Thursday, March 23, 2006

My response to Nate

Nate commented below on my last blog post, so read those first.
This is what I have to say about that:

First of all I do not appreciate the references to "the system." We are a connection and we should seek to assist each other (and not work against each other) on every level. Do I think it is best to remove the pastor at Lamb's Chapel because they are growing? No. Do I think that after a certain amount of time, in our "system" that a pastor should be moved regardless? Yes.

What is the answer? I know as much as you or Bishop Coyner. I will say that the "system" needs to do a better job of removing ineffective pastors. But just as much as that the local church needs to embrace her UM roots and polity and accept that God can work "inside the system."

Our system is an itinerant system that is based on an ecclesiology of connection and an order of elders. While this debate is long in our Methodist/Brethren history it is our identity. If a pastor desires to not be an elder, or desires to stay at a church and have the church based around "his or her" ministry, or if a pastor wants a local church to hire outside the "system" then they should be PCA, Baptist, Nazarene or some other kind of congregational system. Our polity knows nothing of "teaching pastor"; it is a category that doesn't exist except in the minds of those who have created it.

Further, a local church should not be in the business of "hiring" outside the UMC. We exist on a sending "system." Therefore, your uncle was not hired at Lambs Chapel UMC he was sent there and appointed there by the Bishop. He serves at the will of the Bishop and within a "system" that exists as described above. No one, not even Mark Beeson, should exist outside the system. And the bishops need to get a grip on pastors who work outside the “system.”

I resent UMC churches who do not claim their identity as United Methodists. I resent churches who continue to hire "outside the system."

Would I be a good fit at Lambs Chapel if Bishop Coyner appointed me there? How would you know? How would my current church have known if I would be good? Like so much of the Christian faith, knowing isn’t the issue; the issue is trusting… trusting that God works in and through the Bishop and cabinet and the “system.” That means trusting even when it appears that for 150 years it didn’t “work” – whatever that means? Because while LCUMC struggled, it is not as if peoples lives were not changed and people didn’t come to Christ because elders were appointed there. The elders of the past may not have been blessed to have happen what is currently happening at LCUMC. But I also believe that with these things God is firmly in control. Are you saying I am a “bad probationary elder” because I haven’t grown my church by 400 percent? Or is maybe God working in spite of who is appointed at these churches? If it your uncle who is making the Church grow, or is it the Spirit who is at work at LCUMC?

While you ponder that also ponder this: Why should I waste any more time seeking to become an elder in the UMC when I could just get "hired" on at a UMC an remove myself from the system? Why would anyone? This is a slippery-slope in our "system" that must be curbed sooner or later.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Bishop Coyner on appointments... concerning

“The Balancing Act” – March 21, 2006 [bold mine]

As our two Cabinets here in Indiana work their way through the apportionment season, once again we are involved in a balancing act – trying the balance the number of pastors with the number of appointments. In our United Methodist polity of “guaranteed appointments”, every church is guaranteed a pastor and every commissioned or ordained clergy is guaranteed an appointment. That fact produces an incredibly difficult balancing act of trying to keep everything in perfect balance.

Factors which affect that balance of numbers include: pastors who are retiring from active service, pastors who die while serving a church, pastors who decide to leave pastoral ministry, pastors who go on some type of Leave of Absence (including Family Leave or Incapacity Leave) or return from Leave of Absence, pastors who return to pastoral ministry from Extension Ministry appointments, seminary graduates returning for their first appointments, pastors who return to school for advance degrees, church which add clergy staff positions, churches which can no longer afford to have full-time pastors or choose to go part-time, churches which eliminate associate pastor positions in order to hire lay staff (often to try to save money, but I worry about the loss of positions to train future senior pastors), churches which choose to close, Extension Ministry positions which are eliminated by other institutions, etc. As you can readily see, our two Cabinets are involved in a constant balancing act, trying to provide every pastor with a place to serve, every church with the number of pastors they request, and in the midst of that trying to make the best possible matches of pastors and churches. It is a balancing act, and it is constantly moving target.

This year, the North Cabinet is facing an over-supply of a minimum of 7 more clergy with guaranteed appointments than we have positions to appoint them. Meanwhile the South Cabinet is “short” 3 clergy. One would think that is easily solved, since Indiana is served by one bishop (me), but the mechanisms of appointing pastors from one conference to the other are not easy: we have different “start” dates for conferences years, the two conferences have different insurances plans, and some pastors don’t want to move from one conference to the other. If we were one conference in Indiana, those problems might be a little easier to solve, but that is not our current reality.

I share this to remind all of our pastors and all of our churches that our United Methodist system of appointing pastors has many, many advantages. But it is also a constant balancing act. Both Cabinets struggle with issues such as: do we tell a capable and effective Local Pastor that he/she no longer has an appointment just because an Elder wants to return to pastoral ministry here in Indiana and is guaranteed an appointment? Do we encourage a church which is struggling financially to keep a full-time pastor because we need the appointment position, or do we encourage that church to balance its budget and go to a part-time pastor they can afford? Do we put two or more part-time parishes together to try to make a full-time appointment? Do we work harder to help ineffective pastors to find another career, and will the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy Session of Annual Conference support that effort? Do we tell all Supply Pastors who are not guaranteed an appointment that they are out of a job, even if they are growing their churches? Do we encourage pastors who are near mandatory retirement to move into retirement and make room for younger clergy? In the midst of all of those issues, can we make the best possible matches of pastoral leadership to fit the needs of the 1250 churches of our two conferences?

I am reminded of something Bishop Leroy Hodapp told me when I was appointed to the Cabinet in 1990: “Anybody can make one good appointment; the real trick is to make hundreds of them every year.”

Please keep both Cabinets in your prayers this appointment season as we seek God’s guidance and our best wisdom to keep this “balancing act” and make the best appointments possible for all of our churches.
from Bishop Michael J. Coyner
Indiana Area of the United Methodist Church
"Making a Difference ... in Indiana and around the world”


***************************
This impacts me directly and indirectly. As a probationary elder, I am quite concerned. Does the Board of Ordained Ministry read this letter from the Bishop and think "Well, we could just start holding back some of the candidates on track for ordination and commissioning." I sure hope not!

Further, there is something to be said about the effectiveness of having a church every 6 miles. Does this model for ministry still work today? Of course, how can the bishop ignore the number of churches in both North and South Conference which have a large number of directly hired staff who avoid the appointment process and the connection?

These are problems, but I think there are bigger concerns -- the shrinking number of members in our churches and the continued lack of newly baptized members and professions of faith in our churches.

Monday, March 20, 2006

Where to worship in Birmingham?

On our way to help with Katrina clea-up in D'ibberville, Mississippi, myself and three others will be staying the night on Saturday in Birmingham, Alabama. We will be looking for a place to worship on Sunday. Since I am the pastor, I have been delegated to find the church.

Any recommendations?
I am looking for THE UMC in the area.
Or maybe a cutting-edge emergent experience for my church members to enjoy.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

There is no such thing as Christian music.

Christian music is just as likely as a Christian car, Christian push pins, or Christian rabbits. “Christian Music” is simply a category. Categories aren’t real. Categories are perceptual. Categories aren’t real. Therefore, Christian music isn’t real.

What is real is Truth. What is real is that which isn’t Truth. Humans are real. Humans can choose to be Christian. Humans can choose to secular. But the music they create cannot be “Christian” or “secular.”

Today I happened across proof of the lie called “Christian music.” Below is a link to a video by Johnny Cash. In this video Johnny remakes Nine Inch Nails’ Hurt. This is the late, great Johnny Cash's last video. This video is actually a great and powerful presentation of the Gospel.

Enjoy!

http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-2498982473010416253&q=johnny+cash+hurt

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

My Spiritual Journey, The Conclusion

I am aware that not every church is ready to cross over into post-modernity. God has ordained various types of ministry, modern and post-modern alike. My prayer is that God will guide me in my leadership. I do not pretend to have all the answers; so, I pray, seek trusted counsel, and carry on trusting that God will use me in spite of myself. My desire is to be loyal to God and the calling which God has placed upon my life. I can “blossom where planted” and will serve at the will of the Bishop. Yet, my gifts and graces for ministry could best be used with support of a system that affirms my convictions. To be the pastor God is calling me to be I need the support of my Bishop, my District Superintendent and the rest of the Cabinet, the Board of Ordained Ministry, and open and willing hearts at the local church. Assurance that I can do ministry at my appointment with this support will benefit me and the congregation.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

My Spiritual Journey, Part 6

As I continue to discern God’s claim on my life and God’s will for me in ministry, I struggle with many of my passions and revelations. I understand that these are God-given, but I am not sure of exactly how God wants me to utilize them. While God is helping me have success in ministry at the new church, I still feel limited. Some members question many of my post-modern beliefs and emerging church practices. There remains a lack of desire to reach the lost for Christ in our own community. Commitment to discipleship remains low. The modern understanding of civil religion is prevalent. And in the end, I fear a repeat of the horrors at New Burlington UMC.

As a pastor I am often afraid to speak openly and honestly about my passion for Jesus Christ and God’s Church. As we in the church have very subtly let this world into our sanctuaries and into our interpretation of Scripture, secular culture has penetrated the very fabric of our being. I am saddened that Jesus has become another product to sell and the Church just another club to join. I am angered that we pledge our allegiance to other institutions and symbols and that fluffy, feel-good sermons are expected. It occurs to me that the evil forces of darkness and the Powers of this world would want nothing more than for us to neuter the Gospel or subscribe to a false gospel. Our faith in Jesus Christ should be completely counter-cultural.

My fear is that any church I serve will remain stuck in modernity and entrenched in civil religion. I am concerned that if I were to passionately preach the Gospel I would spend more time dealing with resistance from the congregation than reaching out to the lost, helping the least, and worshipping the One True God.

In attempting to deal with my fears I have spoken to seasoned pastors. However, they only confirmed my distraught and sense of desperation. I looked to renewal groups within the church, such as Confessing Movement and Good News, but again I found only more frustration and discouragement. My wife and I have discussed my concerns and passions and prayed for direction; yet, as I look to the future, the fear and confusion remain.

I desire to help both Christians and non-Christians understand that Salvation lies within the Church and the Gospel challenges us and our world to be transformed. Christianity should appear absolutely upside down. Paul says the Gospel is nothing-less than the “foolishness of God.”


Foolishness = understanding
Weakness = strength
Poor = rich
Dependence = independence

I want to teach congregations that while it may not make sense, we need to be more irrational and unreasonable about our faith. We serve a Lord which has called us to love neighbor and enemy alike. We praise a God who will call a pacifist into Navy Chaplaincy. We worship a God who demands all of us, not just those parts we want to give. Our “sacred cows” need to be burnt. Our assumptions about God must evaporate. Our job is simply to trust and obey, no matter how bizarre God appears. We need to allow the fresh wind of The Holy Spirit to blow over us and renew our hearts and minds and ministries.

Monday, March 13, 2006

My Spiritual Journey, Part 5


Soon after graduation, I moved to a new appointment where I am currently serving. This church is different from New Burlington UMC, but similar in some ways. There are some distinct differences regarding their devotion to God, to each other, and to missions. I greatly appreciate the many spiritually mature leaders. Furthermore, this congregation is not a Sunday-only church; almost everyone who attends regularly is involved in at least one other activity or group and they enjoy coming together for various activities during the week. In addition, the majorities of people at this church are “Evangelical” and dedicated to their faith in Christ. The fact that they spend over $20,000 a year on missions demonstrates their care for spreading the Gospel and helping the poor and needy. The people at this UMC have also been supportive of my ministry and my family. They are kind, generous, and encouraging. Learning from my experience at New Burlington UMC, I have discovered new ways to lead and equip people for ministry. Together we are moving ahead toward a building and/or restructuring process and new ideas for outreach and Christian education. It is a good fit.

I should also mention that while a Student Pastor, I felt God calling me to explore military chaplaincy. After much prayer and affirmation, I decided to join the Navy and become a Navy Chaplain Candidate. This past summer my congregation supported me while I attended the Navy Chaplain Candidate Program for seven weeks. I spent three weeks at Navy Officer orientation in Newport, Rhode Island and four weeks shadowing a chaplain with the Marine Corps at Camp Pendleton in Southern California. While this is an exciting and awesome ministry, I am not yet convinced that this is the ministry to which I am called. I am still praying about why God has led me into this ministry and whether or not this is the field of ministry I am to pursue. I have to consider my family, my health, and various theological issues – including pluralism and pacifism. The hands-on experience this past summer and in the future should help me discern this particular calling. Regardless, ordination is mandatory whether I join the Navy full-time upon ordination or remain an itinerant pastor in North Indiana.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

My Spiritual Journey, Part 4

[Is anyone actually following all of this? I have some serious doubts. That's OK I am amusing myself.]

Unsure of the field of ministry to which I was being called I considered many, including military chaplaincy and pastoral ministry. And unsure of what exactly a “Hoosier” was (I still do not know), I ended up as the Student Pastor at New Burlington UMC in Muncie District. It seemed like a good fit. They wanted someone young, just getting started (for financial reasons), who had a heart for youth ministry. Appropriately, I was on staff at my home church in Cincinnati in the youth department and only 24. They were looking for me; I was looking for them. God through the Church made the match.

Student Pastoring is trial-by-fire. I knew no one in Indiana, aside from a couple classmates from United Theological Seminary who lived over an hour away. I did not know much about being “pastor.” The seminary attempted vaguely to give the practical tools necessary. In fact, Local Pastors’ Licensing School was much more helpful in this regard. Learning to pastor in this situation was tough. It was challenging. It was good times and bad times. Most of all, it was depressing.

As I went though seminary, I changed. I learned new things. I read books that rocked my world. I began seeing my role as pastor with new eyes. How I understood ministry changed dramatically. I am sure that the people at New Burlington UMC had no idea what was happening. For example, I went from a contemporary worshipper to a liturgy-laden pastor while taking Church History and Work of Worship. I was also learning about how our world was changing. I could see how an experiential-based theology was flawed and a propositional/cognitive based theology fell short. I wanted something more. Seeing how the world was moving into post-modernity, I desired that the church adjust and remain relevant. I wanted the church to rediscover its mission and move away from pragmatic models and programs. I attempted to emphasize evangelism. I attempted to move the congregation away from Sunday-only worship. I tried to inspire the uninspired.

One particular issue became a real thorn in my side. As I attempted to keep the focus of worship on Christ, I became frustrated with the people’s desire to worship other symbols and ideologies. The worship committee wanted to include patriotic songs, the pledge of allegiance to the American flag, civil traditions, and even the color guard from the local recruiting station in the Sunday morning worship. I objected and sought to teach God’s desire for us to worship Him alone. This frustrated everyone involved. Many were confused by my pacifism and lack of patriotism in worship. For some, my inability to intimately connect God and country was the point of no return—I never regained their respect. Others even questioned my Christianity. My ministry suffered as people looked down on me and even fought me publicly. It was an extremely difficult time in my service to our only Lord, Jesus Christ.

A year and a half into pastoral ministry, I was completely discouraged... discouraged by the church’s unwillingness to stretch, to find new ways of doing ministry, to reach out and make a difference. I felt as though I had failed miserably. I also knew that there were people in the church who not only did not care for my ministry; they did not care for me. There were personal attacks against me and my family. A nasty Ad Council meeting included one woman reading a list of my faults which she had been accumulating for some time. And even though it was only 2 or 3 complainers, I could feel my “supporters” slipping away. It was during this time that I fell into a depression. The solution came through a re-focusing of my attention. I became the church chaplain and put much more time and effort into my seminary studies. This improved the situation immensely. All I had to do was ride out my time at this church until I graduated.

In spite of the difficulties, my time in ministry at New Burlington UMC was beneficial. During this time, some new people came to know Jesus and were excited about their new faith. I led two Bible studies with my “supporters” and I could see that there were some who desired to stretch and grow. I know that in spite of me, seeds were planted and now with God’s help the new pastor will fertilize and help them grow. But by the time I put on my graduation robe, both I and the church were ready to move on.

My Spiritual Journey, Part 3

Seeking out a church for our wedding gave Renee and I an opportunity to visit other churches. After we married we were invited to attend and later joined a United Methodist Church. Sharonville United Methodist Church (approx. 600 member church) in a suburb of Cincinnati was our home church. We attended the Contemporary Service. We enjoyed the service with upbeat music, reminiscent of the music we enjoyed at the Pentecostal Church, yet with a message about God’s love. In reality, after years of church attendance and the endurance of many sermons and Sunday school class, it was in the UMC that we finally learned about God’s race. We felt right at home.

My wife and I both became active members of the church. Using my professional skills as a “newspaper designer” I worked on the church newsletter. The Nominations Committee tapped me to be a member of the Trustees Committee. I also began working with the youth group teaching High School Sunday school. I had a passion for working with youth and I still do. I eventually became part of the staff at our home church as a paid “Youth Intern.” I also enjoyed attending Christian conferences, such as Promise Keepers and the Youth Specialties Youth Workers Conference, and attending other Christian concerts. These activities confirmed my desire to learn, grow, and to support and teach others about the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Soon after joining SUMC, I was encouraged by my pastor, Tim Burden, as he shared his feelings about a revelation he had been given regarding God’s special call on our lives. Very different from my earlier conversation with my former youth pastor about my call, this was a powerful affirmation.

In my prayer time, I felt God directing me to “get prepared.” I don’t believe that this was a mystical experience. The clouds didn’t tear open and God’s thundering voice audibly tell me to “Get prepared.” Not that I doubt that for some people this is how it happened to them; this simply isn’t my experience. My experience was that I felt God using the people around me to confirm that call to ministry. My pastors encouraged me to pray about it. My wife confirmed the calling. Even extended family would come to visit and say something to the effect of, “Chris, I was at church last Sunday, thinking about coming by for a visit, and I thought of you and believe that you would make a fine pastor someday.” And I was sure that if God was truly calling me to ministry that I could walk away again but I would never escape it.

I knew that God would not relent until I pursued and explored. And I knew that if I didn’t go ahead and do it at the time, then next year, two years or five years down the road God would tap me again with this calling business. So there was no denying it as I had done in the past. Once again God had called, yet I was not quite sure what that meant. After much prayer and discernment I decided to pursue God’s call to ministry by attending a United Methodist seminary. I felt God wanted me to get prepared through seminary training.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

My Spiritual Journey, Part 2

In high school I started going back to church again, this time on my own. (My parents have ever since been nothing more than nominal Christians.) While in high school I recommitted my life to Christ. Youth Group became one of my top priorities. By my junior year, my Type-A personality made me a nice fit for leadership within the group. I even helped start a Christian group at my high school. Overall, I was a pretty “good boy” – the piety of the church had rubbed off on me. At school, I would carry my Bible with the rest of my books, reading it during study hall and lunch.

My junior year is also memorable because that year I started dating an attractive, smart, Christian girl named Renee. She attended the Pentecostal Holiness Church. Suffice it to say that after attending a service at her church I had lots of questions: “Those folks jumping up and down in the pew, what language were they speaking … Why were they jumping up and down in the pew and running up and down the aisle … and what’s the deal with ‘back-sliding?’” That was just the beginning of my inquiry. Though it was very different (and that is an understatement) than my traditional Baptist church, there was something about it that I liked. There was something freeing about it – more about that to come.

The pastor and youth pastor at my Baptist church did not care for my inquisition. Further, they disapproved of my attending this other church. But, for a time, I went to both. I attended church or Bible Study six times a week: Wednesday evening youth group, Thursday afternoon study at school, Saturday morning visitation, Saturday evening worship at the Pentecostal Church, and two services on Sunday (one morning and one evening worship service—each at a different church). It was during this time that I felt a call to ministry. However, I did not know what that meant.

I went to my youth pastor, a trusted friend, for counsel. After hearing my testimony, he told me that I was confused. He said that I was not ready. He discouraged me from the calling. He once again questioned my involvement with the Pentecostals. After that and some other disheartening experiences, I left New Bethel Baptist Church for good.

After high school, I spent many of my college days as part of the Pentecostal Church. I maintained an active church life. However, this church experience was not much easier. The “fundamentalist” teachings only discouraged me further. I was uninvited to play an instrument during the hymns because I had a goatee, as men were not permitted to have facial hair. Renee’s earrings and pants were also “sinful.” It remains baffling as to how a church so free and open to the movement of the Holy Spirit can be so restrictive. To this day I am cautious about the role of piety in our faith. Some kind of “vital piety,” as Wesley would call it, must play some role without morphing into legalism. Anyhow, it was not long until my fiancée, Renee, and I decided to look elsewhere for a place to praise God and cultivate our immature faith. We eventually found that place in the United Methodist Church.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

My Spiritual Journey, Part 1

My love for God and God’s love for me started even before I was born. However, I am not sure when I first realized it. All I know is that since I was a baby the Church and I have had an ongoing relationship. There have been times when She hurt me. There have been times when I have cheated on Her. Years past in my childhood, youth, and college days I felt like a leaf separated from the Vine just blowing through life. Other times, I felt like She and I were an old married couple.

My aunt and uncle get the credit for my bond with the Church. When my parents stopped taking me (aside from Christmas and Easter) they made sure I had a ride to the New Bethel Southern Baptist Church. I enjoyed Church. Well-meaning Sunday School teachers taught me the Bible stories. Well-meaning preachers told me to be a “good boy.” Well-meaning worship services included hymns about me and Jesus, fancy-sounding Scripture, and long sermons that dealt with politics, piety, and platitudes. I believe God works often in spite of the Church – thank the Lord!

It wasn’t long before I found my seven-year-old self in swim trunks, covered in a white robe, chest deep in warm water, in the front of the entire church. But it was in that baptistery that I believe my world was changed forever. Down I went into the water and back up again. I am not sure what the preacher said. I am not sure who was in the congregation. I do not recall which day of the week I “invited Jesus into my heart.” I am not even sure how I felt about being baptized. But I do now know this: while I do not remember what I did or anyone else did, God did do something. On that day, God marked me and made a claim on my life that I will never be able to erase or ignore no matter how hard I might try.

The years following my baptism brought many ups and downs. My parents, who had attended the church with me off and on, finally became committed to the church. But, it was not long before that stopped and so I stopped too. In addition to my step-dad’s new cocaine addiction, he had an affair with another married woman at the church. Though the Church was not much help to him, the detox program at the local hospital and Alcoholic Anonymous picked up the slack. I find it unfortunate that the Church helped “push Humpty off the wall;” but “all the King’s horses and men” were unwilling to put the broken pieces of my family’s shattered life back together again. Looking back, my relationship with God grew stronger through it all.

Tomorrow -- My time with the Pentecostals and How I came to be United Methodist and more.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Derek Webb rocks!

If you are not listening to Derek Webb then why listen to anything at all?

Check it out at www.derekwebb.com.

“In general, I hate Christian rock music. But now I have heard the songs of Derek Webb. Webb’s songs are free of the pietistic sentimentality that usually characterizes popular Christian music. His music, like the Gospel, is at once hard, edgy, and beautiful.”
—Stanley Hauerwas, author, educator, Duke Divinity School

“Derek Webb is one of the most important artists of our time and Mockingbird is his most important record to date. He is becoming our Woody Guthrie.”
—Donald Miller, author

“I love Derek Webb’s CD, Mockingbird – everything about it. The lyrics, content, song structures – the instrumentation (those horns are amazing), chording (some juicy stuff there!), mix, and musicianship. It’s rich and tasteful from beginning to end. A lot of us have been waiting for a ‘someday’ and ‘someone’ – when a committed Christian musician would start to lead in the areas of social justice and peace and break ranks with the domesticated muzak that so often passes for ‘Christian music.’ Derek is exactly the kind of artist we’ve been waiting for.”
—Brian McLaren, author/activist, anewkindofchristian.com

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Nature of UMC Doctrine, Again

It's worth saying again.

George Lindbeck, in his important book, The Nature of Doctrine, defines “doctrine” as “communally authoritative teachings regarding beliefs and practices that are considered essential to the identity or welfare of the group in question. They may be formally stated or informally operative, but in any case they indicate what constitutes faithful adherence to a community.”[1] We in the United Methodist Church need to consider such a definition.

Lindbeck makes an important point in stating that doctrine is “communally authoritative teachings.” The second part of this sentence is obvious – doctrines are “teachings regarding beliefs and practices.” Yet we need to understand they are “communally authoritative.” Another important point Lindbeck makes in this definition is that doctrine impacts both identity and practice of a community: “indicating what constitutes faithful adherence to a community.”

In a culture which puts high value on individualism this is a problematic definition of doctrine. We, as individuals and as groups, have a difficult time agreeing upon and accepting this communal responsibility. We have been taught to prize our opinions (despite that fact that everyone has one) and autonomy. We do not respond well to hierarchy or authority. We, as humans, desire control, influence, and power. We don’t want someone else telling us “how it is” and “what is what.” Yet, for doctrine to be as effective as it is essential, submission to a communal understanding is crucial. This is part of the problem in the United Methodist Church, not that we lack good doctrine, but that we embrace individuals who refuse to hold them as communally authoritative.

As a probationary elder in the UMC, in process for ordination, I am required to answer questions from our Book of Discipline about how I understand our doctrines. However, I refuse to answer by offering up “my opinion.” In the end, “my opinion” doesn’t really matter. What should be more important to those who decide my future as a pastor in this denomination is whether or not Chris Roberts, as a clergyperson in the United Methodist Church, will uphold the communally authoritative teachings… essential to the identity and welfare of the United Methodist Church and our Wesleyan tradition. It should be the will of the Church at-large that I, as an ordained minister in the UMC, faithfully uphold that which “constitutes faithful adherence to the community.” I will teach and practice in the churches to which I am appointed less my opinions of various doctrines and more what our church holds as formally stated or informally operative doctrine. The good news is that “my opinions and beliefs” match the “doctrines” of the UMC (and if they don’t then I should not be permitted to continue in this ordination process).

It confuses me that so many ordained clergy in our church have such strange opinions on matters of our doctrine. How they ever became ordained is beyond me… except that the people in charge also hold their personal opinions as more important than our doctrine. It is past time that the UMC review issues of doctrine and our clergy... all our clergy.

[1] George Lindbeck. The Nature of Doctrine: Religion and Theology in a Post-liberal Age. (Philadelphia, Westminster Press, 1984) 74.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Churches, Are we staying connected?

In case you haven’t noticed, the world is different than it was in the past.

Most people over the age of 35 grew up in what sociologists call “modernity.” In modernity, everything was more or less black and white. We turned to math and science to solve many of our problems. Technological progress provided answers to our questions. Given enough time and money, medical research would cure all our illnesses.

At the same time an emphasis was placed on “individual rights,” our society was growing more diverse. Even in the farm-lands, people of different races, genders, religions, and sexual-preferences started working and living much closer together. The world was changing so fast that perhaps many didn’t even notice.

These changes also impacted the Church. In the 1970’s, leaders adopted a business-driven, pragmatic model of understanding the life and ministry of the Church. Marketing models were accepted as evangelism. The Bible was reduced to a book of theological propositions and moral platitudes with “seven-easy-steps to make your life better.” The past 20 centuries of tradition—liturgies, theology, and practice—was rejected. Many churches became a “spiritual” combination of Wal-Mart and the local Country Club.

I and other people under the age of 35, known as Generation X, grew up in the midst of all of this change. However, we have a difficult time relating to modernity. So sociologists call us “post-modernists.”

Today, we live in a post-modern world. The world is not just becoming pluralistic, global, and informed, it already is. Art has taken the place of science. Critical thinking and tolerance are stressed in education. There is an emphasis on accepting all things as valuable; there are no “absolutes.” A balance between individualism and community is important.

Spirituality also changes with post-modernism. Today, young people are more likely to say that they experience God anywhere but a church. Christian churches are on the decline while Muslim, Hindu and Buddhist groups are growing. One research study found that:

  1. Out of all age groups, those ages 18-32 are the least likely to describe themselves as religious, as Christian, or as committed Christians.
  2. Young adults today in the US seem the most open to exploring faiths other the Christianity.
  3. Compared with teens throughout the past twenty years, today’s teenagers have the lowest likelihood of attending church when they are living independent of their parents.

The study’s conclusion: “[The data shows] there is a possibility that churches are losing ground in terms of influence and may need to consider new approaches.” The church just isn’t connecting with youth and young adults. In spite of all the programs, the church is irrelevant to a young person’s spirituality. Just like young adults and youth are not into vinyl records or cassette tapes, we aren’t into an out-dated version of Christianity. In the end, something new will have to be tried, unless the church is content to write off an entire generation.

Look around Sunday and see how many people there are under the age of 35. Some churches may just write off my generation. Some, whether they know it or not, already have.
It is time that the Church begins to see that there is a problem. One solution to the problem begins with 3 simple steps: simply notice how the culture and ministry have changed, get over our selfish desires to “do church” the way we have always done it, and then begin to adjust our “modern” approaches of ministry to our “post-modern” world.

The Truth never changes, but if we are going to reach my generation with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, we had better strongly consider the way we present it.

Cost of the War in Iraq
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