Friday, April 27, 2012

General Conference 2012- Clergy Effectiveness and Vital Churches- A Parable

I Love Golf
I love to play golf.  Wait, I loved playing golf a few years ago.  Today, it's a struggle. I was a pretty good golfer, regularly posting scores in the top 5% of all golfers.  I wasn't the best by any means, but compared to everyone else, I was up there.
Then five years ago something happened.  My life began to change.  I was in a car accident that sidelined me for a while.  I married, and we soon had a beautiful son together.  Other commitments came into my life and golf was pushed way to the back.  I have not played golf much in the past few years.

Back On the Course
I finally was able to play golf this past week.  The day was perfect.  The temperature was in the low 80's for the round, and I was playing with a guy I played in tournaments with before, and we push each other to shoot better.

We started the day off, no one really in front of us, no one pushing from behind.  Played the first three holes and the day looked great.

Then we noticed the course start to change.  The course was under repair, to put it lightly.  For some reason, the owner decided to strip all the fairways and change the grass.  This left grooves in between the old grass and the new grass.  The fairway was no longer the place to be, it was easier to play out of the rough or sand.

Things Were Not the Same
The course management that I had learned over the years was completely thrown out.  I had to scramble to make pars and bogeys.  The day was promising and the more we played, the changes became a huge impediment to enjoying a round of golf.

The course in a few years will supposedly be better, so the guys in the clubhouse late told us.  If we just waited 2-3 years and were patient, it would all be worth it.  They had done this to the greens a few years ago as well, but honestly, we could not tell much difference.

Out of Practice
I will admit that I was not as practiced as I could have been.  My drives were good.  My second or third shots were solid as well.  I really struggled was putting.  I three putted a bunch.  Putting is not like hitting a driver.  Putting is very technical and if you are really good at it, it's about feel.   I had lost my touch and fine motor skills to put the ball in the hole.  It took me two to three putts, instead of one or two.  That adds up.  Mistake after mistake began to erode my confidence, and it started to show.
If I had just kept up practicing my putting these last few years, not even paying a whole round, it would have been a whole different story.

My Favorite Courses
Things in golf have really changed.  The equipment is drastically different since I purchased my last set of clubs just eight years ago.  My clubs still work ok for me, but there have been changes.
I addition to the equipment changing, courses all over the country are closing.  They are opening a few new courses in growing areas, but in general, we have less golf courses in the US today than we did just ten years ago.
Two of my favorite golf courses closed recently.  I had my best games on both of those courses.
I was sad at first, but it's just the way it is.  Sure, I could have played more, joined the club, but I guess I was not that committed.

End of our Day
We both finished our rounds with a higher than usual score.  Why?  I know I was out of practice, but the course sure made it very difficult to enjoy the experience or even play better.  Courses are usually set up to challenge you, but this one was in terrible shape.  It wasn't a challenge, it was a golfers worst nightmare.
As we left, my friend, a life long golfer remarked, "You know, I think we can be done playing here.  There are other courses we should play."  I agree.

My Lesson
What I learned the other day is something I already know, and have known for a long time.

If I want to play better golf, I need to practice.  I also need to find courses that are in reasonably good shape that will challenge me.  I enjoy being challenged and working hard to achieve things.  Those courses are out there, I just have to find them and support them.  

For the UMC
Times have changed.  The world is different.  Many of our churches and pastors are unwilling to change and do not regularly practice healthy spiritual disciplines.  If we are not faithfully practicing, then our churches suffer and our communities suffer.

What churches and pastors need are a set of tools, practices and priorities that will yield fruitfulness and effectiveness in ministry and mission.

What the General Conference needs to do is give Annual Conferences, Bishops, Churches, Laity and Pastors the freedom to experiment.  That might mean changing structures, rules, procedures and eliminating some things that we hold dear.

If our true goal is to make disciples of Jesus Christ, then why do we focus on so many other things at General Conference?

I applaud the Missouri Conference for the effort our Directors, Bishop, Cabinet, Laity and Pastors.  We have implemented a strategy to "turn around" our decline.

That strategy has included: a big change in Annual Conference structure, the Healthy Church Initiative, Pastoral Leadership Development classes, Laity Leadership Development Classes and a willingness to embrace new forms of local church models.

People love God.  People want to love God.  People want to know God.  Let us put away tired arguments and tired fights and focus on something very simple.

Love God
Love Your Neighbor

Let us stop blaming, calling names and speaking poorly of each other.  It's only out of love in Jesus Christ that we can work together.  That will allow us to call each other into accountability and make a difference by transforming lives in Jesus Christ.

My hope and prayer for this General Conference is that the healthy changes that need to be made will be without negativity and some feeling hurt.

Also, that once the decisions have been made, that we will leave united as one body, even though we may disagree about the changes, made or not made.

Go in peace and go with God.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

General Conference 2012: Ministry Study Commission: Part 2- The Path to Ordination

As the United Methodist Church listened to those who had come through ordination process the past few years, several things became clear.

The Concerns

1- the Path to Ordination takes a long time
2- seminary takes a long time
3- the whole process is confusing

So in response to these concerns, and other concerns, one idea has come forth.

The Idea

Ordain clergy directly following graduation from seminary, then two years later vote them into full connection.

My Journey to Ordination
I was in the first class to be commissioned in the Missouri West Annual Conference in 2000.  I came into the process in 1994.  In 1998 I was given a license and became a student pastor.  During the process I was asked if I would like go under the 1996 Discipline and the NEW process.  I thought, sure, why not?  I don't mind being a guinea pig.  So I chose to move toward ordination on the new path.  I graduated from seminary in 2000, was Commissioned, then after 3 years under probation was ordained in 2003.

The Confusion
As I moved through the process I had several very distinct feelings and experiences.

1- No one understood the new process
2- No one could clearly explain why the change had been made
3- The Board of Ordained Ministry and the Bishop were not sure what to make of a Commissioning Service vs. the old way of Ordaining Deacon, then Elder.
4- Lots of my peers liked to gripe about the process and ministry
5- Whether it was this process or the other, no one had a well thought out program post seminary.

Looking Back
As I look back now I see the wisdom of Commissioning and then ordination.  Much of the process should be used to help prepare the candidate for Ordination.  To be completely honest here, seminary did not prepare me for ministry, it prepared me to a be a Theological Thinker.  My mentor Rev. Bob Farr did more to prepare me to lead the church than seminary.  I deeply appreciate all my professors and classes, but the point of seminary in my opinion was NOT to train clergy leaders.   If so, I missed those classes.

Seminary and the Length of the Process
With all due respect to the Commission, it is my feeling that they may have missed the mark on this one.  It's not that the process needs to be shortened.  The process is waaaaay tooooo complicated.  Check out our Steps into Ordained Ministry Chart.  If you look at the chart we show candidates, it's a confusing nightmare.  Maybe it's time to simplify, not radically change again.

Arguments For, As I've Heard Them
Commissioning has no theological, Biblical or historical connection to the church or our traditions.
The Process is too long to ordination.
Other denominations don't understand our process or non-ordained serving the sacraments.
These changes are all coming anyway, we should just accept them now.

I'm not kidding, those are the arguments as I heard them.

In response to all of this, and in talking with several groups of people, here is my humble offering.

My Proposal
A. Move the MDiv from 90 hours to 72 hours
     60 hours of classroom education
     12 hours of practical internship in the local church
B. Continue the Process of Commissioning after Graduation
C. Three Year Residency
D. During those three years, two years of "training" clergy to a specific set of leadership proficiencies, determined by the BOOM, Cabinet and Bishop.

I deeply respect the work that everyone has done on discerning our future path toward ordination.  I thank them for their hard work.  It is not easy dealing with all of these possible changes and views.  We've been living into this version since 1996.  Sixteen years is a lot of ordinations under the present system, and my guess is that very few of us were asked our opinion about this topic.  We had few seats at the table.
So whatever happens the next two weeks, I pray and hope that we make the changes that need to be made and not make changes for the sake of making changes.  This one issue might be better served if we address the real struggles which are-

Cost of Seminary
Length of Seminary
An Ordination Process that does not train, it just interviews

Grace and peace to all our delegates.
Go in peace and go with God.

And go check out our Bishop's blog.

Monday, April 23, 2012

General Conference 2012: Ministry Study Commission- Part 1- Guaranteed Appointments

Over the next few weeks the United Methodist Church will gather in Tampa, Florida.  Over 1000 delegates from the whole world will pray, worship, discuss and vote on change in the UMC.  There are many areas of change, such as: structure, finance, leadership, size of agencies, ordination, guaranteed appointments, etc.

I am not a delegate to General Conference from Missouri.  We have a great delegation led by the Rev. Dr. Cody Collier and Brian Hammons.  I was elected to go to Jurisdictional Conference in July 2012.

One of the major issues GC will address this year is the idea of eliminating the Guaranteed Appointment.

The reasons given to do away with Guaranteed Appointments, as I have personally heard them, are as follows:

a) We are unable to exit unfruitful and ineffective clergy from pastoral leadership.
b) Historically this was to ensure diversity of leadership.
c) We have too many elders and not enough full time appointments to place them.
d) Historically Itinerancy and the Guarantee are NOT linked
e) Our system has produced ineffective clergy because of the guarantee

There are many other reasons shared, but these seemed to be the ones that stuck out to me.

Here is one quote from an article from a pastor on our delegation.

“We decided that the system of guaranteed appointments has created mediocrity, an expectation that clergy will have a job no matter how effective they are and that churches will get a pastor even if they are not functioning in a healthy way or participating in living missionally,” said the Rev. Amy Gearhart, an elder in the Missouri Annual Conference and a commission member." UMNS

So this is what I have read and heard as the reasons behind the change.  I will be honest here- I'm indifferent to this change.  If it happens, ok.  If not, ok.  I'm not sure what to think at this point.

What I will say is that in discussing this with several younger clergy members, and potential clergy members, they are strongly against the change.  Their arguments are as follows.

a) There is a process already in place to exit ineffective clergy from pastoral leadership.
b) Historically and in the future, this will protect and ensure diversity of leadership.
c) Let's be creative in appointments, instead of proposing radical change.
d) Itinerancy and the Guarantee may not have been intended to be linked, but practically and personally for many pastors, it's become part of our covenantal life.
e) Clergy are not ineffective because of the guarantee.  There are many other reasons for ineffective or unfruitfulness in leadership.

There were many other reasons for this group too, but these stuck out to me.

Here is a quote from another article.

"The Rev. Pam Estes has led a charge of three tiny churches in rural southern Arkansas and a small city church in Little Rock. Altogether, she has served Arkansas United Methodists in ordained ministry for 21 years, always going where her bishop sends her.
That is the covenant the church has had with its ordained elders: Serve where you are assigned and you always will have an appointment. Now that promise could be threatened: The denomination’s 2008-2012 Commission to Study the Ministry has made a preliminary recommendation of doing away with clergy job guarantees.
Estes worries about the uncertainty that she and other pastors will face if such a proposal is approved by the 2012 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body.
“What will happen if my next appointment doesn’t work out?” she said. “Would I just be let go? By 2012, I would be 60-plus years old, and I’m a single woman.” UMNS
Of course, what are unintended consequences of this change?  The younger clergy I talked with said you will see an rash of retirements, and less young clergy coming into ministry.  Could their be abuses?
Or, could this help drive fruitfulness and effectiveness to such an extent as to stop the drop in membership in attendance because we've added a new level of accountability?

Our Bishop Robert Schnase shared it in a way that makes a great deal of sense.

Imagine that you chair the History Department of a university, and three tenured professors announce their retirement. Student enrollment has declined and finances are tight, so you close one position and announce openings for two new people. You forward search criteria to the Human Resources Department, defining what qualities the positions require—educational credentials, professional associations, publishing history, teaching experience, and references. Some weeks later, the Search Committee reports that they’ve had 16 people apply. Five did not have requisite credentials, one had a record of improper conduct, and two did not interview well. Eight persons met every criterion and did fine with interviews. Therefore, the Search Committee has contracted for tenured positions with the eight applicants who met all the requirements and these have all been assigned to your department!

I can't imagine how conferences can put forth more ordinands than they have appointments, but it is happening and will only get worse unless something changes soon.

Basically, the guaranteed appointment is like Tenure.  And it only takes 2 years from your Master of Divinity degree to receive it.

Our Bishop also shared this on his blog.

The real issue surrounding guaranteed appointment is not the 3% of ineffective clergy. It’s the disconnection between the numbers of people credentialed and the numbers we need to maximize our mission. It takes an average attendance of 125 or more to support a full-time elder without strangling vital ministry. Each year we have fewer churches that can afford full-time pastors. Some conferences have one elder in a pastoral role per 70 people in attendance. This is unsustainable, and we need mechanisms to regulate the numbers to fit the mission. Frankly, we need to move from credentialing processes with a default of “as long as you complete the assignments and we find nothing egregious, you are approved,” to a default of “you are not likely to be approved unless you’ve demonstrated exemplary fruitfulness in ministry.”  

And it the next ten years, it might be 150 or 175 due to health insurance.

The guaranteed appointment has caused us to really focus on fruitfulness in the church.  The great struggle is how will we and how do we define fruitfulness.  Depending on the context fruitfulness might look significantly different.

Again, I'm not sure how I feel about all of this.  Is this something that needs to be changed immediately to help the church?  Does there need to be a grandmother clause for those who are already ordained?
I hope and pray that the discussions for and against will yield some great wisdom and clarity so that all may see which path to take.

Overall, both sides have well thought out and faithful views of our present situation.  Here are some if's.

If we reached more people for Christ, this would not be an issue.
If our churches were growing, this would not be an issue.
If we were all growing deeper and closer to who we are called to be, this would not be an issue.

The UMC in the United States is on a serious decline of 500,000 members every decade.  That does not sound very fruitful.

As our delegates attend General Conference, let us pray for the now and future United Methodist Church.  Let us all be a faithful witness so that other will know us and Jesus Christ by our love.

UPDATE** It passed.  There is no longer a guaranteed appointment for Elders in the United Methodist Church.  

In Part 2, I plan on discussing ordination directly after seminary, which is one of the proposals that will be lifted up this GC.

Go in peace and go with God.

Here is a link to our Bishop's blog