“Wild Goose Chase”

On summer vacation, I read Wild Goose Chase by Mark Batterson. Batterson is one of my favorite writers and I love this book!

The title for the book comes from the name Celtic Christians have for the Holy Spirit, the Wild Goose. It denotes adventure. Batterson makes clear, “nothing is more unnerving or disorienting than passionately pursuing God” (2).

The book addresses “six cages,” or ways we cage the Holy Spirit, the Wild Goose …

  • the cage of responsibility
  • the cage of routine
  • the cage of assumptions
  • the cage of guilt
  • the cage of failure
  • the cage of fear

Here are some of my favorite quotes in each section …

Responsibility

We are called to follow in Christ’s footsteps. Christ followers ought to be the most passionate people on the planet. Pursuing God-ordained passions isn’t optional. It is an essential part of chasing the Wild Goose. And the adventure begins the moment we start pursuing a God-ordained passion. (17)

Batterson encourages us to pray.

Start praying. Prayer makes us spiritually fertile. And the more we pray the more passionate we become. Our convictions grow stronger, and our dreams grow bigger. (26)

Prayer is necessary, but don’t use it as cop-out. At some point, prayer must lead to action.

Pray about everything. Then pray some more. But at some point, you need to quit praying and start acting.” (28)

Batterson notes the early church was action oriented.

When Christianity turns into a noun, it becomes a turnoff. Christianity was always intended to be a verb. And, more specifically, an action verb. The title of the book of Acts says it all, doesn’t it? It’s not the book of Ideas or Theories or Words. It’s the book of Acts. If the twenty-first-century church said less and did more, maybe we would have the same kind of impact the first-century church did. (29)

Routine

When we get into the routine of life …

… the sacred becomes routine. And we not only forfeit spiritual adventure but we also start losing the joy of our salvation. Chasing the Wild Goose is the way to get it back. That means coming out of the cage of the routine. We need to change our routine, take some risks, and try new things. And if we do, we will find ourselves coming alive again. (44)

Batterson offers a great reminder about the importance of Sabbath. He notes, “The word Sabbath means ‘to catch one’s breath'” (54).

It’s counterintuitive, but the way you speed up is by slowing down. A Wild Goose chase isn’t a mad dash. It’s more of a triathlon. And pacing yourself for the journey is the key. (55)

Assumptions

… We make far too many assumptions about what is and what is not possible in the physical universe. We do the same thing spiritually. And those assumptions become eight-foot ceilings that limit our lives. (75)

It can happen to all of us. Batterson says, “We stop gazing at the stars and start staring at the ceiling” (77).

As I reviewed the book again, this is one of the statements that especially struck me …

Faith is not logical. But it isn’t illogical either. Faith is theological. It doesn’t ignore reality; it just adds God into the equation. (79)

Guilt

Guilt can be good or bed.

When we sin, guilt is a healthy and holy reflex. Thank God for the conviction of the Holy Spirit that drives us to repentance. (95)

There’s good news. God’s grace is available to us.

The moment we confess our sin to God, our sin is forgiven and forgotten. But for most of us, it is far easier to accept God’s forgiveness than it is to forgive ourselves. (95)

Batterson describes the role of the enemy.

Scripture says Satan ‘prowls around like a roaring lion.’ Satan is also the accuser of the brothers. … He wants to remind you of your greatest failures over and over again. Why? Because if you focus all your energy on past failures, you’ll have no energy left to dream kingdom dreams or pursue kingdom purposes. (97-98)

But it’s all about God’s grace.

The grace of God is the difference between drowning in guilt and swimming in gratitude. (115)

Failure

It’s so important we handle failure well.

Failure handled improperly can be devastating, but failure handled properly is the best thing that can happen to us. Failure teaches us our most valuable lessons. It keeps us from taking the credit or taking for granted later successes. (118)

Batterson describes “closed doors” as “divine detours” (122). And they can “actually turn into the best things that can happen to us” (123).

Bad things happen to good people. You will experience some shipwrecks and snakebites along the way. But when you give Jesus complete editorial control over your life, he begins writing His-story through your life. (126)

Fear

Fear can keep us from doing what God wants.

Most of us are far too tentative when it comes to the will of God. We let our fears dictate our decisions. We are so afraid of making the wrong decision that we make no decision. And we fail to realize that indecision is a decision. And it is our indecision, not our bad decisions, that keeps us in the cage. (144)

Too often we think it should get easier as we go along.

I think we’ve made a false assumption about the will of God. We subconsciously think it should get easier the longer we follow Christ. … spiritual growth prepares us for more dangerous missions. As we grow, God gives us more difficult things to do. (150)

God calls us to action!

… selfish ambition is bad. But godly ambition is good. I’ve never met anyone who was overly ambitious for the things of God. We need to dream God-sized dreams … they’re the only things that will drive us to our knees and keep us living in absolute dependence upon God the way we were designed to. (160)

Great book! My hope and prayer is that we will rediscover what it means follow the leading of the Holy Spirit. I pray it will become an adventure as we chase the Wild Goose!

10 Years of One-Point Preaching

Ten years ago, I made a big change in my preaching approach, switching from multiple-point preaching to one-point preaching. I did so in June 2006 after reading the first couple chapters in Communicating for a Change by Andy Stanley and Lane Jones.

It’s hard to believe it’s been ten years. In 2007, I wrote my post, One-Point Preaching, which is still the most-read post on the blog. In 2011, I reflected on 5 Years of One-Point Preaching.

Much of what I’ve said before is still true. I appreciate the emphasis on building an entire message around a single point. It brings greater focus and creativity, but it also helps me preach with fewer notes (if any).

Back at the five-year mark, I noted that I had just started reading Resonate by Nancy Duarte. The book is great alongside Stanley’s book and I actually wrote a series of posts reflecting on the Duarte’s book (see “Resonate”: Bringing It All together).

As I begin a short-term sabbatical in a few days, and I plan to review both Communicating for a Change and Resonate, and also read Ways of the Word, which looks good. As I said in 2007 and 2011, and throughout my preaching journey, I’m very much a work in progress!

“Autopsy of a Deceased Church”

Thom Rainer’s book, “Autopsy of a Deceased Church” (2014), grew out of a popular blog post he wrote in 2013. In the book, Rainer looks at ten common traits of dying churches based on his research of deceased churches.

Rainer estimates, “As many as 100,000 churches in America are showing signs of decline toward death” (7). He estimates that only approximately 10% of churches in America are healthy, while 40% have symptoms of sickness, 40% are very sick, and 10% are dying (86).

Slow Erosion
Rainer talks about slow erosion, which “is the worst type of decline for churches, because the members have no sense of urgency or change … decline is everywhere in the church, but many don’t see it” (13).

The Past is the Hero
Rainer writes, “The most pervasive and common thread of our autopsies was that the deceased churches lived for a long time with the past as the hero” (18). He adds, “Yes, we respect the past. At times we revere the past. But we can’t live in the past” (21).

The Church Refused to Look Like the Community
“When a church ceases to to have a heart and ministry for its community, it is on the path toward death” (28).

The Budget Moved Inwardly
“In dying churches the last expenditures to be reduced are those that keep the members comfortable” (33).

The money … was symptomatic of a heart problem. The church cared more for its own needs than the community and the world. And no church can sustain such an inward focus indefinitely. It will eventually die of heart failure. (36)

The Great Commission Becomes the Great Omission
When Rainer looked at dying churches, he noticed “Obedience to the Great Commission faded; it usually faded gradually” (42). He notes these churches “chose not to remember what to do” (43).

Members of the dying church weren’t willing to go into the community to reach and minister to people. They weren’t willing to invite their unchurched friends and relatives. They weren’t willing to expend the funds necessary for a vibrant outreach. They just wanted it to happen. Without prayer. Without sacrifice. Without hard work. (44)

The Preference-Driven Church
“A church cannot survive long-term where members are focused on their own preferences” (49).

Pastoral Tenure Decreases
“The problem is that many good leaders are leaving churches before they reach their prime leadership years at a church” (55).

The Church Rarely Prayed Together
“Not coincidentally, prayer and the health of the church went hand in hand. When the church is engaged in meaningful prayer, it becomes both the cause and the result of greater church health” (66).

The Church Had No Clear Purpose
Rainer notes, “the dying churches, at some point in their history, forgot their purpose” (75).

The Church Obsessed Over the Facilities
“A number of the fourteen churches became focused on memorials” (79). Rainer adds, “Dying churches, more often than not, experience severe battles over facility obsession before their demise” (80). This is certainly not to say that facilities are unimportant. Rainer contends, “Being a good steward of those material things that God has given our churches is good. Becoming obsessed with any one item to the neglect of his mission is idolatry.” (80)

At the end of the book, Rainer offers twelve responses that may help churches that have symptoms of sickness, are very sick, or dying. The book is helpful for churches in any stage. For healthier churches, it’s a good reminder to stay alert and to avoid some of the pitfalls and slow erosion that can happen in the life of the church!

“Simplify”

Bill Hybels’ book, Simplify, offers “ten practices to unclutter your soul,” in the following titles …

  1. From exhausted to energized
  2. From overscheduled to organized
  3. From overwhelmed to in control
  4. From restless to fulfilled
  5. From wounded to whole
  6. From anxious to peaceful
  7. From isolated to connected
  8. From drifting to focused
  9. From stuck to moving on
  10. From meaningless to satisfied

Hybels says …

Simplified living is about more than doing less. It’s being who God called us to be, with a wholehearted, single-minded focus. It’s walking away from innumerable lesser opportunities in favor of the few to which we’ve been called and for which we’ve been created. (2)

There are dangers in not living simplified lives.

If we don’t change how we live, our overcomplicated world will begin to feel frighteningly normal. We will become accustomed to life at a frantic pace, no longer able to discriminate between the important and the unessential. And that’s the danger: When we fritter away our one and only life doing things that don’t really matter, we sacrifice the things that do matter. (3)

Hybels says the downside of our busyness is that we will be depleted.

Depletion harms the people around me, and it damages my soul. When you decide that you never want to live on empty again, you start paying more attention to the replenishment side of the equation. If you choose to live with more energy reserves in your life, you will disappoint some people. Trust me, you have to fight to keep your life replenished. No one else can keep your tank full. It’s up to you to protect your energy reserves and priorities. (11)

Hybels suggests “five bucket-filling streams”
1. Connecting with God
2. Family
3. Satisfying work
4. Recreation
5. Exercise (and diet)

I read a lot about exercise, so I was especially interested in what Hybels had to say. He notes …

Exercise and proper rest patterns give about a 20 percent energy increase in an average day, average week, average month. … If you’re not motivated to exercise for the purpose of physical health, do so as a simple, effective way to increase your energy.” (24-25)

One of my favorite sections is on managing the calendar. Hybels says, “A runaway calendar will keep you from simplifying your life” (30). “A simplified life begins with well-invested hours each day” (31). He says, “My schedule is far less about what I want to get done and far more about who I want to become” (35).

Hybels laments …

It’s too easy to fill our schedules with things that don’t matter—and neglect things that do. Simplified living requires purposeful stewardship of each day. (52)

Every chapter is worth reading. Throughout the book, Hybels talks about having a life verse. He concludes the book with a chapter on choosing a life verse.

A life verse should include some key traits: call to action, personalized, short and sweet, and hope-filled. After offering some guidance in finding a verse (for a lifetime or for a season), he concludes the book with a 13-page catalog of possible life verses. I have never chosen a life verse, but will give it some thought after reading the book.

In the last chapter, Hybels writes …

But simplifying is not merely intended to make your life easier—like uncluttering a drawer or closet might. You simplify your life for reasons that matter for eternity: to give clarity, purpose, and power to the things that matter most in this world. (281)

Good stuff!

“Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, & Bad Attitudes …”

Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes … in You and Your Kids is the best book on parenting I’ve ever read!

The authors, Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller, propose an honor-based approach to parenting (which is actually applicable to other areas of life, as well)!

In families, it’s easy to focus on behavior, but focusing on the heart goes deeper.

Honor doesn’t just address behavior. It involves the heart. Too often, parents focus only on getting the right actions. But behavior change is not enough. Honor deals with deeper issues in family life. As families practice honor, they experience great rewards. (8)

Turansky and Miller believe, “Honor changes the way people think, the way we act, and the way we treat others”; it “adds that little bit of grace that transforms family life” (13).

I love the author’s definition of honor. We’ve been working on it in our family, and I’ve taught it in more than one sermon.

Treating people as special, doing more than what’s expected, and having a good attitude. (13)

The book has a lot of practical ideas. One example is a key question to ask yourself, especially when you’re upset: “How can I respond with honor here?” (19).

The authors believe, “As individuals learn to honor one another, they begin to see life differently. Every situation is now an opportunity to value others” (20).

Turansky and Miller outline a four-step discipline process …

  1. Identify the wrong behavior.
  2. Identify the dishonoring heart issue.
  3. Identify the honoring heart issue.
  4. The right behavior grows out of the honoring heart issue. (22-23)

The Goal of Discipline

The goal in discipline is to help children not only act correctly, but also to think correctly and to become the people God made them to be. Honor addresses what’s going on below the surface and considers a child’s heart. (23)

Noting that Scripture says “Honor your father and mother” eight times, they assert, “Honor provides a foundation for children that sets them up to be happy, joyful, and to enjoy life.” But, the authors also note that “honoring others doesn’t come naturally. It needs to be taught” (29).

Whining & Complaining

Whining and complaining are manipulative techniques used by children to get what they want. Children must see that their tricks don’t work. They need to learn a more honoring way to communicate. (31)

One of my favorite takeaways from the book, another great practical idea, is the phrase, “Obey first, and then we’ll talk about it.”

But it’s also important for children to learn to give up their agendas and follow instructions—even when they don’t want to. … Sending the message, “Obey first, and then we’ll talk about it” emphasizes obedience. (32)

One of my favorite chapters highlights six ways to teach honor to children …

  1. Teach children to treat people as special
  2. Teach children to do more than what’s expected
  3. Deal with a bad attitude
  4. Create honor lessons in life
  5. Model it
  6. Appeal to conscience

For Parents

I love the title of this book, especially the last part, “in You and Your Kids.” It’s easy to focus on kids’ behavior, but parents must also work on their own stuff.

When parents discipline with honor, they must remove selfishness from their own hearts in order to discipline effectively. This is a challenge, but the results reproduce themselves in their children. (60)

Teaching honor is worth it!

Honor comes back to the person who knows how to give it. … When parents and children honor each other, the family dynamic changes, and joy is the result. (62)

The authors note, “Honor-based parenting does take work” (99). So, they offer some practical skills.

Skills …

  • Be firm without being harsh.
  • Express sorrow instead of anger.
  • Use problem solving and decision making.
  • Enjoy children according to their needs and interests.
  • Envision a positive future for your children.

There are also chapters on how siblings relate with each other, as well as getting teens through “the tunnel years.” There is an appendix with eight “family together times,” or devotions, to help families better understand honor. We plan to use these devotions in our family devotional time.

Say Goodbye to Whining, Complaining, and Bad Attitudes … in You and Your Kids is a helpful book, and I’m looking forward to implementing more of it in our home!

Protecting Your Church

On Sunday, I challenged our church family to protect the church. I read several statements from The Purpose Driven Life by Rick Warren.

Warren begins, “It is your job to protect the unity of your church.” He notes …

Unity is the soul of fellowship. Destroy it, and you rip the heart out of Christ’s Body. It is the essence, the core, of how God intends for us to experience life together in his church. (161)

Unity in the Body of Christ matters. Warren contends …

Nothing on earth is more valuable to God than his church. He paid the highest price for it, and he wants it protected, especially from the devastating damage that is caused by division, conflict, and disharmony. If you are part of God’s family, it is your responsibility to protect the unity where you fellowship. (162)

Warren offers six pieces of practical advice

  1. Focus on what we have in common, not our differences.
  2. Be realistic in your expectations.
  3. Choose to encourage rather than criticize.
  4. Refuse to listen to gossip.
  5. Practice God’s method for conflict resolution. (Matthew 18.15-17)
  6. Support your pastor and leaders.

On criticism, Warren suggests, “It is always easier to stand on the sidelines and take shots at those who are serving than it is to get involved and make a contribution” (164). He writes …

The Bible calls Satan “the accuser of our brothers.” It’s the Devil’s job to blame, complain, and criticize members of God’s family. Anytime we do the same, we’re being duped into doing Satan’s work for him. (165)

Warren defines gossip as “passing on information when you are neither part of the problem nor part of the solution.” He warns, “Listening to gossip is like accepting stolen property, and it make you just as guilty of the crime” (165).

Warren concludes the chapter with the challenge, “What are you doing personally to make your church family more warm and loving?” He states …

There are many people in your community who are looking for love and a place to belong. The truth is, everyone needs and wants to be loved, and when people find a church where members genuinely love and care for one another, you would have to lock the doors to keep them away. (168)

How strong would the church be if we all took our responsibility of protecting it seriously?

What If We Prayed Before We Complained?

A few years ago, I wrote a post on The Balancing Act by Bishop Robert Schnase. Recently, I’ve been thinking about something Bishop Schnase wrote.

Bishop Schanse relayed a conversation he had with a woman, who thought churches should do a better job of caring for pastors. Bishop Schnase writes …

She said that she did not think anyone should ever be allowed to complain about a pastor unless that person was also in constant prayer for the pastor. We should all desire our pastors to succeed, to fulfill their mission, to be strong and whole and healthy, and so we should pray for them, their families, their work, and their ministry. Imagine if every time we felt annoyed, discouraged, or disappointed by a pastor, we prayed for them with even greater eagerness and sincerity. Imagine if we felt as much or more an obligation to pray for a pastor as we feel to criticize or correct a pastor.

This is important because when complaining comes from selfishness, it tears down, but when it comes from a place of prayer, it can build up.

But, it doesn’t apply only to pastors. It applies to everyone and everything in the church–every ministry, every leader, every person.

What if the whole church operated this way toward everyone and everything in the church? What if we prayed before we complained?

“Essentialism”

Ever since I heard about Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown, I was interested in reading it. I finally got around to it, and I was not disappointed!

There’s so much in the book, it’s impossible to review it all here. But here are some of my favorite thoughts.

McKeown describes the premise of Essentialism this way …

only once you give yourself permission to stop trying to do it all, to stop saying yes to everyone, can you make your highest contribution towards the things that really matter.

McKeown highlights the phrase, “Less but better” to describe the way of the Essentialist.

The way of the Essentialist is the relentless pursuit of less but better. It doesn’t mean occasionally giving a nod to the principle. It means pursuing it in a disciplined way. … It is about pausing to constantly ask, “Am I investing in the right activities?” … Essentialism is not about how to get more things done; it’s about how to get the right things done.

We all have many options, and many of us try to do it all, or at least as much as we can. McKeown states, “The way of the Essentialist rejects the idea that we can fit it all in. Instead it requires us to grapple with real trade-offs and make tough decisions.”

McKeown asserts that Essentialism …

is a discipline you apply each and every time you are faced with a decision about whether to say yes or whether to politely decline. It’s a method for making tough trade-offs between lots of good things and a few really great things. It’s about learning how to do less but better so you can achieve the highest possible return on every precious moment of your life.

Many of us live with three assumptions …

  • “I have to.”
  • “It’s all important.”
  • “I can do both.”

McKeown suggests replacing these false assumptions with “three core truths” …

  • “I choose to.”
  • “Only a few things really matter.”
  • “I can do anything but not everything.”

McKeown warns, “When we forget our ability to choose, we learn to be helpless.”

Being an Essentialist requires the ability to say no, even to good things. McKeown notes, “saying yes to any opportunity by definition requires saying no to several others.” He argues …

Many capable people are kept from getting to the next level of contribution because they can’t let go of the belief that everything is important. But an Essentialist has learned to tell the difference between what is truly important and everything else.

Becoming an Essentialist requires making trade-offs.

Essentialists see trade-offs as an inherent part of life, not an inherently negative part of life. Instead of asking, “What do I have to give up?” they ask, “What do I want to go big on?” The cumulative impact of this small change in thinking can be profound.

McKeown discusses some important disciplines like focus, play, and sleep.

We must make time and space to focus. McKeown argues …

the faster and busier things get, the more we need to build thinking time into our schedule. And the noisier things get, the more we need to build quiet reflection spaces in which we can truly focus.

McKeown emphasizes the role of play. He suggests …

play is essential in many ways. … play has the power to significantly improve everything from personal health to relationships to education to organizations’ ability to innovate. … play broadens the range of options available to us.”

Play is also “an antidote to stress.”

Sleep is important, as well. “Essentialists … see sleep as necessary for operating at high levels of contribution more of the time.”

McKeown contends, “We aren’t looking for a plethora of good things to do. We are looking for the one where we can make our absolutely highest point of contribution.”

I love the statement McKeown makes toward the end of the book. He asks …

If you take one thing away from this book, I hope you will remember this: whatever decision or challenge or crossroads you face in your life, simply ask yourself, “What is essential?” Eliminate everything else.

So, what is essential for you?

“Breaking the Missional Code”

I recently read Breaking the Missional Code by Ed Stetzer and David Putman. The book aims to help churches become missionaries in their communities.

According to the authors, “breaking the code … means discovering the principles that work in every context, selecting the tools most relevant for your context … and then learning to apply them in a missionally effective manner. It means thinking missiologically” (2).

For many churches, “missions” simply means supporting missionaries and ministries in other countries, but “missional thinking means doing missions everywhere” (3), including our local communities, as well as other countries.

Our local communities in the United States are becoming greater mission fields. In all mission fields there are barriers that have to be crossed. Stetzer and Putman state, “Breaking the code means that we have to recognize that there are cultural barriers (in addition to spiritual ones) that blind people from understanding the gospel” (4). Breaking the code is about finding ways to bridge those barriers.

Bridging the barriers begins with love. If we’re going to reach our communities with the good news of Jesus Christ, we must love people.

You cannot grow a biblically faithful church without loving people and preaching the gospel. But loving people means understanding and communicating with them. Preaching the gospel means to proclaim a gospel about the Word becoming flesh—and proclaiming that the body of Christ needs to become incarnate in every cultural expression. (15)

The part of the book that will stick with me the most are the four phrases that describe the church’s mission. The authors state, “Jesus gave four directives that outline the missional mandate of the church” (30) …

  • We are sent (John 20.21)
  • To all kinds of people (Matthew 28.18-20)
  • With a message (Luke 24.46-48)
  • Empowered by the Spirit (Acts 1.6-8)

Indeed, we are sent to all kinds of people with a message, empowered by the Holy Spirit!

“Finding Our Way”

Earlier this year, United Methodist leaders published Finding Our Way: Love and Law in The United Methodist Church, edited by Bishop Rueben P. Job and Neil M. Alexander. Several bishops each contributed a chapter, including …

  • Enforce (Gregory V. Palmer)
  • Emend (Hope Morgan Ward)
  • Disobey (Melvin G. Talbert)
  • Disarm (Kenneth H. Carter, Jr.)
  • Order (J. Michael Lowery)
  • Unity (John K. Yambasu)
  • Diversity (Rosemarie Wenner)
  • Trust God (Rueben P. Job)

Overall, I thought the book was well-written. It’s certainly diverse as it represents perspectives from all across the theological spectrum.

The book is written in light of the increasing polarization in the United Methodist Church and the growing concern about where the denomination may be headed, particularly as we near the 2016 General Conference. The editors note that it’s possible that “the result of the current turbulence will be schism.” Or, “Perhaps the result will be no change or partial change in the current language of the Book of Discipline” (2). Either way, Job and Alexander state, “In whatever ways we engage and respond, we are called to choose at all times to walk humbly, embrace faithful love, and do justice along the way” (6).

My purpose in this post is not to summarize each section or state my position. I will simply post some of the statements I highlighted.

In the first chapter on Enforce, Bishop Palmer proposes an alternative word, “Uphold,” which he believes is less harsh. He states that …

a failure or unwillingness to live within our agreed covenant potentially undermines all the work of the General Conference. It seeks to substitute my wisdom or that of my tribe for the work and wisdom of a larger, deliberative body. It makes me and my viewpoints the center of the church’s wisdom. (13)

Palmer adds …

In refusing to uphold our promises, we make a mockery of the process and the promise. We could well be unreliable partners for future covenant-making and promise-keeping. We depend on each other to have a truly hopeful future. (17)

The most controversial chapter in the book is the one on Disobey, written by Bishop Melvin Talbert. Talbert argues that in 1972, “we acted to construct another wall. We voted to identify homosexual practice as ‘incompatible with Christian teachings'” (37).

Talbert believes that “including same-gender married couples and single persons with a homosexual identity will renew and revitalize churches for faith, witness, and service” (42). Therefore, Talbert calls for “biblical disobedience,” which he calls “doing the right thing, no matter what” (48).

Talbert argues …

Wherever injustice and oppression appear, we solemnly promise to disobey unjust church laws because we give priority to Jesus’s commandment to love each other as much as we love ourselves. (51)

Bishop Kenneth Carter suggests, “The recovery of a coherent theology of grace and holiness and a rejection of the partisan political captivity of the church could lead us to a coherent social teaching” (56). In order for this to happen, “we begin with an intention of seeing the best in each other” (64).

Carter reflects on the consequences of status quo or schism. He acknowledges, “There is a growing energy in the polarities at the edges of our denomination … There is a weakening of the impulse toward unity” (66). Carter also notes, “The dismantling of our connection would involve casualties and would in all likelihood, if previous General Conferences are a witness, be a violent process” (69).

In his chapter on Order, Bishop Lowery writes …

Presently, the position of biblical obedience, which evokes action by some of civil disobedience against church law, is corrupted by the lack of meaningful penalties applied to those engaging in disobeying church law. It is now acceptable for some advocates, some church juries, and some bishops to settle for a twenty-four-hour suspension of the guilty clergyperson. Such a meaningless level of accountability has the effect of giving a person an extra day off for violating church law established by General Conference. Such actions offend the very integrity of the advocated biblical obedience. (75-76)

Lowery sounds a call to “re-order our life together.” He notes …

The painful reality is that we lack coherence in doctrine. We don’t have deep clarity on mission. (We agree to ‘make disciples,’ but we don’t agree on what it means to ‘make a disciple.’) And we are locked in a struggle over discipline. We do not have unity. (79)

Picking up with the idea of Unity, Bishop Yambasu says, “We need to stop this fight” (87). Bishop Yambasu, who is from Sierra Leone, offers a personal perspective from Africa …

I believe that the Bible is the infallible Word of God. The Bible provides direction for all those who proclaim Christ as their Lord and Savior. I believe, therefore, that sexual promiscuity, homosexuality, and adultery are inconsistent with the teachings of scripture. I think this is the prevailing view of our denomination. This is what missionaries from the United States and England taught us when they took Christianity to Africa. They built churches, schools, and colleges, and we learned what the Bible teaches. We believed and internalized it. It became part of our social and spiritual makeup. … For us now to be told by the church in the United States that what we were taught in the Bible is not true could be traumatizing for the African Christian. (87)

In the closing chapter, Bishop Job states, “This is no ordinary time in the life of our church, and this is no ordinary conflict” (106). He calls for a way of discernment, “a call to radical, risky, and complete trust in God rather than in our own ingenuity or rhetoric” (106). Job suggests three basic steps …

  1. “Immediately stop the propaganda.”
  2. “Declare a moratorium on celebrations and trials regarding same-gender unions.”
  3. “Begin a practice of prayer and discernment that leaves our preferences outside as we enter this extended period of seeking only God’s direction.” (108-109)

As I said, the book is written from a broad theological spectrum. Depending on your position, there will parts that inspire and encourage you as well as parts that trouble and anger you. Such is the nature of the battle in which we find ourselves. Please join me in praying for the United Methodist Church and for the upcoming General Conference in 2016!

This Saturday (Nov 1), the authors of Finding Our Way will participate in a two-hour webcast on the topic. Also, visit ministrymatters.com/findingourway for responses by other bishops and for information on how you can join the discussion.