The Overflow

Lately, I’ve been reminded about a fairly common idea/phrase — leading/ministering out of the overflow.

This is why preparation — ongoing personal growth — is so important. Last fall, I wrote about preparation in one of my posts on “The Nines” (specifically The Nines Marathon; see also More on the Nines) and continued the reflection in another post after the Provisional Membership Retreat.

Preparation is most productive when it’s consistent, over the long haul. Preparation is a value for me, but it’s also an area that I want to grow in. That’s why I wrote Daily Must-Dos (for ongoing preparation).

Preparation also helps to keep our “tanks” full (see Tank-Filling Activities). When my tank is running low, ministry/leadership can be a chore. But when my tank is full/overflowing, leadership is much more productive/effective.

In other words, in order to give, we must first receive. We receive in order to give. And the more we receive the more we’re able to give!

Are you living / serving / leading / ministering out of the overflow?

“The Future of The United Methodist Church”

I picked up a copy of The Future of the United Methodist Church: 7 Vision Pathways at annual conference and read it a couple of weeks ago. The book is edited by Bishops Scott jones and Bruce Ough with contributions from eight other bishops.

In a previous post, I listed 4 Talking Points about United Methodists, which the book expands on. The “four areas of focus” come from the “seven pathways” (for simplification, apparently), as follows.

Focus Area 1: People: Creating New Places for New People by Starting Congregations and Renewing Existing Ones
Path 1: Planting New Congregations
Path 2: Transforming Existing Congregations

Focus Area 2: Leaders: Developing Principled Christian Leaders for the Church and the World
Path 3: Teaching the United Methodist Way
Path 4: Strengthening Clergy and Lay Leadership

Focus Area 3: Poverty: Engaging in Ministry with the Poor
Path 5: Children and Poverty
Path 6: Expanding Racial/Ethnic Ministries

Focus Area 4: Health: Stamping out Killer Diseases by Improving Health Globally
Path 7: Eliminating Poverty by Stamping out Disease

This framework is an attempt to help the UMC live out its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Bishop Gregory Palmer writes …

No matter how well stated the mission of any movement or organization, it must also have a way to be embodied (ix).

The beginning of the book talks about the state of the church. Bishop Palmer laments …

… our United Methodist internal struggles are diminishing our capacity to offer hope for the world (xvii).

The editors note that the UMC has tremendous assets, specifically …

… there are United Methodist congregations in more than 95 percent of the counties in the United States … But too many of them are declining (2).

A key point in turning around the declining denomination is clarifying and recommitting to our God-given mission. Bishop G. Lindsay Davis uplifts the value of reaching unchurched people, a task he says we have been “neglecting,” writing …

Clearly reaching out to more than 195 million unchurched people in the United Stated must be a priority again for us. In fact, many of us believe it is the number one priority (4).

Bishop David provides a lot of good content on church planting and the kind of leaders needed to plant them. Bishop Robert Schnase, author of Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations (which we’ve written several posts about), writes the chapter on transforming existing congregations. While transforming churches is no easy task, and “There are no easy answers, quick fixes, or simple formulas” (31), Bishop Schnase reminds leaders, “Transforming existing congregations is possible” (19).

Bishop Schnase discusses the role of the church …

As we grow in grace and develop our interior life (what Wesley calls ‘inner holiness’), we discern the call of God prompting us to make a positive difference in the lives of others through service, mission, and generosity. … By God’s grace, we are a changed people seeking to change the lives of others and thereby transform the world. (20)

Bishop Schnase contends that leaders who transform congregations …

… know that the principal mission field is ‘out there’ and not ‘in here’ (24).

Bishop Schnase offers several points of description about churches that experience transformation. One point is that each church …

… has experienced a radical change of attitude, a new clarity of mission, and a taste for excellence; and they follow the promptings of the Holy Spirit toward the fulfillment of that mission wherever it leads (24).

Bishop Schnase also discusses the role of the conference in renewing existing churches. He observes …

… conferences that promote transformation foster a culture of learning. The greatest difference between declining congregations and those that are growing in fruitfulness is their attitude toward learning. Thriving churches develop a culture of learning. (26)

Focus Area 2 deals more specifically with leadership. Bishop Scott Jones writes about the role of teaching “the United Methodist Way” (see Living the United Methodist Way).

The editors write …

At our best, United Methodist Christians seek to evangelize, nurture, equip, and send forth disciples of Jesus Christ to transform the world (33).

I want to spend more time processing what Bishop Jones writes about the United Methodist Way. He concludes the chapter, stating …

United Methodist Christians believe genuine human happiness comes from growing in holiness—toward being the men and women God intends us to be (46).

One of my favorite chapters is written by Bishop Hee-Soo Jung (who also shares a bit of his story from Korea). I’ve highlighted much of this chapter!

Bishop Jung writes about strengthening leadership in the UMC building on the foundation of the call to discipleship. Bishop Jung writes …

To be leaders in the church today, we must first identify our call to be Christian disciples. Disciples make other disciples. … The credibility of our leadership grows from our modeling as we claim our call to discipleship first. (48)

Bishop Jung specifically sounds a call for visionary leaders. He describes visionary leadership as …

attentiveness to God’s leadership. Leaders are asked first of all to be open to where God is leading. … The church, after all, has a mission—to share the good news of Christ with the world. Leaders are asked to discern what it means for their particular context to share the good news. (50)

Addressing the current condition of the UMC, Bishop Jung laments …

We have forgotten that the church is a vehicle from which to offer Christ’s love; it is a tool in our mission, not the end product of our work (52).

Building on the foundation of call to visionary leadership, Bishop Jung talks about the role of pastors in congregations. Page 53 in my book is almost completely yellow but I’ll whittle it down to this …

Though it may sound oversimplified, the primary role of the parish pastor … is leadership of a congregation. Every other task that a pastor might perform is secondary. Leadership is the core of who a pastor is called to be. (53)

Bishop Jung states that pastors have three major tasks

  1. “to lead the congregation in perceiving the particular mission and ministry to which it is being called by God” (53).
  2. “to develop leadership in that congregation that is able to assist the congregation in responding to its call” (53).
  3. “to work with lay leadership to assist and equip every member in perceiving and carrying out his or her own particular ministries” (53).

I love these points. It’s about leading people in our God-given mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

The problem, however, Bishop Jung notes …

Many congregations have expectations of pastors that are in conflict with the call to pastoral leadership. … [T]he congregation expects a chaplain. Congregations who want a chaplain want to be left where they are—untouched by the demands from God—with members ‘ministered to’ by a professional staff. … Congregations who seek a chaplain do not want to be led anywhere … congregations do not need chaplains; they need leaders.” (53)

Great words!

It’s going to take transformational leaders to turn around our declining denomination. The process of transforming an institution back into a movement will be no easy task. In fact, there will be many scars. But it’s necessary, if we’re going to be faithful to who God calls us to be!

Well, there’s a lot to process, and a lot I haven’t even touched on. But I’ll finish with a quote from Bishop Minerva Carcaño …

Unfortunately, we are living in days in which too many of us United Methodists have lost our way, substituting a comfortable, self-focused, and false understanding of discipleship for kingdom-building discipleship (84).

May God help us to be who God intends us to be. May God empower us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!

Ethan’s Repertoire

It has been fun to watch (or hear) Ethan’s repertoire of worship songs develop over the last 13 months.

At Annual Conference in 2009, I happened to be holding (then two-year-old) Ethan at the beginning of an evening service (giving him break from all-day childcare) as the band opened with “Trading My Sorrows,” a modern worship song. The song stuck and has been a staple in Ethan’s repertoire ever since! Ethan can often be heard singing, “Yes, Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord! / Yes, Lord, yes Lord, yes, yes, Lord! / Yes, Lord, yes, yes, Lord, Amen!”

Funny thing, though, it’s only been very recently that he’s gotten one of the verses right. Instead of “I’m trading my sorrows / I’m trading my shame / I’m laying them down for the joy of the Lord,” he’d sing, “I’m trading for our sorrows” (not quite the message we were going for!). 🙂

A few months later, Ethan said in a somewhat panicked voice, “Oh no!” So I taught him the chorus of Matt Redman’s worship song, “You Never Let Go” …

Oh no, you never let go / through the calm and through the storm / oh no, you never let go / in every high and every low / oh no, you never let go / Lord, you never let go of me!

And again, ever since, he’s been singing the chorus of this song (it was the song we used in the music video we made for Ethan when we went to Korea to get Sarah last October). In the last few months, Ethan has started singing other parts of the song. Once during a meal recently, Ethan surprised me with a line from the song: “I can see a light / that is coming / for the heart that holds on!”

One other time (nearly a year ago?), Ethan sang part of another song that we’re not sure where he heard it (we didn’t have the song and hardly knew it ourselves). I finally tracked down the song a few months ago and it’s now one of Ethan’s favorites: “My Savior Lives” (the video of the song, recorded live, that we downloaded can be viewed here on YouTube).

When Ethan came home from Sunday school a couple weeks ago, he had a sticker on his shirt that said, “I know I can say kind things” (or something like that). I asked him what it said and he said, “I know … that my Redeemer lives” (words from “My Savior Lives”).

A couple days ago, while on vacation in West Virginia, we were in a playroom at the hotel. At first it was just the four of us. But soon another group of adults and children entered the room. Moments later, Ethan, who was working on a puzzle, started singing, “I know that my Redeemer lives / now I can stand on what he did / my Savior, my Savior lives!” and “Jesus, you are the only way!”

While traveling on vacation, Ethan has asked several times, “Can you get ‘My Savior Lives’?” Yesterday, while on the road, we went through the Ethan’s songs (a playlist on my iPod), which now includes eight songs, twice (apparently, it wasn’t good napping music, though).

Since Ethan seems to be good at learning song lyrics, we’re starting to memorize scriptures, verses from My First Read And Learn Favorite Bible Verses, which we’ve been reading with Ethan (and now Sarah) for almost as long as we’ve had Ethan.

We believe that we are formed by our practices and we hope that learning worship songs and Bible verses, as well as devotional practices, will shape both Ethan and Sarah (and us, too) into the people God desires us to be!

This is something we’re fairly intentional about. But it’s not something we *always* do well and I’m sure we could do better.

What practices are forming you? If you have children, what practices are forming your kids?

Church Shopping on Vacation

IMG_1721It’s Sunday and we’re on vacation so we needed to find a place to worship. It was an interesting process!

First, visiting churches has multiple purposes for us. With both of us being pastors, it’s a rare opportunity for the four of us to attend worship together as a family.

Because we are pastors, we do more than worship when we attend other churches — we also reflect and evaluate (it’s the way we’re wired)! Sometimes we’re thinking, “Uh oh, we do that, too — we need change that!” and other times, “That’s something we could try (or an adjustment we could make).”

To find a church today, I searched online (can’t remember the last time I used a telephone book) at, the UMC’s Find-A-Church service. I searched for churches near our location. Amazingly, there are 147 United Methodist churches within 25 miles of the local zip code.

I breezed through at least 50 church pages. It was a fairly quick process because the vast majority did not personalize their pages (every United Methodist church is encouraged to update/maintain their church’s info page), which means there was no information on most of the churches.

Most churches had average attendance numbers, which appears to be included for most/all churches by default. Because so few were personalized, I only came across a few churches that had websites or photos posted. In the end, after weeding out small churches, churches with no info, photos, or service times, we settled on a church located 24.5 miles away, Chapel Hill UMC in Buckhannon, West Virginia (by the way, we weeded out small churches only because we didn’t want to stick out too much while on vacation).

I’ll share more detailed reflection and evaluation on today’s worship experience with leaders at Centre Grove, but here, I’ll simply say it was a learning experience, including a couple adjustments I want to make in our worship service. I also want to review Centre Grove’s Find-A-Church page. We’ve personalized it and I think it’s okay, but I want to take another look at it fresh from this experience (and keep it updated).

What experiences have you had finding churches to visit on vacation?

West Virginia Vacation, Day 3

The internet went down here sometime yesterday, so we’re posting our favorite photo from day 3 (our second full day here) a little late.

Unfortunately, we didn’t take the camera on the hike in the morning due to the heavy fog / light drizzle. I carried Sarah on my back for the 2-mile hike and Ethan hiked the entire distance on foot. The trail was listed as an “easy/moderate” trail but I’d say the only reason the word easy was used is because of the fairly short distance (1 mile out, 1 mile back). For a 3-year-old, I’d think it was “strenuous” (and the wet conditions only made it more challenging; we didn’t really get wet because of the thick tree coverage, but the ground was a little wet/muddy). It took us about an hour and a half.

This photo was taken from the upper deck during an evening boat ride on the lake.