Godspeed John Oliver

John Oliver, on his show Last Week Tonight, does a wonderful job giving a long commentary on one topic.  This past week he chose Televangelists.  Below is the result of months of research and correspondence.  (warning, harsh language is used in this clip and may not be suitable for young children and animals).

I thought he did a brilliant job taking a deep look at the plague that is Prosperity Gospel Televangelists, (although I don’t agree with the language, especially when he says God says, “$&@ You.”)  What is remarkable is the governments lack of oversight…ok not too remarkable, more sad, very sad.  The loopholes in the laws make it extremely easy to give to these “churches.”

John Oliver has started his own church, Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption.  Click on the site because it is hilarious but also has a point.  Here is their mission “When John Oliver found out that Robert Tilton, Kenneth Copeland and other pastors of their ilk have been taking advantage of the open-ended IRS definition of the word “church” and procuring a litany of tax breaks, he founded the Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption Church, a tax-exempt organization that you certainly can’t say is not a church.  From that day forward, he has been dedicated to collecting copious donations and all manner of divine blessings, but mainly the donations.”

I hope this tax experiment works because I truly despise what Prosperity Gospel Preachers do to harm the actual true work of God in this world.  They take advantage of the elderly, the poor, and the gullible all in the name of Jesus.  They pad their pockets and building huge amounts of wealth.  They are doing more damage then they are good in this world because people actually believe what they preach is gospel.  In reality it is heresy.

God bless you John and may your crazy notion that a TV show can be called a church shine a light on the these loopholes so they can be closed.

One final note, if you read the small print, any donations made to Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption will be used for good.  “Upon dissolution, any assets belong to the Church at that time will be distributed to Doctors Without Borders.”

Multi-site and Connectinalism

I took part in a continuing education that was led by Brian Zehr.  It was a great 8 month journey as we looked at ways we can multiply and create solid leaders in the local church.  While at our last meeting we got into a discussion about multi-site congregations.  It came to my attention that we, in the United Methodist Church, have really lost sight of what our connectional system is supposed to be about.

Connectionalism, from what I remember in seminary, is our polity, which links us together although we are at physically different locations.  We are one body, the United Methodist Church, in different places around the world.  We are linked together by our districts, conferences, and jurisdictions in order to build up the Kingdom of God.  The means by which this is accomplished is through the local churches in those local communities.  Although we have different areas, we are still all linked together as one Church.

My understanding of what the connectional system is seems to be is similar to a multi-site mega church style.  From the outside looking in, a multi-site church claims to be apart of something larger.  They are one church in 7 locations.

I was talking with a gentleman who was attends a multi-site church near me and he was doing some bragging on his church.  He said his church has 10+ locations here in the area and one outside the US.  They have over 17,000 people attending their worship services on a Sunday.  He looked at me to gain my approval and ask “Not to bad for seven years, huh?”  I nodded my head silently.

What struck me when I got into my car is that I should have responded, “Yes, and I am the campus minister at Indian Trail.  My church has 136 campuses in this area and we have over 26,000 in worship.  Heck if you look at just this half of North Carolina, we have 1,131 campus and over 285,000 worshipers.  We have a campus on every continent except Antartica with 43,621 campus and almost 13 million people attending.”  [mic drop and walk away]

The reality is that since the UMC has become so mainstream we forget our connectionalism.  We forget that we are a multi-site church that is now a denomination.  We are all linked together with our polity.

We can do amazing things when we work together.  This past week our Missional Network (a small group of local churches in our area of the our district) served over 1,200 students of our county and gave out backpacks, school supplies, socks and shoes.  We washed the feet of students and prayed for them as they headed back to school.  We came together, along with other people in the community to help students in our area.  The connection at work.

When you look into the denomination and the great work UMCOR does, Africa University, the Black College Fund, mission trips and all the other areas and agencies.  We should step back and be proud.

As more multi-site non-denominational churches pop up, I feel, as I guess many other small church pastors feel, ashamed they are not like them.  Since their congregation is only 100 people on Sunday somehow we are less of a church then one who has gained 13,800 attenders in 7 years.  In reality we are a part of something bigger and it is the small local church that is at the heart of it.

Let’s reclaim the joy of our connectionalism and work together to bring about the Kingdom of God.

Power of Listening

We have forgotten James 1:19; “Know this, my dear brothers and sisters: everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to grow angry.” (CEB)

The stance of the United Methodist Church on homosexuality has been a hot topic for a very long time…ok that is probably a huge understatement.  As discussion of General Conference in 2016 start to ramp up and all the talk about schism, I have noticed, for a long time now, how horrible the internet has gotten.  We, as Christians, as United Methodists, as human beings, have forgotten how to listen to one another.

As a member of some Facebook United Methodist Groups, as I read posts, my heart aches because of the inability of my brothers and sisters in Christ to actually listen, to “be quick to listen.”  I find comment treads get derailed so easily that no real discussion happens.  It is only yelling with the hope that the opinion being shouted out sticks.

I completely understand how touchy and heated this discussion over homosexuality and the church’s stance is.  As I have wrestled with this issue and explored the scriptural basis on each side, I have realized there is really no discussion happening anymore.  There is no conversation, online at least.  Have we arrived at the place that we have moved beyond that now?  Are we at the place that now where people are only digging in their heels and trying to shout over each other?  Have we moved beyond discussion and holy conversation?

Proverbs 21:23 says, “Those who guard their mouths and their tongues guard themselves from trouble.”  Listening is learning to actually keep your mouth closed in order to let the other person talk.  Instead, many of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ have forgotten this and rely on being internet trolls instead.

If each side of the table has it all figured out…there is no conversation anymore.  If we have all the answers then who needs to listen to the other side.  There is no dialogue when we yell at how ‘unbiblical’ a person is for their interpretation of scripture.  There is no conversation when people are called ignorant, simple, closed minded, or heretics.

The joy I find in the United Methodist Church is that we don’t subscribe to one train of thought.  We have permission to disagree on things and still call each other United Methodist.  We can lean conservative or liberal (whatever the hell those unBiblical terms mean) and still join together to bring about the Kingdom of God.  Our connection is not based on agreement of social issues but instead is based on the fact that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Maybe that is it.  In our haste to loosen our mouths and let our tongues flap without worry, we have convinced ourselves that we have all the answers.  We yell, “See it my way!” and will attempt to scream until every person follows suit.  We have forgotten the power of listening, hearing the other side, and understanding one another.

We have forgotten that we are to be like Nicodemus.  Even though he was trying to wrap his head around what Jesus was saying but couldn’t comprehend it, he eventually just shut up and listened to Jesus.  He stopped wondering “how” it was all to be and instead attempted to soak it all in.  My hope is that we will learn to be better listeners.  Through listening we will convey love and grace to our fellow brothers and sisters.  Through listening to Jesus we will gain understanding in what love and grace truly looks like.

Knowing Everyone

The church I pastor has seen some significant growth in our congregation.  Over the last two years we have grown by 19% with membership and 20% in worship attendance.  Now, since we are a small church (currently averaging around 95 in worship) we wouldn’t make the Top 25 Fastest Growing Large United Methodist Churches, but I am starting to see some growing pains.

The most recent one I heard that has sparked my thinking.  I have started to hear “We don’t want our church to grow too big because we like to know everyone.”  It is true, as a person sits in a congregation with 95 people in it, they can know the name of everyone there.  But how much do they really ‘know them.’

The truth is, as their minister, I know many of them but there are others I don’t really know.  I know their name but I cannot tell you anything about their family history, their likes and dislikes, their children’s names or where they live.  I don’t know these things and I am the minister!  How well do we really know everyone in the church?

I understand what the underlining thought is though.  I understand this saying is a reflection that the current church is comfortable.  It is warm, welcoming, and people honestly care for one another.  Yet, if we pick apart the congregation, all that really happens with small groups.  People naturally lean towards certain demographical groups due to their age, life experiences, and shared views.  This isn’t bad and my congregation is very good being welcoming.  We don’t have major clicks.

But when I stepped back and look around, we have small groups within our small congregation.  These small groups are the ones where people feel welcomed and cared for.  It is the people they sit next to in the pew and the ones they talk to during the social time that make them feel like they know everyone..but we really don’t.

Change and growth are scary and as the pond gets bigger the big fish don’t seem as big anymore.  This all has social implications for a congregation and that can lead to fear and fighting growth.  I am aware of this and my first response is to remind them they don’t know as many people as they think but that response is abrasive.  I need to find out how to address the true nature of the comment, speak to the fear, comfort it, and refocus people on why a growing church is a good thing.

How have others dealt with this feeling within your congregations?  This isn’t something EVERYONE is feeling but it is something that will come up more and more as we continue to move towards the future God has in store for us.

Any advice is appreciated.

My Coach K Memory

I spent three glorious years on the campus of Duke while attending Duke Divinity School.  Growing up with no real ACC allegiance, I only really need the acceptance letter to become a Duke fan.  For the next three years I attended as many Duke basketball games I was allowed.  One of my fondest memories was watching them win their third National Championship from the hallowed halls of Cameron Indoor Stadium in 2001.  Then the crowd walking, chanting, and smashing together into the quad to burn benches to celebrate.

My roommate and I would play racquetball in the gym next to Cameron on occasion and there on the court next to us would be Coach K.  We would watch him play and you could tell he was a competitive person.  One day he was walking out as we were and for the first time I put two and two together on exactly how tall he is.  He looks short when he is coaching his 6 foot umpteen inch players.  In reality he is 5’10”, my height.

It was in 2001 that I was able to go to my only Duke/Carolina game.  Me and some fellow soon-to-be ministers had seasons passes to the games that year (students in graduate schools camp out of a weekend for the chance to buy season tickets to the games).  But if we wanted good seats we would have to join the ranks of the undergrad students and camp out a few days before the game.  For two nights we slept in a tent just outside Cameron and I was able to score a seat in the middle of Graduate Student section, second bench up from the court.

The night before the big game Coach K would always gather the students waiting to get into the game and thank them for their dedication.  He would tell us to represent Duke with all the passion and energy we could but also with all the respect and pride.  It was there that I first his illustration of the fist.

In basketball there are five players, like there are five fingers on a hand.  If you attempt to attack with only one of those fingers you won’t make too much of an impact and probably break the finger.  Yet if all five fingers work together, bury their pride as individuals, they turn into a fist.  A fist can make a huge impact.  If the five individuals work together on the court then a great impact can be made in the game.  He told us we needed to hold his players up to that standard and he counted on us, the Cameron Crazies, to be a part of that fist.

The next day, at the joyous occasion that is the Duke/Carolina game in Cameron Indoor Stadium.  As the teams came out, we the students, stood silent and simply holding out a fist.

Coach K can capture the imagination of anyone and fill that person with confidence and pride.  This season has been one of milestones for him.  He added to his status and the winningest coach in the NCAA and also, as of last night, the ACC (passing Coach His class and how he holds his players, coaches and people around him, including the Cameron Crazies, to the highest standards possible only deepens my respect and admiration for him.

This video sums it up beautifully…Congrats Coach K!


A.D. & 50 Shades

While watching the Super Bowl this past Sunday NBC ran this promo for their upcoming series A.D.

The song being played is a version of Phil Collin’s “Something in the Air Tonight”.  As I tried to figure out the song and place why it was chosen for this promo, it reminded me of something else NBC keeps promoting.

Warning this trailer does have strong sexual content because it is for the movie 50 Shades of Grey.

Does anyone else think they are eerily similar?

Gen X = The Forgotten Generation

Is it just me or have we, as the church, forgotten about Generation X?  So much attention is given to the Baby Boomers because of their narcissistic view of what it means to be church (a generalization but based on truth).  A ton of attention is turned to Millennials and we wait on bated breath to know if they really like the church or not.

Generation X is there, stuck in the middle.  X marks the spot of transition in our country, society and church.  We stand between competing generations and at times…well it sucks.  Generation Xers were raised with divorced parents, called latch-key kids, buried themselves in Hip-Hop and Grunge, and were eye witnesses to some of the best and worst humanity had to offer (see image for some examples).

Generation X is stuck on a ladder with the Boomers going no where because they have to work later in life and do not want to give up leadership positions and power.  Then the Millennials, who want to take our place, are nipping at our heels.

I felt like I needed to vent after reading the 2428th article about what Millennials want out of Church.  We need to be looking for what the 35 and under crowd is looking for in a church because we need to adapt what we do for the sake of the Gospel and reaching people for Jesus.  Yet, who will be doing this moving, adapting, transitioning, leading, and calling out to the generation coming if we are going to survive?  Who will be the ones to give up power earlier, relinquish control of committees and leadership roles to make the church more fluid and pliable to work with the next generations?  What Generation has to figure out how to straddle a childhood and worship with limited technology and mix it with an adulthood where both are soaked in it?

The generation that will do that, is Generation X.  Not the Boomers or the Millennials, but the latch-key, grunge, broken home kids that became adults in the last decades of the nineteen-hundreds.  I know we will do it, and we will do it for the sake of the church and mission of being Christ’s body.  Just don’t forget about us during the whole transition.

Here is an article that echoes my opinion.  Here is a great article that kind of proves my point.

Anti-feeding Laws

In Ft. Lauderdale there is a new law.  According to a WCNC report found here, “According to the Sun-Sentinel, the new rules dictate that feeding sites “cannot be within 500 feet of each other, that only one is allowed in any given city block and that any site would have to be at least 500 feet away from residential properties.”

Here is a video of 2 clergy and one 90 years old homeless advocate being arrested for feeding people. 

It is sad, very sad.  I celebrate the ministers and advocates who are stepping up and taking a stand.  I think they are doing the right thing and this situation calls for acts of civil disobedience.   

The only thing that bothers me is the attitude the people taking videos or are bystanders are giving the police.  The police didn’t create this law.  They are the ones who have to enforce it.  Whether they agree with it or not, they are doing what they have to do.  They did so in a kind and gentle way and by the video there seems to be no signs of harassment or mishandling the people or the food.  To yell at them is really uncalled for.  I am sure this moment is not why they became police officers to begin with.  Let them be.

Who these people really need to bug is the county commissioners who passed this law 4-1 at 3:30am.  
Once again, my prayers and pride are with Arnold Abbott, Rev. Dwayne Black and Rev. Mark Sims.  Well done good and faithful servants.

Stop Moving the Young Clergy Age

Young Clergy is defined in my conference as those clergy 35 years old or younger. Depending on who is talking, some people like to move the line to those under 40.  Now that I am in the middle of those two lines (will be officially 37.5 years old in a few weeks) I thought I had enough experience to weigh in on this idea.  As a 37 year old let me say this…stop calling me a young clergy.
I am honored that many fellow clergy and laity alike, look upon my head of dark hair (now speckled with flashes of white here and there) and you see a young whippersnapper.  I will take it because part of me really wants to be young.  I know I look at people 10-15 years younger than me and they still look REALLY young.  So I get it.
As I wrote I started to go into a rant about how Young Clergy can seem very condescending because it denotes inexperience, lack of knowledge and cheek-pinching.  However, I don’t want this post to turn into that. 
Here is why I think it is important to make sure that those we call Young Clergy stays at 35 years old and younger.  According to the US Census, middle age starts at 35 and ends at 54.  I know the most painful birthday for me was 35 when I had to start checking the box marked 35-44 years old.  Something switched in my brain because I realized I really wasn’t young any more. 
As I switched boxes in my age I also switched in years of experience. 25 years old is the age someone graduates who went straight through from high school to a Bachelor’s degree to Seminary.  25 years old is when you start full time ministry.  Starting ministry at 25 gives a person 40+ years of a ministry ahead of them.  By the time they are 35 they have been doing full time ministry for a decade. 
10 years of experience in any field doesn’t equal a newbie, rookie, beginner or greenhorn.  After 10 years, this minister has a vast knowledge and experience.  S/he is probably on a second or third appointment and ministry isn’t new anymore.  It makes sense that after a decade of ministerial experience we stop calling them “young clergy.”  Continuing to do so, shifts the term from one of applause to condescending.
The larger issue is that if we redefine “young clergy” as those under 40 we are doing so to boost the numbers and make ourselves feel and look better.  We have a leadership gap when it comes to those who make ministry their first and hopefully lifelong vocation.   According to the Lewis Center Report on ClergyAge Trends in the United Methodist Church Report (2014), in my conference [Western North Carolina] 37.48% of the clergy (Elders, Deacons and Local Pastors) are between 55-72 years old.  5.51% are under 35 years old.  59 is the most represented, or Mode age, in our conference. 
This is telling and painful therefore the tendency is to try and shift the data to make ourselves feel better.  The numbers will jump if you shift ‘young clergy’ from 35 to 40, although not very drastically.  Yet, you are not accomplishing anything in shifting that line.  All you are doing is ignoring the current reality. 
Baby Boomers are listed as people who are born between 1946-1964.  Generation Xers are those born between 1965-1980 and the Millennials between 1981-2000.  In a little more than a year the Millennial Generation will have its first 35 year old and they will have to check that new box.   That is a hard pill to swallow but to adjust the age of whom we call “young clergy”, once again ignores our current reality.

Let’s keep the ages firm, 35 years old and younger are “young clergy.”  Not in experience nor ability but simply because they haven’t reached middle age yet.

The Name of Washington’s NFL Team

I think it is time for the Washtington DC NFL team to change their name.  It is offensive. We need to stop arguing that it is not.  Here is one exercise to prove my point.  Take any color, put the word “skin” at the end and tell me if it doesn’t sound offensive.


See…sounds utterly racist.  The only reason why Redskin doesn’t sound that racist is because we have grown up saying it.  It is part of our culture.  Yet, it is offensive.

Now if you are not offended by the term because your family is 1/365 Cherokee, it still doesn’t make the term any less offensive.  You are simply not offended by it.

When Washington does change it’s name (I think it is only a matter of time now) I do not think they will lose any fans.  There will be some who will still wear old jerseys or paraphernalia, but the revenue of people having to buy new jerseys, banners, hats, everything, means they will probably make a nice prophet that year.

If your mind is still not made up, watch this brilliant piece by The Daily Show because it makes a great argument.