We Are All Afraid in the #UMC. Great. Can We Move On Yet?

Everywhere I look and read there is some element of fear that is being described. For instance in the conversation around the inclusion of LGBT Christians in the UMC, each side claims the other side is fearful. One side says that the other is fearful of change. Another side says the other is fearful of being out of step with culture. One side says the other is fearful of a slippery slope. Another side says the the other is fearful of embracing the full authority of scripture. Everyone says the other side is afraid.

In some circles you may hear that everyone is afraid and even go a step farther in sharing what they are afraid of. Owning what we are each afraid of is cathartic, but it does not seem to produce much fruit. In fact, talking about fear seems to only amplify the fear that may not even be out there! 

Instead of talking about our fears, can we just take at the starting point that we all are afraid? Can we move the conversation around LGBT inclusion from "what are you afraid" of to something like "what do you value"?

My son is four years old and he says he is afraid of the dark. However, in addition to being afraid of the dark he is also fearful of deep water and caves. At night I can give him a flashlight. I can ensure he stays in the shallow end and in the suburbs it is not difficult to avoid caves. The "thing behind the thing" around my son's fear of the dark, deep water or rocky crevasses is that he values being able to see clearly. Now if you listen to my son talk about what he is afraid of you will miss the underlying value that informs (drives) his behavior. 

Likewise in the Church. When we spend time listening to the fears of another person, this is a pastoral action and it is important. However, if we are only listening to fears we can miss the underlying value that drives those fears. 

The final point I want to elevate when talking about fears is that it is easy to dismiss the other person as not having legitimate fears. When we hear the fears of others and then speak to our own fears we often discount our partners fears as being less important as our fears. Playing the game of who has the most legitimate fear is a relational earthquake that shakes foundations, rupture relationship and crumbles bridges.

Rather than talking about fears, can we talk about values? Can progressives and traditionalists see that our values are aligned? Talking about values shifts the conversation from what arrests our actions to what can we do to live out these shared values? 

We Are All Afraid. Okay. Can We Move On Yet?

So, Your Teen Thinks You Are Lame. Thanks Be To God.

Prior to my current position, I served as a youth minister for two different churches. If you think you are an expert in navigating the any social setting from the family dinner to a formal state dinner at the White House, I recommend you hang out with a group of teenagers. They don't care about your social skills. They think you are weird. Also the only reason they make eye contact with them while their heads are down looking at their phone is because they are rolling their eyes at you.

I heard from many parents that they are frustrated or sad or exhausted that their teen does not want to be around them. To that I say, "thanks be to God!"

Teenagers are gifted with the evolutionary trait to pull away from their parents for a number of reasons. Perhaps the most obvious is that until they pull away from their parents, teens will not learn how to socially engage with their peers. And as much as we don't like to admit it, chances are our teen's peers will out live us. Meaning, teens have to learn to engage with their peers.

It has been said that religion at her best helps us to "die before we die." Letting go of our children is a practice in learning to die before you die. This is not easy, which is why it is critical to engage in a community of faith to walk with you in this "little death." 

Catechism is not enough...

From his book, The God Who Comes, the late Carlo Carretto sates: 

The catechism is not enough, theology is not enough, formulas are not enough to explain the Unity and Trinity of God. We need loving communication, we need the presence of the Spirit. That is why I do not believe in theologians who do not pray, who are not in humble communication of love with God. Neither do I believe in the existence of any human power to pass on authentic knowledge of God. Only God can speak about himself, and only the Holy Spirit, who is love, can communicate this knowledge to us. When there is a crisis in the Church, it is always here: a crisis of contemplation. 

In all the conversation about the future of the UMC. The concern about people not "following the Discipline" and those who "unequally apply the Discipline". The chatter about Love Your Neighbor and the Wesleyan Covenant Association. The chatter around the UMC is one emphasizing the practical, relevant and the immediate. To put it another way, we focus on the things that are not contemplation. 

When we are have the same vigor around the need for silence that we do around protesting. When we are concerned about what pastors are "being still" than where they are marching. When we are more concerned about the Church's relationship with Christ than who is getting married. Then we are beginning to see a Church that is moving from our crisis. 

Until the days of loving and humble communication, we will be in crisis. 

Hyper Focus on the Local Church and Unintended Consequences

There has been a great push in the United Methodist Church over the past several years to emphasis the local church. This is great! I am a local church fan. In case you don't know I serve in a local church and love every part of the local church. I truly believe ministry happens in the local church. I also believe that ministry is not limited to the local church.

The hyper focus on the local church is has many positives, however it also contributes to an erosion of the connection that binds United Methodist Church clergy. Could it be the emphasis on the local church has unintentionally contributed to the divide in the church? 

Consider the trend for longer appointments for clergy at a local church. There are many benefits to have an effective pastor serve at a local church for a long time (see pages 45-50 in the Tower Watson Report: Call to Action). A church with an effective pastor who has served that church for at least ten years sees greater parishioner attendance, engagement and growth compared to effective pastors serving less than ten years. Longer appointments also mean that a pastor will serve fewer congregations over her/his ministry. This means pastors have little incentive to connect with other pastors and get to know other churches. The odds of a pastor working with others pastors or other churches are much lower than the past when the majority of pastors were moved  every two-three years.

Perhaps more nefarious is the longer the appointment of a pastor means that pastors forget that we are only stewards of a position. We all know that we treat something that we are only borrowing differently than if we own it. When a pastor beings to believe that it is "my pulpit" then perhaps that pastor has forgotten that every pulpit is God's and pastors are only trusted stewards. 

Hyper focus and unitended consequences

Hyper focus and unitended consequences

Another unintended consequence to the hyper focus on the local church is in the overall mindset toward the administrative structures of the UMC. Many local churches have been made to feel they are the prized child and that their voice is the ultimate voice. This leads to a great suspicion of anyone outside of the local church but who still carries the cross and flame. Bishops are jerks who don't do anything. District Superintendents are harbingers of bad news. Apportionments are taxes that sap a local church. The General Church is waste of money and time. The Judicial Council makes rulings that are hostile to the local church. 

The hyper focus on the local church means that overtime the local church forgets that they were birthed from a larger mother church (the UMC). When we forget where we come from we resent the systems that were critical to our birth. Resentment comes out by no longer seeing the necessity of the very systems that were critical to your birth. Overtime resentful feelings boil into hostility toward the other until trust is broken down.

The emphasis on the local church is great, but we are now seeing the difficult parts of these the unintended consequences.