Tuesday, June 22, 2010
Friday, June 4, 2010
Friday, May 28, 2010
Rev. Gao’s group purports to represent some 20 million Protestant Christians in China. Their group is “registered” with the government. There are other “unregistered” protestant Christian gatherings in China. By all accounts the 20 million figure is low. In fact, a more accurate number may be closer to 40 million. The Christian movement is growing rapidly in China.
Repeatedly I was struck the reference to the Christian Church in China as “post-denominational.” There is an affiliation but it is a loose one. One of the Brite professors present who had more detailed knowledge than I said that it was a relationship more like what we might have with the National Council of Churches. The Christian Church in China reported 3,700 pastors (1,000 of which are female). You do the math. By my rough count that means there was one pastor for every 5,405 active(!) lay persons. They reported 55,000 churches and “meeting points” (many of which are house fellowships). That means each ordained clergy had 14.85 churches or meeting places they were responsible for!
Behind all this is obviously a vibrant movemental sense of the Holy Spirit at work. Lay leadership in ministry is common and vital to the movement. Much of the preaching is done by lay leaders guiding house fellowships. (The leaders insisted in not calling them house churches because as they put it “there is only one church.”) Instead of focusing on church buildings, most of the members worship in homes.
Hit the pause button and ask, “Where have I seen this before?” Here are three quick answers: 1) The Book of the Acts of the Apostles, 2) The Celtic missionary movement from Ireland in the 5th – 7th centuries, and 3) The early Methodist movement.
It’s time to go back to the future! We need to loosen our structure and allow ministry to flourish as a lay movement under the power of the Holy Spirit once again.
Thursday, May 13, 2010
The purpose of the meeting was to examine potential reduction/realignment of general church agencies; coordinate budgeting and finances; examine the impact of the global nature of the church related to our current and possible future structures. That is a lot to engage in! Thirty or so dedicated and committed people wrestled hard with preliminary considerations of this huge task. I was impressed with the dedication and seriousness with which the group went about its work.
One of the issues that surfaced is the relationship of the Four Areas of Focus (Leadership, New Places for New People and Transformation of Existing Congregations, Poverty, and Eradication of Killer Diseases) with the disciplinary mandates. Disciplinary Mandates are those items that The Discipline of the United Methodist Church mandates (orders) that the general agencies engage in. I had the privilege of visiting with Erin Hawkins, General Secretary for The Commission on Religion and Race, at a break and she conveyed to me that her agency had some 34 or 35 disciplinary mandates. Hers is one of the smaller agencies. It doesn’t take a genius to know that we have vastly over legislated the church’s work. How does the existing “to do” list converge with our missional priorities? Discernment of convergence (Holy Spirit driven!) is a major task before us! We are far from agreement on this most basic commitment.
What we could agree upon is our mission. The United Methodist Church exists to “make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” We had ready agreement that mission should drive are alignment and budget. From that came the necessary corollary that we should align and budget in a manner that is outcome based. In other words, what alignment will best produce the outcomes we are after in “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?”
The huge question that drives off such a conviction of mission and determination to be outcome driven is: what are our shared core values and what are the outcomes we should measure? So, if you have read this far, here is where you come in. I would like feedback on 1) what four or five core values should drive this mission process, and 2) what are the key outcomes we should be seeking.
I want hear what you think. Please, short concise answers to 1) what four or five core values should drive this mission process, and 2) what are the key outcomes we should be seeking? If you can’t put it on a postcard, it is too long. I promise to read all ideas but, due to other time restrictions, will not be able to respond to any individual. Instead, I will share group feedback with you in a later blog. Thanks for the help!
Monday, May 3, 2010
My particular work is with the area of creating new places for new people and revitalizing existing congregations. It is a stimulating time and as we go forth, I am reminded of a quote by Nelson Henderson in which he said, “The true meaning of life is to plant trees under whose shade we do not expect to sit.”
It’s no secret that we’re looking at amazing and large spectrum issues that involve us moving through the wilderness of our time (from a Christendom culture to a post-Christendom culture). I like to say that no one knows for sure what they’re doing. We do know, however, who we are traveling with – and that person is God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amid all the controversies of our time - debates over war and peace, health care, racism, poverty – it’s important to remember that the church is engaged in significant issues that affect not just those who claim to be Christian but those who do not know Christ. Bishop Ches Lovern taught me that great churches deal with great issues. As we meet as a Council, I ask for your prayers for the Council as a whole and for the church and its leadership. I cannot help but remember a marvelous piece of writing that Garrison Keiler shared about Methodists. He wrote, “I do believe this: people, these Methodists, who love to sing in four-part harmony are the sort of people you could call up when you are in deep distress. If you are dying, they will comfort you; if you are lonely, they will talk to you; if you are hungry, they’ll give you tuna salad!” His marvelous little insights provoke me to remember that this is not my church or your church but is truly God’s church. And in our own humorous way are simply but part of it; gifted by God to take part in the struggles of our time to advance the kingdom of God. Please keep us in your prayers as we reach out.
Monday, April 26, 2010
It is incomprehensible to me that religion per se is not a basic and foundational part of any truly comprehensive liberal arts education. The historical and contemporary importance of religion (not just the Christian religion but religion as a broader category of inquiry and study) is self-evident in a world torn by religious conflict, competition and claims. And yet, the skeptical gods of the Enlightenment reign triumphant in the academy. Religion is to be suspect on principle. In much of “so-called” higher culture in Western civilization (Europe and North America), religion (and especially the Christian religion) is rejected out of hand as some form of corrupted superstition. It is no longer seen as the queen of academic inquiry but rather treated as the dreads of mere opinion and ignorant opinion at that.
And yet, those same gods of the Enlightenment, so eagerly embraced, are challenged across the landscape by religious climate to truth with a capital T. Two colleagues of mine commented on the subject: “How can your education be liberal if it has no exposure to religion?”(Rev. David McNitsky) “The need for intentional examination of the religious dimension of life is imperative to any first-rate liberal arts institution. As important as open inquiry is in the area of the humanities, arts, and sciences, fine arts, etc. is, I contend, that any complete education must address the religious dimension of life. Religious dimensions of life contextualize all other areas of inquiry.” (Dr. J. Eric McKinney)
Well spoken gentleman!
Tuesday, April 20, 2010
Such a notion lifts me because I am inspired and pulled forward to my better self through discipleship. Two recent experiences of worship come to mind. One at a small church and the other at a large church. In very different ways (and yet oddly similar) both worship services ushered me into the presence of the living Lord. It haunts me because I know how often and how far I can miss the presence of Christ in my life.
As I visit around the Conference I am increasingly convinced of the utter centrality of a transformational relationship with Christ in making disciples of Christ. I am also convicted that the most foundational place of such formation is in the local church. I am furthermore committed to the belief that the most important way the Central Texas Conference can aid this process is by energizing and equipping local churches.
Walter Russell Mead wrote in a March 14 blog “Sometimes mainline church leaders remind me of the Pope who showed St. Francis around the Vatican to see the many treasures of the church. “Peter can no longer say ’silver and gold have I none’,” chuckled the pontiff.
“Neither can he say ‘rise up and walk’,” snapped St. Francis.
I [writes Mead] can only imagine what Francis Asbury would say to a Methodist convention today.
The mainline churches do a lot of good, but the long inexorable decline both in numbers and in the influence of Christian ideas in modern American life show very plainly that something critical has gone wrong. In attempting to reconcile classic Christian ideas and standards with modernity, the mainline has somehow lost American Christianity’s characteristic and most vital strength: the ability to electrify generation after generation with the call to begin a transformational encounter with the person of Christ.
This ability can’t be regained by committee. There is no diocesan or denominational planning process that can knit the dry bones together.
But the mainline churches will dwindle and diminish if they don’t somehow reconnect with the enthusiasm and charisma that once made them great.” (http://blogs.the-american-interest.com/wrm/2010/03/14/wanted-a-mainlinegelical-church)
Let me be like Christ and share Christ with others by word and deed!
Tuesday, April 13, 2010
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Thursday, March 25, 2010
Friday, March 19, 2010
Thursday, March 18, 2010
Thursday, March 11, 2010
Friday, February 26, 2010
Tuesday, February 16, 2010
Wednesday, February 10, 2010
Friday, February 5, 2010
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
Friday, January 22, 2010
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Thursday, January 7, 2010
I am mindful that churches are very different from businesses. Our mission is biblically and theologically defined. The power and presence of the Holy Spirit cannot be over estimated. At the same time (and not in contradiction), business models are helpful tools. They can guide the clarity of our thinking about our divinely called mission.
Bearing the above in mind, I am convinced that a significant question to ask is – what is our Hedgehog Concept? This applies to churches and conferences. It is also important to separate what we think our current Hedgehog Concept is versus what our Hedgehog Concept ought to be (reality verses aspiration). While I wrestle with both, I think at our best Methodism has lived with some version (you can argue about exact phrasing until the cows come home!) of the following Hedgehog Concept.
1. We are best at being (originally) at intentional Christian discipleship development (hence the name Methodist coming from being “methodical” about discipleship growth and development). 2. Our passion is to transform people and the world. 3. Our economic or resource engine (meaning more than just where does the money comes from but rather what drives our best development and transformational efforts) is the local church.
Now the big question is how big is the gap between reality and aspiration?
Friday, January 1, 2010
My subtitle is Reflections on Christ and His Church. As I wrote in my Wilderness Way #28 column, I hope to share what I am reading and wrestling with. Together I hope and pray that we can live out of the focused center of life with Christ. Truly he came for all and he came to include us “in his life, a resurrection life, a far better life than people ever lived on their own.” I offer this blog out of a conviction that we need to turn and return to a deeply Trinitarian expression of the Christian faith. More explicitly, it appears to me that much of contemporary mainline theological/cultural reflection appears to have a vague sense of God, a passing acquaintance with Jesus as Lord, and little conception of the work of the Holy Spirit. I want to invite us to be focused as explicitly Christian; that is to say, living out of the focused center of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior – crucified and risen for all!
Three quotes I ran into in my reading last fall stick with me. First, somewhere Philip Yancey wrote: “How would telling people to be nice to one another get a man crucified? What government would execute Mister Rogers or Captain Kangaroo?” I think was C. S. Lewis who said about Christ as our focused center: “Safe? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.” In meanderings through Willie the Shake (William Shakespeare that is) there is a line from Henry V which clings to my soul. ““This is a stem / Of that victorious stock, and let us fear / The native mightiness and fate of him.” I may have the quotes wrong but they ring of truth for me. We are called to live from this Focused Center. I will try to write ever 3 days or so. You are invited to share a comment or thought.
Given the hectic-ness of my schedule I will only be able to reply spasmodically. Together as we wrestle and reflect on the truth of life and the truth of Christ and the truth of the Great God three in One – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, I pray we can live the resurrection life, “a far better life than people every lived on their own.”