Thursday, April 30, 2009

Adam Hamilton - GM and The UMC

I almost missed this one. (Thanks Billy!) Adam Hamilton posted a very thought provoking piece on his weblog:

General Motors and the UMC Adam Hamilton at Seeing Gray.

Read the post and don't skip the comments.

I want to comment on a couple of comments. A couple of people take exception at Adam's analogy, of how he compares The United Methodist Church to General Motors. They point out quite adamantly that the church is not a company, not a business, etc. Of course it is not. And of course Adam Hamilton knows that. But analogies are helpful. Although the church is a gift from God and has at its center the resurrected Christ, it is still a human run institution. It is helpful to set the church next to other human run institutions, not to model or emulate them but so that we may see what we can learn from the comparison.

I also want to comment on the comment that was the last one posted as I was posting this (there may be other comments since then.) It was posted from "hc" who claims to be an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church. He or she took exception to Adam's post. Nothing wrong with that, this is what comment fields are for. You will have to read Pastor Hamilton's post to get the context, but the comment ends with "How dare anyone have the audicity to say that small doesn’t work. Shame Adam…shame."

Really? A UM ordained elder wagging their finger at another in an anonymous comment field? This is what it has come to? Not to mention that Pastor Hamilton's post never said "small doesn't work."

Give the piece a read and feel free to return here to post your comments.



Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Why Kids Leave the Church

I am a little hesitant to post this because I couldn't find a link to the original survey results so I couldn't see the methodology or sample group. However, it is still an interesting thing to think about.

"Why Kids Leave the Church After High School" by Sue Bohlin at Tapestry: A Christian Women's Collective.

You can read the whole article, but here are the first two paragraphs:

The Youth Transition Network has released the results of research about why 80% of students in high school youth groups have left the church within a year after high school graduation.

One big reason is the unrealistic expectations that our young people sense from parents and church authority figures. When asked, “What does it mean to be a good Christian,” students responded with a long list of do’s and don’ts, always and nevers.

I don't post much stuff that falls in the realm of youth ministry because that is not my area of expertise. However, the mass exodus of young people from the church after high school strongly affects the discipleship work we do through The Pathway to Discipleship. What I find when people come to the church and commit to engage in the journey of becoming a disciple is that they fall into three main groups: already churched, completely unchurched, or (and I don't have the data yet to back this up but I feel like it is the biggest group) dechurched. More than we find seekers who have never heard about Jesus, we find people who had a relationship with the church at some point and fell away. A lot of these people fell away as children or young adults.

The challenge for this group that the article points to is this: It is not usually that they don't know about Jesus. It is that they think they already know about Jesus and they have some unhelpful images of what that means. I feel like the pathway is actually helping to help people reinterpret their image of God and begin afresh their relationship with Jesus. But that doesn't do anything about what is causing their confusion in the first place.



Saturday, April 25, 2009

The review will have to wait

I just finished Adam Hamilton's Enough: Discovering Joy through Simplicity and Generosity
but we will have to wait on the review.  It was good I had to hand it right over to my wife to read.  I will post a review when she is done.  An amazing little book and especially relevant for this uncertain time.



Thursday, April 23, 2009

Why we do what we do

One of the biggest roles of the discipleship office at University is facilitating people in ministry. We have countless leaders of Bible studies, small groups and other gatherings and events. One of the biggest challenges I face is trying to sort though all the people who come to us with ideas for stuff they want to start. On one hand, we are called to support entrepreneurial leadership. In other words, if people feel called by God to do something in ministry, we really don't want to quash that. However, the flip side of that is saying yes to everything with no discernment. A church that did that could end up full to the rim with programs that may be interesting or fun or useful, but have nothing to do with Jesus. There is a balance that requires saying no to some things that aren't related to what the church is about in order to be able to say a strong yes to the things that the church is about. It is hard to believe for some but University UMC does have a limited amount of resources. We only have so many rooms, so many televisions, and so many people who can set things up. If we said yes to everything, we would literally run out of room.

Also, if we are more discerning about what we are starting, we have the ability to be more supportive of the new ministries. This is especially true if we are clear on the purpose and goals of the ministry.

Because there is a pretty high volume of requests that come in and because we are Methodists, I am working with a new system for discernment. People with ideas for starting new ministries, whether they are Bible studies, fellowship groups, recreational activities, anything that requires church resources, are going to be asked to fill out a form (I know some hate this already) that asks them to reflect on a few questions. (Thanks to our Directing Pastor Charles Anderson and our Vision and Values team for help in creating and refining these questions.)

1. In a couple of sentences, please describe the ministry you are proposing: This may seem like a throwaway question but if you can't describe the ministry if a few sentences, how are you going to tell anyone else about it?

2. Would you say this ministry primarily targets people:
 Already involved in the church (inside the walls)
 Not yet involved in the church (outside the walls)
People in ministry may not like the word "target" but we need to be clear on where we think we are going. A ministry that reaches outside the walls needs to look a little different than one that reaches in. Often we want to say "both" which may be a little true but figuring out who we primarily have in mind helps us to do a better job.

3. Would you say this ministry is primarily targeted towards:
 Men  Women
Ages:  Under 18

Even more people dislike this because we want to be inclusive. As long as I have been in ministry, I have seen Sunday school classes promote themselves as open to ages 18-100, men and women, lifelong Christians and new Christians. When I have gone to the room I have found that the membership was much more clearly defined by that. This is an internal question. Anyone may be invited to come, but if we have a group in mind, we might make it more inviting or effective for them.

4. Would you say that the primary outcome of this ministry is:
 Reaching out to people in our community with the good news of Jesus
 Reaching in in an effort to shepherd members of the body of Christ
 Reaching deep in an effort to deepen relationships with Jesus
This question is in response to a statement that I have heard quite a few times that goes something like this: "I am sure church members will want to bring their unchurched friends to this." Whether or not they will want to, they usually don't. It is okay to have an event that is about taking care of those in our family of faith. It is important to reach out to the world that surrounds us. It is important to study and learn and deepen our faith. It is nearly impossible to do all three at once. While you may pull off two, you have got to pick which one is the main thing.

5. Describe the primary outcome of this ministry: When I spoke about this with Charles Anderson, he suggested that most ministries have a product and a bi-product and both may have value. I may have a cookout for church members and the main product is just fellowship and quality time together. Someone might bring a friend who ends up meeting Jesus. That is a high value bi-product. On the other hand, say I have a cookout and tell everyone that they must bring an unchurched friend to get in. Introducing people to the church and eventually Jesus might be the "product" there (I know product sounds harsh when talking about introducing people to Jesus, but bear with me) and the high value bi-product is fellowship and quality time together. If we want to do the best job possible we just need to figure out what we are trying to do.

6. How will you measure the success of this ministry? In other words, describe how you will know if this ministry is succeeding: From experience, I believe that most churches are full of ministries that failed a long time ago and our still going. Do we not believe that if God has called us to and anointed a ministry that it will have some measure of success? This is not about large numbers of people. It is a question of whether or not the ministry is doing what it set out to do. A ministry can be effective if it changes the life of even one person. But what about when it changes the life of no one? We need to know how we will know if something is doing what it set out to do. Here is the neat thing. Sometimes, we set out to do one thing and God does something else. That is perfectly wonderful. But even when that happens, we should look back and what we thought we were trying to do, evaluate that and see if we need to make changes to follow the leading of God. We also need to look at things that have just plain failed, learn from then and move on. We really need to stop doing things that use time, talents and resource and are not an effective part of the ministry of Jesus Christ.

The form has some other questions but they are mostly logistical. If you are involved in a ministry, consider taking it through these questions and see where it leads you. This is work in progress, so I would love to read your feedback.



Monday, April 20, 2009

Friday, April 10, 2009

So, What Does This Mean for Church? Part II

To follow up on yesterday's post, So, What Does This Mean for Church?, here is one possible example. Our first reaction might be, "well we aren't going to do anything like that." However, history tells us that churches raised their eyebrows at the first churches to put up a "website" or stay in touch with their members by "email."

Bring Your Facebook Friends to Easter Services at The Digital Sanctuary



Thursday, April 9, 2009

So, What Does This Mean for Church?

Take a look at the following video and ask yourself the question, "what does all this mean for the future and present of the church?"



Elders and Deacons

At University, we have two members of our pastoral staff set to be ordained this year. One is to be ordained as an elder one as a deacon. There were some questions from staff members, so I wrote the following. This was supposed to be short, but the answer is a little complicated. If you are an elder or deacon reading this post and have any helpful comments, please post them or email them to me. This is still a working document and I would love to make it better.

A number of weeks ago we announced the Rev. Leslie Tomlinson and Rev. Kit Tomlinson had been recommended by the Board of Ordained Ministry for election into full connection and ordination at our Annual Conference in June. Leslie has been affirmed in her call to ordination as an elder, and Kit has been affirmed in his call to ordination as a deacon. There have been a number of questions about the difference between elders and deacons and I hope to address that in this piece.

Let me begin by sharing the relevant descriptions of the orders from our Book of Discipline the governing document for the United Methodist Church. First Elders:

¶ 332. Ministry of an Elder – Elders are ordained minister who, by God’s grace, have completed their formal preparation and have been commissioned and served as a provisional member, have been found by the Church to be of sound learning, of Christian character, possessing the necessary gifts and evidence of God’s grace and whose call by God to ordination has been confirmed by the Church. Elders are ordained to a lifetime ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order and Service. By the authority given in their ordination, they are authorized to preach and teach the Word of God, to provide pastoral care and counsel, to administer the sacraments of baptism and Holy Communion, and to order the life of the Church for service in mission and ministry. The servant leadership of the elder, in both parish and extension ministries, is expressed by leading persons to faith in Jesus Christ, by exercising pastoral supervision, and by ordering the Church in mission in the word.

Now Deacons:

¶329. Ministry Authority and Responsibilities of Deacons in Full Connection-1. Deacons are persons called by God, authorized by the Church, and ordained by a bishop to a lifetime ministry of Word and Service to both the community and the congregation in a ministry that connects the two. Deacons exemplify Christian discipleship and create opportunities for others to enter into discipleship. In the world, the deacon seeks to express a ministry of compassion and justice, assisting laypersons as they claim their own ministry. In the congregation, the ministry of the deacon is to teach and to form disciples, and to lead worship together with other ordained and laypersons.

Both deacons and elders and ordained (set-apart) ministers in the life of the church. They both require intense theological education and they both require an extensive discernment and evaluation process. These are not levels of ordination; one is not greater than the other; they are just different. Let’s focus in on some of the differences. According the Book of Discipline, Elders are “ordained to a lifetime ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order and Service.” Deacons are “ordained by a bishop to a lifetime ministry of Word and Service…” The words “sacrament” and “order” point out a couple of important differences between the two orders. First of all elders are ordained to the ministry of sacrament and deacons are not. Remember, the two sacraments of The United Methodist Church are baptism and holy communion. Elders are authorized to preside over these sacraments. Second, elders are authorized to “order the life of the Church for service in mission and ministry.” Practically speaking, this refers to the elders’ role in leading the people of God in their mission: organizing, providing leadership for, and casting the vision in our local churches, in our extension ministries, in our annual conference and beyond.

While I have pointed out two differences based on what deacons cannot do, it is very important that this not make it seems as though deacons are somehow “less than” elders. Deacons have some important roles that are not part of the role of an elder. Deacons are ordained to a “lifetime ministry of Word and Service to both the community and the congregation in a ministry that connects the two.” Part of the role of the deacon is to bridge the church and the world. This can be in the context of a church, reaching out, or in the context of a ministry outside the walls of the church, helping people reach into the church.

At University we have three deacons, one ordained (Rev. Linda Smith), one set to be ordained (Rev. Kit Tomlinson) and one in her first year of her probationary period (Rev. Denise Barker.) Let me use two of our deacons to demonstrate how these bridges might look. Kit works for a church (ours) but his main is to reach outside to build bridges with a certain subset of the young people in our community. Kit also works with people inside the church to help involve them in that ministry. Denise works for an outside organization (Magdalena House) to bring hope and justice in the name of Jesus Christ and to draw the church into that ministry.

Some practical issues that come up: Both elders and deacons can be referred to as Reverend. Both can be referred to as pastor, especially if they are functioning in a pastoral role. Both can wear stoles, though deacons have a special stole that gathers at the side. While both ordinations are lifetime, only elders are assured a lifetime of appointments. Deacons seek their own ministry and employment.

This is just a quick overview of the two orders. If you are interested in learning more, I suggest that you talk to one of our elders or deacons. You can be a witness to the ordination of Leslie and Kit at this year’s Annual Conference. The service of ordination will be held Friday, June 5, at 6:30 p.m. in Selena Auditorium at the American Bank Center in Corpus Christi.



Saturday, April 4, 2009

Quitting Church

I have been sitting on Julia Duin’s Quitting Church, Why the Faithful Are Fleeing and What to Do About It for a couple of weeks now. I finished it, but it took me a while to think about what to write about it. Julia Duin is the religion editor for the Washington Times. I read the book through the lens of this being a journalist’s investigative piece. But I realized, after it sunk in, that this is a narrative written by someone who feels hurt, or at least let down by the church. That makes the book just as useful, but also different. Duin shares, through interview and her own experience, a picture of the mass exodus from our mainline churches. For our people at University UMC, it is hard to grasp this with our amount of growth, but most mainline churches are in serious decline. The book gives a ton of great insight into the problem though none of it is especially new. But it does it in an almost prescriptive way, a way that is a little mind boggling. If pastors could just be dynamic, spirit-led biblical scholars who could provide programming that taught the depths of theological understanding while giving singles a place to meet their future spouses and providing for the needs of all while establishing a true sense of community and if those same pastors could be sure to pray for and visit and attend to the spiritual needs of all in their flock, and if possible be good friends with everyone, our churches would be fine. If it sounds like I am poking at the author, I am not really; I am poking at the problem. When you combine the true needs of God’s people, with the true lack of vision and leadership in our churches, with the new consumerist mind set that says, “I will shop around ‘til I find what I need” the problem seems impossible. It seems that many of our churches have either given up, or tried to address every problem at once and ended up with nothing.

If you care about the future of our churches, you should probably read this book. Be prepared to be convicted, flustered and occasionally annoyed. Consider it a good thing.