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Wise Words and Further Reflection

February 24, 2009

In response to my previous post, Rick Mang offers wise advice.

Will,

May I offer an unsolicited FYI / consideration for your thought . . .

The next time you meet with your BOM, each member will no doubt have copies of the comments you have “publicly” posted/shared on your blog for any and everybody to read.

Some will have read into your “public comments” many different things, most which you probably never intended to communicate.

Some may even take your “public comments” as an attack on their characters.

When you meet next with your BOM, keeps these things in mind.

There’s a lot of truth in what he says.  The prof in my preaching class reminded us of the old cliche “Every Sunday three sermons are preached: the one you meant to preach, the one you actually preached, and the one the hearer heard.”  In fact, if there are 100 congregants present, 100 different sermons may have been heard.  That’s good advice for me to keep in mind during the course of this conversation, and I thank you for it, Rick.  It is especially important for me to remember as I can have a darkly sarcastic sense of humor at times.  (Of course, I have also been told by excellent pastors that “if you aren’t ticking someone off, you aren’t saying anything.”)

I am clearly not the only person who believes that the board made the wrong decision.  Other members of my ordination class have communicated that they have no problem being required to take CPE but that making me take it is superfluous.  They haven’t just communicated it to me, some have stated it publicly as well, and some have communicated it to the Bishop.

My intent is not to engage in board-bashing.  If that’s how I have come across, I honestly repent.

I do, however, believe that human brokenness as well as systemic brokenness inevitably cause us all to lose focus on what’s really important – you, me, bishops, boards, churches, preachers, all of us.  We all fall shy of the mark.  What I do intend is for the United Methodist world to engage in critical reflection upon the process itself.  At every available turn we must ask ourselves tough and important questions:

  • Is the process achieving the desired result and bearing good fruit? I think we all agree that the process has become unnecessarily long, convoluted, demanding and difficult.  Have these complications produced lower rates of clergy malfeasance and higher rates of clergy effectiveness?  Has all of this testing, conversation and process helped our boards to ordain the good ones and rule out the bad ones?
  • Are our churches better served by the process? One reality of the situation is that lots of Provisional Elders will be appointed to churches for 2-3 years, then moved upon ordination.  Are there certain churches in our denomination who can understand part of their mission as preparing pastors for ordination and then letting them go?  Or do we run the risk of hurting those churches by moving their pastors about the time the relationship grows strong?  Are churches who receive Elders who have survived the process receiving pastors who have been better prepared, energized and empowered for effective ministry and mission in their communities?  Do we run the risk of sending them Elders who have been made tired, burned out and cynical by the process?
  • Are we serving Jesus Christ, the local church, the Annual Conference, and our pastors faithfully by engaging in this process? Do the steps along the way help the United Methodist Church to fulfill our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world?  Or have we placed too much faith in the process itself and each of its steps?
  • Are we carrying out the process in a righteous and just manner? Are we engaging our candidates in each step of the process in order to further develop their gifts and graces?  Are we imposing certain rules simply because “those are the rules and that’s just the way it is?”  Have we ever enforced rules because we have an axe to grind?
  • Is the process theologically sound? At least in the time that I’ve been paying attention there has been a growing emphasis on psychology in the church.  Effective pastoral care is essential in our local churches, and it is sound to take steps to make sure our pastors are adequately prepared to provide it.  This last point is the one I want to expound upon.

Yesterday I imagined myself answering the question, “why are you not a counselor anymore?”

My first response was that while I was a good clinician, counseling just wasn’t where my heart is.  Working as a counselor was not where my joy met the world’s needs.  My heart is in the church.  I witnessed my home church, under very effective leadership, transformed from a dying church in a dying town to a living, loving, thriving community of worship and fellowship against all odds.  I was a first-hand witness to what I will name a resurrection.  I found myself called into deeper and deeper expressions of ministry, piety and leadership.  In that setting I was instilled with a deep sense of hope for my own life, hope for the future of the UMC, and hope for the world.  I found my heart.  Sounds cheesy, but it’s true.

But I am also a pastor not a counselor for a much deeper reason than that.  Counseling and therapy are self-improvement programs.  They can work wonders in that arena.  I’ve seen that from both sides of the couch, so to speak.  But the church is not a self-improvement program, no matter how deeply we may have convinced ourselves it is.  The church is a world-transformation program.  Our personal redemption comes primarily in the service of God’s vision of this world made other.  Certainly we are redeemed because we are loved deeply and passionately by God.  Certainly God believes that our individual lives matter.  But God’s ultimate concern is for all of creation.  We are saved, redeemed and made whole not so that we can feel better about ourselves or overcome our personal weaknesses, but so that we can get on board with God’s mission in our communities and God’s world.  We are given grace that we may embody grace to the world.  We are given mercy that we may embody mercy to the world.  We are given redemption that we may proclaim God’s offer of redemption to all.  Sanctifying grace benefits us personally, but it does so in order that we may share the grace we have been given for the transformation of the world.

Teaching self-esteem and unconditional self-acceptance?  Teaching coping strategies and problem-solving?  Helping people overcome fears, depression, anxiety, personal weaknesses and grief?  I’ve got lots of training and experience in that.  Retraining me in those things is, in my view, a step backward.  I’m interested in taking that next step, helping to usher in the reign of God where justice and mercy and grace abound.

Are we helping pastors do that?

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One Comment leave one →
  1. February 24, 2009 2:39 pm

    Rick is right — there will always be board members manufacturing reasons to be offended by what you’ve written.

    BoOM members should be far more offended by what the system has done to candidates and churches than anything that you’ve written. If any members start huffing and puffing at you, then that just shows you what their priorities are.

    If any board member is so thin-skinned as to take offense at what you’ve written, then s/he has no place in the ordained ministry.

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