Saturday, October 22, 2011

Change the World - who me??

Mike Slaughter and Alan Hirsch - Change the World 2011

Just back from Ginghamsburg UMC's Change the World Conference.  It was a great event with inspiring speakers and breakout sessions.  There is SO much running through my head right now but there is one thought that struck me...Mike Slaughter said it a couple of times "I'm 60 years old, I'm almost dead!"  and while the comment always brought a laugh, there is power in those words.

I am, ummmm, 50.  I most likely have 25-35 more years ahead of me.  What am I going to do with the time that I have left?  

Am I going to look back at the past 25-35 years and lament my mis-steps, and yearn for my former adventures - so many of us live in the past and yet, that doesn't sound like what God wants for my life.

me - 25 years ago
Am I going to look ahead wondering what will be next - perhaps some day I will fall in love again, or maybe I will move to the mountains of North Carolina to a little cabin and read all night...will I ever learn to fly fish?

Or perhaps, just perhaps, I need to look at the time that I have left as a gift - and live with gratitude and in anticipation of being used by God in powerful and exciting ways.  I think it boils down to whether I am courageous enough to live life fully, with gusto...anticipating that there will be hills and valleys along the way (I already know this from experience) but also great blessings too!

If I start the day confident in God's abundant love for me then why not just dive in and be... just be who God created me to be.  Of course, I am still trying to figure that one out - one of the benefits of being so young is that I don't have to have all of the answers. I do need to be faithful and trust that love, the source of which is God's amazing abundant love, will win in the long run.

Bottom line - it's my only's what gets me out of bed in the's what fuels the fire and passion I have to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  
What is this Good News? Well, I think the Gospel of Luke Chapter 4 has a lot to say on this:

Jesus came to Nazareth where he had been reared. As he always did on the Sabbath, he went to the meeting place. When he stood up to read, he was handed the scroll of the prophet Isaiah. Unrolling the scroll, he found the place where it was written,

God's Spirit is on me;
he's chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
to announce, "This is God's year to act!"
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, "You've just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place."
       (The words of Jesus Luke 4:16-19 The Message translation)

Alan Hirsch was one of the keynote speakers at the Change the World conference.  I've been reading Hirsch for years and it was a thrill to hear him in person.  
He said that the one virtue that he sees lacking in church leaders is courage.  He reminded us that the fundamental job (and opportunity) of a leader is to exercise the power of the imaginative leap. To help people see the world like Jesus sees it - to open up new and exciting ways to approach each and every day and to set parameters by which people can dream dreams.  

That's what Jesus was saying in the gospel of Luke as he quoted the prophet Isaiah:

*The world does not have to be this way any longer!  
*There is no need for anyone to be without food, clean water, health care or safe shelter! 
*The blind can have their vision restored! (open your eyes to the possibilities, friends)
*People who are burdened and battered can be set free from the fears and addictions that imprison them!

As a person of faith and a leader in the United Methodist Church I believe we are called to make this come true each and every day of our lives...but I can't do it alone. That is why I am part of the Body of Christ - the Church - and together, using our God given gifts, we can do this.

The world is full of beautiful, beloved, broken people and as servants of our risen savior, we need to share the Good News - and release others for ministry and mission. We can make a difference!

How is God calling me, you, US to bring the Good News to our community? How can we lift each other up and partner together? How can we live out of our giftedness and be a blessing to others?

These are the questions I'm wrestling with this beautiful October day.

Peace, love, in Christ,


Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Looking into the future - a view from 1969

The Fort Dodge Messenger Farm Edition July 26, 1969

Shocking Forecasts:

Predicts no sermons in churches of the future

by George W. Cornell AP religion writer

NEW YORK (AP) - Out of the murkiness of the present commotion and changes in the churches, a Protestant scholar has taken a long look at the eventual results of it all - and he sees some shockers ahead.

Among them: The disappearance of sermons and Sunday morning church services; growing interest in Jesus and less in the mystery of God; broad church consolidations; multiple memberships by some believers in more than one church.

The Rev. Dr. Roland W Tapp of Philadelphia, a United Presbyterian specialist in religious education, says "part of the upheaval now going on in the churches is temporary, but much of it will have permanent effects."

Recently on a three month research assignment for analysis and planning, Dr Tapp said in an interview that indications are that the organizational structures of churches "are not going to make it" to the end of the century."

"The long-range prospects are good for essential Judeo-Christianity, but not for the institutions.," he said.

Dr Tapp, a one time missionary, California pastor and World War II bomber pilot, is a former professor of psychology and philosophy of religion at Kentucky's Center College and of Biblical languages at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

He offered his lively preview of the future church at a recent gathering of religious publishers.

Items on the forecast included:

- A re-enactment of the fundamentalist-liberal fight of 60 years ago...It already has resulted in a marked polarization of the church at all levels...the split may become irreparable.

-With Protestants and Roman Catholics "no longer in real dispute" over major doctrines, they wil move increasingly toward "merger at practical levels" - between fundamental Protestants and fundamental Catholics and between liberal Protestants and liberal Catholics.

- Most institutional members will be 45 years old, and up.  "There will be a steady decrease in total membership...fewer youths will join the church."

-On the other hand, there will be "increasing interest in religion and Christianity" among college students and young adults but "they will continue to avoid the institutional church."

-Christian teachers will see themselves "more as fellow-seekers" rather than "transmitters of heritage."  They "will be more interested in Jesus and less in God"  even though this seems a "flat contradiction in Biblical terms."

- The Consultation on Church Union will bring unification of major Protestant denominations among "great wailing and gnashing of teeth," but the new connective church "will be no more of a monolith than it is now."

-"Sermons are out.  And so is the Sunday morning worship service at 11 o'clock.  The death rattle will be long and loud and gruesome."

-The main theological shift will be away from doctrine of divine transcendence toward a "doctrine of panentheism," which holds that "God is in everything," in contrast from pantheism, which says "God is everything."

- Racial integration "will be a fact within the churches...It already is a workable everday truth at headquarters levels."

- Church property, valued today at over $80 billion, will go on tax rolls.  "In a pluralistic society with Christians rapidly becoming a minority, this kind of tax exempt welath simply cannot be tolerated.  It won't be."

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)