Institut(ion): In Every Sense of the Word (3 of 5)

I spent last week at a youth camp, Institute 2010: God’s All Stars, which is a ministry of the Conference Council on Youth Ministry of the Kansas East Annual Conference. This post is part of a series reflecting on the week and making applications for the local church.

Institute is an institution with the good and the bad that it brings. There are rich traditions and a history that brings the past to light and looks to the future. Many of the adult leaders at camp this summer remember an experience of the very same camp when they were young. One of the pastors among the adult leaders remembers feeling first called to ministry in the very place where we had morning worship during the week. However, the rich history has the side effect of narrowing the vision of what could be possible for a camp among the high school students of the Kansas East Conference. There are some practices that are clearly leftovers from time gone by and while faithful have ceased to be relevant.

What about in your local church? How has the past shaped who the community is today? In what ways does the history shape both the present and the future?

My Call to Ministry

My call to ministry has been a chain of experiences that have brought me to my current understanding of God’s call in my life. In the summer of 2002, I realized that God was not calling me to a career in biology, my field of study at the time. I considered many possibilities for life after graduation during the fall semester of my final year at Pittsburg State University. One of those possibilities was pursuing graduate theological education.

At a campus ministry reterat, as I was reading the account of Jesus calling his disciples in the Gospel according to John, I heard God speaking to me. The disciples’ question, “Where are you staying?” seemed to correspond to my question, “What is this whole seminary thing about?” Jesus responds clearly to them: “Come and see.” To me this response was Jesus saying to me, “Come and find out what seminary is about and how you can serve God in the world. Follow me and I will show you what you need to know.” As a result of this and other experiences, I enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary after receiving a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2003 from Pittsburg State University in Pittsburg, KS.

When I enrolled in seminary I was not sure of which direction theological education would take me. Over the next few years my calling was refined from a call to seminary, to a confirmation of my place in seminary, to a call to ordained ministry serving in the local church. I graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity degree in May 2006.

It has been a mix of struggle, joy and surprises. I was helped primarily by my family and friends. I am currently serving as a pastor at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection.

One of the positive influences in my call to ministry was an exploration event. I invite you to consider www.gbhem.org/exploration as a possibility if you are exploring a call to ministry and are between a high school senior and age 24.

Women Officiating Weddings

I very strongly believe in equal opportunity for women and men in ministry. Sometimes the issue of the gender of a pastor arises around weddings. The following email is an excellent response from a male clergy person to someone who requested that he officiate a wedding ceremony instead of the female clergy person who had been initially recommended from the church. I think that it is a very sound response and will use it as a model in the future.

Thank you very much for your email. While I am flattered by your very kind words, I must unfortunately decline your request to officiate your wedding ceremony. The first reason is that none of the pastors at our church, including the senior pastor, is free to schedule weddings outside of our staff wedding coordinator. This is done to ensure that there is a high level of coordination between facilities, staff, and all of the other elements involved in staging a wedding.

The second reason I must decline is because of my feeling that accepting your request would be to effectively deny the validity of the ministry of my female colleagues. I understand that you have a strong sense of tradition attached to the churches you were brought up in. However, some of that tradition might possibly be rooted in a belief (on the church’s part) that women are inherently not suited to serve as pastors. In my experience, women are not only just as suited as men, but in some cases uniquely sensitized to realms of the spirit that men might be less comfortable with. This is especially the case with women pastors at this church.

I hope you might have the opportunity to re-evaluate your feelings on this subject and proceed with the pastor which the staff wedding coordinator has already recommended to you. Marriage is about mutual growth and compromise and what better place to begin that process than on your wedding day.

Have you ever experienced a similar issue? What responses have you given or found to be helpful in similar situations?

Advice, Suggestions and Self-Reflection

Last week I interviewed for a clinical pastoral education position at St. Luke’s Hospital. One of the questions that I try to ask any interview team is this – What advice would you have for me (as a person in his second year of professional ministry)? I received the following responses from the interview team (summarized):

  • Have you thought about a spiritual director?
  • A CPE residency would have been invaluable before returning to the local church.
  • Live a well balanced full life outside of ministry.

Each one of the interview team did not give direct advice to me, but instead reflected on their own experience of life.

In similar situations, do you most naturally give suggestions for other people, tell them what to do or reflect on your own life? Something else entirely?

Clergy Transitions at Resurrection (1 of ?)

On March 21, it was announced to the Resurrection congregation that Judy Long O’Neal will be appointed to Shawnee Heights United Methodist Church in Topeka beginning July 1.

I have learned a lot from Judy and her ministry at Resurrection. She is passionate about care for each person, the environment and dialogue among persons of different faiths. Through her example, she has helped me to be able to more often ask the discerning question, “What is mine to do?”

Judy has also helped me to better understand this portion of Jesus’ teaching:

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

Mark 12:28-31, TNIV

Judy has taught me that you cannot love your neighbor without first loving yourself. One is called to have a healthy self-understanding before being sent out to be in relationship with others.

Judy, thanks for all that you have done and all that you are going to do.

It is Hard to Care

I had a conversation with a staff member in the hallway this afternoon that was too good not to share. I had been thinking about a conversation that I had just had on the phone and he could tell that I was a bit troubled. He stopped and asked how I was doing. I said that I was doing okay but was a bit troubled by the phone conversation. He responded,

It is just hard to care sometimes.

I started laughing out loud.

  • What I heard was – It is hard to care about other people, it is better and easier just not to care.
  • What he meant was – At times it is hard to share in the hurt of people’s lives and care for them.

Hearing the first and then realizing the second really made me laugh, which is good.

Leadership Under Constraints – Review

This is a review of the document Leadership Under Constraints (PDF Document) by Gil Rendle. This document was initially presented at The United Methodist Way: A Convocation that took place in 2007.

Main Themes

This essay provides:

“… a perspective on the current setting and challenges of leadership within the United Methodist Church from the lens of systems theory and organizational sciences.”

Rendle addresses the current state of the structure of the United Methodist Church and clearly evaluates the leadership strengths and weaknesses of the denomination. Adaptive leadership is over technical management at each level of the denomination.

Strengths and Weaknesses

Rendle states several assumptions in the denomination including that of scarcity, egalitarianism, representative democracy, harmony and entitlement. I found this to be a strength of the paper as it speaks a difficult word to denominational leaders while accurately describing reality. Another strength is the leverage points to be able to move forward.

Relevance to The United Methodist Church

The United Methodist Church was the target audience and I found this essay to be relevant in all areas of content.

Relevance to The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

This document is relevant to Resurrection both as a United Methodist congregation, but also in particular ministry areas. I believe that there is great application within my particular ministry – Congregational Care.

Recommendation

I highly recommend this document to all leaders within The United Methodist Church both lay and clergy.

“Attract” young clergy?

I invite you to read the article Leaders share best practices to attract young clergy by the United Methodist News Service. After you have read it, I want to hear what you think.

I am glad to hear that the denomination is concerned with the lack of young clergy. I believe that this is an issue across mainline denominations and not just for The United Methodist Church. However, I think that this article exposes some errors and outlines some good things in the approach to address this issue. Here is what I read in this article and my response.

  • Use of the word “attract” – I think that we are discovering as a denomination that an attractional model of church is no longer effective. I think that this is true for clergy as well. As a young clergy person, I am not particularly attracted by the denomination, but I am excited about the opportunity to be in mission, renew the church and change the world. I think words like encourage, empower or equip may be more appropriate.
  • Focus on the annual conference – I believe that it is a false perception that the annual conference is critical in encouraging young people to be clergy. The annual conference provides a role in the ongoing process of becoming clergy, but I would argue that the primary encouragement and culture in which one hears the call is the local church. I suggest that the focus for creating a culture of the call at the level of the local church.
  • Presence in seminaries – Amelia Sims, director of Residency in Ministry of the North Alabama Conference is quoted as saying: “It is up to us to really think about and be able to articulate why younger adults would be able to grow and flourish in their ministry in this annual conference.” I think that along with a focus in the local church this has great potential. Some of the best students that I knew while at seminary were not pursuing clergy orders. Empowerment and the desire from all people for young people to be an integral part of ministry is important.

I am passionate about young clergy being in ministry. I am certain that The United Methodist Church will continue to offer a distinct way for people to live out their faith in Jesus Christ that is both relevant and faithful. This will depend on current and future generations of leaders.

How do you respond to the article? What do you think about my responses?

Annual Conference Equips Churches – Improvements (3 of 5)

This is part of a series of posts in which I am responding to questions of purpose and improvement for the annual conference in the United States.

In paragraph 601 of the United Methodist Book of Discipline there is a dual purpose for the annual conference – to equip local churches for ministry and to provide a connection for ministry beyond the local church.

I think that there are several key areas in which the annual conference could improve in equipping local churches for ministry:

  • Recruitment and training of leaders – I think that annual conferences need to become much more aggressive in efforts to recruit and train leaders for local congregations. I believe that this is the most effective way to equip local churches. This could include tools for local congregations designed to create a culture of the call in which people of all ages may be more ready to respond to God’s call in their life. This could include local resources for theological study, guidance for pastors about how to have conversations with people considering ministry, on site training for pastors, staff and key leaders in local congregations
  • Local worship resources – Worship resources developed for use within local congregations. There would be an advantage in creating resources that are most likely to speak to a particular context, i.e. rural, company town, growing suburb, etc. The annual conference may be able to facilitate sharing of resources directly between congregations. For example, sharing ideas, graphics, small group and other resources that may have been developed for a particular congregation.
  • Aggressively leveraging technology – I think that the annual conference could do better equip churches for ministry by teaching and equipping congregations to utilize existing free standards in technology that may be effective for ministry, such as Facebook, WordPress, Blogger, Groups – Google or Yahoo, Google Apps, etc.

What would you add?

Annual Conference – Purpose and Improvements (1 of 5)

Earlier this month, I received an email from a member of the Methodist Church in India who is feeling a call to ministry. This person is currently attending seminary at a seminary in the United States. It was great to get this email which included a few clear questions about the annual conference in the United States in general, not any specific annual conference:

  • Is the annual conference in the United States fulfilling its purpose?
  • How can it be made an ideal annual conference?
  • How could it be improved?

In the United Methodist Church, the annual conference is an organization of pastors, laity and congregations, you can find a definition here.

Before I could respond to this question, I had to remind myself of the purpose of the Annual Conference. The United Methodist Book of Discipline in paragraph 601 states:

“The purpose of the annual conference is to make disciples for Jesus Christ by equipping its local churches for ministry and by providing a connection for ministry beyond the local church; all to the glory of God.”

In this statement there is a dual purpose for the annual conference – to equip local churches for ministry and to provide a connection for ministry beyond the local church. Over the next few days I will do my best to respond to the question of the annual conference fulfilling its purpose in these areas and offer some thoughts for improvement.

I recognize that I have limited experience in annual conferences and may not be the most qualified to respond to these questions. However, I hope that my responses will prove somewhat helpful and that others will be able to add to the conversation through comments.

Wisdom from Staff Parish

Earlier in the month, it was a blessing to meet with Staff Parish for my annual review. I met with a few representatives of the entire Staff Parish team for an interview / conversation that lasted about an hour. I felt genuinely supported during our time together.

At the end of our time together, they asked if there were any other questions that I would have for them. I asked them a question, that I try to be intentional about asking in settings like Staff Parish, Board of Ordained Ministry, mentoring and conversations with members of the congregation

What advice would you have for me as a young pastor starting out in ministry?

I hope to continue to ask this question throughout my life, shifting it to address my current situation. I think that listening and learning is a critical component of being a leader and a pastor. I want to share some of their responses as I found them encouraging, uplifting and applicable.

  • Continue in ministry in a spirit of organization and prayer.
  • Continue to be open to new experiences, new opportunities. Be open to what God would have for you.
  • Be a sponge – soak up and learn everything that you can possibly learn and experience.
  • Be a sponge – squeeze yourself out. Be willing and ready to pour your effort into the life of the church. Do not underestimate the influence that you have as a leader.

What would your response be to my question?

God’s Call in my life

Earlier this week a member of the congregation shared a story of God’s call in the life of a member of her family. I was inspired by the story. It is encouraging to hear stories of God’s call in the life of another and it can serve as a reminder of one’s own call. I want to share my story with you.

I majored in biology at Pittsburg State University after high school. I thought that I would be a genetic researcher. The summer before my senior year, I had an internship where I was able to do that all day everyday. I found out that I was good at it, I could do it, but I did not see myself doing that for a career. I came back to school in the fall of 2002 not knowing what I would do when I graduated the next May.

In the fall of 2002, I considered many possibilities for life after graduation. One of those possibilities was pursuing graduate theological education. At a campus ministry retreat, as I was reading the account of Jesus calling his disciples in the Gospel according to John, I heard God speaking to me. The disciples’ question, “Where are you staying?” seemed to correspond to my question, “What would seminary be like?” Jesus responds clearly to them: “Come and see.” To me this response was Jesus saying to me, “Come and find out what seminary is about and how you can serve God in the world. Follow me and I will show you what you need to know.”

I enrolled at Wesley Theological Seminary after receiving a Bachelor of Science in Biology in 2003. When I enrolled in seminary I was not sure of which direction theological education would take me. In the summer of 2004, I lived and worked in Yellowstone National Park as a part of A Christian Ministry in the National Parks. I worked as a housekeeper at the Lake Yellowstone Hotel and Cabins and led a team of college students to lead five worship services in four locations each weekend. Through the experience of weekly worship leadership, conversations with teammates and personal discernment, I felt called to serve in the local church.

I graduated from Wesley Theological Seminary with a Masters of Divinity degree in May 2006 and received an appointment to serve at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection beginning in July 2006. I am currently considering the possibility of being the pastor at a new church start and am excited to continue listening for God’s call in my life.