The Role of Tribal Leaders in the Church

In 2012, Centre Grove UMC’s church council read Winning on Purpose: How To Organize Congregations to Succeed in Their Mission by John Edmund Kaiser. At the time, we were transitioning from a traditional United Methodist multi-committee structure to an alternative single-committee structure.

In the book, Kaiser shares Paul Borden’s somewhat humorous metaphor of the board, or council, as a group of tribal leaders …

Paul Borden, author of Hit the Bullseye, compares the board to a group of tribal leaders in the rain forest. The chief of the tribe climbs the tallest tree in order to direct the establishment of the village in a new location. From this high vantage point, the chief can see the big picture and call out where to build the huts, where to plant the crops, where to post lookouts, etc. At the base of the tree stands a circle of tribal elders with long pointed spears. If the chief tries to climb down and deny the village the benefit of the chief’s guidance, they point their spears upward to send the chief back to the high vantage point. If any tribespeople leave their work and try to pull the chief down, the elders turn their spears outward and send them back to their duties. That’s a picture of no-nonsense accountability and support. (113)

Years later, this description has stuck with us!

This is how healthy councils (or Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Committees) view their role and their working relationship with their pastors. Council (or SPRC) members hold the pastor accountable by encouraging them to focus on their primary leadership role. Kaiser describes the pastor’s leadership role in three key arenas: inspiring council, directing staff (paid and unpaid ministry leaders), and teaching the congregation. Healthy committees also support and protect the pastor when others attempt to pull her or him down.

This metaphor still comes up from time to time at Centre Grove. I’m grateful for all those, past and present, who carry spears (metaphorically speaking!) on behalf of the ministry at Centre Grove!

Thoughts on General Conference 2016

The 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church, met in Portland, Oregon, May 10-20. The top policy-making body of the UMC meets every four years. This year’s conference was made up of 864 delegates from around the world.

The UMC is becoming more and more of a global church!
Forty-two percent of General Conference delegates were from outside the U.S. (compared to only 20% in 2004), including 30% from Africa, where the church has grown 329% in the last ten years. Some seem to claim the growing global nature of the church is part of our problem. I disagree. The struggling church in the U.S. desperately needs the vital church in Africa and Asia. Our problems in the U.S. began long before we were a global church. I am grateful to be connected to what God is doing around the world!

The local church didn’t get much attention at General Conference!
One of my prayers at the outset of General Conference was, “God, don’t let them mess up what we’re trying to do in the local church!” We say “our mission is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,” and that local churches are primary places where this happens. However, I didn’t get the sense there was much discussion about the local church at General Conference. If this is true, there’s a real disconnect between what we say is important and what General Conference spent eleven days focusing on (at a cost of more than $1,338/minute)!

General Conference is energy draining!
Throughout the 11-day conference, I tried to follow news through media outlets and social media. I watched many of the Bishops’ sermons, and parts of a couple of legislative sessions. I wasn’t even there, and it was still energy draining. I can’t imagine what is was like to be there; in fact, I received an email toward the end of the conference from a delegate from another state, who said, “This process is very frustrating and not very effective for getting ANYTHING done.”

General Conference decided to make one last effort to avoid a split!
Ever since General Conference 2012, a heavy cloud has hung over the United Methodist Church. There has been talk of schism, primarily over the issue of homosexuality, and there seemed to be an expectation that the UMC would split at this conference. In the end, the church found a way to make one last attempt at saving the denomination. The Conference approved the proposal from the Council of Bishops to appoint a diverse commission to study human sexuality. They will make recommendations at a future conference, possibly a special session of General Conference in 2018 or 2019; however, I will be surprised if this commission is able to complete its task prior to the regularly-scheduled 2020 General Conference!

On Tuesday, May 17, Bishop Bruce Ough, President of the Council of Bishops, made the following statement in an address to General Conference …

We have risked exploring what many would consider radical new ways to organize The United Methodist Church according to deeply held and differing values and convictions. Ideas brought to the attention of the Council by both more conservative and more progressive voices. We are not fearful of the level of vulnerability and humility required of anyone willing to engage new ideas.

I would like to have heard more about those “radical new ways” at this Conference. It’s hard to imagine a way forward where all parties will be happy, or even be able to coexist. It’s also hard to imagine a scenario where the denomination stays intact. But, it’s clear that something needs to happen, not just to settle this issue, but so that we can be a disciple-making, world-transforming movement again!

Unity appeared to be a strong theme at General Conference. Unity is important, but faithfulness to God and to God’s Word are even more important. In other words, our chief goal must be to be faithful to God’s Word (in a godly, grace-filled way), NOT just find a way to keep the denomination intact!

I keep thinking of John Wesley’s statement (incidentally, I mentioned this quote in a post after General Conference 2012) …

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

We must pray!
Please pray fervently and consistently for the United Methodist Church over the next few years, as the commission forms and studies our position on human sexuality and makes recommendations to the next General Conference. I recommend incorporating Jesus’ prayers: “I want your will to be done, not mine” (Luke 22.42b, NLT), and “May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6.10b, NLT).

We have to find a way to move beyond this battle, which is keeping us from focusing on our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

A Prayer for the 2016 General Conference of the UMC

The 2016 General Conference of the United Methodist Church takes place May 10-20, 2016 in Portland, Oregon. General Conference, which takes place every four years, is the top policy-making body in the UMC and is the only church entity that has authority to speak for the entire denomination. General Conference meets every four years to revise the Book of Discipline.

The 2016 General Conference consists of 864 delegates from around the world. Approximately 42% of the delegates are from outside the US, due to tremendous growth in other countries, particularly from Africa.

This is my prayer as General Conference gets underway …

O God, thank you for calling us to be part of this movement for such a time as this! Thank you for all who have gone before us and have spread scriptural holiness across many lands! Without them, we would not be here. Thank you for inviting us to participate in what you are doing in the world, and for loving the world through us!

Thank you for your Word and your Spirit, which have guided and shaped us. Please forgive us for the ways we have missed the mark, and have failed to be an obedient Church. Forgive us for losing sight of your mission and call upon our lives. And, forgive us for the deep divisions that exist in this body!

Please pour out your Spirit upon your Church, and particularly upon General Conference! Your Church needs your wisdom, guidance, and intervention. Please protect all who gather in Portland. Speak to them and speak through them in the decisions they make!

Give the delegates of General Conference hearts for you, for one another, for your Church, and for the world you love. Help the delegates to be faithful to your Word and to the leading of your Spirit. May they honor you through their actions and attitudes, as well as their decisions!

Please squash all personal agendas and plans that hinder the mission of your Church. Please help the delegates to hear your voice and sense your leading at this critical time in the life of the UMC!

I pray not so much that you will preserve this Church, but that you will empower and equip us to fulfill your mission. I pray that we will, as Wesley pleaded, “hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.” As Jesus prayed, “May your Kingdom come soon. May your will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6.10, NLT).

“Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us” (Ephesians 3.20, CEB). Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayer! Amen.

Equipping Vital Congregations

At the 2015 Annual Conference of the Susquehanna Conference, I had the honor of being part of a team presentation on Equipping Vital Congregations.

The presentation was facilitated by Janet Durrwachter (First UMC, Williamsport). Other team members included Jaime Carpenter (Christ UMC, Selinsgrove) and Rev. Rich Morris (Hicks Memorial UMC, Duncansville).

Jaime talked about “Passionate Connections.” Rich reminded us, “It’s all about Jesus!” And, Janet encouraged us to “Stay the course!” My challenge was, “Reach out!”

For my 6-minute segment (plus 3-minute video testimony), I briefly shared the story of what God is doing at Centre Grove, then highlighted three elements from Acts 6

  1. Proclaim the Word!
  2. Mobilize people for ministry! (The Matthew 28 Initiative helped us; see my post, The Matthew 28 Initiative In Review)
  3. Pray to be empowered!

The session lasted one hour; my segment starts at 19 and a half minutes.

We hope and pray that leaders are encouraged to move toward greater vitality!

A Significant Moment for Centre Grove UMC

On Sunday, April 19, 2015, Centre Grove United Methodist Church celebrated 200 years. It was a significant moment!

Leonard Sweet devotes a chapter in his book, Learn to Dance the Soul Salsa, to challenging readers to “Make a Moment.” He writes …

There is one day in your life that will be your best day. There is one day in your life that will be your worst day. It’s important to know when you’re having one of life’s best moments. And worst. Landmark both.

The anniversary celebration on April 19, 2015 was a significant moment.

We sought to celebrate God’s faithfulness, God’s greatness. I remember saying more than once, “We gather, not to celebrate our greatness or our faithfulness, but to celebrate the greatness and faithfulness of our God!”

We received tremendous affirmation from our Bishop (Jeremiah Park) and District Superintendent (Kathy Kind). At times, it was a little uncomfortable, but it was affirming. We know we have some real growing edges, and we know that the vitality we’re experiencing is fragile (life and vitality always is). We know we have some work, and some growing, to do. And with God’s help, we will do it. But right now, we simply need to mark this moment!

This Sunday, we will spend some time reflecting on the significance of what God is doing in this moment. Then we will move forward. But first, we need to mark this moment. Again, it’s not our significance that we celebrate, but rather, we celebrate the significance of what God is doing in us!

May God continue to work in us and through us!

I believe he will if we will stay humble, stay hungry, and stay in tune with God!

A Prayer for Centre Grove UMC’s 200th Anniversary

Centre Grove United Methodist Church is celebrating its 200th anniversary on Sunday, April 19, 2015. I was honored to write the following prayer for the booklet we published.

A Prayer for Centre Grove

O God, thank you for loving the world so much that you gave your only Son, so that everyone who believes in him won’t perish but will have eternal life! (John 3.16, CEB).

Thank you for sending the Holy Spirit to lead, guide, and empower us! “Holy Spirit, you are welcome here. Come flood this place and fill the atmosphere. Your glory, God, is what our hearts long for, to be overcome by your presence, Lord!” (lyrics, “Holy Spirit”).

You are a great and mighty God. There is “nobody beside you; there will never be anyone anything like you!” (lyrics, “Glory is Yours”).

Thank you for revealing yourself to us, and for inviting us to follow you. Thank you for sending us into the world to be your hands and feet!

Thank you for your work in and through this community over the last 200 years. Thank you for all those who have gone before us!

We confess, O Lord, that we have not always gotten it right, and that, at times, we have missed the mark. So, we pray with the psalmist …

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life. (Psalm 139.23-24, New Living Translation)

Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love! Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion! Wash me completely clean of my guilt; purify me from my sin! … Create a clean heart for me, God; put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me! (Psalm 51.1-2, 10, Common English Bible)

O God, give us hearts like yours. As we surrender all to you, please make us more and more like Jesus in every way!

Break our hearts for what break yours. Send us into this broken world with the hope, and the saving message, of Jesus Christ!

Do something unpredictable and uncontrollable for your honor and glory. We want your will to be done, not ours (Luke 22.42). May your will be done on earth as it is in heaven (Matthew 6.10).

Please use us to make your name great. May Jesus be lifted high through us as we live out your mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for transformation the world!

Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

Stay humble. Stay hungry. Stay in tune with God.

Centre Grove United Methodist Church Celebrates 200th Anniversary!

For more nine months, April 19, 2015 has been marked on our calendars to celebrate 200 years. Now, it’s finally here!

I love history, and church history and Methodist history, in particular, so preparing for this anniversary has been a joy. It has also been a challenge to learn more about events that are not well documented!

I will share more about the Centre Grove history in the future, but for now, I simply want to share a bit about what we have planned for this Sunday.

On Sunday, April 19, 2015, we have four events planned …

  • 9:00 a.m. Historical Reflection: Cathie Hughes, a local historian, will discuss what was happening in this part of the world 200 years ago as it was being formed. I will share what was going on in Methodism, and specifically, in this community.
  • 10:15 a.m. Worship Celebration: We are excited to welcome some former pastors back, as well as some who’ve gone into ministry from Centre Grove over the years. And, we’re extremely excited that Bishop Jeremiah Park is going to be here to preach and celebrate Holy Communion with us!
  • 12:30 p.m. Lunch: We will enjoy a special lunch together.
  • 2:00 p.m. Hymn Sing & Sharing Time: The singing of hymns will be interspersed with sharing of memories by former pastors and others.

My hope and prayer is that this day will be a celebration of what God has done in and through the people called Methodist at Centre Grove (and its predecessor churches, Centre and Pleasant Grove).

God is faithful!

I am excited to be part of this historic event, and I’m truly honored to be the pastor of Centre Grove UMC for such a time as this!

“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 for responses by other bishops and for information on how you can join the discussion.

A 1915 Perspective on 100 Years

The Centre Grove United Methodist Church in Clearfield will celebrate 200 years in 2015. In the program for the church’s One Hundredth Anniversary celebration in 1915, there was a perspective offered on the advances of the previous century. The piece may have been an ad for the local Clearfield Hardware Company …

One hundred years seems like a long time, but it isn’t—It’s only a drop in the ocean of time or eternity as verified by the old hymn we sing, ‘When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise then when we first begun.’

However one hundred years brings a lot of changes in things temporal on this old kaleidoscopic-sphere.

What mighty empires have risen and fallen. What wonderful scientific discoveries have been made. What marvelous improvements have been made in lighting, transportation, and communication. Through these improvements the methods of modern merchandising is scarcely less marvelous. Within the century this church is celebrating, and not so very far back either, the lone store was lighted with the tallow dip, goods were packsaddled across the mountains over the tow paths from Philadelphia, Harrisburg, and later from Tyrone. When a merchant was out of an article, he was out ’till after rafting time’ or ‘after harvest’ when the annual buying trip was made, but now, thanks to the brain and brawn that brought to the present standard of perfection the mighty ocean steamer, the fast express and freight trains, the automobile, the airship, the telegraph, the telephone, the wireless, and the electric light and power, you don’t have to wait ’till after rafting time for the Hardware you need, nor do you have to make a long tedious journey on horse back to make selection of your purchase under the rays of a tallow dip and then ‘pack’ it back home. You sit in your electric lighted home, phone your order to the Clearfield Hardware Company and have the goods delivered the same day by auto truck. If perchance the article is out of stock, a telegram and fast freight or express or parcel post brings it in a day or two.

Fascinating. What might be written in 2015?

Pray for The United Methodist Church!

If you’ve been following church-related news lately, you know The United Methodist Church is in turmoil. Some are even calling for schism, seeing no way out of the current mess.

The best thing we can do, though, at this point, is PRAY.

That’s what the Aldersgate Covenant is planning to do. They have called a gathering for May 16-17, 2014, which will take place at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS. (I’m not able to attend; I keep hoping some or all of it will be webcast!)

I wrote in 2011, What The United Methodist Church Needs is nothing short of an awakening by the Holy Spirit. As I noted, John Wesley said …

I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.

Wesley seems to indicate that survival of the organization isn’t the most important thing; being faithful to God and staying connected to God is.

I’m grateful for the UMC and I’m hopeful that God will revive us and make us a movement again. Here are a few posts I’ve written in recent years that come to mind …

What are your prayers for the UMC?