Church in Need of Bold Action Chooses No Action!

General Conference 2012 of The United Methodist Church began last Tuesday and ends next Friday. As I understand it, during the first week, individual committees prepare petitions for action on the main floor of the general conference.

I have been following events from a distance via the internet, including Twitter, which, at times, offers play-by-play action as delegates and visitors tweet what’s happening in their respective committees.

One of the big items for consideration was the Call to Action. However, the General Administration committee responsible for dealing with this piece of legislation set it aside early on to consider a safer alternative (Plan B, and then MFSA). You can read a more detailed account of events in the The United Methodist Reporter’s article, Panel fails, in overtime, to recommend restructuring plan.

First, the Call to Action may not have been perfect (the presenters even said so but challenged General Conference to “perfect it”). But at least it was bold. The United Methodist Church, in need of bold action, chose this week, through one of the General Conference legislative committees, to take no action!

What I read last night, as events were transpiring, was very disheartening. It was disheartening because General Conference had an opportunity to do something bold, and the bold plan never even made it to the main floor. That’s a bad sign for the future of the denomination, which has long been in decline in the U.S. and Europe.

Now, fortunately, I am an eternal optimist, and while the general conference’s inaction is disheartening for me, I am not disheartened. My hope is in God. Thankfully, the renewal and transformation of my local church does not depend on the actions of General Conference!

I also have been encouraged by comments and tweets by other leaders in the Methodist movement, such as the following …

Bishop Willimon, via WillimonTweets, a Twitter account tweets things he says, stated …

While I’m disappointed that the bishops’ proposals for greater coherence and accountability for the boards and agencies appears to be being replace by Plan B, I’m not surprised. It’s very difficult to turn around a church in precipitous decline. People are fearful of change. However, I want to reassure those who are concerned about our church that most of us change oriented bishops will not stop working for a more faithful, vibrant church! (Tweets one, two, three, and four)

At gc2012conversations.com, Willimon was quoted …

It’s been clear that there was a move to oppose the CTA [Call to Action] plan for a while. It’s been interesting to see some pretty diverse groups work together on this out of spite for the Council of Bishops.

The article states Willimon believes the “‘wrong folks’ are voting at General Conference.” According to Willimon, “Most of the people here, including myself, were put here by the existing system. You can’t imagine that those folks are going to vote against the system that brought them here.”

Thankfully, though, Bishop Willimon asserts, “Those of us who are working to bring about reform will not be slowed down nor will we stop.”

I have also appreciated comments by Bishop Mike Coyner, who tweeted this morning

no plan for restructure passed because of denial about current reality, fear of change, and self-interest of too many UMC employees

I’ve always appreciated Bishop Scott Jones’ writings. Recently, he tweeted

I must remember–The Holy Spirit is here and working. some progress … Not enough, but all who heard Adam will live differently.

Adam Hamilton was the key presenter of the Call to Action.

In his post, How Much Change?, Bishop Jones writes …

I tweeted yesterday that all who heard Adam Hamilton’s presentation Wednesday will go home changed. Even those who disagree have now seen the choices before us. We may choose the lesser change by adopting Plan B. That, despite my misgivings, is a step forward. But more change will be coming in the future.

Sadly, however, outside of a major last-minute miracle, there will no step forward at this general conference (for restructuring), as the committee axed the alternative plans as well.

Finally, I also found the thoughts of Rev. Tom Berlin, whom we met at an event in 2010, in a blog post have resonated with me, as well.

This General Conference is interesting to me, not only because it’s my “tribe,” but also because it’s a case study in leadership and transformation as an organization seeks to regain organizational vitality. It’s no easy task!

Edited to say that three days after this post, General Conference approved “Plan UMC,” a compromise plan for restructuring. While not as bold as the Call to Action, it appears to be a significant step in the right direction!

Edited (again) to say that three days after approving Plan UMC, the church’s top court, the Judicial Council, ruled the restructuring legislation unconstitutional. During the conference’s closing hours, general conference took action to dramatically shrink agency boards. This addresses the problem of large board, but doesn’t address the real problem of focus and alignment!

Employed for Thee or Laid Aside for Thee

General Conference 2012 of The United Methodist Church (UMC) started Tuesday and will continue for ten days. This afternoon, while reflecting on some of the conference that I’ve followed online, I thought about a line from John Wesley’s Covenant Prayer

Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee

The covenant prayer is hard to pray, and this line doesn’t make it any easier. It invites God to use us however God chooses, and for as long as we’re useful. We place ourselves at God’s service and at God’s mercy.

It’s also about staying out of God’s way. Through it, we say, “God, use me in the work of your kingdom, but if I get in your way, lay me aside; I don’t want to hinder your work in the world!”

This prayer challenges me to seek to remain useful to God. While I acknowledge that God can lay me aside, if necessary, the truth is, I don’t want to reach the point where God would choose to lay me aside.

It’s a challenge to the denomination, as well. I pray the UMC remains useful to God, and becomes even more useful in the days ahead.

I want to be useful to God and useful for God’s kingdom. I also want the UMC to be useful to God!

Episcopal Address: Resurrection Revolution

General Conference 2012, a gathering of nearly-1,000 delegates from around the world, which meets every four years, began yesterday in Tampa, Florida.

This morning, Bishop Peter Weaver delivered the Episcopal Address on behalf of the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church. You can listen to the audio recording of the address here, or you can watch the video of the entire morning worship service here (the message begins at the 21-minute mark).

I watched the video and took some notes, some of which I’ll share in this post. Bishop Weaver talked about “Resurrection Revolution.”

Discussing the story of Christ’s resurrection, Bishop Weaver noted …

Go make disciples of all nations, baptizing, teaching. And by the way, I will be with you. And the followers of Jesus don’t even wait to form a committee. They go. It’s Eastertide. And we are still in the resurrection revolution, called to go to new places.

According to Bishop Weaver, the resurrection gives the United Methodist Church hope. Weaver states …

If God can bring to life the crucified Christ, surely God can bring to life a calcified church. Resurrection defines who we are; it’s our identity. We are new creatures in Christ, a resurrection people, disciple followers of Jesus, the Risen One.

Bishop Weaver talked about “who we are” as United Methodists. He also talked about our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world …

It is the bottom line and top priority of our resurrection revolution mission. … Our mission is the out working of resurrection … letting that good news flow through us to others. … It is about a heart warmed and a world transformed.

That last line is one that will stick with me. “It is about a heart warmed and a world transformed.”

Bishop Weaver reminded general conference that it is about mission, not survival.

Now please take note, that this mission—what we do—does not come from a fearful desperation for members to share in our work of saving the church. No, it rather comes from God’s faithful invitation for more disciples to share in God’s work of saving the world. … But frankly, it is not the decline in membership in some parts of our church that is most disturbing. Rather, it is the decline in deep discipleship, discipleship that dares—no delights—in sharing Christ with others and living the radical, Christ-like life that draws others to Jesus so that they too become followers—disciples—engaged with God in transforming the world.

Bishop Weaver completed his statements about the condition of the church with this …

The sad reality is that too many of our congregations are confused about who they are and what they are to do. Too many have swapped the let’s go of the Great Commission for the status quo of no mission.

At the end of Bishop Weaver’s address, he turned his attention to general conference. He encouraged them to ask, “How will this piece of legislation enable us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?” Bishop Weaver added, “None of this is for the sake of the preservation of our institution. But all of it is for the sake of the salvation of the world.”

I love Bishop Weaver’s question, “Can we focus the Discipline on discipling?” Referring to the 1912 Discipline, he noted their attitude that mission shaped the Discipline.

Now, there’s a challenge for us: Reduce the Discipline to this size [holding a copy of a small 1912 Discipline] while expanding its focus on discipling. Is it possible for the Discipline to be a tool for liberating the vast Eastertide flow that is bubbling throughout the United Methodist movement rather than using it as a tool for regulating a vast institutional structure that in some places is almost dead in the water. Could it happen at this General Conference?

Bishop Weaver encouraged delegates near the end of his message …

This is a time, not for timid tinkering, but for bold believing and fruitful following of the living Christ!

I thought it was a great message. If you watched/listened to the episcopal address, please share your thoughts in the comments below. You can follow events of the 10-day conference at gc2012.umc.org.

“The Circle Maker” 4.0

I recently finished reading a great book on prayer called The Circle Maker, by Mark Batterson. I’ve written some posts on the book already (and plan one final post with some specific takeaways); see “The Circle Maker” 1.0, “The Circle Maker” 2.0, and “The Circle Maker” 3.0.

Here are some of my favorite highlights from the last few chapters of the book. These quotes uplift the importance of praying long and hard …

You can climb the highest mountain if you simply put one foot in front of the other and refuse to stop until you reach the top. (160)

This is one of the statements from the book I particularly remember …

Maybe we need to change our prayer approach from as soon as possible to as long as it takes. (161)

Every prayer is a time capsule. You never know when or where or how God will answer it, but he will answer it. There is no expiration date, and there are no exceptions. God answers prayer. Period. We don’t always see it or understand it, but God always answers. (169)

When you dream big, pray hard, and think long, there is nothing God cannot do. (176)

Good reminders.

One last encouraging statement …

You can’t fell a fifty-foot wall, but you can march around Jericho. You can’t shut the mouths of lions, but you can stop, drop, and pray. You can’t make it rain, but you can draw a circle in the sand. Don’t let what you cannot do keep you from doing what you can. Draw the circle. (176)

If you’ve read the book or found these quotes inspiring, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!

“Why Jesus?”

I finally got around to reading Why Jesus? by Bishop William Willimon.

I’ve had it for a while, but my excuse to read the book was using it as a resource for my sermon series during Lent.

I always enjoy Bishop Willimon’s writings. I read Pastor for a Theology of Ministry class at Asbury (interestingly, Willimon was elected bishop the week we were at Asbury for this class, in 2004). I really enjoyed This We Believe, which I wrote about before. Bishop Willimon also blogs (Peculiar Prophet).

I’m looking forward to Bishop’s Retreat next January in Lancaster, PA, where Bishop Willimon will be the guest speaker!

Here are some of my favorite highlights from a few chapters in the book …

My favorite chapter was the opening chapter on Jesus as Vagabond. Willimon notes, “Most people met Jesus on the road” (1).

All the gospels present Jesus on a continual road trip—God in motion urgently making a way to us in defeat of the desert in which we wander. Euthys, the Greek word for ‘immediately’ occurs forty-two times in Mark’s Gospel. No sooner does Jesus do something than ‘immediately’ he hits the road to elsewhere. Some of Jesus’ best words were spoken on the run. (1)

After the resurrection, Jesus returns to his disciples …

And what does Jesus say to them? Does he say, ‘You have all had a rough time lately. Settle down and snuggle in here in Galilee among these good country folks with whom you are most comfortable. Buy real estate, build a church, and enjoy being a spiritual club’? No, he doesn’t say that. This is Jesus after all, not a Methodist bishop. The risen Christ commands, ‘Get out of here! Make me disciples, baptizing, and teaching everything I’ve commanded you! And don’t limit yourselves to Judea. Go to everybody. I’ll stick with you until the end of time—just to be sure you obey me. (4)

Not only was he on the move but also Jesus constantly invited everyone to join his journey. … Jesus tends to come to people where they are but rarely leaves them as they were. Conversion of thought and life, a whole new world, is part of the adventure of being loved by Jesus, of being invited to be his traveling companion. (9)

Peacemaker

I love the title “peacemaker.” Peacemaker should not be confused with “peacekeeper.”

He who never raised a sword, even in self defense, nor permitted his disciples to carry or use swords, openly proclaimed his message as a ‘sword.’ … Jesus brings peace, but his peace often begins as disruption and despair before it is sensed as peace. It is not peace as the world gives, his peace. Prince of Peace Jesus was a threat to world peace. (13)

Party Person

I also enjoyed the chapter on Jesus as “party person.”

Nowhere is Jesus’ human nearness … more apparent than in the portrayal of Jesus as moving from one dinner party to the next. He was no ragged renunciator of this world. He was a party person. … Jesus was accused more than once of showing the unseemly behavior of ‘a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ (39)

Jesus’ own gregarious life made oxymoronic the term ‘solitary Christian.’ You can’t do this faith solo.

When asked to cite the single most important of the commandments, Jesus flatly refused and instead offered a two-fold command to love God with everything we’ve got and to love ‘your neighbor as yourself,’ as if one made no sense bereft of the other. (39-40)

God in Jesus Christ is encountered not through solitary walks in the woods, or even by reading a book (!), but rather at a mundane dinner table, doing that most utterly carnal of acts—sharing food and drink with friends. (40)

Delegator

In the final chapter of the book, Willimon writes …

Jesus is not here to get what you want out of God; Jesus is God’s means of getting what God wants out of you. Jesus is not an effective way whereby we climb up to God; Jesus is God’s self-appointed means of getting down to us. … Perhaps that’s why few people came to Jesus; he went to them. Jesus rarely said, ‘Love me,’ and never said, ‘Agree with me.’ Rather, he most frequently commanded simply, ‘Follow me.’ And not too long after he said ‘follow me,’ as soon as we got to know him, he said, “Don’t be afraid.” What does that tell you about the way he invites us to walk? (116)

Well, that’s just a sampling from a few of the chapters in the book. Other chapters include: Storyteller, Preacher, Magician, Home Wrecker, Savior, Sovereign, Lover, and Body.

A Prayer for General Conference 2012

Nearly three years ago, as Joleen and I began our second year in Clearfield, I wrote a prayer in my journal. Last July, I updated it and posted it on the blog: A Transformational Leadership Prayer.

As I said last year, this prayer has stuck with me and I pray it every now and then. When I prayed through it this morning, it also became my prayer for the delegates of the United Methodist Church’s General Conference 2012.

General Conference could—and hopefully will—be a significant turning point in the life of the church. See my recent post, United Methodists Prepare for General Conference 2012, to learn more about GC2012.

Here’s my revised version for General Conference 2012 …

O God, I pray for strength and stamina for the delegates of GC2012. Be their rock and firm foundation. Provide them with the spiritual grounding they need for the journey ahead. As they build their lives on Christ, the solid rock, develop your character in them!

Lord, give them favor with one another and with the people you call them to be in ministry with.

Give them wisdom so they may lead well, and discernment so they will be able to sift through all the distractions in order to focus on those things you call the church to be about!

As they navigate the journey ahead, give them patience and persistence to stay the course in the midst of the challenges and obstacles that will arise during the slow-going work of transformation and revitalization!

And give them courage to follow the leading of your Spirit, even when it’s hard!

Through your leadership in their lives, expressed and lived out at General Conference, make us a movement once again, a movement fully engaged in the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

Amen.

Lord, Teach Us to Preach!

Jesus was once asked by his disciples, “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11.1). It’s a great request, one we all should make. Another good request, particularly for preachers, is “Lord, teach us to preach!”

That was a request I found myself making in prayer earlier today. I thought, I don’t simply want to communicate nice, well-thought out messages that I’ve put together; I want to deliver messages from God. I want my messages to be inspired—God-breathed. I want my sermons to come out of the overflow of what God is doing in my life.

Those are pretty high expectations, but I think they’re expectations every preacher should have. As I wrote last week, it takes trust. It also takes being a disciple—student, learner, apprentice. Certainly, it involves learning from other preachers and communicators (see Developing the Preaching Gift and Honing My Craft). In fact, I’m beginning the most intense preaching development I’ve ever had through the new Preaching Rocket program. In recent months, I’ve been greatly impacted by Nancy Duarte’s Resonate, which I’ve blogged quite a bit about (start here).

But since preaching is a spiritual gift, it’s also something that God wants to develop, himself. As the old saying goes, “God doesn’t call the qualified; he qualifies the called.” Praying “Lord, teach us to preach” is a way of asking God to qualify us for preaching.

Lord, teach us to preach!

A Preacher’s Gotta Trust!

Preaching is the most important ministry task of a pastor. Communities of faith are shaped through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word.

Because preachers must present a new message every week, preaching is also challenging. As every writer knows, beginning each message with a “blank page” can be daunting!

Everyone has their own system of preparation. I’m always trying to improve mine (which always seems to need improvement!). I’ve written about my systems in the past; see 4 Ss of Sermon Preparation, which was an update to 5 Stages of Sermon Preparation. While systems can be helpful, the bottom line is, getting a message from God requires diligence and trust!

Preachers must keep plugging away, going from “blank page” to big idea to final product. Preachers must trust that God will inspire a message, and trust it will come together in time for delivery!

It takes trust because every week is different—sometimes it comes together more quickly than other times; sometimes, I wonder if it will ever come together! (Hence the need for a desperate preacher’s prayer guide, part of which asks, You write the words!.)

Preaching also takes trust because it’s not simply about conveying information—it’s about transformation. And, transformation is God’s work. God uses preachers’ words to transform people and shape communities of faith. What an awesome task!

A preacher’s gotta trust!

God, Give Me a Heart Like Yours!

One of the children’s books the kids have enjoyed over the last several months is Hermie, a Common Caterpillar, by Max Lucado (there’s also a DVD).

Basically, Hermie, and his friend, Wormie, feel bad about being common caterpillars and keep asking God why they have to be so common. God keeps reminding them that he’s not finished with them yet, and that he’s giving them a heart like his.

Ethan was the first to pick up on the phrase, which helped me to pick up on it, too. One morning, when Ethan was going out the door to preschool, Sarah said, “Have a good day!” Ethan thought of a good response, and said, “I’ll give you a heart like mine.” Not quite the right application, but we learned that the phrase was making an impact.

More recently, I was praying with Sarah one morning. I finished the prayer, “God, give us a heart like yours.” Sarah added, “And Hermie, too.”

A few weeks ago, I suggested this prayer as an application in one of my sermons. I think it’s a good prayer for us to pray (it’s even made it into my desperate preacher’s prayer guide).

God, give us a heart like yours!

“The Circle Maker” 3.0

I’m finally nearing the end of The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, a book that’s having a tremendous impact on me.

Batterson discusses fasting. He writes …

Fasting has a way of fast-tracking our prayers. Because fasting is harder than praying, fasting is a form of praying hard. In my experience, it is the shortest distance to a breakthrough. (136)

Batterson adds, “an empty stomach may be the most powerful posture in Scripture” (138).

Fasting gives you more power to pray because it’s an exercise in willpower. The physical discipline gives you the spiritual discipline to pray through. An empty stomach leads to a full spirit. The tandem of prayer and fasting will give you the power and willpower to pray through until you experience a breakthrough. (144)

Fasting is certainly one of the more challenging spiritual disciplines. It’s also one of the most neglected ones. I was challenged by what Batterson had to say about fasting!

For more on The Circle Maker, see my previous posts: “The Circle Maker” 1.0, “The Circle Maker” 2.0, as well as Spiritual Priming and Shaping Culture and Prayer Idiosyncrasies.