the cycle continues. The frustrating part for me is that I know he can do it. However, I am part of the problem because of the way I work with him. (Something I am working on from a parenting perspective) He feels the pressure and it causes him to “not want to fail.” This is different than him “wanting to succeed.” It really is like the “half empty glass” or “half full glass” perspectives. About a month ago when I was walking with Micah to school we played a game.  I would point to something and say what it was and have him try to spell it. It was a playful time and my attitude was much different than when I would work with him on homework. Instead of pointing out how he was wrong, I would celebrate when he spelled it correctly (these were some tough words) and when he got it wrong I told him how close he was and how his thinking was right but this word was tricky and then told him how it was spelled. I noticed something different in his attitude as we did this. Instead of being de-motivated and wanting to just be done with it, Micah was motivated and wanted to continue the game. The only difference was I was using positive analysis rather than negative critique.

I really have begun to look around and have started taking note of the way we say things and the way we write things within the church. I am noticing that a significant majority of our writing comes from a “negative critique” stance and I wonder if it isn’t part of what is killing us as a church (both from an inside and outside perspective). Could it be that something so simple as changing our attitudes and the way we interact with one another and lead within the church could be the key to “renewal?”  I am beginning to think so and I am personally working on this myself as a leader within the church and as an individual. (Something that is very difficult and will take serious reflection and practice) I believe we all want the same thing. We all want to see the church be everything that the church can be. We all want to see the world transformed through the church living into its mission of participating in God’s making of disciples.

Perhaps this is part of the “adaptive challenge” facing the church. Perhaps it isn’t about “technical things” like small groups, contemporary music options, and great leaders but rather about our attitudes in leadership and within the church.  What do you think? As you think about this, I would love for you to take note of the things you read and what you hear from leaders and others. As you take note, try to notice the underlying attitude of the communication: is it “positive analysis” or is it “negative critique.”

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Renewal: Final Reflections on Exploration 2011

And so this is still a live promise. It wasn’t canceled at the time of Joshua; otherwise, God wouldn’t keep renewing the appointment for “today.” The promise of “arrival” and “rest” is still there for God’s people. God himself is at rest. And at the end of the journey we’ll surely rest with God. So let’s keep at it and eventually arrive at the place of rest, not drop out through some sort of disobedience.  (Hebrews 4:8-11 The Message)

It is interesting how God moves in unexpected ways.  I went to Exploration to encourage others and to be a part of that discernment process through sharing my experiences and thoughts.  I went expecting to help others (which I hope I did), but in the end I left with a renewed sense of my own call.

Its hard to describe, but I feel like I have been wandering in my own little desert like the Israelites did between Egypt and the promised land.  Like the Israelites longing to go back to Egypt, I have been playing with thoughts of longing to go back to the days of simple labor like I had at BH Electronics as an inventory control clerk.  I have been struggling to see the promised land, to see that God is still on this journey and has given us a “live promise.”  Just like Israel, I couldn’t see the possibilities in the promised land, I was only caught up in the day to day life of ministry and not able to see the future.

It is hard to say this, but I felt like I was going to Exploration following a path like Moses, unable to enter the promised land but able to see it and to pass on the leadership to Joshua.  However, God sometimes has different plans.  I went seeing an end but God meant it for a beginning.  Shalom Agtarap shared an insight that captures it well in her message on Sunday morning when she asked, “Have you ever mistaken the beginning of something with the end?”

Seeing all of these fellow young adults (6-13 years younger than me….man I am getting old) excited about God and wrestling with their call reminded me the future is bright when it is in God’s hands.  God is with us on this journey but so often it is easy to forget that and to only think about and focus on our “misery” from day to day.  The truth is that leading the church in the midst of this paradigm shift (see Bob Farr Renovate or Die) is not going to be easy and many people really cannot see what the “promised land” looks like and so they will long for the way things were back in “Egypt.”  It isn’t going to be easy, but after spending this 48 hours with fellow young clergy, and other young Christians hearing God’s call and responding, I am assured that this is where God has called me.

God has called me to this difficult but amazing work and I am assured that God is with me.  These are my final reflections on Exploration, but I do not think these reflections are just for me.  My hope is that those who read this might see the possibilities of how God can move in unexpected ways if we listen for the “whisper” for as Adam Hamilton shared on Friday night, “God hardly ever shouts…God whispers.”

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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!”