Sunday, October 9, 2011

All shook up!!

In my past life (before seminary and becoming a pastor) I watched movies for a living.  It was a tough job, but someone had to do it.  I was part of a team of folks who wrote and produced 15 and 30 second movie promos for TBS and later TNT.  My job was to convince you, the viewer, to set aside 1 1/2 to 2 hours of your life to watch a movie on my station.  It was a great job and Atlanta in the late 80's and into the 90's was a great place to be.

Back then we aired the classics: westerns, dramas, war movies, and an occasion horror flick too.  One month I was assigned to promote a week of Elvis movies...and later I had the opportunity to help produce our live coverage of the release of the Elvis stamp - LIVE from Graceland, which brings me to the title of this post.  Something's going on - it's like everything's All Shook Up!

Just about a year ago a steering committee appointed by the General Conference presented the Call to Action report to the United Methodist Council of Bishops.  They used outside research agencies to examine our organization and to identify markers of Vital congregations.  They then put together a series of proposals that if put into effect, will essentially re-order how we do things in the United Methodist Church.

I believe that these recommendations have been made with the very best of intentions after a great deal of prayer and deliberation.  Some of the recommendations are painful, some are down right scary.  They all will require thoughtful and courageous leadership to implement.  I believe that the people serving on the Steering committee, as well as the subsequent Interim Operations Team, are doing their best to advise and guide the United Methodist Church so as to continue to be a viable and vital Church well into the future.

What is interesting to observe are the responses to the reports over the past year.  AND, what is noticeably missing - response from the laity of the church.  Yes, friends, the lions share of the responses that I am reading on blogs, websites, twitter, facebook, etc are from clergy folk and much of it is centered around the use of various 'dashboards' to measure on a weekly or atleast more regular basis worship attendance, small group participation, outreach/missions work and benevolent contributions above and beyond apportionment giving.

the TBS crew circa 1988
Now, I hate counting things and paperwork as much as the next gal.  I admit that I am blessed at Trinity UMC with an administrative assistant who rocks and handles many of these sorts of details.  I know this may seem like one more hoop to jump through, but then, I think about my 20+ years in the TV industry when we poured over Nielsen ratings and marketing reports as soon as we could get our hands on them.

I fear that the ones rattling the cages the most are my brothers and sisters who have not experienced life outside of the church...(folk I affectionately call 'lifers').  There's nothing wrong with being a lifer, but friends, lifers, fellow clergy folk - get with the program.  We should all know that by and large our parishioners do this sort of thing all the time!  We've brought in tons of other ideas from the business world, (some good, some not so good) whats so wrong with counting heads and checking out how we're doing?  I seem to remember from my UM History class that John Wesley took his spiritual temperature every 15 minutes and journaled about it - yikes!  Now that's overkill!

Another complaint that I'm reading is that the 'higher ups' in the UMC have tried this sort of thing multiple times but to what success?  Well, again, lifers, the reality is that for this 'newer' clergy person this is the first time a plan has ever been given to me (and to many of my colleagues as well).  Perhaps using our previous life experiences we can help with the adjustments that need to be made - of course for this to happen we need to be invited to the table for these sorts of conversations - even tho some of us have not been ordained for that long.  It seems to me that Moses was a 2nd career kinda guy and look what God used him to do.  Perhaps this is why there was an uptick in the number of 2nd career folk called to ministry and who entered seminary about 10 years ago.  hmmmm who knows God's mysterious ways?

I know that the ultimate goal of the church is to fulfill the Great Commission found in Matthew 28; to make disciples of Jesus Christ throughout the world, preaching, teaching them all that Jesus taught his disciples and healing broken lives.  I know that the best way to do this is through faithful preaching and teaching and mission/outreach to the community at large.  I also know that disciple making is messy, challenging and done one person at a time.  It is a huge investment of time and energy to get to know one another as Jesus knew his disciples.

Our foundational way to do this in the United Methodist Church is by encouraging disciples in small groups, holding one another accountable in Christian love to: do no harm, do good and practice the means of grace (prayer, worship, bible study, holy conferencing, fasting, etc).  Please click here to see what the General Rules are all about.

So, here's an observation and a couple of questions (finally): I believe that anyone CAN be a disciple of Jesus Christ.  But, does everyone GET to be a disciple if they are not willing to invest the time to learn how use their God given giftedness to walk and live as Jesus has taught us?  To do good, avoid evil and attend to the means of grace?

And, if you aren't a disciple, does that mean that God loves you any less?  I don't think so.  I think it just means that in this season of life some folk have chosen different priorities...but that doesn't mean that they don't love their church or God. I also don't think it means that the person who can't dive in should be judged or treated any different than anyone else.  It just means that we are fragile human beings in need of grace.

As leaders in the church we need to be faithful to our call to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but we won't get anywhere using scare tactics.  We need to be dispensers of grace.  Grace says something like; 'let us walk alongside you during this challenging time in your life, we are here to love you and your family and to provide a safe place for you to grow in faith.'  I have found that when we approach someone in this manner we are in the best position to disciples them - funny how that works.

By the power of Holy Spirit we can lead our church into the future.  All of us (clergy and laity alike) are needed to build up the kingdom of God and share the Good News of Jesus Christ.  It's what Jesus calls us to do, its the covenant we entered into at baptism and regardless of dashboards or restructuring, it sure is a rewarding way to spend the time that we are blessed to have together.  In my humble opinion anyway.

To God be the glory!

in Christ, together,
(the 2nd career gal who really thinks lifers are aok)


  1. Excellent points, Deborah. Very strong post.

  2. From a semi-lifer... I've also had careers in teaching and non-profit leadership... very well put.

    In teaching, our "dashboard" was our class agenda book, in which we needed to keep track of how each of our teaching activities was fulfilling specific learning goals from the state curriculum standards for that course. This was much more detailed than the current dashboards, but it also wasn't public-- but then the Internet didn't exist back then!

    So yes-- the dashboards shouldn't be a major deal in terms of actual work.

    But what you've also pointed out here is that the work of discipling people isn't the same thing as a lot of what gets recorded in those dashboards. Spot on again.

    Thanks for your wisdom and for your willingness to share it openly!