upper room daily devotions

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Some Thoughts on Appointments and Leadership

Every Thursday I join about eight other clergy for a text study. Interestingly, they are all Lutheran, with the exception of one other United Methodist and myself. Through the years I have gained a better appreciation for the Lutheran tradition and for my own Wesleyan tradition. I have also had the opportunity to understand more clearly how our respective polities support and promote different things within our communities. One thing I have grown to envy in my Lutheran clergy brothers and sisters is that without the pressure and anxiety that accompanies a year long appointment, they have more influence and more time to focus on mission and vision.

It is very difficult in the United Methodist Church for a clergy person to get a congregation on the visioning train. I mean, after all, the clergy person before tried to get them to to it, but she left in the second year and nothing was resolved. Or, they started a process three years ago with a different approach and a different focus. By the time a United Methodist clergy person has been at a congregation long enough to build the necessary trust, lay the important groundwork, and build strong relationships, more often than not we are moved. This is especially true in small churches which have shorter tenures for clergy.

Our appointment process makes a great deal of sense if we understand the pastor's presence to be primarily priestly and pastoral in nature. If the leadership resides among the laity and the pastor is there to teach, administer the sacraments, tend the flock, and lead worship, short tenures are fine. In theory, it matters not whether we are there one year or thirty years. The congregation itself provides continuity, vision, and leadership. However, if the pastor is going to be the primary visionary and leader, then enough time must be afforded for the pastor to become a trusted leader so that the vision gets shared, embraced, and put into action. And, it seems that pastors are being asked to be just this person - the one who provides the stimulus for and often the core content of the mission/vision of the local church.

It's time to shift our understanding of the appointment process. Clergy, congregations, and conference leadership need to enter into partnerships with one another so that our congregations can fully embrace the idea of being missional. A missional outlook is an intentional orientation to ministry. And, an intentional orientation takes time and risk, which require trust. Let's stop changing appointments every two, three, even four years. Longer appointments are needed... If clergy are being moved because of an inequity in pay, then we need to address that issue and not submit our congregations to continuous clergy turnover that results in leadership vacuums. It isn't far for them and it isn't a way to spread the gospel.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

the anglican communion and homosexuality: harper's mag

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I have begun the spiritual practice of keeping Sabbath. One of the first things that I learned is that I don't know what I'm supposed to do with my Sabbath time. If I'm not working, cleaning house, watching TV, checking email, or paying bills, how am I supposed to spend a whole day? While I still haven't found a satisfactory answer to this question, I have begun reading magazines, something I haven't consistently done in a long while. Last week I picked up Harper's Magazine, which featured an article called "Turning Away from Jesus." In the article author Garrett Keiser takes a good long look at the strains within the Anglican Communion and how those strains make their way felt through the issue of homosexuality. He begins the piece with the decision not to invite Bishop Gene Robinson to the Lambeth Conference this year, but the article moves quickly to deal with the vast changes that are in play within the Anglican Communion. Keiser digs deep into the communion to get at the heart of things. He interviews people from around the globe and he sets this one "issue" within its larger global, cultural, traditional, theological, and historical contexts. If you haven't picked up a copy of Harper's, do so. The article challenged me; I have been thinking about it for days.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

What happened to "covenant"?

Not that long ago I talked with a potential new member of my local congregation. During our talk, it became evident that this person wants to attend worship, has a belief in God, wants to grow deeper in his/her spirituality, and is finding a spiritual home in this church. But there is no desire to enter into membership through covenant. In another conversation with someone else, that person indicated a desire to join the church because she/he likes the congregation, but there was little interest in spiritual formation or discipleship. What has happened to the idea of membership in the local church.

Covenant is such a strong biblical principle. It undergirds all that we are as descendants of Abraham and Sarah. God has covenanted to be our God and we are to be God's people. In baptism we covenant to nurture one another and hold one another in prayer. In Holy Communion we remember God's faithful covenant with us and we pledge to go into the world as Christ's body, sealed in sacrament sent in service. Somewhere along the way, however, "covenant" seems to have lost its power in our lives. Whether it's covenanting with a partner or covenanting with a congregation, we have grown "covenant-shy." What happened? And, is there anyway to address this growing condition?

Alternately, there are those who simply want to belong regardless of the "terms" of the covenant. Evidently, the specifics of the covenant don't really mean anything as long as the person gets the "card" and "belong." While I understand the pull to community and the power of friendship, there are other places to "belong." So the question remains: why would someone want to covenant with people around beliefs that are, if not meaningless, not compelling?

Or...am I the only one who notices that we appear to want to stay a bit on the fringes of relationships rather than deeply transformed by them?

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Practicing Sabbath...Is it Possible?

For a little over three years, I have wondered if/how Christians can keep Sabbath? I suppose more accurately I have wondered if I can keep Sabbath. It has become clear to me that if I mean what I say when I profess God to be at the center of my life or that I intend to live in the center of God, it is incumbent upon me to give God God's day - to rest as God rested, to engage in acts of worship, and to participate in the act of justice of allowing all the earth to rest as well. So I am committing to keep Sabbath in my own way.

The evolution from Sabbath to the Lord's Day was a natural one for Christians. Initially we were not asked to give up Sabbath but to add a day of joyful celebration and communion on the eighth day, the day that Jesus was raised from the dead. It didn't take long, however, for the Lord's Day to supplant Christian observance of Sabbath, and thus began our tradition of meeting and worshiping on Sunday. In many places, the Lord's Day retained a sense of Sabbath, even though we weren't remembering and keeping the seventh day as commanded by God.

Even when I was growing up Sundays were lazy days. We got up and went to church. Other than a few choice restaurants the entire town was shut down. Nobody went to malls or shopped. Dinner was a big family affair, but mostly we didn't do a lot of cooking on Sunday itself. Food was prepared the day before or cooked by a crock pot to allow us time to attend worship and come home to a steaming hot meal. I'm sure that other families, towns, and cultures had/have their own traditions. However, in the United States, with increasing secularization and awareness of other religions the lazy Sunday has disappeared. Those few who attend worship squeeze it in between brunch with secularized friends and the afternoon soccer game/birthday party. Sabbath is gone and so is the Lord's Day...and I feel it...AND I'M A PASTOR.

In an effort to quell this growing desire for more intentional spiritual practice and more serious commitment to discipleship, I have been talking with several people about covenanting to keep Sabbath - of a sorts. The overall vision is to begin by covenanting around Sabbath, eventually covenanting around Sabbath, Sacraments, and Service. At some point I would like to see an intentional living community in which people give a specified amount of time 1-2 years (you can stay longer if you like) in the community and give time for the benefit of the neighborhood. And one day I hope that we can add a farm/retreat center. For many years I have wanted to participate in this kind of intentional and deep Christianity and it seems that I need to take responsibility for making this happen.

So, I'm starting with Sabbath. Twenty-four hours (evening to evening) of resting as God rested, having fun with family and community, and worshiping the Author of us all. I pledge to do this for at least one month and then assess how things are going. I am interested to see how this Sabbath experiment works for all of us who are covenanting to do this.

As always, I'm interested in your thoughts... My file on Sabbath and the Lord's Day is growing leaps and bounds!

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