Monday, April 17, 2006

Ten Things I Think I Think

I wrote at a prolific pace last week, for reasons unbeknownst to me. Hope you enjoyed all the additional musings, and will forgive the late posting of this week's Ten Things.

1) Received my books today for my first doctoral class in July, just in time to pretty much obliterate all the time I would have used watching the NBA playoffs. I guess it's just all a part of this year being the "Year of Living Sacrifice" here at Shawnee UMC. I'll probably still sneak a peak, or two, at the Cavs, though, as it will be LeBron's coming out party (just you wait and see!).

2) Am in the middle of reading a truly facinating book: "The World Is Flat" by Thomas Friedman. Joseph had been raving about this text, and I had seen it cited so many times in various articles/interviews, that I finally had to crack it open myself.... and I'm glad I did. Friedman does an in-depth study of how globalization (in it's third movement) is making it possible for the Chinese to export statues of the Virgin of Guadalupe to Mexico cheaper than Mexican labor can make them, for Indian accountants to do more than 600,000 individual American tax returns this year, and why Taiwan is the third-richest nation in the world (as measured by cash reserves) although it possesses absolutely no natural resources of its own.

If you'd like to hear the author himself explain the premise of the book, follow this link:

Buy it here:

3) The implications for a flat world are pretty serious for our kids. Back when I was little, it seemed like everybody wanted to be a fireman, pro athlete, or a teacher. Nobody (and I mean, nobody) wanted to be a scientist or an engineer. This lack of desire to enter these professions is now having grave consequences as those Baby Boomers who were inspired by Kennedy's commitment to get to the moon first, are now looking at retirement. While young people will flock to hear the Black Eyed Peas in concert, Bill Gates is quoted in the book as being amazed that in China and India that when he shows up to speak, tickets to the event are scalped at ridiculous prices.

Friedman says this: "In China, Bill Gates is like Brittany Spears. In the United States, Brittany Spears is like Brittany Spears, and that is precisely our problem."

Poor Brittany is already taking it on the chin for having married and had a child with a man her fans are describing as a doofus... now she's the cause of the decline of our economy. I understand, though, what Friedman is trying to say. Our kids are surfing the web, playing video games, watching cartoons, talking on their cell phones, and not cognizant of the fact that it's mathmaticians, engineers, and scientists that have made all of those things possible. The child who figures out that these fields are where the future is, is the child who is going to do well. If Tonka can sell a series of action figures called "Rescue Heroes", which are just glorified fire-fighters, police officers, rescue pilots, and other forms of public servants, why not a series that lifts up engineers, scientists, and mathmaticians ( we could call it, "Electronic Wizards", and in the animated series they can use computers, calculators, and computer code to fight bad guys)?

Let's just say that I'll be taking down Max's poster of Kevin Garnett, and replace it with one of Sergey Brin (a co-founder of Google) later today.(

4) Here's some of Friedman's thoughts on the role of parenting in the "Flat World"....

David Baltimore, the Nobel Prize-winning president of Caltech, knows what it takes to get your child ready to compete against the cream of the global crop. He told me that he is struck by the fact that almost all the students who make it to Caltech, one of the best scientific universities in the world, come from public schools, not the private schools that sometimes nurture a sense that just because you are there, you are special and entitled. "I look at the kids who come to Caltech, and they grew up in families that encouraged them to work hard and to put off a little bit of gratification for the future and to understand that they need to hone their skills to play an imporatnt role int he world", Baltimore said. "I give parents enormous credit for this, because these kids are all coming from public schools that people are calling failures. Public education is producing these remarkable students - so it can be done. Their parents have nurtured them to make sure that they realize their potential. I think we need a revolution in this country when it comes to parenting around education.

This really hits home for me. My brother-in-law, Dr. Jeffery Allen, spent a number of years working for NASA, and now is a Professor of Engineering at Michigan Tech. He's written nationally-renowned scientific studies, sent experiments up on MIR and the Space Shuttle, and played a part in the design of the International Space Station. Now he's on the forefront of the study of hydrogen as an energy source. What makes this amazing, if you live in Lima, is that he's a graduate of Lima Senior High School (my own alma mater). Lima Senior didn't have, and doesn't have, the best rep as an academic institution in this community, but the array of college-prep courses has been, and is second-to-none. Jeff was raised by parents who nurtured his love of learning how things worked, and was told all of his life that education was the ticket to a good life. That's how a kid from the "city schools" went on to become one of only a handful people (or maybe, the only person) from the area to have worked as a scientist at NASA.

Just makes you wonder how much more time, energy, and money we will spend on testing when maybe the answer is figuring out how to motivate parents to push kids at school.

5) Here's an interesting link for a Today feature on the "Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community", a church-plant in Pittsburgh:

What makes HMBFC so interesting to me, isn't the fact that there are no sermons, only dramas presented each week, or that they eat during the service, or employed worship music that can be loud and raucous (we were doing all those things in a worship service I helped start seven years ago... although we did offer a sermon in addition to the drama or self-produced video skit). No, the amazing thing is that this church plant is a partnership between a local United Methodist Church, and a local Presbyterian Church.

Most of the pastors and bueracrats in our denomination don't ever think along these kinds of lines. While cooperative efforts like these are more common in places like the American West (largely due to a shortage of clergy and sparse populations), the idea that two mainline denominational churches would cooperate to do something innovative and new is a shock. Mostly, because I'm sure that too many questions would normally be raised about who controls what, and who contributes what funding. But, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised, because in an era where our overall attendance is shrinking, while at the same time our finances are being increasingly devoured by our obligations to our retirees, and the maintainence of health insurance, I'm guessing that necessity, being the mother of invention, is going to push us in directions we never dreamed. A United Methodist Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh is probably just the beginning of a whole bunch of things that we, as UM-clergy, will have never seen before.

Here's a link if you'd like to learn more about "Hot Metal Bridge FC":

6) Ominous news last week. Apparently the Council of Bishops of the United Methodist Church have called together a group of clergy and lay-people from all walks of life (but predominantly, lawyers) to begin to look at issues pertaining to property ownership in the UMC. May not sound like a big deal, but here's what you need to know: the only thing that keeps the United Methodist Church "united" is something called the "In-Trust Clause". The "In-Trust Clause" states that all property in the United Methodist Church is owned, "In-Trust", by the governing Annual Conference (Note to my grandmother: The UMC is orgainized in a similar mode as the State of Ohio, except that instead of having towns, counties and state entities, we have churches, districts, and conferences. Hope that helps!). So each church in the UMC doesn't own its own property, meaning that if you got upset with the denomination (on a issue, like, say, homosexuality), your congregation can sever its ties to it, but it can't take the property they meet at with them. They can't because the property, is owned "in-trust" by the conference.

Well, about three years ago, a number of disgruntled churches in California decided to challenge the "In-Trust Clause" in that state's court system. After a protracted legal batter, last year the Supreme Court of California declared that there was nothing in the state's charter or legal history, that supported such a clause, which is causing a panic among those who realize what is at stake. If churches can leave, with their property, the implications for a denomination like ours, which is hopeless fractured over certain issues is that congregations leaving with their building isn't such a crazy idea. As a result, a massive effort is underway to get all UMC's to update their incorporation as non-profits, and make sure that their property deeds are updated with the said "In-Trust Clause" language. We did this last year, but, while I don't really know, I suspect that many UMC's have figured out what is going on, and are intentionally not complying with the wishes of the conference with an eye on 2008, which is the year of our next General Conference meetings (where the issue of homosexuality will, once again, be put on the front burner). Meaning, that if their charter is older than 1968, chances are they are incorporated as a Methodist Episcopal or Evangelical United Breathern Church, and thus, more likely to be able to leave, keys to the sanctuarly in-hand (at least in their own minds, I suppose).

If the "In-Trust Clause" isn't any good in California, what is the implication for every other state? While I'm sure that this case is being federally appealled, the make-up of this version of our U.S. Supreme Court would tend toward letting the states decide whether or not this kind of arrangement really is legal. They aren't saying this implicitly, but I've a sense this is the issue at hand that the Council of Bishops want discussed by this ad-hoc body, as I'm sure, they are seeing storm clouds on the horizon of our denomination's future.

7) More bad news out of the United Methodist Information Service. Apparently, according to the latest stats, less than 15% of all active clergy are under the age of 35. "What's the big deal", you ask, "particularly when so many second-career have, and continue, to go into the ministry?".

Well, the latest studies are out by those who conduct such studies, and what they are discovering is that Senior or Solo Pastors of churches tend to mostly attract people who are within seven years older and younger, than themselves. Thus, if you are denomination that's getting older and smaller, your hope for reaching scores of younger people diminishes with the aging of your clergy.

As someone who came straight out of college into seminary, I can't say that I'm surprised at this trend. The average age of the seminary student when I was on campus was 36. Now it's 42, so we're not talking about some new. It's at least 15 years old, and growing more serious.

And it's a problem that has a lot of contributing factors. The pay for UMC pastors isn't all that great, which isn't exactly an incentive to take on massive student loan debt to do the post-grad work you need to get ordained. Chances are, too, that upon graduation, you'll be appointed either to some little church in the sticks or the city, that has no intention of changing anything it's been doing for (fill in the blank) years, or as an Associate Pastor in a large church where you'll be asked largely to do everything the Senior Pastor doesn't want to do (read: Youth Ministry, which is a good profession, if you want to do it, and like dying slow if you don't want to do it). The chances of getting to start a new worship service or congregation, that fits a younger pastor's persona, with the necessary resources to make it succeed, are almost nil.

So, a job where you rack up a lot of debt, don't make much money, and take a lot of grief from people who largely don't respect you because of your age.... it's kind of a hard sell.

8) Having lived these realities, here's five things that the conference can do, right now, to turn this around:
  • Don't Require a Semininary Education for Ordination: I know my friends and colleagues in seminary won't agree, but nothing is a better training ground for this work than actually being in a church. If I were on the Board of Ordained Ministry, I'd identify ten churches that would be good training grounds for young clergy, appoint them there, and give them great mentors to help them walk through a three year "apprenticeship". A certain number of basic theology and bible classes could be offered on-line (through a participating seminary, or outsourced directly by the conference) to help develop the inner life of these people. In this way, a student's basic needs could be supported by a church whose ministry we'd like to see replicated in the denomination, and the student doesn't end up with debt that, unlike other professionals who are highly paid, will cripple him or her for life.
  • Use This Three Year Period To Identify Possible Church Planters: Here's the deal... we desperately need to start planting new churches because in them, the rules won't be written yet, and the possibilities for innovation and creativity in ministry will be endless. Since the best way to plant a church is to "birth" it out of a "mother church", these young people will already be connected with healthy congregations that, in conjunction with the conference, can make this happen in their communities.
  • Shape The Denominational Structure Toward Serving Local Churches: There was an article this week in our local newspaper detailing the cuts that the Presbyterians (Presby USA) are making in their national office. One of the major cuts is happening in their mission office, not because the churches are sending less money for mission, but because they are now bypassing the denominational office to do more hands-on mission work. Continued downsizing in our General and Annual Conferences will free up more money for church planting and re-starting, which are the venues where young clergy will thrive. What's more, with lowered apportionment obligations, local churches will be more likely to afford young clergy as additional staff. The other piece of this is that the pension and health package for all active and retired clergy will need to be totally restructured. This will mean we'll all need to sacrifice as some of the entitlements we have enjoyed are reconstituted in a form that won't bankrupt the denomination.
  • Promote From Within In Large Churches: If the best corporations in the world are to be trusted, the trend within them, right now, is to train their own leadership, and promote from within. In our system, pastors are promoted largely based on years of service and salary level. So, as an example, the new pastoral leadership at Everywhere UMC is trained in congregations in other places in a conference. So when Pastor Bob goes from Anywhere UMC to Everywhere UMC, while he might have a grip on some basic principles of ministry, he knows pretty much "squat" about his new church (and vice-versa). What if, instead of from Anywhere UMC, that Pastor Bob was appointed from within at Everywhere UMC, where he had served faithfully for a number of years OR was appointed as an associate two years ago for this purpose? Now, Pastor Bob not only has developed the basic skills for ministry, he knows and loves the church (and vice versa). If Pastor Bob only has four years under his belt when his apppointment as a succeeding pastor is made, then so be it. At least young clergy will know that talent and ability will count as much in the appointment process as number of years served.
  • Ordain Clergy In Churches, Not At Annual Conference: I really think Bishop Judy Craig, the now retired Bishop of the West Ohio Conference, was on to something when she moved ordination for Probationary Elders away from Annual Conference into regional services conducted in local churches around the state. I'd move back in that direction, only instead, ordain the person in the church where they had been serving. That way the people who nurtured him or her could fully participate in the celebration, and more rank-and-file lay people could be challenged to think about this vocation as a career.

9) I love 80's music, but I can't understand radio stations with "80's music based" formats. I listen to a station out of Dayton a lot because it features 80's music, and I bet it plays the "Safety Dance" five or six times a day. How is it that I can hear the "Safety Dance" more times on the radio now, then I did when I was thirteen? And, why would I want to? Well, I'm ready to move on. If you are aware of any new, or older under-appreciated artists whose work should make it onto my Sony Bean MP3 player, send your suggestions to .

10) And, finally, Eli, our youngest, is starting to cruise about the house on all-fours, and upright while holding onto something else. Maybe its my imagination, but he seems to be growing up faster than the other two. I half expect him to be in college before Xavier graduates from High School. Just one of the tricks time plays on you in your late 30's.

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