NC Pastor’s post receives interesting comments

Talbot Davis, minister of Good Shepherd (a UM Congregation) in Charlotte, NC, ran a post on his blog entitled, Top Five Things I Don’t Really Believe.  It was picked up by the United Methodist Reporter‘s Facebook page.  His #1 Thing is on Infant Baptism.  The methopherse has been in an uproar since.  What is really interesting are the comments, both on his blog and on the UMR’s Facebook page.  

Here is what Davis wrote on his blog; (go to the link above for full version)

1.  God Does The Baptizing.  In seminary and beyond, I heard teaching on the subject of infant baptism that grounded the practice in the confidence that “God does the baptizing.”  The logic goes  something like this:  “The reason we Methodists can baptize babies is because we put the emphasis on God in the sacraments.  The reason Baptists don’t is because they think sacraments are more about people.”  Sounds good, doesn’t it?  Makes our tribe a bit more erudite and theological than our immersion-happy brethren.  You can baptize an infant because even though the baby doesn’t know what’s happening, he or she now has a divine, moist seal of approval. I was taught it, I believed it, I spoke it, and that settled it.  My own children (now 23 & 20) were even baptized as infants.
Here’s the problem:  God doesn’t baptize.  God saves.  We respond by getting baptized.  
Nowhere in the New Testament do we read the words or even intuit the concept that God baptizes.
Whether it’s Peter’s emphatic “Repent and be baptized” in Acts 2:38 or the wandering Ephesians who get re-baptized in Acts 19:1-7 or even Paul’s subtle yet unmistakable picture of baptism-by-immersion in Romans 6:3-5, the New Testament is consistent and clear: people choose their own baptism.  They come to faith and then to make that faith public, they get wet.
It’s not complicated, it’s not a spiritual birthmark, it’s not a naming ceremony, it’s not even the New Testament equivalent of circumcision.  It’s death to the old life and resurrection to the new.  And babies don’t have old lives to die to.  
And . . . best of all the practices I’ve learned from some of our non-denominational friends . . . in the context of a church gathering parents can baptize their own children and friends can do the same for folks they have led to faith.  
That may not be very Methodist but it sure is contagious.

The comments that are range from support to utter shock that Davis is United Methodist.  There are critiques that since Good Shepherd is one of the top 100 largest United Methodist Congregations that the DS and Bishop turn a blind eye (see comments on Facebook).  Others are glad to see him profess this openly and are proud of the work he is doing.

I will confess it made my blood curdle a little bit but this is not the first time that I have seen Davis come out like this on infant baptism.  I have questioned him on his stance in other posts of his on blog in the past.  Is this theologically controversial, yes.  But it leads to good questions and dialogue.

Whether you agree that Davis is in alignment with UMC theology or not, it does demonstrate the basic value of the UMC.  As we attempt to hold down the extreme center we will have people we disagree with theologically, practically, politically, and personally.  That will happen and I think that is a great image of the Kingdom of God.  We should have open and honest conversations about what we believe and what we disagree with when it comes the theology of the UMC.  God knows I don’t agree with 100% of what the Discipline says too.

Through conversation we grow deeper in our understanding of and relationship with God.

Salary Reform – Part 3

Hurdles

In my last post I named what I think would be the highest hurdle, what would the equal compensation be? But there are other hurdles that would need to be jumped as well.
  1. Would it be one salary for all or would there be increases given because of length of ministry?
  2. Would this be sustainable without huge conference reserves? Not every church right now pays out their apportionment, clergy benefits, and pensions out at 100%. What makes us think that if we removed the salary part of the local church budget that they could and would willingly pay the additional costs to the conference?
  3. Power and control would be taken away from the larger churches who can afford those higher salaries. They could not longer, by giving out such high salaries, guarantee they would receive the ‘best’ ministers in the conference.
  4. Would this truly remove the competition between clergy? I doubt it but it would remove a large chunk of it, since people feel passed over when one of their colleagues gets a ‘better’ appointment sooner with a higher salary.
There are many more hurdles but these are the ones that come to the forefront of my mind. What would you add?

Salary Reform – Part 2

British Methodist Salary Structure

I was able to participate in an special program after graduating seminary that allowed me to take an appointment for a year in the British Methodist Church. I was a pastor in a circuit and was in charge of three churches there. I am not sure if the system has gone through any changes since my coming back, so I can only speak to the year experience I had.
During that time we were paid once a quarter and the check came from the denomination, not the local church(es). The salary seemed decent, not great, but that a person could live on it. I do not know if a person could be the sole income provider for a family of four, but for two newlyweds it seemed okay.
Also, everyone got paid the same, except for two small differences. Those non-ordained clergy received a slightly less salary and those who held Circuit Superintendent positions got paid slightly more. The reason I was told they received slightly more was because of the added paperwork. When I talk about more and less it was only £1000-£2000. (at current rates that is roughly $1600-$3200) difference between the regular ordained salary.
A common salary did not erase all the competition within the ministry. There were appointments that were looked highly upon and others that weren’t (which I learned is why they invited Americans over, to take those less than appealing appointments).
What is intriguing about this type of system is that it does remove the salary away from the appointment process. A $40,000 salary congregation could now receive the leadership and gifts of a $60,000 or even $90,000 minister. It would hypothetically level the playing field in the appointment process.
Here is my catch with this idea, how much would you pay? What would the best salary be? Currently the minimum salary for an Ordained Elder in a full time appointment in my conference is, $38,095. The highest salary in our conference gets paid over $140,000. That is a $102,000 difference between the newly ordained and the “best” or at least highest paid appointment. If my memory serves me right, the average salary for the conference is between $55,000-$60,000.
Does this mean that if we moved to a equal compensation type of plan that ministers would need to get paid that average? Is that too much? Some would say yes. The fact is our minimum salary for a full time ordained elder is only $18,000 more than the poverty line. For a family of four the poverty line is at $22,050. Yes that is $18,000 more but with the cost of our health care plan in our conference (a family of four will be paying over $12,000 a year to be covered by the conference health care) that brings us really close to that poverty line.
It was my impression too that in the British Methodist system many of the spouses worked in order to provide for their family as well. I remember some saying that they could not really make it on the pastor’s salary alone.
If we moved to an equal compensation system what would be the salary? There are a ton of other hurdles that would need to be focused on and answered as well. I will name those in the next post.

Salary Reform – Part 1

The idea of salary reform within the United Methodist Church has been banging around in my head for a while. I am going to take a couple of posts to work through some of it and I would love to know if you agree with my take on it and if anything differs in your conference. I will be referring, in these posts, to how things work here in my conference, the Western North Carolina Conference.

Our current salary structure is that the local church dictates the pastor’s salary. They decide at what level they are willing to pay. That level then dictates what pastor can be sent to their church. Pre-2004, the perception was when a clergy person moved it usually was an increase in salary. Post-2004 it seems different and especially post-2008 and the financial difficulties being felt everywhere. Now lateral moves or decrease in salaries seem to be more of the norm. The Cabinet (Bishop and District Superintendents who make the appointments) do not necessarily have a say on the salary level a church picks. They can help dictate the final salary during a move year but they will never tell a church that can afford a $40,000 appointment to pump it up to $60,000.

The way the current salary structure currently stands it gives off a couple of perceptions.
  1. The worth of the pastor is dictated by the amount of salary received. The best pastors in the conference get paid the most.
  2. Churches that want the best pastors need to increase their salary to a level that will allow them to tap into that type of talent.
  3. Highly paid clergy have the skill set needed to run the churches that pay the high salaries.
  4. The Appointment process seems to be broken down this way, 65% salary, 25% talent and gifts, 10% location.
Have I missed anything or was I over/under dramatic with one of these points? These are the perceptions that our salary structure create. It is the viewpoint of both the churches and the clergy. I am pretty sure this is how it is done in most of the UMC system in the US.
I have experienced the British Methodist System and it has some stark differences. I will be talking about that system in my next post.

Time’s Top 100, where is the UMC?

I know it was a couple of weeks ago that Time magazine came out with the 100 most influential people in all the world. I find this issue always interesting but once again I am shocked by the lack of religious leaders in the list.

The only Christian minister in this list was Rick Warren. The other ministers are ones that hold government offices. This makes me ponder, where is the Christian voice? Does it only come from Rick Warren? Are there any voices within the UMC that has any type of influence in the world? We have a bishop for every conference but do any of them affect dramatic change in our world? Or is the most influential United Methodist Hillary Clinton? (now that Bush is out of office)

Are we not influential because we are too busy arguing with ourselves? Are we so busy having the same debates over and over again that we don’t really make a difference. Is the UMC the parishioner you ignore during church social events because you know you are going to have the same conversation for the 121st time?

I know that when it comes to missions and ministry the UMC does a ton. UMCOR is fablous and I cannot speak more highly of it. There are tons of missionaries, mission projects, and other worthy ministries that are affecting huge changes in lives all over the world.

I’m not talking about that. I am talking about a denomination that when it speaks people listen. Not out of fear but out of respect. I don’t think the UMC has that type of influence in the US. We may have at some point but not know. Have we been so worried about failing, declining, and debating that we have lost respect in our part of the world?

My Home Church Made a Movie

It has been in the mix for a while and I have heard rumors of it through my and my wife’s family who still attend University City UMC in Charlotte, NC. On March 30th they released The One Lamb in 31 states and in 100 theaters. It brought in $58,300 on it’s opening weekend. Bill Fentum of the UM Portal is ready for a review and Charlotte’s newspaper has written about it as well.

Being this is the church that launched my faith and supported me through ordination and beyond I have mixed feelings. I am not sure if I am proud or ready to cower in embarrassment. All I have seen is the preview on Tangle (which is below) and I haven’t personally talked to anyone who has seen the movie yet. With that said it does look like it will battle with Facing the Giants and Fireproof for bad acting awards. Okay instead of bad let me say, amateur acting.

The other part that gets under my skin is a scene in the preview. The pastor is standing next to a tree with the main character in front of him. They are talking about the main character going to the doctor (I make the assumption it is about the cancer he has). The pastor looks at him and says, “It doesn’t matter because before you were born…it was already decided what that doctor was going to say to you in that room.” HELLO!!!! What type of United Methodist theology is that? Being an ordained minister of the UMC and this being my home church, I am a little disturbed by that piece of theology.

With that said I am not passing judgment on the film quiet yet. With a baby #2 due any day and Easter and all the other junk happening right now, I’m not going to run out the theaters to see it, but when it comes out on video I will see it out of curiosity and personal obligation. I truly pray that it is a movie I can be proud my church created and not something I will shake my head at.

IF YOU HAVE SEEN THIS MOVIE PLEASE GIVE ME YOUR REVIEW OR
http://www.tangle.com/flash/swf/flvplayer.swf

Matthew 17:1-9 – Sermon – Our Presence

(thanks for reading my sermon, hope it helps, please help me by simply clicking on one of the ads, I would greatly appreciate it!)

Matthew 17:1-9

Our Presence

09-14-08

Today we continue our series on the vows we take as members, to “faithfully participate in its ministries by your prayers, your presence, your gifts and your service.” Last week we talked about prayer, what prayer is and how to do it. Today we talk about presence. When you became a member or will become a member, you vowed to be faithful by your presence, but what does that mean?

Presence is being here. It means that you promised that you will show up. That’s it, it is that simple. It is simple but I know it is a hard concept for many people to grasp. Let me give you some figures. Between January and May we averaged 87 people a Sunday. That is a 3% increase over our average for 2007. During the months of June through August our average was 68 people here on a Sunday. That is a 21% decrease over the summer months. Now I am not calling people out, please do not think I am point fingers today but the point I am making is during the summer, when school is out, it is harder to pull one’s self out of bed and make the journey to church. Instead many, those who aren’t on vacation, decide to attend Saint Holy Mattress because Rev. Pillow promises to deliver a refreshing sermon.

Christ UMC in Bethel Park, PA has all their members understand a little further what their membership vows mean. They have typed out what each vow means and what it would look like to live it out. They say that when you promise to be faithful by your prayers that means, “You are promising to be in prayer regularly for the ministry and mission of Christ Church as well as its members.” When it comes to your presence, they say, “You are promising to be in church every week unless prevented by illness or some other unavoidable situation.” How does that hit you? Do you agree with that statement or are they stepping on your toes?

In all the churches I have been associated with over the years I have never seen that in writing anywhere. Memorial UMC, where I was confirmed and welcomed into the church as a member, I was asked that question but I never knew it meant to attend church weekly “unless prevented by illness or some other unavoidable situation.” I remember Sunday’s growing up, after confirmation that I prayed to God that my parents wouldn’t feel well on Sunday mornings so I wouldn’t have to go to church. The truth is though when you say you will be faithful by your presence it means you are promising to show up.

When the Charlotte District Superintendent called me in April of 2007 and gave me the stats on the church I would be serving next, I have to say I was impressed with the numbers. We have, roughly, 185 on role and average 84 on a Sunday. That means 45% of the people on our membership roll show up each Sunday. That is wonderful. I served a church that had 607 people on roll and 219 at worship, which means 36% of their members show up each week. At one of the largest church in our conference, they have 4719 members with an average attendance at their weekly worship services of 1298, which means 27% of their members show up each week. As you can tell we are doing pretty well in our percentages but that still means that on average the majority of our members, 55% aren’t here to worship. Plus our average attendance does count those who are doing missionary work by attending here regularly but are members of other denominations.

Why is showing up to church so important though? Is it to make me feel better? So I have a larger crowd to preach to? As I looked at Christ UMC’s not only informs people on what it means to be a member but I noticed that they also told them what they receive in return for making their vows. It says, in return the church, helps you grow in faith, supports your family, provides fellowship, listens during crisis, stands with you in difficult situations and will be there to celebrate your blessings in life. They promise to be church.

The text I read is the story of the Transfiguration of Jesus. If you would rank the events of Jesus Christ as the most important and most awe inspiring, you would have at number #1 the resurrection, #2 the crucifixion, and #3 the transfiguration. This event is that important. To give you the reader digest version of why it is important it is because it is here that human beings see the divine side of Christ. Upon the mountain, Peter, James and John, witnessed Jesus’ face shine like the sun and his clothes became as white as the light. We believe Jesus is 100% God and 100% human. The disciples were always in touch with his 100% human side but this is the only time that they saw him in his 100% God mode.

Now there were only three disciples invited up to see this. That means nine of them were left on the bottom of the mountain. Of the three that went up there two were amazed to the point that they were speechless. The only thing we know is that after the voice of God says “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased. Listen to him!” They fall down on the ground terrified. Peter is the only person who chimes in with what he thinks is an impressive idea. He says, “Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” During Peter’s extreme makeover idea, God, the Father, shows up and speaks.

Peter, in this holiest of holies moment, is really not present. James and John are more present in the moment than Peter. They are gob-smacked by the awesomeness of God that just soak it in. Peter, always looking for the angle, attempts to through up some huts. He misses the point of the experience. The point of the experience isn’t to stay there forever. It is to experience Christ and then go back down the mountain. Christ needed witnesses in order for the truth to be told after his resurrection and he chose these three out of the twelve. Two out of the three were able to be present enough to soak it in.

I guess I should send this sermon out on the phone tree because you all here are really not the ones I should be talking to. I guess I am trying to reach the 55% who are at home right now, still in their pajamas, drinking their coffee and reading the paper. Instead of doing that, I am going to send you out in order to tell them. Tell them that church is a lot like the mountain where the transfiguration happened. God uses worship to transform lives, to heal wounded souls, to renew hope, to shape decisions, to provoke change, to inspire compassion and to bind people together. It is through Bible studies, times of fellowship together and yes, even committee meetings, that God deepens our understanding and relationship with Christ and transforms lives as disciples grow. It is within the Body of Christ, when make yourself completely present, that you can experience God pardoning sins, restoring relationships and changing lives. Doesn’t that sound like things you want to be apart of.

The 7th anniversary of 9-11 was this past week. Thursday I read up on some people’s experiences of that day, the ones that were there. I read about one woman who stepped out of her office building, one block away from the towers, to get a better look at what was happening. When she did the first tower fell and soon she found herself trying to find fresh air to breath. She eventually climbed up scaffolding and into a bathroom where she shared the water in the toilet with another man in order to clean her throat enough to catch her breath. Each year she tells her story by writing it down and each year the title changes and different memories come back.

There are places in history where we remember where we were. I will always remember being in my black church studies class at Duke when someone came running down the hall to tell us what was happening on September 11, 2001. There are many of you who probably know where you were when Kennedy was shot, or Martin Luther King, or when they walked on the moon for the first time, or when they said the war was over.

Do you remember where you were when you realized that God forgave you of your sins? Do you remember where you were when Easter became real to you? Do you remember where you were when the Holy Spirit made your hair stand up as you sang Silent Night by candle light? Do you remember when you asked someone to pray for you because of the crisis you were going through and when they laid hands on you and prayed you felt God’s release? Do you remember where you were when you said goodbye to a loved one, a friend, and you sent them on to be with cloud of witnesses in the Church eternal? Do you remember where you were when you tasted the communion elements and for the first time the true meaning of the Eucharist set in?

If you do remember, I bet it was within the walls of this church or in the presence of your fellow church members. You remember because you made your whole self present in that moment. You remember because when life was sucking the life out of you, you made an effort to come to church and let the church be church for you. That is only possible when you make yourself present and that is why it is a vow of membership.

We ask you to be faithful in your presence because we want to be church for you and we want you to be church for others. Christ needed witnesses on that mountain top and God needs witnesses here. God wants you to come to Trinity on a regular basis in order for you to go out into the world and proclaim what he is doing here. Presence is essential to church because people is who makes us up. You can knock down the building but when the people of God gather, when they are present and accounted for, there is Church.

And all God’s people said…

Practice of Shunning

In a Charlotte Observer article on Saturday, here, it stated that “a growing movement among some conservative Protestant pastors to bring back church discipline, an ancient practice in which suspected sinners are privately confronted, then publicly castigated and excommunicated if they refuse to repent.” Now I have heard of excommunication, wouldn’t be Methodist if good old Henry VIII wasn’t. But I never knew it was a growing practice these days?

I wondered what biblical foundation there was for shunning and low and behold, good old Wiki comes through. Wiki states these biblical references 1 Corinthians 5:11-13. Matthew 18:15-17, 2 Thessalonians 3:6, 2 Thessalonians 3:14-15, Romans 16:17, and 2 John 10&11. After reading all of these I am not sure if the modern day church is using it properly.

I do understand I am reading this through the eyes of the media also, but some of it doesn’t sound right. “Watermark Community Church, a nondenominational church in Dallas that draws 4,000 people to services, requires members to sign a form stating they will submit to the “care and correction” of church elders.” Aren’t we suppose to be following Christ not the church elders?

Now there have been, in my short career as a minster, people I wish we would have or should have shunned. There are people in many congregations that get on power trips because of their family heritage or giving status and think they run the church. In a cooperate setting we could simply fire those people and bring in others who are willing to play the kind of ball we, ministers, are trying to play. Yet we still play with these ball hogs instead. Wouldn’t it be nice to kick them out and move on?
This as even been taken to court, here is one exerpt,

Courts have often refused to hear such cases on the grounds that
churches are protected by the constitutional right to free religious exercise,
but some have sided with alleged sinners. In 2003, a woman and her husband won a defamation suit against the Iowa Methodist conference and its superintendent
after he publicly accused her of “spreading the spirit of Satan” because she
gossiped about her pastor.

What do you all think? Shunning, something to be praticed or shunned?

*picture copied from article on charlotte.com and was done by JASON WHITLEY/Observer staff illustration.

United Methodists Against Torture

Are United Methodist’s taking a stand against something? It looks like we are…click here to sign the petition and here to read more about this issue.

Torture in any form, whether psychological or physical, is dehumanizing to the victim and to the perpetrator. For the victim, the mental and physical scars can last a lifetime. The psychological effects can include insomnia, nightmares, memory loss, depression and post traumatic stress disorder. For the perpetrator, there is a great deal of stress and a general decline in the morals and ethics of a person who inflicts pain on another. In passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006, the United States Congress has given the President absolute power to decide who is an enemy of the U.S., and to imprison people indefinitely without charging them with a crime.

Please do your part and sign the petition.

HT: The Ivy Post