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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#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.

Why Every Pastor Should Have To Play Risk.

My posts have been sparse because of family obligations and work demands as Central UMC is working with McKinley UMC on cooperative ministry plans and what that might mean for the future of the two churches in ministry, identity, and well everything.

Having just started this process of discussing merger possibilities, cooperative parish models, and everything but doing the “same old thing,” I have been reading many leadership books and doing a whole lot of reflection. As I look at the road ahead I am fully aware of the vast amounts of work both physical and mental this is going to put on the pastors of the churches and on the people of the churches. It will take lots of planning and strategy to move into a new culture of being.

That is where I believe every pastor should have to play Risk and learn the nuances of strategy and negotiation. For those who might not know what Risk is it is a board game in which the goal is world domination. All of the players are given territories on continents that they own but then could lose in battle, etc. Each turn you get more military based on the amount of territories you own with bonuses coming from owning entire continents. The game goes on until one player has conquered and owns every territory on the board.

So why do I believe it is important that every pastor should have to play Risk?

1. You have to be strategic. You need to look at the territories you own and see where you strengths and weaknesses are and then you have to plan on how you will fortify and then advance your domain.

Many of the same principles apply to the role of pastor. You have to be able to look at the big picture and see where the strengths and weaknesses of the congregation are and then you have to figure out how to address those to best go out in mission to the community around. However, as a pastor your goal is not to “force” takeover of people’s lives but the goal is to spread the Good News of Jesus Christ and to help Christ transform lives. To do that just like in Risk you have to be able to see the map of your community and the needs/opportunities. In Risk you might really want to take-over Europe, but realistically Europe is a hard continent to hold and you strategically could should yourself in the foot. It is the same in our communities. We have to look really hard at the entire picture and see the opportunities in need and really assess our strengths and how we can use those to fulfill the needs. If we spread our gifts/strengths into a place that really isn’t a strong need well then we have just spread ourselves thing and expended time and energy into something that in the game of Risk would have caused us to lose.

2. You have to relate well to others and do some relationship building.

To be successful in Risk you have to be able to work with another person and develop a treaty/truce in order to position yourself better in the game. You have to gain their trust and show them how the move benefits them too. It is the same for pastors in the church. Really to be successful in transforming lives we have to be skillful and building relationships and showing our congregations and also those in the community how what God is offering is beneficial to their lives. This doesn’t “just happen” people have to gain our trust and trust is almost always built through relationship. If I don’t know a new player in Risk I am very hesitant to do a treaty because I don’t know if I can trust them, in the same way we could be offering something of great value to the community but if they don’t know us then they are more than likely going to be hesitant to trust us too (both pastorally and as a congregation/community of disciples). I have to admit this is something that I am still developing as a pastoral leader. The introvert in me moves slowly in building relationships and some of my personality can be misinterpreted. However, I recognize it and am working on it because I know it is vital.

3. You have to be willing to change directions/strategies quickly

In Risk you can just look at the board at first and then say this is my strategy and plan of attack and then go forward at all costs. If you do you will lose. The landscape of the board quickly changes and what at first might have looked like a good plan (and probably was) no longer is a good plan at all. This can even happen in the middle of a turn. You might be attacking South Africa but the battle thinned out your armies and you quickly have to think about how that changes your plan of attack. You might have gone into a turn expecting to take over Africa but the battle didn’t go as planned and now you have to look at the reality mid-turn and readjust your strategy if you are going to continue to be successful.

It is the same way in ministry. Pastors may enter a congregation, take stock and realize the strategy for helping the church grow in Christ, but if a pastor goes forth at all cost more than likely that could backfire. Why? Because the landscapes of churches, communities, and people are always changing. Life is always causing things to change and that means what might have been a good plan 6 months ago may no longer be applicable or best for the situation and to proceed would lead to failure for true growth in Christ. Pastors must always be evaluating the situation/ministries/vision/plans and looking at the current context and taking stock. Prayer is the central practice that pastors should use in taking stock of the changing landscape and needs and we must be willing to realize that what might have been great at the onset no longer applies and be willing to change strategies or directions.

4. You have to be patient, but not too patient.

In the game of Risk you have to be patient and build up your forces while fortifying your territories. If you move to quickly then you just decimate your armies and open yourself up to defeat. However, if you do nothing more than wait and fortify your territories you get stuck and while you might last longer in the game, really you aren’t going to win because eventually the other players left will have larger armies and be able to quickly build them to destroy your well built up fortress. You have to balance aggression and conservation.

Pastorally, the same principle applies. (Trust me I know because well, I am impatient) If a pastor goes into a situation and tries to implement too many changes too quickly (even if they are needed and in the long run would help the vitality of the congregation) disaster will ensue. People may not be ready, etc. However, if you just sit back and wait and don’t implement any changes and try to build up the total solid foundation where you then think you can start to implement changes, well guess what the time will have passed. As a Pastor one has to be skillful at discerning the situation and really understanding how much a congregation can handle in change, but the fact is change does need to occur. Churches aren’t going to just change themselves it takes and outside influence to change. (I mean seriously if I could eat fatty cheeseburgers and pizza my entire life I would, but an outside influence of a doctor telling me that my arteries are full and blocked will force me to re-evaluate the inner reality and what needs to be changed) Risk helps build those skills of being aware of how quickly one can move and how sometime one has to hold back. To be honest, this is something I am still developing also. I am impatient and I am learning to develop patience through prayer and guidance from God.


The list continues and I might come back and write some more later. Really playing a game like Risk helps develop skills and ways of being that easily translate into the vocation of pastor and that is why I think every pastor should play Risk.

Now as a disclaimer, I sometimes throw caution to the wind in Risk and because of situations I get bitter/mad/angry and go kamikaze on friends just to make sure they don’t win the game if I am not going to. It isn’t good sportsmanship and it is horrible gameplay, but that is me being honest. That way of playing Risk would be a horrible translation into the life of pastor and leading a church. Could you imagine kamikaze pastor’s who approached leadership that way and said if I am not going to have success in ministry well then none of you are and devoted all their energy to making sure that another didn’t have success. That would be horrible. So my dear friend, Joe (who will read this) I apologize for my kamikaze missions against you and I vow to never again do that when we play Risk.