Shane Raynor


Authenticity and Transparency: The UMC and Chad Holtz


Yesterday on Twitter I posted a link to reflections from a pastor in NC, Chad Holtz, about authenticity or “truth telling” and the implications it may have on your employment as a pastor. At that time Chad’s situation was an emerging story and today it has been picked up by national news outlets like MSNBC. (I wonder if Harper Collins is pleased with the extra publicity this is giving Rob Bell’s new book Love Wins because the story is connected to the controversy that was stirred over the book)

It is a sad story based on what we know at the current time (which is only Chad Holtz’ account of the situation). A pastor displays authenticity and questioning as he journeys through faith and leadership in the church and it ends up costing him his leadership position. The story as it is told now is one where authenticity is punished and a leader is forced to decide between telling people what they want to hear or sharing how they are understanding the Gospel’s interaction with beliefs of faith.

But here is the problem: we only know one side of the story.  We don’t have both accounts. We know why Chad believes he was dismissed from his position (which he believes stems from a series of blog posts and Facebook notes on controversial subjects), but we don’t know the church’s side or more importantly the side of denominational leadership of the UMC in the North Carolina Conference. I am not saying that Chad’s account is wrong (in fact that is probably how he understands it) but we just don’t know. We are told that Gray Southern, the District Superintendent of the area where Holtz was serving, says there is more to the situation but he won’t go into detail and is quoted as saying, “That’s between the church and him.”

This is where I have to say I fully disagree with Gray Southern: this story is no longer “between the church and him.” (one could argue it never was just “between the church and him” since we have the episcopal structure it would be more aptly described as “between the conference, church, and him”) The story now is between the church, Chad Holtz, the North Carolina Conference, The United Methodist Church, and a much wider body even outside the church now that it has hit the national stage.

Shane Raynor beat me to the punch on this, and he said exactly what I was thinking as I was reflecting on this situation:

According to wire reports, Gray Southern, the superintendent of Chad’s district in North Carolina said that there was more to Holtz’s dismissal than his posts on hell, and was quoted, “That’s between the church and him.” Fair enough, but we’re a connectional denomination, so Mr. Southern should explain these reasons to a UM news outlet, perhaps the UM Reporter or UMNS. I really want to know. If we’re suddenly dismissing pastors for controversial views, I know some who are ten times the heretic Chad Holtz is accused of being.

There are reasons for transparency because of our connection just as Shane states. Our polity doesn’t just allow a church to say “see you” and you are gone so transparency from all sides is important for the wider body of The United Methodist Church as it relates to pastoral appointments and employment. However, I don’t think that is the most important reason for transparency. A huge audience of people are reading this story and they are judging the church based on a one-sided story and that damages the church and the mission of the church. I am pretty sure some of my friends who are outside the church would be very hesitant to ever want to be a part of a church after reading a story like this. It is important for the conference and church leadership to share their account of the story. Right now it is very easy to interpret the silence as complicity.

Perhaps this is why so often I am troubled by the ways in which we sometimes deal with things within the church. We don’t value transparency (sometimes out of fear of litigation and sometimes out of good intentions of protecting all parties) and we allow the situation to remain in the darkness. I truly believe that as long as things are kept in the darkness and not brought out into the light the powers of sin are allowed to gain traction. That is why I believe transparency is key: it brings the situation out into the light and in that action God’s grace is allowed to move and the power of sin is minimized.

I am thankful for Chad and his authenticity and I pray that in this broken situation all sides may learn and grow through the power of God’s grace.

***More Information Posted Today 3/25***

So I am thankful that the UMC and the North Carolina Conference have given us a more in-depth look at the situation that transpired.  Here are the links:  UMC Story and North Carolina Conference Press Release

Well the situation has come out of the darkness and I am thankful for that. We could analyze the situation in more depth by looking at how it was handled both by Chad and the North Carolina Conference now that we know more, but I think we all can realize that these are learning situations. My hope is that this instance can serve as a notice to all of the United Methodist Connection on just how quickly things can move to a national spotlight and how important it is to have a quick response. In our world of quick snapshots and quick judgment this will become even more important.

I am thankful that we now know some more of this situation and I will continue to pray that through this situation Chad, the local church, and the North Carolina Conference will all experience God’s grace and growth in that grace.

***Further Update***

Go and check out Chad’s reflection here.

Shane Raynor, The Gospel of Luke, and Me: What is really inside those doors?

This morning I was catching up on my twitter feed after walking Micah to school and happened upon a link to this article by Shane Raynor on his blog “The Wesley Report.” (Side Note about “The Wesley Report.” While I miss the daily links to Methodist blogs around the web that Shane used to do, I really like him sharing his voice on subjects–plus I know the work of doing all those links had to be consuming) To sum it up, Shane writes briefly about why he is supportive of new church starts.

One particular paragraph Shane wrote stuck out:

Established churches are often full of history, entrenched families, power struggles and politics, especially smaller churches. Even congregations that express a desire to grow sometimes aren’t willing to make the sacrifices to do it, especially when those sacrifices involve giving up personal sacred cows. Pastors who try to grow churches that have “old-school” mindsets will usually spend most of their energy trying to convince the congregation to grow rather than actually making it grow. That’s why more than a few of our “churches” are really chapels, and the sad reality is, many of these churches will never be more than what they are now.

I think Raynor is right in his assessment and it is a subject I have been struggling with internally since I entered appointed ministry in the summer of 2007.

Of course, God works in mysterious ways, and this morning I happened to be reading Luke 4-6 for a bible study I am doing with a pastor friend of mine from here in Winona. I had The Message translation on hand and started to read and came to Luke 5:36-39:

“No one cuts up a fine silk scarf to patch old work clothes; you want fabrics that match. And you don’t put wine in old, cracked bottles; you get strong, clean bottles for your fresh vintage wine. And no one who has ever tasted fine aged wine prefers unaged wine.”

I have heard this passage hundreds of times and read it hundreds of time, but this morning it took on new meaning for me. The quotes from Jesus come in response to those at Simon’s house who are asking why he is always spending his time at “parties” (Peterson’s translation) instead of being like John’s disciples and the Pharisees who were known for “keeping fasts and saying prayers.” Contextually, I think we could easily translate this into those at Simon’s house asking, “Jesus, why are you always hanging out at bars, restaurants, and coffee shops? Why aren’t you in the church like all those other pastors?”

That brings me to the way God spoke to my heart in terms of this subject. What if a big issue facing the church is that we are trying to renew from the inside instead of renew from the outside? Let me explain. God, in the person of Jesus of Nazareth, brought about renewal by looking outside the normal paradigm of the Judaism system. God didn’t do it through the Pharisees or Sadducees, he did it through fisherman, tax collectors, etc. The lives of these ordinary individuals outside the religious system brought about a movement that changed the landscape eventually. I couldn’t help but be struck by the fact that what Jesus is saying about the fabrics and wine containers points to this reality. (Does this mean that to push the analogy if God had used the system we would have ended up with a blown up system and the movement dead like standing around with some broken wine skin and our wine absorbed into the dirt below never to be enjoyed?)

This brings about a string of questions that are running through my head…

Are we trying to patch up our old work clothes (churches in the current system) with fine silk (clergy being trained in the missional renewal mindset)? How is it working? Are churches being renewed (is the fabric holding) or is the patch being ripped off the old clothes (either the clergy adapting to the systems desires or leaving the system)?

Does the narrative within the Gospel of Luke challenge us to think about how we are spending our resources? Seriously, think about this: How much money of ours is used to “maintain” and how much is used to “advance the Gospel” in tangible ways that show fruit?

Are the new church starts and our growing faith communities in places outside the United States within Methodism the hope for renewal as they draw new people into transformed lives that witness to those within the current system?

Could renewal come from within churches by using a “church within a church” model that allowed missional renewal to occur? Is this possible since it still seems one has to overcome the “chapel” mentality of the current church it would be within?

Just thoughts and questions running through my head on this day….

Coming Tomorrow: A Vision of Intentional Renewal Strategy