Reflection on My Time at First UMC El Dorado

Last Sunday there was a farewell event for our family after the 11 a.m. worship service. It was a wonderful time – heartfelt thanks, earnest wishes, and blessings were shared from one to the other. I shared a few things to those that were there and share them with you here.

Thumbnail Sketch

If I were to give a thumbnail sketch of my time as the preacher at First UMC El Dorado, this is what it would be:

As the preacher at First UMC El Dorado, I led the congregation to design and execute a multi-year strategic plan which resulted in the development of a discipleship pathway to more deeply engage people in the life of faith, a capital campaign for 1.75 times our annual operating budget to renovate of our 1920s era sanctuary, and increased our organizational health through volunteer and staff development.

Clearly this is written in the most positive light, yet I believe it captures some of the most significant highlights of ministry over the last six years.

Three Memorable Days as Pastor

Sunday, August 12, 2012

We had just arrived to town and our daughter, Anne, was a few months old. It was time for her baptism. My father, Mark Conard, baptized her during worship. Baptism is a significant moment in the life of a family and this was particularly meaningful because my father was able to officiate. I remember watching him walk her down the aisle to show the congregation and the love and care in his voice as offered God’s grace in the act of baptism. It was a meaningful day in the life of our family.

Final Week of October 2016

My father died on October 18, 2016. As we were with family during the days that followed, someone from the Staff Parish team asked what would be helpful for us. I sometimes struggle with asking for things, though in this case I managed to say that basics around the house would be helpful for us – mowing the lawn and cleaning a bit inside our house. I remember pulling back into El Dorado after my dad’s service of death and resurrection and graveside service – the lawn looked great. When we walked inside our home was fresh and clean. The care and love that these simple acts demonstrated was overwhelming.

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Near the end of the school year, I received an email from one of the staff at Skelly Elementary School that they had something for me in the office. So, when I picked up my son, John, from Kindergarten I went into the office and was greeted with boxes filled with May Baskets! We had launched our partnership with the school at the beginning of the year. This was an amazing gift and a symbol that the partnership between our congregation and the school was taking shape. There was both mutual interest and effort to be a blessing to one another.

Three Things I received during Pastorate

Space to Become a Preacher

When I arrived, I had preached less than ten times in my entire life. The practice of weekly preaching was foreign and intimidating. This congregations has provided the opportunity to learn how to be a preacher. There are some moments in preaching where my internal monologue is wondering “What am I saying?” as I continue to preach and I have taken away 15 minutes you can’t get back in your life. Other Sundays, hopefully more, I have felt used by God to share a word of encouragement, conviction, and vision. I am grateful for space to become a preacher.

Grace Offered in My Leadership

While I like to think otherwise, I know that not every idea that I have had in ministry has been great. There have been days that I have fallen down on the job as your pastor. Throughout my time here, the overarching response to my ministry has been a willingness to follow and discover together where God is leading us. I have learned what it means to be a pastoral leader in this place. I am grateful for grace offered in my leadership.

Gray Hair

I still remember when my hairdresser noted so gracefully, “It looks like your hair is losing some of it’s color. Do you want to do anything to address that?” I said, “No.” So, here I am at the end of my time here with much less color in my hair than I had six years ago.

Grace in the Details

United Methodist Elders are ordained to Word, Order, Sacrament, and Service. It seems that during times of transition Order is one that takes precedence. In both leaving and beginning, there are a almost innumerable number of administrative items that need to be cared for, passed on to others, or at least communicated in some way.

For example, upcoming weddings… There are two on the calendar for the fall in 2018 at First UMC El Dorado at which Rev. Mik King will officiate and one on the calendar for me at Berryton UMC at which I will officiate. These are an incredibly important day in the life of the couple and their families and they are ones for which the pastor has a great deal of responsibility to go well. So, contact information for the couple, helping make the transition – these details are important and need attention. When I arrived in El Dorado in 2012 I had a wedding scheduled in July. I am grateful that in each of these three cases they are later in the year.

There are also details that have to be attended to nearly immediately. July 1 is the first day of the appointive year and this year it also happens to be a Sunday. Worship happens every Sunday and each congregation has a variety of practices around how it is planned and executed, as well as a number of different associated items that need to be prepared in some way. These are important details that need to be attended to right away.

It is impossible to put together a comprehensive list – Where are the light switches? What happens on Christmas Eve? Who decorates the altar? Who purchases candles? Any number of things…

My personality is such that I try to attend every detail, as best as I am able. At times this is helpful and at others paralyzing. During these weeks, I am working on offering myself and others grace in the details.

Where have you found grace in the details? Either offered or received?

The Lost Son, Older Brother and Running Father

Jesus often tells parables or stories which teach us something that is true about God, about us and how God and humanity interact. Here is one of them from Luke 15.

This is the story of a man who had two sons

“The younger son said to his father, ‘Father, give me my share of the inheritance.’” This would have been what he would have received after his father died. Essentially, the son is saying, “Dad, I wish you were dead.”

He takes this money, travels to another state and blows it all on wild living – sex, drugs, and parties. He utterly enjoys himself, until one day he realizes that he is out of money. Completely.

“When he had used up his resources, a severe food shortage arose in that country and he began to be in need. He hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him into his fields to feed pigs. He longed to eat his fill from what the pigs ate, but no one gave him anything.”

Then, he remembers that even the slaves in his Father’s house were better off than he was right then. He sets off for home with a script in mind – “Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I no longer deserve to be called your son. Take me on as one of your hired hands.”

“So he got up and went to his father. “While he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was moved with compassion. His father ran to him, hugged him, and kissed him.” He throws a feast and a great party for this son that has returned.
His old brother complains to his father – “‘Look, I’ve served you all these years, and I never disobeyed your instruction. Yet you’ve never given me as much as a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours returned, after gobbling up your estate on prostitutes, you slaughtered the fattened calf for him.’

Then his father said, ‘Son, you are always with me, and everything I have is yours. But we had to celebrate and be glad because this brother of yours was dead and is alive. He was lost and is found.’”

This story paints a picture of God’s love, grace and forgiveness. The very same love and forgiveness that is available for us today.
As United Methodist Christians, we believe that God is at work in the lives of people before they recognize it. God was working in the life of the son, even at the beginning of the story when he asks his father for his share of the estate.

God loves us even when we are sinners.

God offers us forgiveness, even though we don’t deserve it.

We can decide to live as followers of Jesus or of our own way. It is that moment of clarity for the son there with the pigs. Life doesn’t have to be like this.

We confess our sins, receive forgiveness, trust in God and seek to follow Jesus. We are set free from the slavery of sin and are free to live as slaves to God. We are made right with God and begin to grow in love of God and neighbor.

Then, we seek to follow after God all of our days. We grow to perfect love of God and neighbor with the spiritual practice to worship, grow, give, serve and share. When we use these spiritual tools, we come closer and closer to God and care more deeply for our neighbor.

By God’s grace, it is possible for us to be delivered completely from slavery to sin and death and live completely as disciples of Jesus Christ. The amazing thing is that to live in this way, it takes people who know what it is like to live as slaves to sin. The only ones qualified are the ones who have experienced God’s grace and forgiveness.

The good news is that Jesus Christ sets us free from sin to live a holy life today.

The opportunity to live a holy life and to receive God’s forgiveness is available today. It is available for you and for me. All we have to do is ask.

Is Communion for Christians Only?

A few weeks ago, I visited a church where this sign was displayed during communion. The method of serving was passing a tray through the aisle and taking a piece of bread and a small cup of juice, so it would not have been obvious if one chose not to partake.

United Methodists practice open communion, which to clarify, means that you do not have to be a member of the church where communion is being served or a member of any United Methodist Church to receive the sacrament.

This is different than saying that you have to be a Christian to receive, which is clearly what the church that I visited was indicating.

The official document on baptism for The United Methodist Church, By Water & The Spirit, indicates:

In celebrating the Eucharist, we remember the grace given to us in our baptism and partake of the spiritual food necessary for sustaining and fulfilling the promises of salvation. Because the table at which we gather belongs to the Lord, it should be open to all who respond to Christ’s love, regardless of age or church membership. The Wesleyan tradition has always recognized that Holy Communion may be an occasion for the reception of converting, justifying, and sanctifying grace. Unbaptized persons who receive communion should be counseled and nurtured toward baptism as soon as possible.

That last sentence is particularly tricky in practice. Do you ask people if they have been baptized before, during or after they receive the bread and the cup? Perhaps a message of this sort in a United Methodist Church would say:

If Jesus is lord of your life, please take communion. If he is not lord of your life, go ahead and take communion anyway, as you might experience a desire to make him the lord of your life, in which case we would like for you to be baptized if you haven’t already been baptized.

This is a little tongue in cheek, however I do wonder – How does your church communicate about who receives Holy Communion?

Speedlinking – July 2, 2010

Christian Content Creation Model

Why is it difficult to create effective content for Christian spiritual formation?

Because people creating the content are not aware of the answers being sought.

I recently read an article in Wired Magazine about Demand Media and the way that they go about creating content. This excerpt from the article gives an idea of Demand Media’s model of commissioning pieces of content to be developed:

Pieces are not dreamed up by trained editors nor commissioned based on submitted questions. Instead they are assigned by an algorithm, which mines nearly a terabyte of search data, Internet traffic patterns, and keyword rates to determine what users want to know and how much advertisers will pay to appear next to the answers.

What if a similar model was used within the church? The focus would not be on how much money could be made by creating particular articles. Christian content creation based on a model similar to that of Demand Media would create text and video content that would be tailored to where people are hoping to grow. Significant progress would be made in meeting people where they are in their experience of God’s grace and helping them take the next step as a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Would this Christian content creation model lead to useful tools for helping people grow in their faith or anesthetize and distance content creators from those seeking to grow in their faith?

Messy Spirituality

Messy Spirituality by Michael Yaconelli is accurately described by the subtitle – God’s Annoying Love for Imperfect People.

 Yaconelli presents an approach to discipleship that is not about clear next steps and unquestionable outcomes. Instead, the path of discipleship that he presents is full of changes, turns and a never failing trust in God. Yaconelli refutes some assumptions of discipleship in a way that I found to be at first unnerving, but finally satisfactory.

I do not feel that it would be appropriate to base the path of discipleship for an entire church on the ideas that Yaconelli presents. However, I recognize that this may be because it is far different than my current setting for ministry and from many other settings of which I am most familiar.

I found Messy Spirituality to be a refreshing understanding of God’s work in the world and my own path of discipleship. I will return again to this book in the future and expect that it will catch me off guard again in ways that are needed and helpful.