Thursday, April 12, 2012

Has God Outsourced the UMC?

I'm enjoying a day off, and with it a slower start to the day.  So, I've got my laptop open and catching up on news and bloggers perspectives.  In the background I've got the TV morning news on.  There's a story on about outsourcing jobs from the United States to other parts of the world.

That's when the question hit me.

Has God outsourced The United Methodist Church beyond the US to more productive parts of the world?

I won't review the numbers for you, but if you've followed recent news leading up to GC2012 then you know the UMC is growing elsewhere.  Nor will I review the good work of Philip Jenkins on the explosive growth of global Christianity ("Next Christendom" is now a decade old!).  Christianity, and even United Methodism, will continue to see impressive movement in the southern hemisphere, and not be as dominated by English speakers & western worldviews where it may continue a decline into a minority viewpoint.  What will the impact of other languages, customs, and contexts have upon United Methodism?  It's a great question for any denomination to consider as we look for the work of the Kingdom of God and seek to join in with those efforts.

I join the voices of others who share concern that GC2012 is too dominated with the issues, fears, and sense of decline/change needed for United Methodism in the United States.  I'll be hoping, praying, and looking for GC2012 to embrace more of a global view, international leadership, and a Book of Discipline and organizational plan that best reflects the global nature and growth of The United Methodist Church.

As my mind wanders with these thoughts & thinks of my UM brothers and sisters in Africa, Asia, South America and elsewhere I wonder:
When will the General Conference be held outside the United States?
Will the BOD be changed to reflect the essentials of United Methodism that can be expressed in every annual conference and congregation?
Will we establish a consistency of clergy patterns and episcopacy in all annual conferences?
Could agencies (or whatever those mission and ministry arms become after GC2012) be established in other continents to share best resources and practices & better develop strategic, vital leadership across the globe?
Will the UMC take the necessary steps to become a vital movement in every continent and country or will we stifle the work of the Spirit by imposing US values and approaches upon the movement in other lands?  

It is an exhilarating time to be a Christian and to be United Methodist.  I continue to hope and pray we make the most of these days as we follow the Risen Christ throughout the world.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Holy Thursday

I've found myself drawn to some of John Wesley's sermons during Holy Week 2012.  The wording is somewhat dated, but check out his message based on Mark 1:15 from the sermon title "The Way to the Kingdom."  I'm especially struck by, "Awake, then, thou that sleepest. Know thyself to be a sinner, and what manner of sinner thou art."  What manner of sinner are you?  I'm working through that myself!  On this Maundy Thursday read through this passage and consider your sin and repentance. 
13. And this "kingdom of God," or of heaven, "is at hand." As these words were originally spoken, they implied that "the time" was then fulfilled, God being "made manifest in the flesh," when he would set up his kingdom among men, and reign in the hearts of his people. And is not the time now fulfilled? For, "Lo! (saith he,) I am with you always," you who preach remission of sins in my name, "even unto the end of the world." (Matt. 28:20.) Wheresoever, therefore, the gospel of Christ is preached, this his "kingdom is nigh at hand." It is not far from every one of you. Ye may this hour enter thereinto, if so be ye hearken to his voice, "Repent ye, and believe the gospel."


1. This is the way: walk ye in it. And, First, "repent;" that is, know yourselves. This is the first repentance, previous to faith; even conviction, or self-knowledge. Awake, then, thou that sleepest. Know thyself to be a sinner, and what manner of sinner thou art. Know that corruption of thy inmost nature, whereby thou art very far gone from original righteousness, whereby "the flesh lusteth" always "contrary to the Spirit," through that "carnal mind" which "is enmity against God," which "is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." Know that thou art corrupted in every power, in every faculty of thy soul; that thou art totally corrupted in every one of these, all the foundations being out of course. The eyes of thine understanding are darkened, so that they cannot discern God, or the things of God. The clouds of ignorance and error rest upon thee, and cover thee with the shadow of death. Thou knowest nothing yet as thou oughtest to know, neither God, nor the world, nor thyself. Thy will is no longer the will of God, but is utterly perverse and distorted, averse from all good, from all which God loves, and prone to all evil, to every abomination which God hateth. Thy affections are alienated from God, and scattered abroad over all the earth. All thy passions, both thy desires and aversions, thy joys and sorrows, thy hopes and fears, are out of frame, are either undue in their degree, or placed on undue objects. So that there is no soundness in thy soul; but "from the crown of the head, to the sole of the foot," (to use the strong expression of the Prophet,) there are only "wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores."

Later in the sermon Wesley says,
5. And what wilt thou do to appease the wrath of God, to atone for all thy sins, and to escape the punishment thou hast so justly deserved? Alas, thou canst do nothing; nothing that will in anywise make amends to God for one evil work, or word, or thought. If thou couldst now do all things well, if from this very hour, till thy soul should return to God thou couldst perform perfect, uninterrupted obedience, even this would not atone for what is past. The not increasing thy debt would not discharge it. It would still remain as great as ever. Yea, the present and future obedience of all the men upon earth, and all the angels in heaven, would never make satisfaction to the justice of God for one single sin. How vain, then, was the thought of atoning for thy own sins, by anything thou couldest do! It costeth far more to redeem one soul, than all mankind is able to pay. So that were there no other help for a guilty sinner, without doubt he must have perished everlastingly.
Find the Full Sermon here. 
The "Confession and Pardon" in The United Methodist Book of Worship for a Holy Thursday evening service offers a good word:
My sisters and brothers, Christ shows us his love by becoming a humble servant.  Let us draw near to God and confess our sin in the truth of God's Spirit.
Most merciful God, we your Church confess that often our spirit has not been that of Christ.  Where we have failed to love one another as he loves us, where we have pledged loyalty to him with our lips and then betrayed, deserted, or denied him, forgive us we pray; and by your Spirit make us faithful in every time of trial; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.
Who is in a position to condemn?  Only Christ.
But Christ suffered and died for us,
was raised form the dead and ascended on high for us,
and continues to intercede for us.
Believe the good news:
In the name of Jesus Christ, you are forgiven!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Garden Story

It's spring time in Augusta GA and that means there is much yard work and gardening to be done.  The warm weather hit 3 or 4 weeks earlier than normal, and I wasn't prepared for the earlier season. 

As I started into the work, I realized my 10 year old wheelbarrow was even less ready that I was!  After so many years of faithful service and shared memories, I finally admitted it couldn't be repaired.  It's not easy giving up an old friend, an old habit, a part of your life. 

We'd accomplished much together at 3 different houses over the decade or more.  We'd transformed neglected houses and boring yards into homes for me and my family, and gardens that connected us to creation, produced food, and attracted all sorts of beneficial insects and animals.  Oh, the stories we could tell! 

Now my old wheelbarrow couldn't hold much material, but we managed.  It just required more work from me.

For years I had a tire that had a slow leak, which meant I'd need to air it up every time I used it.  But I kept working with the same tool and got accustomed to the inconvenience.  It was a little tipsy, and didn't steer well, requiring constant attention.  Sometimes it was hard to tell which required more work- the wheelbarrow or the task at hand!

As you might expect, the old metal bucket had holes in it.  In the last year, I'd mixed some cement in it and left it in there a little too long, so that it dried and filled up the holes.  It gave my old friend, that I knew so well and was so comfortable with, lots of character.

When I recently tried to move "old faithful" one of the wooden handles broke off.  The somewhat inefficient tool became rather useless at this point.  If you can't visualize my friend, or don't have one in your own yard, here's a picture to show what will now eventually get stripped down and become an herb garden.   

This forced me to recently purchase a new wheelbarrow.  I resisted this for some time, thinking I could patch, or buy used, or do something to postpone the inevitable.  Once I took a test drive of a new wheelbarrow there was no turning back! 

My new wheelbarrow is a thing of beauty.  I hadn't realized there have been a few improvements in recent years that build on the knowledge of everyday work and of better design.  I honestly didn't realize how bad my old workhorse was until I pushed my first load of dirt in the new friend.

I expect my new tool will last me 15 years, or so, just like the last one did. I'm reminded that even well constructed tools don't last a generation.  There are a number of noticeable differences between my old wheelbarrow and this new and improved workhorse.

My new wheelbarrow is all metal- no wood at all.  The wheel is one of those airless tires that are tall and strong.  So far, there are no scratches and holes in this bucket, though I know we'll create new stories together in our shared work.  Check out my upgrade:

Great tire- check.
Sturdy metal frame- check.
Big bucket- check.

I admired the new wheelbarrow for a few minutes and then promptly put it to work.  I got more done in one day than I would have in 2 days with my old wheelbarrow!  I was reminded that the important thing isn't to keep repeating the same habits with the same familiar tool, but that the goal is for work to be accomplished and the task completed as efficiently as possible. 
The only problem I've noticed is that the wheelbarrow is using the same power source!

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Masters & GC2012

I live in Augusta, Georgia, USA.  In case you didn't know, it is Masters week & the entire golf world is in our town.  It is a game changer for our city.  We build spring break and new traffic patterns around the event.  We put on our best southern hospitality.  We continue a great tradition and add a new chapter.  Even if you don't follow golf it is all rather spectacular.  With hosting the tournament we put up with changes every year-- to traffic patterns, to the course and surrounding neighborhoods, to everyday business and life in Augusta-- because we are part of something much larger than any one of us.

So, with my current viewpoint I'm thinking about game changers, great tradition, and new chapters that build upon the excitement, the momentum, and the expectations of the past to create a dynamic new present and future.  Is it possible that General Conference could accomplish such lofty goals for The United Methodist Church?  Is it possible, when it is all said and done, that individuals and subgroups will put away differences and  unify for something greater than anyone of us?  I think it is both necessary and possible! 

GC 2012 nears and with it my prayer is a new, vibrant spirit of mission will reclaim us as United Methodism recaptures the calling and the warm heart that ignited renewal in previous generations of Methodist Christians.

Of course, there will be a lot of heat around certain topics including reorganization and guaranteed appointments.  Beyond the purely practical and budgetary decisions I hope we'll be rooted in solid theological motivations and conversations.  I confess that I'm missing some of that holy talk and consensus building that I'd like to see regarding General Conference.  Perhaps that is part of the problem.  Do we United Methodists from across the US and the world even speak a similar theological language these days?  Beyond the words do we have a shared experience and expectation in the ongoing Way of Salvation and the present work of the Kingdom of God?

While I appreciate the conversation is driven by practical considerations I do hope that we United Methodists will also find our decisions pushed by missional considerations as we develop the denomination and congregation around the work of the Kingdom.  That will make the changes somewhat easier to accept as the old wineskins are discarded for something new that God requires of us.  It will still hurt & it will still be tough to let go of old habits, but as we follow Spirit and sacrifice together- and reach a unity together- perhaps our best days in following Christ and sharing Good News are today!

Compare the Alan Hirsch missional church matrix with all the prescriptions proposed for United Methodist reorganization at APEPT Missional Leadership Matrix . On the 3rd page you'll find a key chart where you can consider the biblical balance that might be found for church or Church when Apostolic, Prophetic, Evangelists, Pastoral, and Teaching ministries are all in sync.

As you work through the matrix you can quickly come up with many thoughts about the UMC today & what our various leadership positions have become.  Dare we get into serious conversation on such matters?  While it is worth getting into holy conferencing on each area of missional leadership space precludes that in this quick blog.  Let's just take one example and consider how apostolic leadership compares to current United Methodist episcopacy.

As I consider this I wonder:
Are we doing enough with episcopal reform as we reorganize?  I'm especially drawn to the missional emphasis of the episcopacy in Hirsch's work and hunger for that sort of leadership from bishops.  Hirsch writes, "Apostolic ministry is basically a function and not an office" p. 153 The Forgotten Ways

How can we reclaim a functional episcopacy from what can become a merely institutional bishop?  Does the UMC reorganization adequately deal with this as a driving issue and necessary theological component of reorganization?  As we realign and refocus committees and agencies will we also renew the local congregation and service in the annual conference as the priority for the episcopacy?  Bishops must spend the vast majority of their time "in conference" to be effective and more limited time serving the General Church.  Otherwise it's the same pinch those of us who serve at the congregational level realize when we've been away too much from our appointment and serving district and annual conference.  We just aren't available, connected, and with the necessary focus, even though we are doing our best in all those varied locations.

Further, why not create a consistency across United Methodism, so that similar to central conferences and other branches of Methodism, bishops are elected for terms and aren't bishops for life?  This retains consistency with the ways District Superintendents return to an Annual Conference to serve as elders & would allow for great financial savings.

This is just one example that might lead to solid conversation and a creation of a reorganization plan that has theological and practical considerations in mind. We can easily go through each of the APEPT ministries and consider the individual contributions in ministry and marvel at the genius and power of them in sync as a shared ministry.   I haven't seen a quadrilateral approach taken with the any of the reorganization plans, but it could still be a useful practice.  

Here in Augusta GA I'm praying for, and looking for, great things to come out of GC2012.  As followers of Jesus Christ, and servants of the Kingdom of God, may we yield to the Holy Spirit and do what the next generation may call a miracle!