Rethink Church

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The Devil Did It! : Thoughts on the UMC and Guaranteed Appointments.

Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.  -Luke 17:33 (NRSV)

I was raised by a wonderful woman of faith: my mother.  Over the past 24 hours I have been thinking about the UMC and the hot topic of guaranteed appointments after the Judicial Council ruled against their elimination.  I keep thinking about what my mother would say which would be something to this effect:  The devil is great at distracting us from Kingdom work.

Now, mom and I have some differing opinions on the existence of the devil, etc. but man do I wish I could agree with her that this is something the “devil” did.  It would be easier for me to deal with if I could blame it on the devil. Unfortunately, the fact is we have no one to blame but ourselves for this distraction. We are getting pretty good at it might I say.  If it isn’t guaranteed appointments and ineffective clergy then it is something else, right?  We keep bouncing from symptom to symptom to try and figure out what is wrong so we can save the UMC.

Are we so arrogant as to think that God needs us?  Why are we so focused on keeping the life of the UMC going? I mean it seems to me the more that we are focusing on ourselves and our existence as a denomination the more and more we end up being ineffective for the Kingdom of God.

I probably sound pretty negative so far (whoops), but the truth is I love the UMC and it is the place where I found my spiritual home. However, I remember when I became United Methodist and it wasn’t because of an “effective clergy person” and it wasn’t even because of an abundance of “small groups” or “vibrant worship” offered at my local congregation. No the reason I became United Methodist is because my local church pointed beyond itself to God. (at least in my naive 8th grade eyes of experience) My experience was of a church which pointed beyond itself to something bigger. But now I have to wonder, how often are we pointing to something bigger than the UMC (i.e. The Kingdom of God) and how often are pointing at ourselves?

The devil has gone and done it, like a great “shell game” con we have been duped into focusing on the wrong stuff. Well that is if the devil did do it, unfortunately I think the blame lies square on the person looking back at us in the mirror. (yeah even me)

Image taken from:  http://allegriaimagesbylynn.blogspot.com/2011/01/shell-game.html

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Leadership Summit Reflections

*image via virtualschooling.files.wordpress.com

The United Methodist Church held a webcast yesterday to discuss our latest commissioned study that resulted in the Call To Action Report. I watched the webcast from my office while interacting with others on twitter via the tag #umclead. The reaction to the report/presentation I think is best summed up this way: the twitterverse wasn’t to sure that the “drivers” and statistical accountability is the answer to our problem.

To be honest I understand many of their sentiments. I don’t believe the presentation was meant to be taken this way, but it really did come off as an institutional survival presentation rather than a call to be a movement. (even though this was explicitly stated by Bishop Palmer within the Q & A portion)

Here is what I think most people heard: Dashboards are the key. Now I know that this isn’t want the report or the presenters are really saying, but that is what many people heard. I have to admit it did seem that we were being told the problem is that we haven’t been accountable to the statistics and if we were we could address the problem and that is where I have a slight pause. The problem is still there. The statistics might help us recognize a problem exists and try to address it, but the “Call to Action” then just ends up telling us what we already knew: there is a problem.

The telling moment came when a question from the Congo was shared: “What is God’s vision for the UMC?” That was the heart of the matter that people were looking for and that was still left unanswered. I think Bishop Palmer and the others hinted at an answer with the assertion to return to being a movement, but there was no direction/vision for how to do that. I was left asking this question over and over in my head: “Is the UMC willing to die for the sake of the Gospel? If not we may have a disconnect?”

If our questions continue to center around the UMC and its survival, I feel we will never return to a movement. I don’t believe movements are about creating an establishment/institution and then making sure it survived. A movement, in my estimation, is willing to do anything, even cease to exist, if it can accomplish its goal. Which brings me to my question again: Are we willing to let go of our own survival as an institution and focus on what God has called us to do? What if we trusted that God would provide and looked instead on what we have been given and how we can best be stewards of those gifts?

What if we stopped asking what was wrong or what is missing and instead focused on what is right and what we already have (which is enough in my estimation)?

My parting thought is this: The UMC needs God but God doesn’t necessarily need the UMC and until we recognize that I think we will continue to struggle and fail to be a movement.

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Rethinking Communion

You will have to be patient with me because this is something that I am still working out in my heart and head, but I wanted to start the process of working through it and have some interaction with different perspectives, etc.

I think the sacraments are highly important within the life of a church. As a United Methodist, this means that I believe that baptism and communion should be a foundation in the life of any church. However, lately I have been wondering if there isn’t a disconnect between our words and the way we practice one of those sacraments: Holy Communion.

This disconnect first hit me a couple of weeks ago when I was at a weekend senior high youth event here in Minnesota. As part of the gathering it has been the practice to celebrate (please note that word) communion on Saturday evening in a dark room by candlelight with soft music playing. It is a powerful time for many of the youth and they often are moved to tears and you can witness the lingering hugs of support and comfort that go on well past the partaking in the sacrament.

Now I am not trying to say that this is necessarily bad, but for some reason it just didn’t seem right. It seemed like this sad time and it functioned as a time of almost movement toward confession and repentance (good things, don’t get me wrong). However, the words of the Great Thanksgiving are ones that are of celebration. Hosanna. Thanks. Praise. When I think of hosanna, thanks, and praise I think of joy. I see pictures of people dancing and clapping and shouting for joy. Perhaps they are weeping, but weeping tears of joy with smiles on their faces.

That is when the wheels began to turn in my head. Have we in practice turned this moment of joy and anticipation into a moment of somberness and sadness? I began to wonder why our practice of Holy Communion within worship usually is so somber and serious. I understand being reverent to the holy moment, but why must reverence be quiet and somber? I started to think about all the elements that go into The Great Thanksgiving Liturgy in most of the churches I have participated in and how the music is often slow and serious. How the words aren’t said or shouted with joy but rather are said in a serious tone.

Why do we do this? Why do we recite words that speak of such joy and not have an atmosphere that reflects it? Why does communion seem more like the beginning of confession rather than a response in joy and thanksgiving that the sins we confessed do not mean death for us because of the life giving love of God we are celebrating?

Let me sidetrack us for a second. Can you imagine a Thanksgiving meal (you know with the Turkey, Mashed Potatoes, Corn, Cranberries, Stuffing, etc.) in a home being celebrated like we often celebrate Holy Communion? Everyone sitting around the table, serious and calm and not wanting to open their mouth out of fear of ruining the celebration. (apparently not many people can because I really tried to find an image of a thanksgiving meal where the people weren’t talking and enjoying one another’s company and generally looking thankful to be with one another) Who would want to be a part of that? Yet, our thanksgiving meal where we celebrate the death and resurrection of our Lord is often celebrated in such a way.

What would happen if we really “celebrated” communion? Would it change how we looked at our faith? Would we begin to really be thankful and to really feel in our hearts the joy that comes from the reality we are celebrating? Can we imagine a celebration of communion where people are clapping, joyfully singing, and joining together in praise to a God that has shown such great love?

I want to work this out more but I wonder if I am the only one? Am I wrong? Let me know what you think in the comment section.

(Now do understand that I know that communion is powerful either way and that the true power of communion comes through the presence of Christ there with us in the meal and the grace that is received. I am just wondering if there is a disconnect between the words and how the practice has functioned within worship)

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Church We Have A Problem!

I happened upon this yesterday over at jesusneedsnewpr.net (via Christian Nightmares via The Good Athiest) and wanted to share. So first watch the video:

Now your first reaction (if you are Christian and value church) might be to get all defensive, and I can understand that position. (In fact that was my initial reaction, but then I thought on it some more) Before you react from that defensive position I wanted to really engage with what the video was saying so I wrote down all the statements from the video:

  1. In America, church is serious business and business is good.
  2. In 1960 there were 16 megachurches across the country.
  3. Now there are more than 1401.
  4. The most profitable makes over 70 million a year.
  5. 63 Million Americans attended a church service last week.
  6. 21 million tithed at least 10% of their income.
  7. And churches just don’t sell hope, they also sell coffee and DVDs and books and private education.
  8. How much money is this? Nobody Knows.
  9. Church income is not taxed and most churches don’t even file a return.
  10. Nearly half of Americans (48%) believe that the federal government should advocate Christian values.
  11. The federal government has obliged.
  12. In 2004, faith based organizations received up to 40,000,000,000 in federal grants.
  13. While many other federal programs had their budgets slashed.
  14. What are they doing with all this money? (picture of mansions/wealth)
  15. Aren’t there more worthy causes?
  16. Causes that don’t mask their motives in a shroud of holiness?
  17. Causes that don’t manipulate the penitence of their disciples for the lining of their pockets?
  18. You don’t need Church to give.
  19. Give directly to a cause dear to your heart essential to your community worthy of your support: education, art, music, shelter, amnesty, clean energy, community garden, yoga, animal rescue, elderly care.
  20. 10% where it counts

I don’t think it is actually too hard to poke holes in the argument (in fact there is so much conflation that one could say the video is a total red herring argument…they have created a picture of “church” that is easy to attack). The video conflates megachurches and faith-based organizations into one unified whole. They create a picture that the church is “selling” a product and that its existence is to fleece you out of your 10%. And so on and so on. One could spend countless sentences, paragraphs, and posts deconstructing the argument and showing its logical errors. However, that wouldn’t really do any good. Why do I say that? Because church we have a problem.

A quote from Francis Chan in his book Crazy Love has continued to haunt my thoughts:

We need to stop giving people excuses not to believe in God. You’ve probably heard the expression “I believe in God, just not organized religion.” I don’t think people would say that if the church truly lived like we are called to live. The expression would change to “I can’t deny what the church does, but I don’t believe in their God.” At least then they’d address their rejection of God rather than use the church as a scapegoat. (pgs 21-22)

I think if we seriously look at the two (the video and the quote) we can look and see they are getting at the same things. The church has a problem and both outsiders and insiders are saying it. Wouldn’t it be so easy to just blame the megachurches, but reality is the whole institution has a problem. We have lost our purpose and our heart. Too many churches have stopped being agents of change in society by radically living out the Gospel through their corporate lives and instead have done just what the video says and become sellers of hope for consumers to buy.

If we think about the church as stewards of God’s gift (you know that 10% that is meant for God and given to the church to steward), are we being good stewards? Is that “tithe” being used to maintain staffing, programming, and buildings mostly? How much of that is being used to provide for those in need (a redistribution sort of thing like in Acts)? If we follow the money is it being used to transform lives? If it is whose lives is it transforming? Are we a beacon of God’s light?

Let me frame this another way: do we look at the money we are receiving and entrusted to by God’s people and asking the question of how we can transform the world with this? I wonder what the world might look like if we did, would red herring videos have as much impact/influence? Would people be able to look at the Church and really see the incarnational Body of Christ?

What do you think? Do we have a problem?

Intentional Renewal: Focus 2

(2) Redefine the responsibilities of clergy

In last week’s preview, I talked briefly about how the reality is that many clergy have to spend the majority of their time in the administrative role (or also if they don’t spend a majority of their time it will end up hurting the church or making the job for the next clergy harder). This is not necessarily because the clergy want to spend their time there, but because the system of the church as it currently is has come to depend on it.

Here is what you need to do (1) Find a Book of Discipline, (2) Look up and read paragraph 340. (I would link to it so you didn’t have to go through all of this, but see my post below as to why it must be this way)

To sum it up the responsibilities elders are called to are: Word and ecclesial acts; Sacraments; Order; Service.

Now I would like to sum up the new responsibilities under the same categories:

Word and ecclesial acts
1. Teach the Word of God; empower others to teach the Word of God; and be a resource for worship planning implementation.
2. Oversee the network to ensure that Biblical interpretation is within the bounds of Christian orthodoxy (we can debate what is orthodoxy some other time). (I.e. Make sure the Bible is not being interpreted in a way that goes counter to the message of Christ)
3. Preside and Weddings and Funerals as needed (including marriage counseling when needed)
4. Counsel when needed (and keep confidential what should be kept confidential)

Sacraments
1. Teach the Methodist understanding of the Sacraments (Holy Communion and Baptism) and other means of grace
2. Administer the Sacraments (this is where I struggle the most because if there are say 50 units within a network how is an elder supposed to administer Holy Communion on a regular basis—this might take some adaptation that others might not be too enthused about—possibly even myself)

Order
1. Maintain regular contact with those units within the network and connect the units together by regular all-network communication and/or events
2. Be a resource for materials of Christian education, worship, and mission
3. Maintain the connection of the network to the larger organizational structure of the UMC
4. Maintain observance of The Book of Discipline within the network and each part of the network

Service
1. Model the servanthood of Jesus Christ by participating in work that helps the community the network is within
2. Help to connect the network in service to the community
3. Teach the importance of servant leadership to all and model it in personal daily life.

I am not much for detail, but these would be the main requirements. Is there something that should be here? Is there something that shouldn’t be here? Please leave a comment and let me know.

I purposely did not add 500 things (exaggeration) like the Book of Discipline because I believe each network would have its own context that might influence and determine much of the other stuff.

To summarize biblically: I would envision an elder/clergy being much like Paul in the NT traveling to churches, establishing churches, and maintaining contact, but obviously on a more regular basis because of ease of travel/communication.