hope

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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from God, that has been affirmed by the UMC but ultimately if at any point in my ministry that affirmation is deemed no longer valid I have trust that God is still with me on the journey.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?

hope-change

Real Hope and Change?

So I was driving home from a campus ministry meeting yesterday when I passed a billboard that caught my eye. Perhaps you have seen the same billboard, but it is the following:

It is obviously a dig at President Obama and the campaign of “hope” and “change” and I get it. I don’t necessarily agree with it, but I am not even wanting to go into the political landscape right now. Rather, what it reminded me of was something I had written back around the election time and how as Christians we should not be buying into the rhetoric that made Obama out to be a savior because it wasn’t fair to Obama and it wasn’t aligned with a Christian understanding of “hope” and “change.”

This got me thinking further about how as Christians we should be talking about what we understanding to be the “real” hope and change. The hope that comes from the resurrection. The change that comes from grace and the transformation from a life of slavery to sin to freedom in Christ. What a powerful time to speak the truth of the Gospel! We are in a tough time of political rhetoric that points to many of our hopes being pinned on worldly institutions and ways of being. Now I am not saying that these aren’t things that should be addressed, they should. However, as Christians our hope doesn’t come from any political party or any “rights.” Our hope and freedom comes from Christ.

I find that my acknowledging that fact and living into that reality is empowering. Why? Because it helps me understand that no matter what situation I am in, I am free to be who God has called me to be. That doesn’t mean I will be free from pain, hardship, or even death, but it does mean that those things do not control me. Even if the United States of America for some reason decided to make it law that reading Scripture was illegal, that would not take away my true freedom. I would be free to worship God and read Scripture (there would be a temporal cost) and that right to choose to obey or disobey the powers that be would still be my free choice.

To me that is real “hope” and “change.” The reality that no matter what this world may say, I am free in Christ and have the freedom to choose Christ.

Stains

So I was at a gathering of the Minnesota senior high youth this past weekend which is called UMYS. I have been to this gathering as a youth, as an adult chaperone, as a youth director, as a pastor, and now as an associate pastor.

This weekend was filled with great conversation, a great speaker (our bishop), great music (Boiling Point), and a great group that went from our church. There are many things I could write about from the weekend, but one has been mulling through my head today as I sat at home with my oldest son Micah who was sick. The closing worship on Sunday morning involved a “testimony” from one of the members of the design team who is a senior in high school (well actually she just graduated early which is an amazing accomplishment).

I admired this girl who shared her story. It took guts because her story was filled with hurt, pain, and brokenness. She had experienced abandon from a father (something I can identify with), sexual abuse from a family friend, and a battle with drug abuse. It took guts for her to stand in front of a room composed of mainly strangers and share her story and she ended her story with a quote from scripture she plans on having tattooed on her wrist and a scripture that the Bishop had quoted earlier in one of her messages. The passage was from Romans 12:21:

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. (NIV)

It is a powerful passage. This girl’s story was one that communicated how she was trying to overcome the evil she had experienced by trying to do good. This got me thinking. My life too has been marked by pain, loss, and brokenness. I have experienced abandonment by a father, emotional abuse by a step-father, my own battle with addiction, etc. Both this girl and my stories have been marked by the stain of sin. Some of the stains are of our own doing and some of the stains are there because of what others did but either way there are stains. In fact all of us have lives marked by stains.

Well the office administrator of our church sent me an email this morning of some pictures someone had taken of some of the stained glass in our church. I am not a huge fan of stained glass, but I cannot deny the beauty of the stained glass. Well the email got me thinking about how the “stains” in our lives, whether of our own doing or not, can be transformed and used by God in beautiful ways that make them brilliant just like stained glass windows. Our lives filled with stains can be transformed in such a way that people can look and see such amazing beauty through those stains. That is what I was able to see in this young woman’s story…I saw beauty of transformation. She was a living stained glass window. She is truly trying to overcome evil with good and in the process she is allowing God to transform her into an amazing beautiful story.

I think that is something we could all learn from. We can let the “stains” of our lives (those things of evil) overcome us and we can get stuck or we can allow God to transform those stains into something beautiful as we try to overcome evil with good. We all have a chance to become living “stained glass windows.”

The Power of Positive Thinking

Okay, so I don’t really buy into that whole “If you think positive, positive things will start happening to you….” stuff. Really, I don’t. However, I have realized in my short 3.5 years of ministry that communicating positive things is essential.

Now, that comes easy for some people. You know…those people who always have a “pep in their step” and even on a stormy, cloudy, and gloomy day can still list off what is great about the day. Those people who can frame any situation with positivity (sometimes it can get sickening). Well, yeah one of those people I am not. I think I have figured out why I am not that way and I trace it roots to my early childhood and the desire to be the best so my father would want to have something to do with me. (hey I was 7 years old….) I became a perfectionist (my mother would say that I was this way well before 7 and that I cried when I got a bad grade in preschool..yep we got letter grades at Green Pastures school). As a perfectionist I was never satisfied and I always looked at a situation and tried to figure out what I could do better. This continued on as I grew older and it would drive me crazy whenever there was that little dash behind the A on my report card.

Now if only that would have stayed within the framework of school, but it didn’t. I constantly evaluate myself and the situations I find myself in and try to think of how I could have done better or how “we” could do better. Any success is taken for granted because that is the way it should be. What this leads to is a lack of celebrating the accomplishments and seeing the good changes that our happening.

I witnessed this first hand in my first pastoral appointment. I came it with that mindset and was always looking at what we could do better. I failed to celebrate the things that we were doing well and I failed to witness to the ways that God was moving in great ways within peoples’ lives and the life of the church. Shockingly (okay it was a shock to me at the time) this didn’t work to motivate people. It depressed people and cultivated a sense of hopelessness and negativity. After I knew I was going to be moving to another appointment I discovered the important lesson of celebrating the victories and I quickly saw the attitude of the church change. It wasn’t like the situation changed, but attitudes began to change and hope began to spring. New ideas came forth and new people found their voices, etc. We began to tell a different story. (all a little too late…..lesson learned)

Well, here I sit a year and a half into my second appointment and again I see how my “perfectionist” ways color my perception of the context. I look around and quickly come to conclusions of what we can do better, but because I learned a bit I am also trying to celebrate the “victories.” This is hard work for me. It is hard for me to celebrate, because there is always a longing for more and a knowledge that we can be so much more. But if I don’t celebrate, the culture can’t change. So I have tried to share the stories of movements within the life of the church. Two young boys in elementary school who both took from their own money to help build wells in Liberia through our Advent Conspiracy participation. A family who funded an entire well by their single contribution. A homeless man getting his truck fixed through our benevolence fund which allowed him to get a job that requires reliable transportation. Individuals longing for deeper connection with one another and God who are starting to meet in a home weekly. I could go on with a few more.

The stories are there, but how often are we sharing them? Two weeks ago after a council meeting where we discussed the budget and all the joys that come with that (sarcasm intended), I wrote four questions on the board in my office. The third question I wrote has been continually running through my mind:

How do we create a culture of hope, possibilities, and encouragement instead of a culture of hopelessness, limitations, and discouragement?

Our story has been dominated by who we should be and who we are becoming as two congregations recently merged and moving towards re-birth. But I am afraid we are forgetting to share the great things that God is doing and has given us which point to the hope and possibility that comes through God. We see “financial drain” of buildings. We see a lack of younger adults. We see that we aren’t the church we once were. We see the reality that our finances just don’t match up.

I have to catch myself sometimes (and most of the times I fail) as I add to this culture. I am really trying to help be a catalyst for change and I think the biggest way this is going to happen is by sharing the amazing stories that have happened and are happening. Some positive thinking could really help us open our eyes and ears to see just how God is calling us in our re-birth efforts.

Maybe I need to find some old Stuart Smalley video clips to help me get positive and help change the culture. A little affirmation could go along way….