Sunday, November 25, 2007

Tis the Season

Well the orgy of shopping, eating and spending has begun. Let me confess that I struggle with this time of year. It is not that I am a grinch (at least I don’t think so). I feel the tug toward indulgent spending (more like a push) coming from stores and institutions. Heck, one of my traditions is to go out with one of my sons on Black Friday to grab great deals (usually the computer type deals).

But where does it all end? When is enough stuff, enough stuff? Is there more to this “season” than shopping?

What if we in the church were willing to use this season to set us apart, counter to the prevailing culture (actually the prevailing religion of consumerism)? First, it would take brave souls to tackle Santa and gift giving. I know from personal experience that in many churches Santa is sacred. I think Santa is actually the perfect representation of a ‘god’ for our culture. Santa is one who encourages us to ask for “things”, particularly things for ourselves. We protect the belief that Santa is real by lying to our children. Movies show us miracles of caring and getting that Santa performs. (Those who know me, know I could go on and on and on about this…)

What if we gave up the presents and gave away the money we would have spent? If an entire church fellowship did this, think about the mission possibilities! How many mosquito nets would that buy for Africa? How many heifers would it purchase to feed hungry families for years to come? How many micro loans would it provide to help families work their way out of poverty? (For the answers look up : Nothing But Nets, Heifer Project,

I wonder if we are willing to make these kind of changes. To use this season teach our children and grandchildren that Advent and Christmas is a time to share our wealth to improve the lives of others. Would we dare to show the world how followers of Jesus seek to live as disciples?

Now I know some will find these ideas disturbing, even insulting. Yet it seems to me it is time for the church to be different, to show our neighbors and communities our true values. To walk the walk of Jesus.

A couple of decades ago a campaign started by asking, “Who’s birthday is it anyway?” Well that is still a great question and a good place to start. In answering it are we willing to do something bold for Jesus.


Monday, November 12, 2007

Will We Get It? Part 2


847 leaders of the United Methodist Church (UMC) gathered last weekend for 2½ days of meeting together. (see prior posts for more about this.) Will it make a difference for the future of the UMC?

That is one of the questions. But first and foremost, will it make a difference in me? That is the fundamental question. Will I do my work differently? Will I view my superintending with different goals in mind? Will I live my discipleship in a more focused manner?

Why is my own response the first issue? There are several reasons. First, ultimately there is only one person I can change, me. I have the ability to adapt, grow, adjust, mature, and grow into the person God made me to be. This is my first responsibility.

Secondly, as I have learned about human systems, I’ve learned that when one person changes it affects the entire system. What I do truly makes a difference. So my changing will help change everything. (This is not unique to me, it is just as true for you!)

So maybe I am beginning to get it. I will in the next days and weeks seriously contemplate and strategize the ways I wish to change myself and my leadership. I will look for ways to empower the pastors and churches I serve. I will seek greater openness to God’s Spirit at work in our midst. When doubt and fear arrive, I will not run away, but turn to the one who has conquered the worst the world can throw at us.

So let me invite you to begin a conversation. (The “you” are the two or so people who read this blog.) What do you imagine as ways superintendents could better support, equip, and nurture change in your setting? If you could design the role of DS what would it look like? Would you do away with superintendents? Would you remake the role?

And if you have suggestion for this specific superintendent, lets hear them as well.

Help me, help all of us, to “get it!”


Blessings at 35,000 Feet

I am writing this from seat 28F on a 737 zipping through the airspace between Cincinnati and Boston. It is a beautiful day at 35,000 feet. Of course I expected to be traveling this route last night instead of this morning. We (my traveling companions and I) enjoyed a stay a the Marriot last night, complements of Delta Airlines.

Air travel helps me practice letting go of the illusion of control. It is almost always an adventure. I have no control over when a flight leaves, a computer crashes, or air traffic backs up. I can’t guarantee my arrival or departure time.

But I continue to learn from my traveling companions how to practice graciousness and friendliness. I’m learning to find a kind word for those who are serving me and my traveling needs. (Amazing how far a kind word can go.)

This morning I realize what I have that so many do not. I had a place to sleep last night, a meal (even if a 10:30 supper is not a normal part of my schedule) and knowledge that I would eventually get home. While Delta provided some of those things, if push came to shove, I could have provided them for myself. How many people do not know where they will sleep each night, or when they will get another meal? I am truly blessed.

There is a little ditty which goes; Count your blessing, count them one by one, Count your blessings, see what God has done…

When I remember to count my blessings, I cultivate gratitude in my heart. Gratitude for the blessings in my life and the One who blesses me.

Gratitude leads me to compassion for others who are not as blessed. Compassion leads me to acts of mercy. All lead me to God.

So here I am, 35,000 feet above the ground, saying thanks to my Maker for the blessings of this day.

I pray you find blessings in your day.


Saturday, November 10, 2007

Signs of Hope!

I’m at the gathering of extended cabinets from around the world. There are 847 church leaders meeting this weekend to worship, learn, share, and pray together. I’ve heard excellent speakers from around the world challenge us to reclaim our center and to embrace the United Methodist Way. Today we were challenged to begin change with ourselves.

The United Methodist Way is summarized by three general rules:

  1. Do no harm.
  2. Do good.
  3. Stay in love with God
I’ll unpack these later, but they are simple rules from our heritage which center and ground us as disciples of Jesus Christ.

I haven’t decided if we in leadership “get it.” But I hear more people asking good questions and willing to at least begin to change. There is much for me to think about. I hope to share more and reflect more later on.

I’ve enjoyed worship. Incredible singing and great preaching can do a lot for my soul.

Watch for more reflections in the coming days.

Grace & peace,


Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Will We Get It?

Will We Get It?

This weekend United Methodist Cabinets will be gathered at Lake Junaluska, NC for a meeting titled: The United Methodist Way: A Convocation of Extended Cabinets. As I understand it the reason we are meeting is “To strengthen our diverse congregations through connectional leadership and to learn to adapt conference leadership roles to the 21st century.” (Here is a link to the resources we’ve used to prepare for the meeting;

I am interested to listen and learn from my colleagues from other conferences. How do they view the present situation of the UMC? What changes do they see necessary for the future of the church? What innovative ideas and approaches will be generated by this gathering? Ultimately will it make any difference.

During these two years of superintending I’ve spent a lot of time reading and listening to present day thinkers about best management practices, new ways to approach our changing situations, leadership, ministry etc. Out of this has come a growing conviction that change is not only necessary but possible.

Here are some of my thoughts about the needs and future directions of the UMC. They carry no official weight. They are not policy or polity. They are not even complete developed ideas. I reserve the right to change them at any time, as new information arises. So with all those disclaimers let me share:

  1. Everything begins at the local church level. Any significant change will happen one congregation at a time. Ministry and mission begins between two people in relationship with each other. So the appropriate focus for change is the local church.

  1. It is time to reconsider guaranteed appointments. I surprise myself with this idea. Guaranteed appointments have opened doors for persons who might have been pushed aside in ministry. I know this to be true for women in ministry. But the guarantee of employment has taken the drive out of some of our pastoral leaders. Once in the club (ordination and full membership) then the incentive to continue to learn, grow, adapt and change is diminished. Few pastors were trained to provide the type of innovative leadership churches need today. Almost all pastors need to be retrained and retooled. Guaranteed appointments is a disincentive to do this hard work.

I believe it is time for a change. For persons unwilling or unable to make the necessary changes to become effective pastors we need to offer a graceful way to help them discover new ways to live out their discipleship outside of pastoral leadership.

  1. I grieve our failure to continue nurturing our church members in their discipleship. We seem to believe that once confirmed or out of high school the work of disciple building is over. The result is a lot of church folk with arrested development as followers of Jesus. Disciple building is a life long process. It never ends. Remember we are the folks who believe that we are “going on to Christian perfection!”

I’ll share my rant about how we treat youth in the church in another blog, but let me just say, it is another area that needs significant change.

  1. We have to find ways to streamline the administration of the church at all levels so it can be nimble and able to respond rapidly to changing needs as well as new opportunities. This includes finding new ways to use information technology to share information and to reduce time spent on paper work.
  1. I would love to see the work of the district superintendent move away from a focus on administrative paperwork /report gathering and responding to complaints. I’d like to see more time and focus on assisting churches who want to grow and change.

Well, I invite you to comment, to add to the list.

I will try to blog next week about the gathering. Please keep the meeting and the extended cabinet in your prayers.

Grace & peace,