Tuesday, March 08, 2011

Future of the Church- Thought for Today

I'm using a book of daily readings of the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer as a part of my devotions.  Today's quote spoke to me as we consider the future of the church.  I find it easy to slip between pessimism and optimism.  Bonhoeffer reminds us that both are illusions.  There is the one reality for a believer; the reality of God.  Here is the quote for your pondering:

As the New Testament proclaims life to the dying, as life and death collide in the cross of Christ, and as life swallows up death—only when we see this do we believe in the church under the cross.  Only when we look at reality with clear eyes, without any illusion about our morality or our culture, can we believe.  Otherwise our faith becomes an illusion.  The believer can be neither a pessimist nor an optimist; both are an illusion.  Believers do not see reality in a certain light.  The instead see it as it is, and against everything and beyond everything they see, they believe in God alone and in his power. They do not believe in the world or in the capability of the world to develop and improve; they do not believe in their power to improve the world and in their goodwill.  They do not believe in people or in the good in people that ultimately must triumph; they do not believe in the church in its human power.  Rather, believers believe solely in God, who creates and does the impossible, who creates life out of death, who has called the dying church to life against and in spite of us and through us.  But God does it alone.
 Dietrich Bonhoeffer
What does it mean to reshape our view of reality to believe solely in God who does the impossible and calls a dying church to life?


Thursday, March 03, 2011

Now What?

I'm back from the Financial Forum.  Interesting meeting.  We didn't talk about finance much at all.  We actually focused on the deeper issue, our need to change in significant ways.  The financial situation is only a symptom of the larger issue.

Some interesting facts.  
-During the 40 years of decline in the UMC, the per person giving went up.  That is one reason we've been able to survive and maybe even avoid dealing with our situation.  2008 was a serious wake up call.  
-The UMC membership average age is much older than the general population.  In 2018, we will begin a period of in which most of our current membership will die off.  Lovett Weems called it a "death tsunami."  
-We have a window of opportunity with many options available to us now, but this will not continue.  So the time to act is now.  We can't wait.

In some ways the formula for change is very simple:
Recover our mission; "To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."
Focus on our mission; measure all we do by how it helps us achieve the mission, from the local church to global mission.
Individually, live this life changing, world transforming way, so that it is not something we do, but a fundamental expression of who we are.

I'm still thinking, contemplating and praying about what I heard and learned.  At times I feel discouraged because it seems impossible.  But at other times I have hope, particularly when I see people in communities all over this region finding ways to bless their neighbors, to live as a Jesus follower.  So fundamentally I have hope.  Not my hope or hope in me, but hope in what God can do.

What do you think?  Is there a future for the United Methodist Church?  What might it look like?  What might we become?  What is the dream on your heart?


Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Financial Future part 2

Quick thoughts after the first day of the financial forum:
-Lovett Weems (as did others) made a strong case that this is the time to act.  We have many options now that will go away in the next 8-10 years.   I speak more later about the upcoming death tsunami- when the baby boomer generation begins to die off.
-Circumstances are different and similar throughout the denomination in the US.  We in New England have had to deal to financial realities which are just coming into view for some locations.
-This is not a time to panic, but a time to lead.
-Business as usual will not work.
-During the period where attendance has declined, giving has increased.

I off to more discussion today.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Financial Future of UMC

I'm in Fort Worth, Texas for a financial forum regarding the future of the UMC.  Representatives from every annual conference are gathered to learn and discuss the pension and health insurance picture. I ate breakfast with 2 laypersons from the West, both representing their conference pensions.  One fellow, from Oregon, spoke of his small church trying to support a full time minister.  The theme were the same I've heard in New England, declining attendance, little youth participation, frustration and concern for the future.

I'll try to pass on updates and reflections as I listen and learn.   I believe this is a part of a larger attempt to build understanding and consensus in preparation for General Conference next year.

More later.



Sunday, May 02, 2010

What Kind of Country Will We Become?

The recent law regarding undocumented immigrants in Arizona raises a significant question; what kind of nation will we become?  We are living in a time of deep, systemic change.  In my life time our nation will become a country where whites are no longer the majority.   The way we make this transition will speak volumes to the kind of nation we wish to become.   Will we become a nation where a minority hangs onto power, instituting apartheid style laws to ensure control?  Or will we become a nation that embraces the principle that all men and women are equal.   

Nobel prize winner, Desmond Tutu, knows what it is like to live under an apartheid system.  He also knows about transitioning to majority rule with peace, reconciliation and hope.  I found his recent commentary on the Arizona law to be insightful and illuminating.  What kind of nation will we become?

I hope you will read it and reflect on his insights as well.

 Grace & peace,

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Who Will Go To Them?

Check out this video of Michael Frost:

What do you think? How do we respond to all those folks who are not interested, turned off or repelled by your church?

It seems to me we have a choice. We can be defensive and say there is something wrong with those folks. Or we can ask how can we reach them? If we can't reach them, who can? And how can we help them in their mission to those our church will never reach?

I believe the church of the future is not an either/or proposition. It is neither simple church as we know it nor something radically different. In fact this polarity gets in the way of a more deeper issue. The church of the future will at its heart live a very simple idea; we exist for others, particularly and primarily those outside our church. That simple idea shapes everything else. It changes all the questions. In that simple shift all we do becomes focused outside of ourselves. The kind of faith community we build together, the way we live our individual lives, and what we do with our resources will all be shaped by that simple idea.

Maybe this is too simplistic. Or just maybe the answer to our struggles is that simple.

What do you think?


Saturday, April 03, 2010

Saved by a Trucker

I was driving my friend’s pickup, pulling a heavy trailer load along interstate 78 in New Jersey. I think I am a pretty good driver. But I have limited experience pulling a heavy trailer As I accelerated onto the highway, the trailer started gently fishtailing back and forth. The more I corrected, the worse it got. Finally, a trucker pulled up beside me and motioned me to pull over. Just a simple gesture saved the day. I pulled over thinking there was something wrong with the trailer. But the problem was behind the steering wheel.

By stopping, I was able to talk it through with my friend. I realized I needed to adjust my driving to address the new situation. My driving reality had changed. Instincts for driving a passenger car would apply differently to pulling the trailer. I would need to be more attentive and vigilant to my driving. I was able to restart and drive on without further incident.

I thank God for the trucker who motioned me to a stop. He made all the difference.

Is there someone like that in your life who challenges you to stop what you are doing? Can you be that person for someone else, even a complete stranger?


Shoe Leather Prayers

My friend and colleague, John, called me Thursday afternoon with an incredible offer. “Mike, I’m headed to Mission Central to pick up 500 flood buckets. Want to come along? I’m leaving in a couple of hours.” Mission Central is in Mechanicsburg, PA, about an 8 hour trip from here. It is a central warehouse distribution center for United Methodist Committee on Relief, sponsored by the Central Pennsylvania Annual Conference. It houses relief kits, representing thousands of persons putting prayers and caring into the form of health kits, flood buckets, birthing kits and more. As John puts it, we are putting shoe leather to our prayers. How could I turn down such an offer?

Good Friday morning, 1 AM, found us outside the warehouse, dropping off health kits assembled in New England (another story), and loading 504 flood buckets into a trailer and pickup bed. Eric, the director of the center, and another helper, were there to greet us and help us load. I couldn’t help but be inspired by their willingness to come out in the early morning, on their day off, to help out flood victims in New England.

By the way, a flood bucket contains things like trash bags, bleach, rags, detergents, gloves, and more in a five gallon pail with a lid on top. It won’t make everything alright for a flood victim. But it will help them get a start on the hard task of clean up. Just maybe it might also say that someone cares. (Prayers with shoe leather on them)

After a couple of hours sleep, we were off that same day to deliver the buckets to a food bank in Providence, RI and a Salvation Army church in New Bedford, MA. They would continue the shoe leather prayer, passing the buckets to persons in need.

All this made me wonder, what if we made shoe leather prayer a primary sign of following Jesus? What if Christians became known primarily is those persons who put flesh to their prayers?

Here’s hoping we all find ways to pray with our hands and feet.