UMC Thoughts: Authenticity and the Ordination Process

In the midst of the Chad Holtz controversy yesterday I had some great conversations and dialogue with friends. One thing that came up was the ability of a pastor to express thoughts/ideas that may disagree or wrestle with traditional thought.

One thing in particular struck me through the comment of a friend and colleague:

My next comment may sound jaded and/or cynical, but if this happened the way we are seeing it this is an example of why the guarranteed appointment should not be gotten rid of, and he made a mistake by posting it before he was ordained.

Now what I am about to write has nothing to do with the Chad Holtz situation, but it does have to do with the realities that came up in the above quote. Whether we like to recognize it or not, the United Methodist Church has to wrestle with the ordination process and authenticity. When I say this I mean that all parties involved in the ordination process including the candidate should be striving for authenticity.

I have heard more than once the statement, “I don’t want to say anything until I am ordained.” Or I have heard others tell candidates statements like: “Don’t rock the boat until you have passed ordination” or “Wait until you are ordained.” I am going to say this right now: I don’t think those statements or feelings are healthy for either the institution or the individual. To me it comes off as saying: “Do what you are told and what is expected of you even if you disagree” and to me that is not authenticity and it isn’t honesty and most of all it isn’t healthy for the church.

Here are some of my thoughts/reasons:

(1) It continues to keep the church from truly practicing “Christian conferencing” and a spirit of discernment. If the church isn’t capable of honestly and openly grappling with difference of opinion/thought then that is a problem. We must as a community of Christians be able to dialogue with one another as we seek to understand who God is calling us to be as individuals and an institution. If individuals are truly sharing their thoughts out of fear of repercussions then a voice is silent. As much as we as a denomination believe that the process isn’t about the “power over” we only hurt ourselves if we ignore the reality that it currently does play a part in the process (whether intended to or not).

(2) Candidates need to realize for their own good and for the good of the church they will be serving that they need to be open about who they are and what they believe. If you disagree with some aspect of United Methodist belief or the way something is done then you need to express it. Think about it this way: would you think it is okay to hide your true feelings from your fiancee until after you were married? I think most everyone would agree that this isn’t a good way to start out a marriage and yet so often this happens in the church and it ends up causing hurt for both parties.

(3) When someone says something like “don’t rock the boat” or “wait until you are ordained” it needs to be addressed. Period. If we want a healthy church where people can journey together to better understand who God is and how God has called us to be a people then we have to start practicing authentic dialogue and we need to speak out against these sentiments. Does this mean that some people might not get through the ordination process because their thoughts/beliefs didn’t align with the conferences? Yes and I would argue that is a good thing for the candidate and for the church because then they at least understand where one another are at that it wouldn’t be good for either party to enter into relationship with one another. It doesn’t mean that we won’t experience hurt, but at least we wouldn’t be living a lie and giving sin this ability to use “power over” in ways that it was never meant to be used.

I have to be honest, I am still fleshing this out but I wonder what others think about this and what experiences they have had. Am I off in my assessment? Is the process one that is authentic and open and I just don’t see it? What do you think?

Designed for Purpose

So last night I celebrated my birthday by having our weekly college meal at Buffalo Wild Wings. One of the students has a night class this semester and so I let her know that I would hang longer than my family if she wanted to come. Anyone who has little children knows that restaurants and children don’t always get along for longer periods and so my wife and boys left early. When I got home, I went into the living room and was asked by my wife why she couldn’t get her computer to stream into our television.

For those of you who may not know Apple computers that well, when Apple changes design and models they have had the habit of changing the connection ports and functionality. My wife’s computer uses a mini-dvi port for video while my computer uses a miniDisplay port for video. The adapter my wife was trying to use for her computer was my miniDisplay port connector and she had put it into her firewire port where it “fit” but didn’t function. Something else happened too…my connector which was designed for connecting to a miniDisplay port somehow got damaged when she connected it to the firewire port and so now it doesn’t function with my computer anymore. Instead of giving me the image of my desktop, it now gives me static and then a blank screen.

My wife feels horrible, but really it isn’t that big of a deal. Accidents happen and now she has learned a bit more about computers and ports and connectors. However, as I was reflecting on this experience, I couldn’t help but think about church life, people, jobs, and gifts.

1 Corinthians 12:14-18 states:

I want you to think about how all this makes you more significant, not less. A body isn’t just a single part blown up into something huge. It’s all the different-but-similar parts arranged and functioning together. If Foot said, “I’m not elegant like Hand, embellished with rings; I guess I don’t belong to this body,” would that make it so? If Ear said, “I’m not beautiful like Eye, limpid and expressive; I don’t deserve a place on the head,” would you want to remove it from the body? If the body was all eye, how could it hear? If all ear, how could it smell? As it is, we see that God has carefully placed each part of the body right where he wanted it. (The Message)

The larger statement that Paul is saying in 1 Corinthians 12 is that the community of believers all have gifts given to them by the Spirit which are meant to function as a part of the body and he is trying to emphasize that each part is important. With that he is also saying that each part has a function and if it were to be the only thing we emphasized the body wouldn’t function like it is supposed to. (well that is my short hand summary)

I think this also has an important connection to what Paul says in Ephesians 4:11-13 when he writes:

So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. (New International Version)

Each one of us has been given a gift with a specific purpose to help the Body of Christ be what it is designed by God to be. But I often wonder if we actually function this way or if Paul’s words to the churches in Corinth and Ephesus still need to be heard by us today.

Think about it. How often does my wife’s situation and misuse of a connector happen in our churches with leaders and their place in the church? How often do we see a need for something (say sunday school teachers, committee members, lay leaders) and we just try to find someone who is willing? They may be willing and so it looks like it fits. By all appearances it looks like it will work, but then it doesn’t. It may not be obvious (like it was when my wife was getting a blue screen) but it ends up with either no one being taught, nothing getting done, or just plain frustration by the individual and those they are in service to or with.

We have a connection problem and I wonder if that is because we aren’t taking serious the discernment of each individuals gifts and seeing how they can serve the church. Instead we see a need and so we try to find someone willing to serve that need or in that capacity. What troubles me is that I think this can cause damage to the individual just like my connector was damaged and no longer functions. The individual who had a desire to serve wasn’t aligned with their God-given design and gets frustrated and beaten down inside and damaged and so they don’t want to serve anymore. I fear too that after an experience like that even if we put them in a capacity to use their God-given design, they no longer function because of the damage.

I have heard more times than I would like people who have left churches because of damage. After having conversations with them it was easy to see that they didn’t leave because of maliciousness. Rather many times it is because they had a bad experience of serving and it just not fitting. They either were worn out or damaged from the experience and felt they needed a fresh start. They were like my damaged connector: someone tried to put them in a port they weren’t designed for.

This is a challenge for the church and hard work. It takes time to discern our God-given gifts and it is even harder to align a church around God-given gifts. It is easier to say who we want to be and then get/ask people to fit that desire. Is this what might be plaguing the vitality of churches? Have we been trying to put the wrong connectors in ports they weren’t designed for? Are we too often emphasizing one thing and through our desires making the head nothing more than a huge eyeball that is gaudy and ugly to anyone that looks at it from the outside?

Dealing with people is not as easy as dealing with technology. I can just go down to Best Buy this weekend and get a new connector for $20 and everything will go back to normal. With people we cause damage and we can’t just keep going through connectors and trying until it functions. If we do this we damage the people and possibly cause them to not be able to function in their God-designed way. Are we willing to take seriously Paul’s words and begin to discern and align the Body of Christ in each context so that we are fulfilling our designed purpose?