Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Did your church do anything special for Memorial Day?


I hope John the Methodist, at Locust and Honey, or Shane Raynor, at WesleyDaily, pick up this question. I really would like to know what many different churches did, if anything, in honor of Memorial Day.

I will share my story next week. Suffice it to say that we remembered Jesus' Ascension on Ascension Sunday and I did nothing particular for this civil holiday.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Discussing "Imagine Indiana" with Bishop Coyner

This morning I attended the discussion Bishop Coyner had with the young adult clergy (and those new to ministry). The gathered crowd included many clergy between mid-20s to upper-50s or so (Bishop Coyner didn’t set an age limit.)

Anyhow, as I suspected much of the discussion centered on the m-word, merger. Bishop Coyner began by stating the purpose of the discussion: to discuss the merger. So right away I knew that there would be no real discussion about another m-word, ministry. The Bishop prefaced his remarks by stating: “I am not here to sell either answer.” He went on to explain that he wanted younger clergy to have their input and to let their voice be heard in the discussion about the future of our conference.

The discussion continued with an explanation of much that is in the Pre-conference material. He took us through the last 40 years since the last restructure of the conference at the 1968 merger of the EUB and the Methodist Church. He spent lots of time talking about geographical boundaries and possible boundaries. He asked, “Is it time for a new Indianan Conference”?

Bishop Coyner also shared an insider story about his appointment by Jurisdictional Conference to serve as bishop of the Indiana Area. He said that the delegates from North and South Indiana requested a Bishop who could help lead them forward with a merger. In other words, he came to Indiana to help the conference continue discussion on merger.

Some of the advantages and goals of the new conference according Bishop Coyner are the following:

  • Organized around mission of making disciples
  • A streamlined structure designed to equip local churches
  • A "flattened" committee structure designed to engage people in ministry not just meetings
  • Stewardship built around tithing at all levels
  • Focus on missions giving not just maintenance
  • A growing outreach to youth and young adults as we reach a new generation for Christ
  • Continued passion for justice and mission
  • Local churches groups in affinity groups in geographical areas.

This was followed by a Q&A. There were questions about financial issues, timelines, Insurance and pension polices, appointments, ministry and ministry priority.

Regarding finances it was again emphasized that a merger will streamline much of the conference “bureaucracy” (my words).

Regarding timelines the Bishop said that an extensions to 2012 is possible. (Personally I think this is the way to go). He also said later that we could slowly move into certain aspects of the merger.

The Insurance in South Conference is self-managed. It was shared that in South Conference health insurance is $1800 a month and the church pays that entire sum.

Many expressed concern about being appointed to Evansville. Personally, I think all of us should set aside our personal gripes. Wesley said, “The world is my parish.” Maybe it is because I am not from Indiana and I don’t have family in any part of the Hoosier state, but I think we clergy should live up to our vows to be itinerant.

When asked about the ministry advantages, the Bishop gave no compelling reasons. This was particularly disappointing. Perhaps, some of you who were there can better explain the ministry advantages. While one of the bullet points the Bishop highlighted in his presentation was the idea of reaching out to younger generations, there is no more explanation of what that really means. Personally, I compare it to a politician saying, “Vote for me because I care about the kids.” I see no reasons that a merger will help our churches and pastors and laity reach out to youth and young adults.

The bishop did tell that while the average age of a UM is 57; the average age of a UM in North Indiana is 69. did everyone get that? The average United Methodist in North Indiana is 69! WOW!!!

After the discussion was a short break and then we gathered into groups to discuss three questions: What are the positives of the merger, concerns of the merger and any additional question or information. This was mostly a repeat of everything that has been discussed up to this point.

My evaluation: if you didn’t attend you didn’t miss anything. I am still not convinced that now is the right time for merger with South Conference. I am even more convinced that we need another 4 years to get more worked out in advance before a total merger. Additionally, I am convinced that we need not only a “lank slate” to re-think the conference structure but we need that “blank slate” to re-think how we do all ministry in the United Methodist Church in Indiana. Merger is not going to attract young people. A passion to reach young people is not going to be sparked by merger. We need to be thinking about how to reach young adults but there was no quality discussion at this meeting about doing any kind of effective ministry. This is what is most disappointing.

Bishop Coyner did encourage some of us to start a “Young Adult Fellowship,” a caucus if you will within the conference. Personally I think this is a great idea and I hope that some of us can work together to make this a reality. Sure some may be offended if you put an age limit on it, but such is life. I am not part of the retired ministers fellowship either (one day perhaps).

Friday, May 19, 2006

Not a minute too late

Next week, Bishop Coyner has called together the young adult clergy of the North Indiana Conference for a meeting. I have spoken with some, both old and young alike, who wonder the intent of calling together this particular group of clergy. As a young adult clergy myself, 29, I applaud the Bishop for calling us together at such a time as this. I too wonder what about the content of the discussion we will have with Bishop Coyner on Thursday at St. Luke’s in Kokomo.

I can tell you that this meeting is not a minute too late. While there is much to discuss about the current issues facing our Annual conference, regarding camps, mergers and more, there is also much to discuss in terms of ministry development and evangelism.

For those who like numbers, try these on for size. According to the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry:

  • The average age of a United Methodist is 57.
  • The percentage of United Methodists under 18 is 4.7.
  • 80.1 percent are older than 40.

This means that less than 15 percent of United Methodists are between the ages of 19 and 39.

Further, Circuit Rider Magazine and the Lewis Center for Church Leadership at Wesley Theological Seminary report United Methodist elders under the age of 35 declined from 3,219 in 1985 to 850 in 2005. While in 1985 elders under the age of 35 made up 15.05 percent of elders only 4.69 percent of elders today are under the age of 35. This is a tremendous decline.

In North Indiana, out of the 319 elders only 14 were younger than 35 and only 6 were under the age of 29 in 2005. Our last delegation to General Conference included no young adults, clergy or laity.

These numbers raise several questions in my mind: Are fewer young people being called by God to into ordination in the United Methodist Church? Is our current way of doing ministry turning young people away from a calling they are receiving? Is there a relationship between our current decline in elders’ ages and the age of the average United Methodist lay person? And finally, if this is a problem, what are we doing about this?

Now some will answer the last question and say it isn’t a problem. Perhaps they are correct. Maybe it is better to confirm older candidates for ministry to lead our older congregations. As a young person from Cincinnati serving a rural church with a majority of people older than my parents and more than a few older than my grandparents, I sometimes question my own ability to pastor such a congregation. Often I feel alone on both a local and conference level.

My concern is not just for the church but more for future generations who need to know the salvation and freedom that is offered through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Many young adult clergy are growing anxious. Author and evangelist for post-modern ministries, Brian McLaren explains it this way: some young clergy arrive at traditional churches and are pressured to learn the language and accents of the established church culture, which in turn causes them to lose their own ability to communicate with their own generation. McLaren has described my feelings exactly. I know other young adult clergy in our conference share my concerns about the future of our churches and for future generations.

Yet I am hopeful that the Conference and local churches will begin to share this concern for the lack of young people in our churches. I am hopeful that we may begin to step outside our comfort zones and adapt to the young generations. I am hopeful that both the baby-boomers and the World War II generations will be willing to try new ways of doing ministry to appeal to the emerging generations. I am hopeful that the people who were in charge when the young people left will be willing to hear what new and younger people are suggesting to get them back. I am hopeful.

As I said, there is no better time than the present for our Bishop to meet with the young adult clergy in our conference. It is my hope and prayer that this is the first of many steps in discussing both the concerns of young adult clergy and lay people alike. It is my further hope and prayer that we do more than talk about these issues. I pray that every clergyperson and lay person will feel this concern and seek to do more to reach out to the people my generation and the next.

Friday, May 12, 2006

To Merge or Not to Merge, that is the question

The Committee on Episcopacy of the Indiana Area of the United Methodist Church is recommending to the North and South Indiana Annual Conferences that the Conferences “affirm their desire to have this study of the creation of a new conference for the UMC in Indiana be continued, with a proposal brought back to both conferences for a vote in their 2007 Sessions… with the understanding that the actual creation of a new conference would not commence until after the 2008 vote of the North Central Jurisdictional Conference.”

In short North and South Indiana Annual Conferences are voting to start the merging process.

As the background information provided by the Episcopacy committee states, Bishop Coyner has been quoted as saying “I believe that merger of the two conferences is inevitable.” He is correct. And a merger is not only inevitable it is most likely necessary. However, timing is everything.

North Indiana and South Indiana conferences are two very different conferences. They do ministry and administration in two very different ways. The most prominent area of difference is in our camping programs. Camping is a very big priority in North Indiana Conference. The fact of the matter is our camping program is one of a very few places in our conferences where professions of faith are being made. Each year there are large numbers of new commitments to Christ made at the camps. As someone who spent years in youth ministry, I believe that there is something special that makes youth and young people open to hearing God’s voice and making a commitment to Christ. Even if some youth loose that fire, it is a positive moment with God and the church that they will never forget. In South Indiana camping is not nearly as big a priority. While there are other advantages to doing ministry in a merged conference, this is one area needs strong consideration.

Perhaps, the most glaring issue is money. While the Bishop and other deny it, this merger comes down to finances. North Conference’s debt of some $1 million is nothing to brag about, but South Conference’s debt of over $8 million is much worse. Further, South Conference has major issues with their pension plans. Of course, the merger is one way of cutting costs of overhead and having better stewardship. There are some clear advantages. But once again, timing is everything.

Recently South Indiana built a large and expensive Conference office building in Bloomington. So if merger happens, what will happen to this building? Will the new Hoosier Conference function out of this office? Because of the building development market in Bloomington (of which I am no expert but I have some understanding), I have doubts this building can be sold without taking a major loss. So it is inevitable, in my mind, that the new Hoosier Conference will be in Bloomington.

Another consideration is that this year North Conference is also considering a recommendation to rebuild our camps and facilities at the cost of an initial $16 million. That’s right $16 million! So if we approve this plan and then we merge in 2009, how will this impact the overall Hoosier Conference camping program? I don’t think having our major, year-round camping site in the very Northern part of the state is beneficial to a new Hoosier Conference. Timing is everything.

Finally, it is my understanding that if we agree to “study” this merger then this is the beginning of a process that cannot be stopped. Even though it is being presented to the conferences as only a preliminary stage, approval to study also gives Jurisdictional Conference authority to “study” merger. The Jurisdictional Conference then has the authority to “offer” direction. In the end Jurisdictional Conference could find enough “proof” to “force” us to merge. While I could be all wet, my understanding is that once Jurisdictional Conference is involved it is all a done deal.

In conclusion, I do not object to a merger. I believe that in a denomination that is shrinking in membership and growing older every year, something will need to change and Bishop Coyner is correct “merger is inevitable.” I even get excited about the new possibilities for ministry with a new and merged Hoosier Conference. Many people are saying very convincing things to both clergy and lay delegates to sway votes. It all sounds nice and convenient, but I wonder if the time is right.

Money will always be an issue. So, I do not object to this merger solely based on money. Yet the timing of the financial problems in both conferences is something to be considered. Perhaps, if we wait another quadrennial (to 2012), then maybe South Conference can take a longer look at the possibilities of selling that monstrous facility and they could get a grip on their pension problems. Further, North Conference can begin to really consider what making a camping program for a new Hoosier Conference could look like.

In the end, I plan to vote “no” to this merger and pray that in the future a better time will come when merger will be the right thing to do.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Sometimes the ministry feels this way... doesn't it?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

United Methodist membership again declines, Southern Baptists post tiny increase

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) - The United Methodist Church, America's second-largest Protestant body, says its membership dropped in 2004 as it has in each of the 36 years since the denomination was formed through a merger.
The latest total was 8.07 million, a loss of less than 1 percent from 2003 and a decrease of about 5.5 percent for the past decade.
Despite the nationwide decline, membership increases were posted by 13 regional units located in Alabama, Alaska, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.
The denomination is America's most widespread, with at least one congregation in 2,997 of the nation's 3,142 counties.
The Southern Baptist Convention, the biggest U.S. Protestant group, reported a membership of 16.27 million in 2005, a tiny increase over 2004, while baptisms and Sunday School enrollment showed declines for the year.
Southern Baptists listed 43,699 congregations, cumulative annual receipts of $10.7 billion and property worth $42.8 billion.

Friday, May 05, 2006

South Indiana Church Administrator Allegedly Pilfers $200,000+

By Gregg Montgomery
gregg.montgomery@indystar.com
GREENWOOD, Ind. -- Authorities said a former church administrator has agreed to surrender as early as today on charges that he took hundreds of thousands of dollars from a Johnson County congregation.

Police believe Aaron D. Kemp, 32, Indianapolis, took more than $200,000 over 41/2 years, ending June 7 when Greenwood United Methodist Church fired him.

"There's obviously still a lot of pain and betrayal of the trust, but we're working our way through that," the Rev. Bill Hoopes, church pastor, said Wednesday.

He said multiple people now are involved in church financial transactions so there's more oversight than from just one administrator.

Greenwood Police Detective Doug Roller said Kemp essentially was a one-man financial operation for the 400-member church, 525 N. Madison Ave. He admitted during the initial investigation that he gave fake documents to the board of trustees to hide missing money.
The investigation found that Kemp gave himself about $101,000 more than he was to be paid, wrote checks from the church account for his life insurance premiums and 2004 Indiana income taxes, and spent $31,000 on the church's MasterCard for home appliances, airline tickets and gasoline fill-ups.

Church leaders discovered the missing money when checks were returned and bills went unpaid, Roller said.

The detective said Kemp has agreed to turn himself in today or Friday if a Johnson County court issues an arrest warrant. The Johnson County prosecutor's office filed a probable cause affidavit Monday charging Kemp with four counts of forgery, four counts of theft and one count of being a corrupt business influence.

http://www.indystar.com/

Thursday, May 04, 2006

On this National Day of Prayer, it important to ask "Which Lord do we serve"?

It is interesting to observe how people address Jesus Christ. There are many names and each name carries an assumption. To call Jesus Messiah, Prince of Peace, Light of the World, Lord or Savior implies something of how we understand the Son of God. Yet, it occurs to me that Savior is perhaps our favorite name for Christ—appropriately so because we sinners certainly need a Savior. As Savior, through the cross and tomb, Jesus atones for our sins, offering us redemption.

Nevertheless, I wonder if we understand the full implications of making Jesus Christ our Lord. We do not have a context from which we can understand Lordship. We do not have a royal court of “Lords.” My wife has never once served me dinner by proclaiming “your dinner is served, my lord.” So without some context, how can we fully comprehend what it means to call Jesus Christ our Lord? Can we seriously use such a title? Regardless of our lack of understanding, the Lordship of Jesus Christ has major ramifications on our lives and our world. A better understanding of Jesus as Lord is something to which all Christian should aspire.

To call Jesus Savior is safe and easy. Calling Jesus Savior means that there is something in it for me—salvation. But, to call Jesus Lord is much more complicated. To bow down before and serve a Lord requires sacrifice and surrender. This is not something that comes naturally to the modern, enlightened free-thinker. We Americans love our freedom. We pay big bucks for individualism. We desire our “personal rights.” So, to serve something other than ourselves is unnatural, perhaps even un-American.

Fidelity has always been important to our God. From Genesis on we see that our God requires undivided loyalty. Our God is a jealous God. Jesus tells us that we cannot serve two masters. As the early church laid her foundation in a relativistic Roman and Hellenistic culture, it made many claims of exclusion. For First- and Second- Generation Christians to proclaim “Jesus is Lord” was dangerous and intolerant. Robert Webber, in his book Ancient-Future Evangelism, says this about the Lordship of Jesus, “Christians [in the early church] were seen as political anarchists, a social menace, a scourge on society. Yet, pagans came to Christ in droves, and many knew that their conversion to Christ and his church meant persecution and possible death.”

The main challenge to the Lordship of Jesus was the lordship of Caesar. This challenge was both religious and political. Caesar demanded worship and sacrifice, while he provides justice, peace, and prosperity. His control of the empire was not just by force but by the devolvement of religious attraction. The people needed only to put their trust in the military might of the Empire and hope in the “divinely born and appointed” emperor. The nation’s leader was Lord and Savior.

A Biblical example of the challenge faced by those who claimed Jesus as Lord is found in Acts 17. In this narrative, Paul preaches the Good News of Jesus at the synagogue in Thessalonica and persuades a few. Upset, the Jews bring the Christians they could find before the city officials and make this claim: “These people who have been turning the world upside have come here also… they are all defying Caesar’s decrees, saying there is another King named Jesus.” Today, this is rarely a charge made against the Christian. We no longer turn the world upside-down. Christianity has been assimilated into the predominate culture. Our efforts to impact the political landscape through the world’s means are a far cry from the sacrifice of the martyrs who shed blood in service to the Lord of Lords. Instead, we have settled to become one of many options on the pluralistic buffet table of ideas. It seems that the Lordship of Jesus Christ is neutered in the modern world. Though we may not realize it, true service to Christ and recognition of him as Lord continues to be dangerous.

In 21st-Century America we often choose to abandon our Christian heritage and play it safe. Many churches reduce the radical, counter-cultural Gospel to motivational speeches and self-help guides. The Gospel is boiled-down to “seven practical tips to raising a healthy family,” or “an everyday guide to your personal finances.” This is not the reason our Lord died for us; this is not what it means to claim Jesus Christ as Lord. The Rulers, Authority, and Powers should be threatened by a Church which claims Jesus as Lord. Satan himself should quake in his boots. Today, in the richest nation in the history of the world, Christians are in the position to break out and serve our Lord to the fullest. Yet, we guard our personal freedoms and uphold the economic and political systems we have come to rely upon for our stability and income. We put our trust in modern day “chariots and warriors” for protection of “our borders.” We give allegiance to pagan idols and symbols. We sing songs of worship, even in our churches, to ideologies which support oppression and violence. We, like the early Christians, face the challenge of declaring our loyalty to our Lord Jesus Christ and denouncing the Lordship of Caesar.

Yet, I am hopeful. In a post-Christian world that is growing increasingly hostile to Christianity, we may one day soon have to cling to the exclusive message of the Gospel. We may soon take seriously what our Lord meant when He spoke of the cost of discipleship: “If you want to find your life, lose it. Whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” Maybe we will better understand why our Lord more or less discourages people from becoming His disciples when He speaks of the sacrifices involved. Jesus said that even “foxes have holes and birds have nests” but those who follow after Him must be willing to give up everything. Undivided loyalty is required, as Jesus may require us to “let the dead bury the dead” and “hate [our] father and mother, [our] wife and children, [our] brothers and sisters—yes, even [our] own life” to be His disciples. Jesus wants us to count the costs. Of course, in requiring such things of us He declares that there would be costs for claiming the exclusive Lordship of Jesus Christ. If we are faithful to Scripture and the faith it expresses to us, then we will know that in claiming Jesus as Lord we too will have a price to pay.

It begs the questions: Which Lord do we serve? To whom do we bow? The Golden Calf demanded little from the Israelites. The Romans would not kill people who bowed to Caesar. If we can keep our Christianity leashed up today, then we can live out our lives without too much trouble. Jesus, our One and Only Lord, demands more of His followers. If we take seriously what it means to call Jesus Christ our Lord by giving sacrificially of our resources to serve the least and defying the decrees of the government as we give voice to the voiceless, then we are building our Lord’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.”

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Build-Your-Own-Bible

Build-A-Bear Promise
1 My bear is special.
2 I brought it to life,
3 I chose it,
4 I stuffed it.
5 Now I am taking it home.
6 Best friends are forever,
7 So I promise right now,
8 To make my bear,
9 My #1 Pal.

Joel Osteen’s Congregational Confession
1 This is my Bible.
2 I am what it says I am,
3 I have what it says I have,
4 I can do what it says I can do.
5 Today I'll be taught the Word of God.
6 I boldly confess my mind is alert,
7 My heart is receptive,
8 I'll never be the same,
9 In Jesus name.

To be "discontinued"

I reported to you previously that I was approved to move on to Track 3 in the ordination process; however a good friend and great pastor was “discontinued” by the Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM) in the North Indiana Conference.

Our friend John, from Locusts and Honey, asked (as he should as a candidate for ordination track), what does it mean to be “discontinued”?

In short, it means that you spend 3 or 4 or more years in seminary getting your M.Div., you pass the District Committee interviews and then finally you are commissioned as a probationary elder (PE). Obviously, a probationary elder is on probation and is under continuous observation by the BOM, the cabinet, and the bishop. Each track/year in the probationary period the PE will have requirements, such as answering theological questions from the Discipline, writing sermons and/or Bible studies, other conference expectations, and then finally an interview with the BOM.
After the interview the BOM has four options: 1) pass to next track and then finally ordination; 2) suggest re-writes of papers based on specific recommendations before one is moved on to the next track or ordination; 3) hold you back to re-do the current track again; or 4) discontinuation.

To be discontinued means just that. It means that you are removed from the ordination process. It means that in spite of seminary and commissioning, you will never be an ordained elder in the church. It does happen. And while I have confidence going in to my interviews and I feel strongly in my papers, you just never know.

My friend who was discontinued is a great pastor. In fact, while the BOM discontinued him from the ordination process, they did not revoke his certification and license. Therefore, my friend becomes one of the most educated Local Pastors in our conference. He is comforted by the fact that even though he will not continue on to ordination everything else remains the same: he stays at the same church as pastor.

If I am to be discontinued I think I would be quite distraught. I would prayerful consider what this means in the broader understanding of my calling, yet I would still be frustrated. I admire Charles because he doesn’t seemed destroyed by the BOM’s decision. In fact, he is pleased to be able to stay at the same church and remain a pastor. He says that he feels called to ministry and that he is still doing even though he will not be ordained. My friends, let’s drink to Charles a true servant of God.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Giving it All Away

As a child I used to spend a few weeks of my summers at my grandma’s farm in southern Kentucky. (Yes, this city boy has countrified roots.) She owned cows and chickens that we would feed daily. I learned to water-ski on a nearby lake. And fishing was one of my favorite things to do while visiting with “Mimi.” There is a small pond on their land just by the house. I spent many days on the banks of this pond waiting and waiting and waiting for a fish to bite that wormed hook.

Just beside the pond was a small stream which contained lots of little critters to play with. I remember that during the rainy season, both the pond and the brook would be filled to the brim with clean and pure water. But it was in the dry season the difference in their nature really showed.

The stream, constantly flowing to water the banks along its course, still kept pure and sparkling. The brook continued to draw from the underground springs at its source and gave freely as it went along.

Now the pond was just the opposite. It neither received nor gave. Hoarding up its precious moisture, parts of its waters became foul and stagnant. It looked rotten with a green film floating on its top.

This is the lesson Jesus was trying to teach: “Give, and it will be given to you,” (Luke 6), “Freely you have received, freely give” (Matthew 10). Jesus also explained to his Disciples, “Do not store up for yourselves treasurers on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasurers in heaven… for where your treasurer is there you heart will be also.” You see we gain by giving and lose by keeping.

When we take time to consider our blessings of time, talent, money, service, and prayers, we realize that we are called to share these gifts through the church. Our commitment makes our church’s ministries possible. Gratitude to God is a significant sign of our Christian health.

We should not give to the church simply to “pay our dues” or “support the budget” or “because I was asked and I guess its my turn.” Giving to God, through our church, is best done with an attitude of thankfulness. Only then will the giver truly experience joy in letting go. An attitude of gratitude will help us see that what we give back is truly a gift.

When we focus on sharing our many blessings, we are reminded that all we have belongs to God, not us. What we have is only under our control for a short time, and we are simply stewards. The basis for Christian stewardship is the relationship between God and us. God has put us in charge of the world and God expects us to use all that we have been given to accomplish the mission of Jesus Christ. “Thy Kingdom come” is not just a prayer of words, but of tangible deeds.

After sharing our blessings, like the stream that watered its shores, we will see that we will have maintained and increased our own purity. The blessings we receive will flow form their source, God, in such an abundance that it will overflow all around us.
Cost of the War in Iraq
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