Clergy Stats – Revisited

Back at the beginning of 2012, I did some statistical analysis on the age of the clergy in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.  What is interesting is a lot of the trends I saw are now coming true.

Here are my posts from 2012; Part I; Part II; Part III.

I saw that 49% of the clergy in 2012 were over 55 years.  I predicted there would be a tsunami of retirements coming and low and behold there are.  Last year we had over 50+ clergy retire and the current rumor (I don’t know the actual number) is that we will have that many if not more.  The retiring class for 2017 & 2018 is guaranteed to be in the triple digits.  This is unprecedented and could possibly be our new reality.

My number was called and I will be moving in July.  I will say goodbye to Indian Trail UMC and hello to Milford Hills UMC.  This transition comes because of what I predicted in 2012.  I revisited my posts and I am sad to see that some of my predictions have come or are coming true.

As we deal with a dwindling amount of clergy, it will be interesting to see how the cabinet handles these new realities.  I wonder if other conferences have dealt with this already?  I wonder what solutions they have come up with and are they working?

It would be interesting to get my hands on this information again and see if we have improved our age demographic or if we are looking at even worse numbers.  However, I don’t have access to that information, so I’ll just have to wait and see.

Sacred Bundles and Cows

Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows. — Jeanie Daniel Duck
The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change (New York: Crown Business, 2001), 263.*

My Pastor Parish Relations Committee and I recently went through a study together called Pastor and Parish.  It is an excellent study to help demonstrate what the PPRC is supposed to do and their purpose.  In this study it talks about something called the “Sacred Bundle.”  The “Sacred Bundle” is defined as “the congregational memories, taboos and traditions that define their church’s culture, but may not be readily apparent to a new pastor.” 
The Sacred Bundle is filled with the little things that make the congregation who they are.  Examples could be things like unwritten expectations like the Pastor always makes coffee for the Sunday School classes.  Or it could be that the offering plates were the only thing left after the church caught on fire in 1963.  Or the painting in the back of the church was the last one done by the matriarch before her passing.  It could be even emotional ties to events like July 4th BBQs or Christmas Eve 11:00pm worship services. 
The Sacred Bundle can be filled with glorious and meaningful things but it can also be filled with sacred cows.  The pastor and many times the congregations really don’t know what is in the Sacred Bundle until change starts to happen.  I think it takes at least two years to really start to understand what is in the Sacred Bundle, both the good and the bad.  A pastor almost needs two cycles of the Christian year, two Christmases and two Easters and everything after and in between, to fully understand the congregation.  For some congregations this process might take even longer.
It is only after truly understanding the Sacred Bundle that solid and lasting change can happen.  When you understand what is inside the bundle you can speak to the good parts and honor them and cherish them along with the congregation.  The bad sections, the sacred cows, you can speak to as well and start to discuss openly why they are there and if they need to be. 
However, one needs to be careful because as change occurs the Sacred Bundle changes as well.  Are you as the pastor setting things in that bundle that will build and nurture the congregation or are they simply sacred cows that will weigh them down in the future?  Do we remove congregational sacred cows and toss in our own?  Is the change we are offering the congregation fluid enough to go through its own change down the road?  Or do our egos as pastors get in the way because we see that specific change as our little baby or possession?

Jeanie Daniel Duck is right, “Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows.”  Our job as pastors is to invoke, implement and invite change that will lighten, support, and build the Sacred Bundles within our congregation.  We cannot add more sacred cows.  True leadership through a time of transition and change is the willingness to admit if the change we desire has turned into a sacred cow and if so, are we willing to let it go?  We ask congregations to do it, but are we, as leaders, willing to do the same?

*a quote in Lovett H. Weems, Jr’s pdf called “50 Quotations to Help Lead Change in Your Church”

All I Need to Know about Church Leadership I Learned from My Massage Therapist – Part I

My wife, Alycia, is a very talented and gifted Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist (check out her Facebook page).  She knows the muscles of a human body more than anyone I know.  Just as a brief testimony, during our recent move I did something to my back.  I literally could not stand up straight and almost couldn’t walk.  An hour later I got off her table and felt much better.  The pain had subsided and I could move again.  Is she a miracle worker?  That day I would have said YES! 
I recently was on her table again getting some work done on my shoulders and neck when I realized the link between Massage Therapy and Church Leadership.  These series of posts will demonstrate some links between the two professions and what we, as Church Leaders, can learn from Massage Therapy.
Quick stop on my soapbox: The profession of License Massage and Bodywork Therapists (LMBTs) gets linked to the sex trade very easily because of the ‘massage parlors’ around the world that offer ‘happy endings’.  My wife is not a sex worker, nor are the vast majority of LMBTs.  But a few rotten apples always ruin the reputation of every apple.  She takes her profession, her calling, very seriously and handles her business with the utmost professionalism.  Please leave all gutter thoughts in the gutter.  We can be grown ups and move beyond the thought that whenever a human being touches another human being it always leads to sex.  These posts have nothing to do with any of that and the mere mention is truly offensive.  This profession has worked very hard to move beyond that notion, let’s help them continue to move forward.
With that said, my first post on “All I Need to Know about Church Leadership I Learned from My Massage Therapist” has to do with letting go.  As Alycia worked my neck muscles, trying to loosen up the knots, she kept giving me instructions to ‘let go’.  As she held my head in her hand and manipulated it side to side to access the right muscles I kept trying to control it without realizing it.  The best way for her to tilt my head in the right angle would be to simple relax all the muscles in my neck and let her do the work.  By ‘letting go’, I enabled her to do the work she needed to do. 
Many of us in the ministry have a problem with control.  We like it and we don’t want to give it up.  This fact can have implications in either direction.  It is a good thing because we can help steer a church or committee in the direction we see fit.  It can be bad because we take away the power from the laity to do the work they need to do, not to mention taking power away from God.  The art of Church Leadership is found in knowing when to lead from the front and when to lead from behind.  When do we allow others to do the work and when do we step forward?  How we answer that question tells us a lot about our leadership skills and mindset.  But to walk that line and know when to do one verse the other is tough.  Then there are the other times where we need to get out of the way all together.
“Let Go!”  As my wife’s voice echoed in my ears as she stretched my head towards my shoulders I was reminded that I am not the savior to my church.  My congregation already has a savior.  My leadership, my vision, my pride, my desires are not the things to be concerned with.  Let go.  God has placed a calling upon this congregation and that is what I need to be searching for, that is what I need the people of my congregation searching for.  We need to remove the I, me, my, we, our, out of the conversation and listen to God instead.  We need to let go.  I need to let go.
When we let go and enable ourselves to be pushed, stretched, and manipulated by the hands of God we open ourselves up to true discipleship, transformation, and sanctification.  Even the smallest notion that we can do it on our own removes our full faith in God.  We need to let go more as Church Leaders.  We need to let go the ideas we hold dear in our minds because we want to build ourselves up, seek credit and accolades, or look good to our bosses.  We need to let go and rest our hearts, our ideas, our trust in the hands of God.  Let God lead us to where we need to be and stop attempting to tell God how it should be done.
We can see the process of letting go and then attempting to take control back in the people of Israel.  They would follow God and then slip away, be called back and then slip away.  Letting go of our power and relying on God is a process.  Letting go is a journey towards holiness and to be made Christ-like.  May you be able to let go in your ministry and in your walk with God.

Ordaining Moments

This past week I was a retreat and they had us tell the story of one of our “ordaining moments.”  These are the moments we have in ministry when we feel we are doing exactly what we are supposed to do.  These are the moments when you know that you are doing what God has called you to do.

In all the crap that can happen in ministry it is important to realize and take in these “ordaining moments.”  If we miss them we will be burned out, but if we keep our eyes and hearts open to them we can grow and stay energized in ministry.

I wanted to share a couple of my “ordaining moments” with my readers and I invite you to share yours either in the comments or on your own blog.  One of the reasons I think people are so scared of ministry is because of all the crap we ministers go through and then vent about especially online.  But if we look at the “ordaining moments” in ministry, there is truly no better place to be.  We should share more of these moments with the world and others because they are truly sharing God’s grace.

A couple of my “ordaining moments”:

– Baptizing my children: I could not even utter the whole sentence “Name I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  I couldn’t because when I placed water on my sons head and then three years later my daughters, there was such a tangible presence of the Holy Spirit that words could not be formed in my mouth.

– Over and over again being invited into the tender and raw moments of people lives, especially at the passing of a loved one.  Over my four months at this appointment we have said goodbye to two parishioners who had massive heart attacks.  One was 56 and the other 42, both too young.  When I am invited in I feel I am able to use my spiritual gifts of peace and comfort.  I hate doing it because it means tragedy is there but none the less I feel my calling in those moments more as well.

– I recently went back to my first appointment and stood in the silence of a completed youth room.  It was a project I help start but moved before it could be completed.  I had listened to one of my youth workers tell me of this dream he had about this space and I could tell it wasn’t him but it was of God.  I get excited about hearing the calling God has put on the lives of people and helping that calling come into fruition   It can be a marathon of a process but it is what it is.  When it is form God, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much sweat and blood has to be put into it, it is always worth it.

Those are just three examples.  What stories would you share?  What are your ordaining moment?  When you tell the stories of ministry which do you concentrate on, the painful times or the times when you come into contact with our Risen Lord and Savior who is in our midst?

Job Security?

The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church has upheld guaranteed appointments.  This was the news that my Bishop shared during a clergy meeting on Sunday.  He had received a tweet that the decision had just arrived.  When I got home I stumbled upon this news in about every Methosphere that exists.  It is big news to UMC-nerds and completely pointless to about everyone else, including the majority of United Methodists.

Is this decision surprising?  No.  It is just another target to point at and scream foul at a dying system that doesn’t want to change?  Maybe.  Is it the end of the world and the sixth sign of the return of Christ, (the seventh being Hurricane Sandy)?  Yes!  Okay not really. 

There may be some clergy out there that are breathing a little easier though.  Now they can continue their lack of commitment to the Kingdom of God and simply coast to retirement, no matter how many years that is away.  But I think those are far and few between.  

So what does this mean?  Really and truly nothing.  At least for a couple of years until the discussions, petitions, plans, and arguments start to happen again as General Conference 2016 comes into view.  

Andy B. has a great post over at Enter the Rainbow.  I liked what he said:

Because in the meantime, people and communities and congregations already are changing, in spite of the hairball. Or they might be orbiting around the hairball, drawing on its gravity in order to sustain forward momentum. This is why I’m not discouraged by the Judicial Council’s decision this week. They are going to do what they are going to do, functioning in a system exactly as it is designed. You cannot blame them; they are bound by the system in which they exist.

John Meunier also has a great discussion on what it truly means to be an effective pastor, which is at the heart of this discussion I think.  

With the failures or successes of General Conference (depending on what side you are on) and now this verdict from the Judaical Council all points to what the Book of Discipline makes extremely clear.  In ¶ 201 and ¶ 202 it defines the definition and function of the local church, respectfully.  “The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs…Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, the church exists for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.” (¶ 201)

There is no talk of the General Conference being the source of the redemption of the world, that comes from the Holy Spirit and the local church.  For true change to happen to my beloved denomination we cannot expect it to come from the top down.  Instead it will have to trickle up from the local church level.  It will have to be so infectious that it cannot be ignored any longer.  The ‘system’ will have to change not because of  committee/conference votes and church politics lobbyists but because at its core it already has.

I’m have never been nervous about losing my job security because the Kingdom of God hasn’t come into fulfillment quiet yet.  It is my job to help my congregation live into its function and definition.  Therefore change will then have to trickle up.

Brand New Seminary Classes

Social Media in Ministry 213 – Learn the detailed nature of social media’s landscapes with this 3 hour course that meets on Friday and Saturday nights from 11:00pm-1:00am.  (because these are the hours you will be doing this stuff in ministry, except for Facebook which you are already on constantly).  Learn how to keep multiple accounts open using different web browsers and how to learn which social media your parishioners actually use, in a non-stalking manner.  Most of the course will be survey of all this social media stuff you never really heard of.

Promo Videos 304 – Mega Churches use them all the time to attract people to worship and their hip sermon series, but that is because they have someone on staff who is paid to sit in a dark room all day and create this stuff.  This course gets you ready to create low quality and low taste videos that your congregation of 32 will adore and share at their next bridge game via their community room’s VCR.

Basics of Sound Systems 142 – This course walks you through the complications of every Sunday struggles with the church’s sound system. Learn how to make the best of out of date equipment, how to duck tape lapel microphones on preaching robes, and how to talk in ways not to make the system squeal.  This is prerequisite for the 242 class where students will learn how to find the one spot in the sanctuary that has the best microphone reception.

MBFMD 386 – Learn the vital skills of detecting BS from a mile away.  Teaches techniques as small facial movements, tells, and the best way to escape when you are neck deep in it.  Develop skills in discerning between true church history and the way they remember it; defining a timeline using 27 first person perspectives; and ‘reading into the minutes’ to deduct what really happened in past Council Meetings.

Church Family Trees 249 – They tell you everyone is related to someone and now you can map it.  Use the skills of this course to map who is related to who and why.  Learn techniques to follow your Church Family tree as it branches up, out, circles back around, splits, splinters, withers or falls to the ground.

What classes would you add to your seminary/ministry experience?

Moving…Top Ten Ideas for Starting Well

It is that weird time in a moving pastor’s life when you have to think about two lives at once.  You have to think about the saying goodbyes to your present congregation but then in the same instance you are thinking and wondering about the hellos in the next appointment.  It is a mind numbing experience and is stressful to say the least.

This year I participated in our conference “Moving Pastor’s Seminar.”  Five years ago this did not exist and I found it to be very helpful and gave guidance on how to navigate through these waters.  One thing I enjoyed the most was Janice Virtue’s Top Ten Ideas for Starting Well.  I thought it may be helpful to share them.  The commentary is my take-away from her talk but the list is hers.

  1. You’re Fired – relinquish all control of your past appointment, that is the job of their new minister, NOT YOURS.  Think of yourself as fired from that congregation.
  2. Leave Your Baggage Behind – this does not mean leave cats, children or unwanted clothes in the parsonage, but leave the emotional, personal, and troubling baggage at the last church.  Start anew, start refreshed, this is a great time to reinvent yourself.
  3. Plan to Learn – don’t go in thinking you know everything, learn from your new congregation and grow deeper into who God has called you to be.
  4. Show UP! – be engaged in the new congregation.  Dive in to the community and Congregational life.
  5. When the going Gets Rough, Turn to Wonder – being knew you don’t need to know all the answers right off, plus they don’t know you well enough to be truly make anything personal.  When things get rough, ask questions of wonder.  I wonder why that person is so vocal and mean spirited during meetings?  I wonder why the congregation always has to get Mrs. Smith’s thoughts before they make a decision?  Turn to wonder.
  6. Don’t Keep Them Guessing – ministry is not a magic show, reveal who you are and what your gifts and graces are. 
  7. Know the Magic Words and Use Them – still not a magic show but three little words can go far in helping to build trust and understanding between a new pastor and congregation.  Those words are…wait for it…help me understand.  Those words give the people a chance to share their stories, their opinions, and their take on the life of the church.  Plus, this means you as the pastor have to listen instead of talk.
  8. All Ministry is Interim – Janice talked about the ideas of “Leave no Trace: and “Look at what we’ve done.”  Ministry is not about us, the pastor.  It is about the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ.  Ministry is not about me as an individual.  Start off like you are always ready to leave and the church could continue on its path without you.  The church should not revolve or rely on the pastor, that’s Jesus’ job and you aren’t Jesus.
  9. You Hold the Hope of Many – many people look to the pastoral transition as a new start for the church, or a new chapter.  With that comes hopes of the future and what is possible through God’s grace and calling in their lives.  Don’t squash that, but capitalize on it.  Realize you hold the hope of the future of the church in your hands, that is power, that is responsibility, that is a great honor.
  10. For God’s Sake – remember what ministry is for.  Ministry is to help the people of God build up the Kingdom of God.  It is for God’s sake we do what we do.  Remove your ego, remove your needs for glory and get out of the way so God can work through you and your congregation.

Half the Sky – Sermon on Women in Ministry

Half the Sky: Women in Ministry
This may sound weird to start here but I want to start this sermon about Women in Minsitry with the founder of modern day communist China.  Chairman Mao or Mao Tse-Tung is quoted as saying that “Women hold up half the sky.”  Now he is not someone to necessarily look up to for wisdom and grace on how to deal with people.  He did do a lot for the people of China by getting them educated and building up the role of women in society yet there is an estimated 40-70 million people that died because of some social changes too.  But I love the image of his quote that women hold up half the sky.  Also just a quick plug, there is a book about that for the UMW reading list, I highly recommend it.
Women do hold up half the sky but in the past and in some places in the present they are seen as the weaker sex, oppressed and second class citizens.  One of the unfortunate places that this is still held true is in the modern church.  There are a few denominations out there that still do not ordain women.  But there are far more denominations that do ordain women and the United Methodist church is one of those denominations. 
I want to frame my sermon around the Wesleyan quadrilateral.  If you are not familiar with what this is, this is how we as United Methodists make decisions about our believes about issues of our day.  John Wesley is quoted as saying that when we make a theological decision it should be “revealed in scripture, illuminated by tradition, vivified in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.”  The four legged stool that the UMC uses to make decisions is by scripture, tradition, experience and reason.  I am going to use those four areas to point to our stance for the ordination of women.
So let us start with where we should always start and the primary place for our decisions, scripture.  There is one place that many people to state that women should not be ministers.  1 Timothy 2:8-15.  [read scripture]  That seems really straight forward doesn’t it?  I am sure you have heard this passage used once or twice to talk about women in ministry, but here is what we need to realize when we read scripture.  This is the living word of God but it also written for specific people in a specific time.  You have to learn the context for why the biblical writers were writing to the people they were writing too. 
In this case it seems that Paul is writing this letter to Timothy that there were some battles going on in this community.  There was turmoil and it sounds like heated debate.  So when Paul writes to his most trusted partner in ministry to encourage his works he gives some advice on how people could get along to build up the kingdom.  Some commentaries think that the harshness of the language is Paul’s reaction to their social setting.  Since Timothy was dealing with a community in a Greco-Roman world, maybe strong women taking a back seat in leadership would help the church grow and be an easier pill for these Gentiles to swallow.  Does it make it right or an example that the rest of Christianity should model themselves after? No.  In his letter to the Galatians Paul talks about gender equality, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is longer slave or free, there is no longer male or female; for all of you are on in Christ Jesus.”  Maybe Timothy’s passage is purely contextual and cultural for that time and place.  We have to remember we are reading other people’s mail in these letters.
There is also a German word that my professor at Duke and the teacher that the Solomon’s Porch is learning from about Genesis, would use to describe certain cultural ideas.  That word is haustafeln.  What is means is the morals or the mores of a certain culture at a certain time.  For example, for those of you who were around in the 1950 and went to the old church on Blair Street, was it permitted to wear shorts to church?  Did women and men wear hats when they came to church?  According to Timothy here women were supposed to cover their heads but why don’t you wear them much now?  The reason is that the culture changed.  Specific desires and ideas of the cultures existed back then that have changed now.  The fact that we have a screen and use a projector in the church was not heard of 30 years ago but now they are common in about every congregation.  Our culture changes. 
If we only looked at Timothy’s passage we may think women have no part in ministry but if you look throughout the Bible women have been involved and leaders all through the Bible.  If we look at scriptures there are lots of places that women are lifted up for their ministry.  How many of you know that Jesus is resurrected?  We know this because the women who went to the grave found out and told people.  The Mary’s that went became the first evangelists and went to tell the men who were too scared to go to Jesus’ grave.  In the Old Testament you have two books which are named after women, Ruth and Ester.  In Ruth you have a story of a gentile who is accepted in a Jewish family and when she is able to get out of the relationship she stays in it to help her mother-in-law Naomi.  Ester was crowned the queen of Persia and then saved her people from death by standing up to the King.  You had Deborah who was one of the Judges of the Hebrew people and before then you had Rahab, a prostitute who hid the Israelite spies so that they wouldn’t be killed.
All throughout scripture you have God calling women to do his work in the world.  Over and over again you hear the early church lift up women who are working to spread the message of Jesus Christ.  At the United Methodist Women’s meeting this past week we learned about Phoebe who Paul sends as a deacon to the church in Rome.  He asks the church there to “welcome her in the Lord in a way that is worthy of god’s people, and give her whatever she needs from you, because she herself has been a sponsor of many people, myself included.”  In the book of Acts one of the first disciples was named Tabitha or in Greek Dorcas.  In Acts it says “her life overflowed with good works and compassionate acts on behalf of those in need.”
We could go on to the way Jesus treated women and picked them up when society was putting them down.  He lifted them up and built them up which is considered one of the biggest counter cultural moves Jesus made in his ministry on earth.  All the names on the screen are of women in the Bible and all have had an effect on how the Word of God has been passed down to us and affected us.
Beyond scripture there is a heavy tradition of women in the United Methodist Church.  Susanna Wesley was the mother of John and Charles Wesley.  She taught them to respect women in a time and place that really didn’t.  She pushed her sons to see what women could add to society not what they used for.  Sarah Crosby was granted a License to preach by John Wesley in 1761.  Grace Murray, Sarah Taft, Hannah Bell, Elizabeth Ritchie and Mary Fletcher were also women who were key leaders in the Methodist movement.  Mary Fletcher started to preach when she was only 16 years old and at 21 she was kicked out of her house by her parents because of her faith.  In a sermon in 1786 John Wesley spoke publically against the way women are treated in that society and time.
As the Methodist movement caught on and the denomination started to spread in the US women were also key leaders.  Anne Howard Shaw received her theological degree in 1878 but was denied ordination in the Methodist Episcopal Church.  She went to the Methodist Protestant Church and was ordained instead.  The Methodist Episcopal Church decided to ordain women in early 1920s but then in the merger of 1939 between the Methodist Episcopal Church, the Methodist Episcopal Church South and the Methodist Protestant denominations that right was revoked.  Then on May 4,1956 women were given full clergy rights in the Methodist Denomination.  How many of you were born after the year 1956?  This means you have not known a Methodist Church without full clergy rights for women.  Mavid Jenson was the first women to be ordained and Grace Huck was a probationer.  She was ordained two years later.  When the DS went to her first church and announced she was coming a man yelled out, “No skirts in this pulpit while I’m alive!”  Later Grace would say that man became one of her biggest supporters.
Our tradition in the United Methodist Church is steeped in women who have stood out and stood up to proclaim with courage and honor the gospel even when society wasn’t ready to hear it.  When we look at the scriptures and see how involved women were and when we look at our tradition and see how it was shaped by women throughout history we start to wonder why we never ordained them in the first place.
But what experience do you have?  What has been your personal experience with women and ministry?  How many of you when you grew up were taught by a women in Sunday School class?  How many of you were dragged to church by your mother or grandmother or aunt?  How many of you when you think of this history of Trinity think of women like Mrs. Shell, Mrs. Woods or Mrs. Crotts?  Our church and our personal experience has demonstrated that women are vital to our church.
When the Rev. Dr. Mary Miller arrives as your new pastor in about a month she will be the fourth woman in Trinity’s history to lead this congregation.  The first woman was Kay Gottula.  She was the preacher here from 1991-1994.  Then after Chris left you had Kay Fry for a few months and then I replaced Val Rosenquist.  A skirt behind this pulpit is nothing new but still I have heard a few quiet grumbles about her being a woman.  There are 812 of probationary and ordained clergy in the Western North Carolina Conference.  234 of those are women.  That is 29% of ordained clergy. 
So let’s talk about reason.  With one third of the clergy in WNCC being woman it is not hard to comprehend will have had four women as a minster for this church over the last two decades.  But also think, as we read the Bible we see God using people all the time that doesn’t make sense to the haustafeln of the day.  If you were going to pick someone to save the spies who went into the holy land the last person you would choose is a prostitute named Rahab.  Yet God called her to help and she did.  Would you choose to help out the churches of Rome with a women deacon named Phoebe around the year 34?  No you would probably have chosen a man since the Roman Empire did not really have a high respect for women, but God called Phoebe. 
The UN reports that in the world the world’s population is split down the middle, half women and half men.  Out of the 7 billion people on earth, 3.5 billion are women.  If God is working to share his love with the world using his children why would God ignore the gifts, talents, graces, and abilities of half of his children?  That doesn’t make much sense.
When we deny God’s ability to use anyone in ministry we are telling God that God doesn’t know what God is doing.  Would we have picked a murder to lead our people out of Egypt, no but God called Moses.  Would we have made a King of our kingdom someone who had knocked up his mistress and then had her husband killed off?  No but God called David.  Would we have called a woman in a man’s world to proclaim that Jesus Christ, the Son of God, had been resurrected from the dead?  No we probably would have picked a high ranking man in that society to do it but God chose Mary and Mary Magdalene. 
Who do you think knows better when it comes to how to do things in this world, us or God?  During my conversations with Mary I can already seen God working through her and in her ministry.  She has done some great work in her congregation and I know she will do great things here.  I hope you will look past any past feelings or ideas you have about women in ministry.  I hope you will look at Mary as you would a man in ministry, as someone trying to live out her calling to the best of her ability.  If not you may lose out on growing closer to God and what God is offering us through her.
Women have always held up half the sky.  That is true on every level of living.  Sometimes they are asked to hold up even more than half.  I have worked with and been inspired by many women in ministry.  I have had great professors who were women and taught me ton about God and how to think.  In the churches I have been in I have met countless women who are the matriarchs and saints of those communities.  The Church would not be here without women who followed their calling that God laid on their hearts to lead, teach, preach, and share the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world.  We see it in scripture, in our traditions, in our experience and in our reason.  I’m better off because of it and you all are too. 
And all God’s people said…Amen. 

Moving…and kids

When do you tell kids that you are moving?  How do you walk through the moving process with children?  This is the first time I had to deal with this question in my life.  Last time we moved we had a 10 month old and he really didn’t care.  Now with a 5 (almost 6) year old and a 3 year old this question is extremely relevant.  As we walked through this process those questions came up a lot between my wife and I.

Here are some of the things that we are dealing with.

1. We wanted them to hear it from us.  As rumors start to fly (and they always do during the spring) we did not want them to hear it from an off handed comment that someone let slip out.  We wanted them to hear it from our mouths and not like we were keeping a secret from them.  So when we learned people were talking, we told them. 

2. We wanted it to be a positive conversation and experience.  Yes, it will be sad to leave the only house they have ever known.  This is the house where they learned to walk, celebrated birthdays, and the place where they made friends.  This is the only congregation they remember and is full of people who consider them as one of their own kids or grandchildren.  But there is positives about moving too.  We will be closer to family and some close friends.  We will be in walking distance of our son’s new school and in a community, that I am sure, will be as welcoming and loving as my present one.  One of the major reasons we asked to move was because my son is starting school and if we moved now we may only move once during their school career but we never wanted to let them think we are moving BECAUSE of them.

3.  We want to involve them in the process.  We are having them pick out things to sell during our yard sale.  We will have them pack up their boxes of their toys and get their rooms ready to move (or as much as they can do).  We will also let them cry and be angry about it, just like we are at times.  To be a healthy move we have to go through all those emotions and especially for my 5 year old, we have to allow him to do that as well.  We have showed them pictures and the outside of the church and parsonage.  (They didn’t do the walk-through with us because they are a little too young and our attention needed be on soaking up the new place and listening, not parenting).  We have showed them on a map where we will be moving and a floor plan of the house.  This seems to get them excited and connect with the process.

4. We try to answer all questions.  As things disappear from their regular place and move into boxes there are lots of questions.  We are trying to do our best to answer them.  We are finding that we are answering the same questions too.  Over and over again they are asking the same things, which is understandable.  Moving is a weird concept that a 5 and 3 year old have to wrap their minds around.  And there are some questions though that we don’t have answers to and we simply say “I don’t know.”

5. We are removing them from some of the process.  The plan for the actual day of the move is that they hang out with grandparents.  This way they are, for lack of a better phrase, out of the way.  Movers moving boxes onto trucks is just too inviting to curious minds and exploratory natures.  I am quite certain my 3 year old would be packed along with all the boxes in the back of the truck if she was around. 

What we realize is that there are no real rules for this.  You take that, the knowledge you have of your kids and all the advice that other clergy parents who have gone through this process freely give you and mix it all with lots of prayer.  I know our kids will grow up hating to move.  Hating the fact that my calling has dictated they move and are yanked out of the places they call home, but…such is the clergy life. 

My hope is that with patience, planning, prayer and honesty the therapy won’t be too expensive in the future.

Change is Coming = Opportunity

The Western North Carolina is changing in a couple of months.  On July 1st we will move from 15 districts around our conference to 8.  The new districts have been named and all the churches have their home.  Seven District Superintendents have either retired or have moved back into a pulpit or other position.  Dramatic changes are occurring.

But with any change there is the possibility of finally getting some things right.  I hope that as our new districts settle into their new names and areas that better attention can be given to their websites.  There are only a couple of who have really anything close to adequate websites.  My current district is really a throwback website to the mid 90s.  But as these new districts form I hope some attention goes to their website.

As geography grows they will become essential as a communication tool and source of information for their larger districts.  They will need to be a source of connection not just information.  What would happen if tools like Google + Huddle was used to have district meetings instead of traveling for three hours round trip for a meeting that last only an hour?  There has to be ways that new technology can link pastors together with the successes we have and missions we are doing.  There has to be a way that district websites are a place of ignition and a place of inspiration.  Not just a place that old information goes to die.

We shall see but with change there is hope that opportunity and growth can come out of it.