The UMC and young adults

I’ve been spending a lot of time lately reading about, studying and interviewing young adults about their perspectives on the church.  I’m hoping to blog more about this and what I’m discovering from the personal interviews.  In the meantime, I stumbled across this great blog, written by a United Methodist College student.  Her words are consistent with a lot of the college students I’ve spoken with.

Check it out:

http://christiangirlatcollege.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/club-church-part-i/

It’s interesting that she uses the language of the church being like a “club.”  Elaine Heath uses the same language to describe the UMC in her recent book Longing for Spring.  I want to think about this and write about it soon.

Young Clergy and Relationship with the Church

Megan Davidson and I (Mike Baughman) just wrote an article for the United Methodist Reporter about how young clergy can and should relate to the broader institution.  As someone who is frequently frustrated with the system, we had a refreshing encounter that gave us some hope.  We’ll see where it goes.  Check out the link and place comments on here (there are no comments on the UMC site–would be nice if we could actually dialogue there!). 

“A Twitter Parable”

http://umportal.com/article.asp?id=6531

We talk about twitter, but that’s not really the focus of the article.  Here’s a Twitter icon so that this posting looks nicer:

Radical Inhospitality

My wife is a superstar:  she spent last weekend walking all across our city, wearing pink and marching against the scourge of breast cancer.  Nearly 3,000 men and women cheered, laughed, joked, cried and walked their way over 60 miles.  As they entered the Park Cities area (the hoity toity part of Dallas), the vans that blared music had to turn it off.  Okay…annoying but not that big a deal.  Then, this took place:

While walking in front of a large Presbyterian Church in the park cities, a woman came out of the church and scolded the walkers: “could you please keep down the hooting and hollering,” she scolded, “we’re trying to worship in here.”  My wife, a United Methodist Pastor, stood aghast as hundreds of amazing people had their conception of the church tainted. 

I do not know if the pastor sent her out there to say that or if she decided to act with radical inhospitality on her own.  What a sad event!  If that church or that woman had the heart of radical hospitality this is what I think she should have done:

Rather than running outside, I wish that she would have run inside and said “there are thousands of men and women outside our church walking for a cause…trying to change the world.  We can stay in here, pastor, and listen to a sermon on welcoming outsiders or we can grab some coolers, take the food from fellowship hall, run outside and start cheering for these heroes who happened to walk by our church!!!!”

If we want to be a church known for hospitality, we need to embrace those precious opportunities when they fall upon us.  Sometimes we’d be far better to chuck our plans out the window and grab a hold of what the spirit offers.

Laity and Ministry

Are ordination and baptism the same thing?

The discussion about online ordination has got me thinking about the way we order ministry within the UMC.  Currently the United Methodist Church has two orders of ministry:  Elders and Deacons (bishops are technically still in the order of Elders).  We affirm that the laity are called to ministry and make that clear in baptismal vows and prayers, but they are not an order of ministers.  Although we have incredible Lay (non-clergy) participation in the decision-making process of the broader church, I think we could do more to make it clear that they are called to ministry in their own right.  We need to talk about it more and empower it more.  So here’s my proposal:

Could we learn from the Episcopal Church?

This has nothing to do with this post, but I thought it was funny

In addition to the clergy orders (priest, deacon, bishop), any baptized Christian is a member of he “order of the laity” and is called to ministry.  When I served at an Episcopal Church in Dallas, they placed a stole upon the newly baptized and charged them with the calling to be a minister of the gospel. 

What if we did that?  What if we changed our Book of Discipline and introduced the “order of the laity?”  Think of powerfully that would preach when pastors challenge their congregation to action!  Think of how affirming that would be to the members of a congregation.  We ordain Elders to “word, sacrament, order and service” and Deacons to “word and service.”  Why not ordain the laity of our church to service?  We wouldn’t need a bishop to do it.  Ordaining someone to service seems like it fits perfectly with the calling of the order of Deacon, but I suppose we could let Elders do it too.

Thoughts?

Ordination by Petition?

An interesting thing happened today.  Tony Jones ordained Adam Walker-Cleveland with an online petition with the following words:

Adam Walker-Cleaveland, having watched you be ritually abused by the ordination process in the Presbyterian Church (USA), we beseech you to forsake ordination in said bureaucracy.

And please accept the following: We, the body of Christ, hereby ordain you as a Minister of Word and Sacrament, and we grant you all of the rights and responsibilities thereto.

May God bless your ministryhttp://petitionspot.com/petitions/ordainadam

I don’t know Adam, nor do I know his story.  I don’t know if he accepts this ordination or the approval of the 59 people that have so far offered their support to the petition.  This interested me in a couple ways that leads me to reflect on the Emergent and United Methodist Churches.

1)  It strikes me that despite the active efforts of the Emerging Village community to remain institution-less (they dissolved their directing board leadership less than a year ago), they cannot escape human realities that seek organization and establishment.  Whether he wants to be or not, Tony (along with other gifted individuals) serves as a de facto bishop of the Emerging Church.  He makes visits to new Emergent churches (I saw him bless the new worship space used by Journey, and emergent community in Dallas) and now offers online ordination! 

Maybe Tony Jones and John Wesley have a little more in common than most people think

Here’s the thing.  I know that many of you Methodists are aghast that he would have the gall to do such a thing.  Remember, though, that this is how the Methodist church started.  John Wesley, though ordained, was not a bishop when he rdained Coke and Asbury.  They took upon the title of bishop at the Christmas conference without that sanction of the Church of England or even John Wesley.  Before anyone criticizes, let’s pause to remember where we came from.  (It’s fair to disagree with him, but please no Tony-bashing).

2)  I know many people who have been abused (in, what frequently seems to be ritual fashion) by Boards of Ordained Ministry and the church officials who influence them.  I’ve had to fight some battles to be ordained and have seen others lose the battle to pursue ministry in another denomination or profession.  I come out of the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference in which the Board of Ordained ministry which in 2007 recommended Ordination in Full Connection for fewer than half of the requesting candidates!  It very well may be that those half were not ready, qualified or called, but all of them had been under the care of BOM or DCOM for at least 8 years.  Surely, if there were issues, they could have been addressed in some way, but they weren’t and they probably still aren’t being addressed. 

On the large scale, ordination decisions are made by a body of people who have little or no relationship with cadidates.  They read recommendations from the candidates congregation, supervising minister (if there is one) and a mentor, but only one of those people gets an actual vote. 

What if ordination in the United Methodist Church was more relationally driven?

We currently flirt with relationships in the ordination process.  We assign a mentor and a candidate works through workbooks with them (I haven’t used a workbook since I was in second grade until I started the ordination process), but there isn’t usually a deep relationship.  How often does an ordination mentor go to hear their mentee preach?  How often does a mentor engage the people that see the mentee in ministry every day?  How much say does the mentor actually have in deciding the ordination fate of the candidate? I remember the most consistent worry from candidates going through ordination:  it’s really hard when it feels like they just don’t know me.  And it amazes me that someone could be in the process for so many years and still not feel known. 

The reality is that Board of Ordained Ministry members have full-time appointments.  Reading the paperwork of dozens of candidates is enough of a drain on their time.  How could they possibly invest in the deeper relationships that are needed while still maintaining their own appointments?  Yet we all know that deeper relationships would help the process. 

Ordination is inherently relational, other wise we wouldn’t do it with such a personal act as laying hands on someone.  When I was ordained, I marvelled at the power of the moment and the weight of so many hands upon my head-the hands of people that I respected and looked up to as well as the hands of people I very much disliked and had wrestled with for years.  All of them were there and they stood for the hands of the community–the hands of the church rested upon my head and weighed me down.

That weight is good.  We should feel pressed upon by the weight of the body of the church.  Ordination should be nothing less than that.  I believe that the moments leading up to ordination ought to be as personal as the ordination itsself.  I hope we can find ways to do that.

I'm glad that this guy was rejected for ordination

So what’s the answer?  I don’t know, but something tells me that the answer doesn’t lie in congregational ordination or web-based petition ordination.  Jim Jones could easily have been ordained by a United Methodist congregation, but he was rejected by a United Methodist Board of Ordained Ministry.  We need the weight of the broader body of Christ upon us, we need the confirmation of he community that spans centuries and we need standards of education, effectiveness and clarity of call before we take ministers into a lifelong covenant (especially with guaranteed appointment).  We need a broader system to protect the church and congregations.  

What are your ideas?  How can we be more relational in ordination?  How can we be better as a church at calling, nurturing and building up its ministers?

Clerical_collar_9

Hardcore Itineracy…why not?

THE APPOINTMENT SYSTEM

One of the most distinctive things about the United Methodist Church is the way in which we decide what pastors serve at which churches.  I live in the appointment system–I’ve been blessed by it and burned by it.  Before I suggest radical changes, let me first shore up my support for it and mention some of the incredible blessings of the appointment system (as I see it…feel free to add your own)

  • No United Methodist Church is ever without a pastor
  • The pool of potential candidates to serve a church that needs a pastor is literally in the hundreds–far more than any national search will ever provide.
  • The UMC was able to serve as a “frontier church” as the western world expanded.  Bishops sent pastors to untamed places like New Jersey and Kentucky.  Normal ministers wouldn’t go to a place like St Louis before it was built up but we have the oldest ministries in a lot of major cities and rural places because a bishop sent a minister to establish something there (regardless of whether or not that minister wanted to go).
  • The appointment system has given me the courage to preach more prophetically.  I don’t rely upon the local church for a job.  If God calls me to say something to a congregation that they don’t want to hear, my livelihood doesn’t depend on it.  Being sent by the bishop makes a big difference to me in how I understand my role within a church.

I think that the appointment process in the UMC is one of its greatest gifts.  That doesn’t mean that it couldn’t use some tweaking.

A couple weeks ago, Bishop Lowry in the Central Texas Conference made a not-so-subtle declaration of war on the “good old boy” network and the appointive process.  (you can read it at http://www.ctcumc.org/bishop_column_detail.asp?TableName=oBishop_Sermons_Speeches_PWLDXP&PKValue=74 ).  I have heard two baby bishops make grand promises about a change in the way appointments are made–an end to systems that ensure pastors climb the ladder…and end to appointments that take salary into account yadda yadda.  I’ve heard two new bishops make promises to lead the appointment system the way we all know is *should* be instead of the way it always has been.  Both times, I was disappointed.  This time, I have some hope.  Perhaps its Lowry’s tone, perhaps it’s the fact that he’s shaking things up in other areas.  I have a lot of hope that he might actually do what he’s setting out to do. 

Here’s the problem:  there are practical difficulties that come into account when we consider things like salary.  Say we have a pastor who has two kids in college.  She’s the perfect minister to revitalize a declining church.  How can the cabinet honor the commitments she’s made to her family?  Pastors aren’t promised a lucrative career, but UM pastors also don’t take a vow of poverty.  It frankly is unjust to send her to a congregation that will kill her ability to support her family.  Some people think that we need to revolutionize the church to fix it.  What if we instead radicalized some of the things we already do by TOTALLY embracing them?

Here’s the CRAZY  IDEA that I’d love to discuss

Why not pay all salaries through the conference?  Think about it for a second.  If we were to truly embrace not only the power of the connection, but also the importance of being sent by the bishop to a church then it isn’t congregation that should control, limit or inflate a pastor’s salary.  Here are some reasons why this is and isn’t a good idea:

  • Mission-minded appointments would be so much easier to execute.  If the cabinet saw a need, it could be met with limited implications on a pastor’s salary level.  A veteran pastor could re-vitalize a diminishing church.  A young pastor could attract young families and provide the energy needed to support and build up a growing church in a developing area.
  • Overly inflated salaries could diminish  There are United Methodist pastors who make more than $100,000!  There are a limited few who make several hundred thousand dollars a year.  In a world of poverty…in a world in which UMCOR never has a shortage of things it needs to do…in a world of radically disparate wealth…when full apportionments are never paid to the general church…there is no excuse for salaries that large.

    Parsonage Toilet Paper for top senior pastors?

  • More churches would close  Hopefully, a system like this would force cabinets and Annual Conferences to look at churches that languish in mediocrity and decline.  The largest expense for the vast majority of failing churches is clergy salary.  If a conference has to look hard at how much money is being spent to coddle the church to death, then maybe it will close some churches that need to be closed (BTW, I do not think that all small churches need to be closed.  In my life, the church I’ve served with the most Christian vitality was also the smallest church I’ve ever served). 
  • More churches could be opened.  Closing down and selling off failing churches opens up clergy and finances to launch innovative congregations.  This could allow us to once again become a “frontier church” that sends pastors and finances to the new frontier of generation, ethinicity and geography that separate the church from those who need it the most.  Churches from closed congregations could also be used creatively by the conference to create missionary outposts–coffee houses, food banks, restaurants, community centers, clinics and bars (I put that last one in to see if you’re paying attention).

    The new circuit rider?

  • The cabinet would have to change their role and be far more RELATIONAL   In order to make decisions about salary and missional appointments, DSes would have to know a minister almost as well as his or her congregation.  This would necessitate more visitation, more mentorship and more relationship.  This would also necessitate more time and maybe more DSes.  Some conferences are already experimenting with some alternative models of leading a District (Duane Anders in West Ohio comes to mind).  Mayeb some new models could offer some ideas
  • This would be a HUGE risk with clergy salaries.  100% apportionments are paid by a small portion of UM churches.  Ostensibly, apportionments wouldn’t increas any more than churches were already paying for clergy salaries.  initially there shouldn’t be much of a drop in % of apportionment giving.  Down the road however, who knows?   
  • There a lot of implications of this.  I’ve never been a DS or a bishop.  I know that my experience is limited.  What else would be the implications of salaries being run through the conference. 

So those are just a few ideas.  Please feel free to respond.  Post what you like, post what you think is absolute crap (I promise I won’t be offended).  My biggest goal in all of this is to get some conversation going (if not on this blog, then in the church).  Also, if you’d like to post a blog like this one and throw out your ideas for the UMC, then let me know and I’ll add you as a contributor. 

Peace,

          Mike  +

Perkins Pastor’s Week…Methomergents Gather!

Perkins (the School of Theology at SMU) is hosting Minister’s Week on February 2nd to the 4th.  Here’s the link to their site:  http://smu.edu/theology/public_progs/MinWeek/minweek.html

The topic:  the emerging church!  If you are in the Dallas area or are interested in anyway, then you should make sure to come by.  MethoMergent Lab is setting up a lunch for those who are interested in joining the cause (I’ll post details once I finalize things with the Perkins People). 

A couple things have me pretty excited to attend:

1)  Most of the participants are of older generations.  I’m curious to see what the general reaction will be.

2)  The keynote speakers that are coming–Doug Padgitt, Tom Sine, and Karen Ward are all great people but none of them are Methodist.  I really wish that one of the keynotes was a United Methodist who was practicing emergent forms of ministry.  This is sort of unfortunate because part of what has led to a negative reaction from many “old guard” ministers is that the emergent movement is “the end of denominationalism.”  Much of what Doug Pagitt says has led to this notion. 

3)  Elaine Heath.  Although she is not a keynote speaker, she will moderate a panel that will include discussion on ways to incorporate emergent practices, theology etc into a denominational structure.  She has some innovative experience with this through something called New Day which is a joint effort of Perkins, the Wesley Foundation at SMU, Lovers Lane UMC (they have the coolest name ever), the North Texas Annual Conference and Epworth (an intentional community of seminarians).  I think her experiences and voice can infuse a lot of hope and interest.

4)  I’m anxious to talk with more people about the initial work that we’re doing and see who else can get excited about it.

If you’re going to be at Minister’s Week, please drop me an e-mail or leave a comment.  Also, if you’re going to a conference that might be good for talking about the MethoMergent Lab, try contacting the people leading the conference and put it together.  I’m building a database that will hopefully lead to several resources for emergent networking within the UMC.  Let me know where you’re going and I can set you up with some tools to gather information.

Peace,    Mike

PS – Still looking for people to contribute to this blog.  Let me know if you’re interested and I’ll add you onto the list.