Monday, January 21, 2008

Ten Things I Think I Think

1) Our office is closed today in honor of the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and rightfully so. By injecting the idea that by non-violent means people could work for societal change, he has provided rudimentary tools for us all to work toward reconciliation and peace in world that has been deeply divided by the scourge of slavery and its legacy. I took about 45 minutes today to list some concrete ways that I, personally, could in the coming year do my part to make Dr. King's dream of people being measured by their character a reality (an endeavor helped by a fine speaker at a breakfast in Dr. King's honor held this morning at our Civic Center.... more on that later). I'd like to encourage you to do the same.

2) I'm thoroughly enjoying this current sermon series we're doing discussing dealing with difficult people. I'm indebted to Jeff Moore, a friend of mine who is an associate pastor at one of the campuses of "Life Church" (a nationwide multi-site congregation based in Oklahoma City) for turning me onto their free resources for other churches. Their work helped inspire the series and some ideas that have become central to it.

I was particularly taken with preaching this Sunday on the challenge of dealing with hypocritical people (you can read the basic underpinnings of the sermon by clicking here). Nothing over the last thirty years has done more to zap the church of energy and momentum than the legion of high-profile scandals involving pastoral leaders, money, drugs, and sex. While its impossible for us to know what the underlying intent of each pastoral offender was (were they sharks who sought easy prey, or good people who succumbed to temptation?) the result of their high-profile failures has been felt in the local church which has been deemed "guilty" via their loose association of also being churches in the minds and souls of millions.

One of the things I told my congregation was to not be surprised or disheartened by the fact that hypocrites will be ever-present in the Christian community. The lure of money and power that can be gained by compromising the bond of trust which needs to exist between pastor and congregation will prove too great for many charlatans and thieves. Given too now the growing number of "health and wealth" ministries where pastors are living the high life as proof to the congregations that its possible for them also, I suspect we on the verge of another wave of scandal. I hope I'm wrong. If I'm not, though, I suspect churches will need to continually re-purpose and orient themselves in such ways that they become greater servants of the community - meaning greater sums of money available and more energy focused on the meeting real needs as opposed to more building projects and in-ward focused projects. A number of large churches (Saddleback Church leading the way) are realizing this, which is helping everyone else re-set their own course for the future. But given the wave of scandals among televangelists in the 80's, the Catholic Church clergy abuse scandals in the 90's, a third-wave of scandal will raise the level of scrutiny even higher among those who do not count themselves friends of the church. It'll be interesting to see what happens.

3) Went this morning to the Alpha Kappa Alpha Martin Luther King Day breakfast up at the Civic Center this morning. The entire affair was very well done. The speaker, Judge Kim Brown, who serves in Franklin County in a court that deals mainly with matters involving domestic and juvenile matters, was excellent. Carefully she balanced the real issues of institutional racism and the need for communities and families taking responsibility for helping kids realize the power of education and faith with carefully chosen words that are very timely. Her counsel that we could do something to lower barriers, like help to fill out FAFSA forms or financial assistance in the form of paying application fees for students applying to college I thought were two wonderful, practical ways we could emphasize the importance of education and help those who feel there is an opportunity debt in this community, realize that is not the case. I also liked her idea of sponsoring campus trips for juveniles (which she intends to do herself this year for 8 juvenile offenders who came through her court) who might not be able to easily do so on their own was another concrete way we can make a difference in the life of a young man or woman wondering what might be out there for them right now. Cap that with my Dad deciding to meet me at the event, and all in all, you have a great morning. Special thanks to Tom Harrison for making me aware of this breakfast, and whose company I also enjoyed this day.

4) The situation in Lima two weeks after the shooting of Tarika Wilson still remains tense. There is still plenty of rhetoric as the state still conducts it's investigation of the events that led her death and the shooting of her 1-year old son (who is still in the hospital). A community worship service at Philippian Missionary Baptist Church last Sunday went a long way to starting some good dialog and cooperation, but the tension the community feels around the circumstances surrounding this situation continue to split it. The cold, to a degree, by keeping people indoors, has indirectly helped keep the peace. But as the days drag by while still no information about the shooting is released by the authorities, the situation gets increasingly edgy. How we, a church in the burbs, can become involved in working with others to address the issues at hand is still a mystery, but we will remain open to the possibilities by remaining connected to our sister churches in Lima.

5) For my friends living elsewhere, I can't write anything that will help you understand how cold it has been here the past two days. It's the kind of cold that when you step outside takes your breath away and sucks all the moisture out of your skin. It's the kind of cold that kills car batteries at the end of their life. It's the kind of cold that makes you wish you were a pastor in Arizona. Thank goodness our weather changes every day or so. I'm ready for a heat-wave of temps in the 20's and 30's. Brrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr........

6) All is well on the Bucher's basketball front. Xavier's first game was Saturday. The other team actually had three kids who understood basketball so they cleaned our clock. But by the fifth period (they play six, six minute periods to allow for plenty of substituting) our players were finally starting to realize that they had to play defense and couldn't take a water-break in the middle of the action. One of our little boys, who started the game refusing to leave his mother's side so overwhelmed he was by all the running around and rules, finally warmed up to the game and scored a couple of baskets by the conclusion. Xavier, much like his brother before him, was kind of in his own world (once getting hit in the head with an errant basketball while he was was focused on watching "Uppy the Puppy", the league mascot, walk across another part of the gym). All in all, the "Lightening" basketball team ended up happy cause after the game, they got snacks. Can't beat that.

Max, on the other hand is still undergoing the metamorphosis we sensed was beginning during the soccer season to becoming a more complete athlete. He's slowly starting to understand the action around him, and isn't quite as overwhelmed by the speed. He's also becoming more aggressive, playing what his coach claimed Saturday was his best games defensively, by far, Saturday. Max even held one of the best players on the opposing team to a lone bucket the quarter he guarded him. He's still offensively still a little behind, but if you were as tall as he is at his age, you'd have trouble too. All in all, he is progressing nicely.

7) What a strange primary season. Usually by now the front-runners are separated themselves from the pack, and at most there's two candidates in each party that are leading the way. The Democrats are somewhat following suit, but you get the sense of how divided the country is when you take a look at the Republican Party. Huckabee is riding his Evangelical Christian credentials to wins in the heartland, while McCain and Romney make bigger strides in the more secular parts of the country (the coasts). And if numbers of commercials are any indication, Giluiani intends his coming out party to be in Florida (and I suspect New York). Might be the first time a major candidate was determined in a "smoke-filled backroom" at the convention in my lifetime.

8) This homemade video from YouTube will never win any awards, but the song I think is an indicator of why Matt Thiessen, the creative force behind the Christian punk-pop band "Relient K", will still be an important creative voice people will listen to years from now. Take a listen to a great story-song in the tradition of folk artists like Harry Chapin:

9) I think the Patriots, come two weeks for now, will join the '72 Dolphins as the only undefeated champions in NFL history.... but then again I picked the Bucks to win the last two NCAA championships, so what do I know?

10) I think my trip last week to Florida has done more to help me process my dissertation topic than anything else thus far. Strangely enough, the actual succession at Indian River City UMC (Titusville, FL.) wasn't all that remarkable or helpful in and of itself. It was really a case of expediency (they had a good candidate on hand in Jim Govotos to succeed Jeff Stiggins), a new bishop (who had been plopped into the conference after his predecessor grew too ill to continue - had he known the talent in conference better may have opted for a different successor), and precedent (the year previous, another church in that conference opted for a succession plan involving an in-house associate taking over for the senior at a church that is probably one of only a handful of charismatic UM churches in the country). The experience did coalesce a number of things I had been thinking previously about leadership transition in UMC's...

  • Under the current system, planning for the future is virtually impossible for local churches without political clout in the conference: As long as the responsibility for appointing senior pastors rests in the conference office, local churches can't even begin thinking about future changes in leadership. Such activity which on the surface seems prudent, in our world is considered out of line.
  • The current system favors small churches over mid-size or large ones: Where do you go in the UMC to get specialized staff people or associate pastors? Is the Office of Representative Ministry recruiting youth, children's, or adult discipleship directors? Are they tagging certain pastors to become Executive Ministers or specialists in the area of evangelism, discipleship, or missional outreach? Or are they still just intent on raising up generalists pastors who can preach, teach, pray, visit, and administrate every aspect of a congregation? Considering that I've hired youth, children's, adult discipleship, and music personnel over the last 17 years and NOT ONCE even had the option to look to our conference office for help should tell you something. If your church needs a solo or senior pastor, the bishop can make the appointment. But if your church needs specialists, you are on your own. Thus, 90% of our churches worship less than 100 people, and the only churches growing are those catching "lightening in a bottle", either because the senior pastor is naturally charismatic and gifted, or someone on the staff has figured out how to systemically help the church grow.
  • The Itinerant System is Crumbling: Think of it like this... you are bishop and you have a church in a thriving rural community who will need a new pastor. You scour the landscape for suitable candidates, and find four that would work well in that setting. Only Candidate #1's spouse has a teaching job and is only six years away from retirement, so they don't want to move. Candidate #2 was divorced prior to hearing the call and can't leave the community their in because of custody issues regarding their children. And Candidate #3 started receiving a housing allowance three years ago, likes where she is, and doesn't want to sell her home and start over. Candidate #4's daughter has a rare genetic disorder and must stay near the only hospital that can provide her care. So, what do you do now? Do you force one of these candidates to move against their will? Do you opt for some other candidate who isn't all that well-suited but able to move? In an era where pastors rode on horseback, spouses didn't work, divorce was almost unheard of, health care issues weren't nearly so complex, and the population wasn't localized, moving us around made a lot of sense. But now.... the system meant for that world is being stretched almost beyond recognition.
Such is the position we find ourselves. Where will the leadership come from to make the kinds of whole-scale changes necessary to connect local churches and pastors/staff needed to be vital over the long-term? Will we step forward in faith, or simply keeping making small changes to prolong the inevitable only as finances or circumstances demand?

I guess only time, or maybe some visionary leadership, which ever comes first, will tell.


The Thief said...

"So, what do you do now?" you ask.

Here's what you do: you force a young clergy person to go to that church and make his wife quit her job. And you threaten that young clergy person with blackball if he does not agree to the move.

That's what you do. And, no, I'm not talking hypothetics here. That's exactly the way it is.

Karen N. said...

Bryan... You, like the network and cable TV channels, neglected (imho) the only presidential candidate with true integrity.... Dr. Ron Paul.

Anonymous said...


You might recall that the second of your bullet points was something that I pointed out to you and Dick over a late breakfast at Tony's well over six years ago. I got myself in trouble with Dick by pointing out that the UM system struggles to find talented specialists while the SBC cranks them out like hotcakes from their Seminaries each spring. There are very few training ground for any specialist staff members at UM churches.

You might recall that I got told I was full of something because I had the temerity to suggest that one of the problems with the system was the huge salaries made by the D.S.'s in the system. This came from the same leader who often quoted the cowboy prover, "when the horse is dead...dismount." The era of horse ministry in the UM is clearly dead-pun clearly intended.

The Clouse