Thursday, May 31, 2012

A Future Filled with Hope

I know the plans I have in mind for you, declares the LORD; they are plans for peace, not disaster, to give you a future filled with hope.  Jeremiah 29:11  (CEB)

This passage of scripture was very important very early in discerning my call to ministry.  I was trying to figure out how on earth I could possibly follow God into ministry which in my denomination is itinerant.  I had three children, a husband who was employed in Oklahoma City, and a good job that paid more than the starting salary for newbie preachers.  How on earth could we possibly entertain such a notion?  I needed to go to seminary, but the closest United Methodist seminaries were in Dallas and Kansas City.  They required a significant period of time to be away from the family, something I was unwilling to do.  Maybe when my children were older and I had saved up some money I could follow this leading, but God was persistent.

I couldn't see the future and was uncertain how I could follow this calling with everything happening in my life.  Then I came across the above verse, completely out of context, with the kind of holy highlighting on it you cannot ignore.  It was to me at that time, and many times since, a promise from God that through the years of my ministry I have clung to time and again.  And God has never failed me.

In my most recent appointment it seemed as if the congregation needed to hear this promise.  They needed to know that God had not forgotten them and that they still had purpose and meaning for the Kingdom of God.  They wanted  to believe this, but as I began to preach to them about God's promise I realized that there was still some lingering doubt in their hearts.  The unspoken question was "can God still work through us?"  After being here for a couple of years, I can say that God is still significantly at work there.

I am moving from that congregation and to another.  There are people who are upset about my move because things have begun to go well and there are accomplishments happening beyond expectations.  They think it has something to do with me, but it doesn't.

In the Hebrew Scriptures the people cried out for a King, and through a prophet God told them that all they needed was God.  A King would only draw their attention away from God.  They would think that their success was because of the King.  A good King would continually point them to God, but as we read the scriptures, this was not necessarily the norm for the children of Israel.

I want the people of any congregation I have served to understand that any success I may have in that place is only if I can point them to God, not if they think I am God. Then I have failed.  Perhaps that is why two years is long enough in this place, that they may know that it isn't about me, it is about God at work in their midst, and with or without me God still has a future filled with hope for them.  They must be faithful to God's calling and continue on the ministry God has for them in that location.

To any congregation I have yet to serve, I want the same thing to be known.  I believe we are called to be a ministry team.  There is a division of duties to get the task completed, but no one in a team is more significant than another or the team cannot truly be successful.  In the secular world success is measured individually - what have I done, not what have we done.  This is not true for the body of Christ, we are united in the body of Christ.  It is not about I or we but about CHRIST without whom we are insignificant.

The next two verses in Jeremiah has even more promises from God.

When you call me and come and pray to me, I will listen to you.  When you search for me, yes, search for me with all your heart, you will find me.  Jeremiah 29:12-13 (CEB)

Let us call upon and search for the Lord with all our hearts and our ministry, together and apart, will further the Kingdom of God - which after all is the whole point.


Friday, May 11, 2012

Anxious Much?

I am in the process of moving from one appointment to another, and all that goes along with that - packing, changing services such as banks and cable, and hiring movers.  There is much involved in moving, changing jobs, and other such transitions in life.  In fact, many of the things involved with a pastor's transitioning to a new appointment are included on the life events stress test, along with other life events such as death of a family member, divorce, child leaving home, birth, etc.  It is not surprising that when I take this test, I scored fairly high.

I tend to pride myself in my genuineness and authenticity to most people.  I try not to "put on airs," or pretend to be something I'm not.  One parishioner once remarked that, "I was real," as if it were something surprising that her pastor were not imaginary.  Of course, I am only as genuine as I am willing to admit to myself, which might be the hang up from time to time.

With all that being said, I must admit that I am just now beginning to come out of a fog of anxiety.  This anxiety began probably sometime around January and really picked up speed around March.  When I know I am moving and no one else knows I am moving, it is extremely anxiety producing. I hate the unfortunate and necessary deception that comes with having to hold onto information until it is the right time to share it for you, the conference, and the congregation.

You would think that after the news is out then the anxiety would ease up, but that isn't necessarily how it works. Then there is the consideration of the place to which you are moving.  What will it be like?  How will they receive and respond to you?  What will your home, church, congregation be like?  These have been questions I have been pondering recently.  These concerns compounded by denominational uncertainty as to whether or not there will be restructuring, what will it look like, how will it affect my conference, congregation, ministry, family.  I have found that all of these unanswered questions have caused me a great deal of...well...anxiety.

Now, I know that anxiety robs us of joy and peace that God intends for us to have.  People will ask me if I am excited about my new church and home, and I am having a hard time with 'excitement.'  I am looking forward to this move, but excitement requires energy that anxiety steals.  I know worry and anxiety are destructive forces, and I know this so well, I have often counseled others on this.  And yes, I am fully aware of the hypocrisy of my preaching that we should trust God with the future while being anxious of what the future may bring.

Yet, I am coming out of this fog.  Living in the in-between world of packed boxes and messy rooms requires a certain amount of "letting go."  With a little over three weeks to moving day, I am beginning to emerge from the fog of worry to deal with the harsh light of reality - you know where you don't have time to worry about what might be because you must face what is before you.

God tends to send me words of wisdom in many ways; sometimes through scripture, sometimes in a quote, sometimes in the words of friends.  Today God spoke to me clearly through the words found etched on a plaque given to me by a friend,

"I don't know what tomorrow holds, but I know WHO holds tomorrow."  

Of course we all feel a certain amount of trepidation when changes occur in our lives.  We may not know what tomorrow holds, but we who trust in God do know the ONE who not only knows what tomorrow holds but goes before us.

So, on that note, I think I'll go pack another box...

Tuesday, May 1, 2012


A change that has come about at General Conference 2012 (GC 2012) is that ordained elders are no longer "guaranteed" an appointment.  This came about a little over 50 years ago with the ordination of women to ensure that gender was not a consideration on whether or not an elder would have employment in the local church.  Since then it has been argued that it is an avenue for ineffective clergy to coast because even if they were not effective in the local church they would have an appointment somewhere when their church asked for them to move or they asked to move.  I agree with many who are in favor of doing away with security of appointment that accountability is essential.  Just to be clear I have no argument with this.  I also have known those clergy that might be considered ineffective and understand that there is a need for at the very least a plan for improvement, training and in some cases counseling for these clergy.

The following is a response to a blog post by a young delegate to GC2012 that was present when this decision was made.  See her post HERE.  I appreciate her take on this issue, and feel that as she is speaking from the point of view of a clergy spouse she fully understands the ramifications of today's decision.  Here is my reply to her post:

I appreciate that you “have hope and faith that these committees to evaluate the decisions to terminate appointed clergy will be effective.” Of course, as we have learned throughout history faith and hope in humanity can end in disappointment. Thus to ensure fairness in employment we have many civil laws which regulate employers so that employees will have a minimum compensation, equal opportunity in hiring, and the like. Because, as in many things based on the corporate world, it’s all about the bottom line and the profit margin. If they can get away with paying children $.50 an hour, they will.

The truth is that while there are many who feel doing away with guaranteed appointments will raise the bar as to clergy effectiveness, I fear it will have the same ramifications as the standardized testing in public schools. The teachers teach to the test. Extrapolating that to the clergy, the clergy will then feel a need to appear effective without actually being effective. Those who are ineffective understand how to do this. And the bar that will be set will be based on metrics which have proven to be problematic in the ability to measure the work of God.

In actuality there was already a system in place to do away with clergy who did not fulfill their covenant relationship including effectiveness in ministry. This was not something that was unavailable prior to this decision. There does not seem to be any recourse for churches who are ineffective regardless of the clergy placed there, and there is little done regarding laity who do not live up to the covenant of membership. Deacons and local pastors are not guaranteed an appointment but they were also not required to itinerate. This seemed to be the trade off, yet the itineracy was not addressed in this petition.

Until there is a standard for what ineffective means, it is subjective, and therefore, opens the door for discrimination based on a variety of things not the least of which is gender, race, theology, etc. As I female clergy I can tell you that gender discrimination is not a thing of the past as some would have you believe, and in other parts of our connection women are just now gaining some respect from their male colleagues. As I cannot speak from personal experience as to the minority issue, I will not. I fear that this decision will have unintended and far reaching repercussions that have not been considered, but I pray I am wrong.

I have heard from other clergy and laity who are concerned with this decision as there is no mutuality of accountability.  It seems that ineffective churches and laity, are not being held as accountable for the effectiveness of local church ministry as a pastor that is appointed there.  Further, the Bishops are not subject to this as once you are elected Bishop you are Bishop for life.  (Term limits for Bishops were also discussed and voted down at GC2012.)

With this decision as well as the lack of accountability for local churches and Bishops, I am concerned on the following points/questions?

1.  What about those areas of the connection (including the Central Conferences) in which gender equality as well as other discrimination is still an issue?

2.  What about church's who are not effective historically and, as some have pointed out are considered "clergy killers."  Will they be held to accountability as well?  Perhaps not being guaranteed an appointment of a clergy or even being closed for ineffectiveness.

3.  What are the standards for effectiveness?  How will this be measured?  Since there isn't a hard, firm standard it is still largely subjective, and that is a concern to me.

4.  If a Bishop has a large number of clergy not appointed due to ineffectiveness will that reflect on his or her episcopacy?

5.  If a clergy is deemed to be ineffective in one setting, are they free to seek appointment in another conference?  Or does this equate to a "defrocking?"

6.  Why was the avenue to remove clergy from the ministry currently available in the Book of Discipline not considered adequate for encouraging effectiveness in ministry?

Okay, these are a few thoughts/questions I have on this.  Perhaps you have answers or thoughts you would like to share on this.  Please let me know what you think about this issue.