Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Troublemaker Series: #3 UMC Clergy

I'm struck by the seeming lack of a "plan" in the New Testament and our denominational plans today.

Well, that's not quite right, as there was a plan. It was rather simple- depend upon God, follow the way of Christ, listen to the guidance of the Spirit, preach/teach/disciple everyone. Sure, you could add a few ingredients here and there, and certainly "flesh out" all of the above, yet you must admit the agenda is rather simple and straightforward. But while we hold to the place of Scripture we likely don't want to go too far in applying it in this discussion.

As I've blogged recently there's a lot of talk, words, meetings, etc. in the buildup to all the denominational meetings in 2012. You'll notice I'm not "hung up" on some of the hot topic issues of clergy (after all, I'm a deacon, so my only guarantee comes from God!). Instead, I think there are some other critical issues deserving of consideration and discussion that may get lost, yet are critical to not just the survival but a thriving United Methodist denomination.

I'm sure one issue the entire UMC will look at in GC2012 will be that of the role of clergy, DS, and bishop. To say it another way, the whole system must work together- especially the local congregation- if we are serious about a new era of vibrant Methodist Christianity. Too much of this discussion is being held at the "higher levels" and we are again failing to engage our UM congregations. That's a shame as it could be an opportunity to engage and deploy a United Methodist Army in a shared mission that is of the greatest importance and urgency!

Check out this job description for a pastor
. While I've served as clergy for a number of years (and still LOVE it!) I'm better recognizing that 1) while our jobs demand the ability to "spin plates" and multitask not everything can be a priority and 2) the more I focus on the most important things in ministry and in my giftedness for the Church the more effective I am. The more I focus on preaching/teaching, witnessing in word and deed, discipling/spiritual mentoring in honest, real, Methodist ways, the better I do long term in ministry. Said another way, I'm not called to "do it all" in the church, but to say yes to equipping and engaging the laity in ministry and allowing this power of God in the laity to be unleashed (as opposed to controlling, stifling, or otherwise impeding).

Some "Troublemaker" questions that I'm pondering:
--I'm wondering what the "poster child" of UM clergy looks like during the next 10-20 years? Think of the next generation of pastors after Adam Hamilton, Rudy Rasmus, Mike Slaughter, Kirbyjon Caldwell, etc. Think of those younger than Olu Brown, Hyo Kim, Nora Martinez, and John Kenney. Maybe a Susan Pinson, or David Walters, or Jasmine Smothers, or who? What of those young clergy who haven't yet responded to the call yet who are still in high school? What does that poster look like for the "average" UM congregation in 2021 and beyond?

-What should the 1 or 2 primary jobs be of United Methodist clergy? If, for example, it is preaching and one other ministry then we need to turn the whole system in that direction. How will we better retool seminary, conferences, board of ordained ministry, etc. for this new generation of clergy? Said another way, will we want 60 year old seminary professors who've never served a congregation teaching preaching to 25 year old students we expect to lead multi ethnic congregations that may be more evangelical with expertise in building bridges into a community? Will we work our denomination in smarter ways to use current technology to make the best use of time so clergy can focus on the priority?

-What should the 1 or 2 primary jobs be of a District Superintendent? If it is to be a missional strategist and clergy/church coach then the whole system should be oriented in that direction of primary focus. We can't merely tag a variety of people who reflect a conference yet lack the skills to do the job. If they can't fulfill the job then they can certainly return to the better position that matches their gifts for ministry. It's OK because sometimes you don't know until you try. In college football, sometimes you don't know if someone is better suited to play as first string quarterback until you put them into the game situation. While we should make wise decisions, and not get hamstrung by politics, we shouldn't be afraid to take risks as we follow the Spirit.

-What should the 1 or 2 primary jobs be of a bishop? 1) primary for me is leadership in the annual conference, and 2) limited time outside of conference with the larger Church. If they are ineffective, and just voted in on popularity yet lack the skills, will we return them to a position that they are better equipped to do? What is the role of a bishop to be effective in the new UMC? and how will that be evaluated?

-How will congregations reorient toward a new Methodism that must, of necessity, engage both clergy and laity? Excellent, engaging worship for this younger generation is an imperative. Serious outreach through mission and evangelism must be a priority. Becoming congregations that reflect our communities, i.e. multi ethnic, socioeconomically varied, must be a shared value and expectation. Congregational turnaround and ownership will be the deal breaker in all of this no matter the competency and commitment of clergy.

-All "agency" work would be directly related to congregational and other direct ministry (campus, chaplaincy, mission, etc.) and these ministry equippers would coordinate their work. They would also have expectations of effectiveness in ministry and would be lean and action orinted.

-How will we clergy learn better ways of communicating the Good News to the larger community? For example, I'm rather certain the way I learned to preach in 1988, while holding some principles that will still work, may likely not be the best way to communicate to folk outside the church today. Oh, and I keep thinking of people outside the church because at our best the message, theology, and practices of Methodism made connections with the work of God in the larger community.

These are exciting times for the United Methodist Church, and I'm talking about a lot more than guaranteed appointments and church metrics!

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