Monday, August 25, 2008

Monday's Daily Morvian Text: John 21:6

I've found the Daily Moravian Texts a great help in my spiritual practice. The daily e-version of it is available below, and here at I was introduced to the Daily Texts by Fredrick Herzog, my professor at Duke Divinity School. He would open each class with the reading and his own personal reflection.

Today's New Testament text:
Jesus said to them, "Cast the net to the right side of the boat, and you will find some." So they cast it, and now they were not able to haul it in because there were so many fish.

If the first half adulthood is about establishing ourselves in the world, then what's the second half all about? Maybe it's more about our inner world, our spirit, then it is about mastery and control over our environment. It seems that we work very hard at maintaining ourselves, our safety, security, comfort, and convenience and if there is any time, energy, and motivation, then we will look at the state of our own spirit.

For clergy this rings true when it comes to the typical standards for measuring "success": buildings, butts in pews, budgets. It was about five years ago that "standards for measuring clergy effectiveness" included a person's spiritual well-being, not just outer accomplishments.

At any age, we cannot lead others to a place we where have not been. For clergy, to try the right side of the boat means to become aware of what has been left undeveloped or underdeveloped within. It means attending to the living Spirit of God, the Risen Christ, the source and origin of our ministry. It means to go where we haven't been fishing to find the basic resources that were there all along.

The risen Christ be with you!

Friday, August 22, 2008

HALT for Clergy

One of my colleagues shared a learning from the 12-Step community. It is a reminder to stop and reassess situations and make better decisions. It requires us to be aware of self-needs so that we don't act out of our worst selves.

HALT stands for hungry, angry, lonely, tired. When I am too hungry, angry, lonely, tired, I should hold off making decisions and taking actions while caring for the need that presents itself.

We all have our limits. The clergy and church professional trap is that we should be like Jesus and empty ourselves regardless of cost. That idea comes from a poor reading of Philippians 2:7: "He emptied himself and became a slave when he became one of us." (CEV) What Jesus was emptying himself of was his divinity, his God-ness, in order to become one of us, to take on a physical body.

A more helpful reading might suggest that the flow of our life together may be one that takes us beyond just self-concern in mind and spirit and action. We need emptying of ego. We need deliverance from our ourselves. The verses that proceed the hymn (Philippians 2: 1-5) seem to bear this out.

The choice is often between playing the role of superman/superwoman OR ordinary human being, albeit filled with the Spirit and fully alive in Jesus. The super-clergyperson does not HALT; the one who is growing in awareness of themselves sees the wisdom of doing so.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Where Are Your Pieces of Flair?

"I don't like talking about my flair." That's a great line spoken by Peter's girl friend in the movie, Office Space. While waiting tables, her manager required her to wear at least "15 pieces of flair" (nonsensical buttons and badges like the folks do at TGI Fridays). Once she started wearing her "flair," she was again singled out by the nit- picky manager, this time because she was only wearing the "bare minimum."

Here are some suggestions for coexisting with demanding personalities. One, have compassion and pray for him or her. Two, get an accountability group of a couple of others who can keep confidentiality. Three, seek the care of a trained or skilled listener, counselor, or spiritual friend. Four, physically care for yourself with appropriate sleep, diet and exercise. Five, do your job better than anyone else!

PLEASE note: If you are in the caring professions, you do not have the option to not care for yourself. The question, "Who cares for you and who listens to you?" is not rhetorical. You cannot afford to be offering to others what you have not sought out for yourself. And neither can those who depend on your care.

These folks who nag about our flair are usually unhappy with themselves, not just with your fewer buttons. And those who always demand that we try to be something that we are not can never be pleased because they are not pleased with themselves. Go with the "flair" God has given you within, the gifts with which you are uniquely equipped. Remember who you are in waters of your baptism, a beloved child of God. And do not be put to shame.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Another Membership Vow? Five and Counting...

In a perfect example of the top down style that is the United Methodist Church, our primary governing body, General Conference, "voted in" a new membership vow this year. "Witness" is now added to our other vows to grow in our presence, praying, giving, and serving as disciples of Jesus.

I have no doubt that witness is a great choice (I don't know what the other ones were). However, I am not confident that adding another vow will transform us into something we are not. Surely a plethora of materials will help us interpret this new vow to congregations and to individuals.

But adding witness is not going to help us if we have failed to teach the full breadth of what the other vows mean. Prayers, presence, gifts, and service, all witness to who we are and to whom we belong to as Christ's people. So my suggestion is not to look at it as a fifth vow, even though that is what may be intended. Instead, look at faithful witness as the natural outcome of growth in each of the other four areas of growth as a disciple: presence, prayers, gifts, and service.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bittersweet Monday

Late this morning, I took my youngest child and only son to college for the first time and left him there with my blessings and prayers. The short drive back to Houston by myself from Texas A & M (TAMU) was not especially fun. But I am glad I did it and he was of course appreciative. This week is the week before classes start and we had already moved a car load of stuff Saturday.

Today, however, was different. From now on, he will be a college student and we will be visiting him there. He is out of the house and becoming more and more his own person. Not that he hasn't been becoming his own person for the last 18 years.

Alex William, get some decent sleep tonight. Remember that you are all we hoped for in a son and in a person. You have taught me how to be a better dad and Christian and person. You have your own horizon now, one to which God is calling only you. We'll always be here for you. And love you. Your Mom and I are overjoyed that you are kind of person you are!

Have a great week and we'll see you Sunday for Convocation!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Adult Baptism? In the UMC?

"Nothing speaks more convincingly to the world than the habits, disciplines, patterns, and processes by which our lives are lived and ordered together." Bryan Stone, Evangelism after Christendom, p. 182

It seems that in the UMC, we have overlooked seasoned reflection on adult baptism. It used to be that Boards of Ordained Ministry would challenge candidates on their theology of infant baptism, especially if the candidate had some background in the Baptist or a believer's baptism church. RED flags would go up and you would be mired in a spiraling downward discussion if you were not prepared! Those who wanted to talk about believer’s baptism were instead faced with defending whether or not they believed in infant baptism. Once out in the parish, we were reluctant to talk about adult baptism for fear of rebaptizing someone, even if by honest mistake. To show how big a worry that is for clergy, rebaptism is a chargeable offense and proof of clergy malpractice in the UMC.

So the UMC (probably not by design)is traditionally weak on the practice of adult baptism. Among early Christians, the baptized were given new names. It was an inclusion into a new people. However, once church and state became friendly, baptism became more and more a tool of assimilation into the dominant culture and the nation-state's civil religion. Once the revolutionary aspects of the community (reconciliation of races, religions, classes, genders, and love of enemy, forgiveness of enemy, refusal to fight in wars of Rome) were left, baptism became more and more a “meaningless ritual.” (Stone, p.184)

Words matter because they shape reality and in Protestant sacramental theology, the word combined with the element distinguishes a sacrament from preaching or other acts of witness in the church. I’ve begun using the UMC baptismal words for youth and adults. They ask questions that are not simple or to be answered lightly:

• Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?
• Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?
• Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?
• According to the grace given you, will you remain a faithful member of Christ’s holy church and serve as Christ’s representative in the world?

Then the community of sponsors and witnesses and gathered congregation is asked: Will you who sponsor these candidates support and encourage them in their Christian life? Note that the above vows cannot be done alone; they are meant to be practiced in community. To me, this means that the community that is knowingly assuming responsibility for these vows is present if it is not the whole church. It is pastoral responsibility to identify the supportive community already living out their baptismal vows, from which the newly baptized can be mentored, and discipled. Where I think it is congruent to personalize or individualize, I hate the words, “private ceremony” because Christian baptism is neither.

My model is the story of the seeking Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8. The story asks the question, “What prevents me from being baptized?” Phillip the Apostle’s word of preaching and teaching along with the water was the occasion for the Eunuch’s coming to faith and baptism. Gender, race, nationality and not-like-me-ness, even lack of community witnesses, did not prevent Phillip from baptizing. Accessibility to baptism is central in the question "What prevents me?" and I would rather err on the side of that openness.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Staff Ministry for You?

When a decision was made to be a career associate pastor, a mentor helped me to discern the direction by helping me list the advantages and disadvantages. Here's a list based on 22 years as a staff pastor, and 3 years in extension ministry. It bears a little resemblance to the list I started with in the 1980's.


Generally a saner schedule; family time can be a higher priority
Urban areas may allow better job opportunities for spouse
Often more choice in ministry settings (churches)
Ministry roles can offer greater specialization; expertise
Closer working connection to other clergy than solo pastors


Much of depends on the quality of working relationship with supervisor(s)
The level of compensation is usually less if moving from a staff to a solo pastorate
In specializing, you will sometimes miss doing other parts of the pastoral ministry
Learning to handle triangulation, such as between parishioners and supervisors
Lack of equipping across denomination in healthy staff dynamics for associates

Most of our seminary training assumes solo pastoring, so the bias still seems to be against career associate ministry. They see themselves as serving the areas of their locality or region. For example, Duke Divinity in the 1980's served primarily the rural parish of the south. Look also at the church in which you were formed. I have tended to look favorably on the associate role because my home church was larger and had many associates in my formative years. Some became close friends and mentors. So it might be helpful to look at your faith pilgrimage and size of the church that shaped your calling.

I've observed a trend of some faster growing churches to hire more part time staff than full time clergy. In general, it takes a very long time for churches to make decisions about adding new clergy, so there's usually not much change in the market for staff associates. In at least the last 15 years, it seems that that larger churches have looked more for associates with specialties in administrative and executive skills or preaching ability. Maybe more congregations are following Lyle Shaller's advise in his book The Very Large Church. This is an excellent book for those already in or now considering career staff ministry.

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Creating an Intentional Ministry in the UMC Matrix

In the hybrid of hierarchy and 18Th century democracy that is the UMC, creating an intentional ministry is a must for your own growth as a pastor. Those who serve in a call system seem take a much more assertive, and in my opinion, healthy approach. Their scheme requires self-definition whereas hierarchical churches encourage more passivity in the face of appointments that are largely out of one's control. The machinations are done by a group of mostly older "cabinet" members absent from those who are being relocated. Usually totally in the dark, the pastor waits days or weeks by the phone to hear what assignment is being considered for him or her.

We have changed a little since 1784. But the appointment system, like a holdover from King George himself, has not gone away, at least for the medium and smaller sized churches. Funny the appointment system in the Anglican Church in the 1700's was not favorable to John Wesley or his father Samuel. Both priests in the church, they did not ascend the ladder, and in fact John, Methodism's founder, was eventually prevented from preaching in most English churches. The same church often refused the Sacraments to those who followed him, people called "methodist." Being pushed out is sort of the way the church grows sometimes (see Acts 8). So if you are creating an intentional ministry as a UM pastor, you are walking in our founder's pathway at least and maybe in the footsteps the apostles!

Why the history lesson? Because getting back to your center in ministry is imperative in your being alive in ministry. Define your core, your center, your mission statement in ministry. That will help you to say no and also to say yes to your gifts that the Holy Spirit has given you. And I think you will be more exhilarated, more alive!

Perhaps you won't get much help creating an intentional ministry based on your gifts. My experience is that seminaries still judge their performance based on how many of their graduates supply churches. We harp on "call" in ordination processes and then the word goes away in reference to being "called" to serve a concrete setting. It is all about becoming a pastor, a generalist, becoming well rounded and balanced.

Making peace with the system is important. And so is creating intentionality. That's why we have chaplains, associate pastors, and many extension ministry assignments. And, those who "feel called" to birth new churches. Those words actually come from the hierarchy itself, one of the few times we hear the word "called" regarding an actual appointment. A sign of hope and health I believe.


Wednesday, August 6, 2008

The Overfunctioning Minister: Live Well , Do Good

"Struggle is not a good strategy for the new world. Joy is the strategy," Donna Schaper writes in her book, Living Well While Doing Good. While I enjoyed reading this short volume by the UCC Clergywoman, I appreciate more the theme of how clergy can discover balance in their lives, personally, socially, spiritually, and professionally: "The success of the intervention depends on the inner quality of the person doing the intervention. In other words, if I am not well. I probably won't do good." (p.89).

Since most clergy I know still think they are going to save the world, or want to make a visible difference, Schaper's writing seems to be somewhat reactive and corrective: she is coming to terms with her own over functioning as social activist pastor. Building smaller fires, keeping a good light, using the Leave It Alone Committee as much as the Let's Do It Committee are all metaphors she uses to preach and teach simplicity and discern the best use of the gifts and time.

Her personal examples are excellent in teaching the concrete steps of simplifying life. I found the best chapters to be on simplifying: control (her weekly schedule is shared), conflict, size, and joy. One of the things I appreciate about the book is the fact that Schaper can talk about both gardening and global warming, "What is impractical is spring in winter, not banning cars." (p. 111). She can speak about the American cocoon as well as finding the courage to cross the threshold from vegging out in front of the TV room to the home and to the community.

Friday, August 1, 2008

There's No Such Thing As 'Political Capital'

This term is a misnomer, because as soon as you use it, you lose it. Power only increases when it's use is restrained. You might remember the unfortunate use of this term in a not too distant State of the Union speech. People now think that somehow power is a commodity sort of like anything else; it's just all up to us when and how to use it.

But as soon as you use it, it's gone and so are you. That kind of use of power sees others as pawns to move around, over, or through. To be distanced. The only thing it serves is transactional leadership, pro quid quot, this for that. But not transformational.

This gives new meaning to the "renewing and restraining" work of the Holy Spirit, words from many a baptismal prayer. It may have been prayed over you at your own baptism. Know restraint, know power. No restraint, no power.


Gospel Reflection for Easter 3

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