Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Why are we afraid of "Christian Accountability"

     I was recently part of an extended online conversation regarding discipleship, accountability, and the role of the church. The conversation began after a friend posted Dan Dick's Blog article, "The Mediocre Commission." . Dan's point was that the Church is more concerned with our image than with our identity. He says that evidence of this is that church leaders are reluctant to hold members accountable to their membership vows for fear they might leave.
     Pastor's and church leaders cringed at the idea of holding their churches accountable. Now, I know most of these folk, and they are good shepherds of effective churches, so this really surprised me. Understand also that this was a conversation amongst United Methodist pastors and leaders, which made me scratch my head even more. Accountability was at the heart of the Wesleyan movement. It was accountability and a complex understanding of Grace that set John Wesley's teachings a part. It was that very same accountability and Grace theology that fueled the Methodist movement and brought revival to the church in England and birthed the Methodist Churches in America.
     Some of my friends failed to make the connection between discipleship and discipline (spiritual discipline). A couple not only failed to make the connection, they refused. They seemed to argue a preference for a church filled with believers, content in their own salvation and unwilling to share the Gospel through serving others and unwilling to learn and grow through the scriptures.
   Could it be that our churches are asleep because our leaders are asleep? Or worse, our leaders are afraid to wake the sleeping church, afraid of the hard work required to shepherd believers into discipleship. Through the Great Commission Christ commands us "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you."
     Christ calls for "disciples" not mere believers. Webster defines a disciple as "One who assists in spreading the doctrines of another." Can't do that by just sitting in a pew a couple of times a month.
    Christian accountability is not judgement, it is the complete opposite. Christian accountability springs forth from love. We love each other and want each other to grow in Christ. Churches and their leaders have to get away from the western consumerist doctrine that glorifies the individual and shuns community. The Church, Christ's Church, is (at its core) a community. An individual is not a church. God decided to organize His people in this way, in community.
   Please keep in mind that I'm advocating encouraging and shepherding folks toward a deeper relationship with Christ. Holding a person accountable does not mean forcing them to do something they are not ready to do or are not able to do. It means reminding them, in loving and encouraging ways, that this is what Christ calls them to and then providing them the opportunities and environment in which this growth can take place. Why would Methodist leaders reject this? Isn't this what they vowed to do?

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Church Leadership Blog Digest

Where Christian Leaders Connect, Reflect, and Learn.

Kim Cape: "It isn't about sitting here playing bingo"
...the church’s challenge is to prepare transformational leaders who can tell laity, “It’s not all about sitting here playing bingo. We’ve got to get out in the community and be involved in Christ’s life in the world.”
Read More Here...Faith & Leadership

I am an evangelical. It defines the way I think (my orthodoxy), how I act (my orthopraxy), and how I relate to God, to others and my world (my orthopathy). This is a joyful and hopeful way of being a Christian. An evangelical loves God greatly, and seeks to serve others and bless the world. An evangelical is eager to engage in a community of faith that worships and encourages discipleship, and engages in mission around the world and in a neighborhood. This is that faith that is part of my heritage. This is the brand of Christianity that I have chosen. I am proud to be an evangelical.

But a crime has been committed. I am an evangelical, and I have been robbed.Read More from Doug Paul

NOTE: Even more than usual, this post is highly speculative. It shares a vision for the United Methodist Church’s structure that is likely flawed in many ways and is certainly not likely to be acted upon. It is offered, though, as one idea that might spark wiser and smarter people to come up with better ideas. 


Friday, October 21, 2011

Methodist Blog Digest

"Unnatural Gratitude"

Christians are made, not born," said Tertullian. No Christian virtues are innate. Nothing about following Jesus comes naturally. Therefore, so much that the church does for us is formational, educational, and transformational.
Read more from Bishop Will Wilimon's Bolg, A Peculiar Prophet

"United Methodist Pope and Problems of Consolidation"
There has been much fanfare about the restructuring plan for the UMC that will be presented to the 2012 General Conference. I just had a conversation with someone who recently came back from a meeting with a general agency of the church where the plan was explained. We had a wonderful conversation about the history of the UMC and our polity as it relates to the proposed legislation.
     .....A primary concern for me is that we are allowing a business model to dictate ecclesiology.
Read a brief assessment of key points in the Call to Action by someone who helped write the report. Rev. Tim McClendon, A Potter's View

"Congregations as a Whole Can’t Make Disciples…And That’s Okay"
It seems as thought I need to clarify some thoughts from my previous post where I declared: Congregations can’t make disciples. Apparently this phrase was a little offensive so let me offer some follow up thoughts to clarify my point:...
Rev Ben Gosden continues discussing the role of Congregations and Covenant Groups in forming disciples on his Blog, covered in the Master's dust

"The Quiet Revival"
Christianity Today reported a few years ago that eighty-five percent of the members of Yale University’s Campus Crusade for Christ chapter are Asian, whereas “the university’s Buddhist meditation meetings are almost exclusively attended by whites.”1  There is an important lesson in this. It is often stated that Christianity in the Western world is in decline....
Read more from Asbury Theological Seminary President Timothy C. Tennent

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Beware Institutional Prosperity Gospel

Last night I attended the Bowen Lecture Series at Memphis Theological where Dr. Mitzi Minor spoke on Paul’s Anti-Prosperity Gospel for the Corinthians. Dr. Minor is a New Testament scholar and recently published a commentary on Paul’s letters to the church at Corinth. The focus of last night’s discussion was Paul’s rejection of “triumphalism.” Paul reminds us that the purpose of discipleship is not personal gain, but God’s glory. If we count anything as gain in service to God then we have missed the boat.

This means that authentic discipleship can, and usually does, look like failure by worldly standards. We are to focus only on allowing the fragrance of God’s love to flow through us and not to keep score of what we have or accomplish. If we prosper, okay. If we suffer that’s all the better, because God is glorified in our suffering. God is glorified when we focus our efforts on God, regardless of any worldly measure of glory, success, or prosperity that might come from the fruit of our efforts. If our efforts bear fruit, it is God’s fruit, not our glory.

All this made me think about the Call to Action and the movement in United Methodist Conferences to use Church Reporting Dashboards and other analytical tools in an effort to measure church effectiveness. We’re treading a thin line here, getting very close to an Institutional form of Prosperity Gospel where we glory in membership numbers, small group attendance, and number of church ministries. How can we presume to take these numbers and create an analytical tool that quantifies church effectiveness? I say we can’t, chiefly because church effectiveness cannot be quantified, with any tool. When we try to do that, we glory in our efforts and results rather than in God.

I keep thinking of John 6: 25-70. Jesus challenges His disciples Hebrew sensibilities by telling them they must eat His flesh and drink His blood. Many, most, of the disciples abandon Jesus because of this teaching. If Jesus were a United Methodist Elder serving a local church, how would the Bishop and District Superintendent respond to His teaching and the results of that teaching?

I don’t think anything can stop this numbers focused movement. Too much of Western Culture has crept into the Methodist Church’s thinking and understanding of effectiveness. That alone is a dangerous thing. If we’re not very careful and very attentive we can do more harm than good. The problem with that is that when we make bad decisions that harm the Church, we risk pushing people away from Christ.

Our culture tells us to count what we value. We are called to value what our culture doesn’t count.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Methodist Ecclesiology and Pastoral Care

     The United Methodist Church is grounded in the belief that all followers of Jesus Christ are called to continue His ministry of service (diakonia) to the world (BOD ¶305). That service comes, in part, in the various forms and methods of pastoral care. Two key components set the Methodism apart, but not above, other faith traditions, the Wesleyan understanding of grace, and an emphasis on community. The purpose of this paper is to explore the history of pastoral care in Methodism, to highlight the United Methodist Church’s ecclesiology and beliefs on pastoral care, and to compare the Church’s history and beliefs with my understanding and practice of pastoral care.
     Pastoral care has been an important part of Methodist belief and practice since the days of John and Charles Wesley (ca.1725-91). The Wesley’s believed the Church of England was failing to live into its purpose as the body of Christ. They also felt the Church had distanced itself from the poor and marginalized, and had turned a blind eye to the societal sins of greed, human exploitation, and moral depravity (Carder 4). John Wesley and the early Methodist did not intend to break with the Church of England and form a new denomination when they began to organize the Methodist movement. Instead, they sought to reform a nation and to revive the spirit of God within the heart of the Anglican Church (Carder 96). Over time, that reform and revival resulted in several new denominations, one of which was the United Methodist Church.
     Given Wesley’s intent belief that it is the responsibility of the church to help people “experience and live the grace of God and to grow in their knowledge and love of God” (Carder 4), one could argue that pastoral care was at the center of the early Methodist movement. Wesley emphasized studying scripture, regular participation in Holy Communion, small group membership, Christian accountability, and ministry to the poor and to prisoners (Carder 69).

Saturday, October 8, 2011

More Than a Parade

Exodus 32: 1-14
Philippians 4: 1-9
Matthew 22: 1-14
More Than a Parade

A lot takes place prior to the events in our reading today from Exodus. God has called Moses, Aaron and the elders up onto the mountain where He begins to instruct them in all things Holy. God understands that these humans He has created need guidance, they seek guidance, they deeply desire guidance. They are just like us, just like you and just like me.

Well, you might say that God calls Moses onto the mountain for the very first Seminary Class. God instructs Moses on what offerings the children of Israel are to bring, how to build the alter, what the priest should wear, when to call the people to worship, how to decorate the tabernacle, how to sacrifice the offerings, on and on. Then God gives Moses the 10 Commandments. All this takes some time.

While Moses is off receiving instruction from God, the people get nervous. The children of Israel were frustrated, impatient, and afraid. So what else is new, right? That’s been their attitude ever since Moses led them out of the land of slavery. Moanin’ and groanin’. Grumblin’ and gripein’.
Anyway, they begin to ask each other, “Where is Moses? Did he say when he’d be back? Is he dead? I bet he ran off and left us here to die!” (they always thought Moses was gonna run off and leave them, but he never did).

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Response to Chapter 10 of "Faith Seeking Understanding", by Daniel L. Migliore

In this chapter, Daniel Migliore asserts that our attitude toward understanding the doctrine of the church, ecclesiology, interferes with our ability to honestly and to fully examine the role of the church in modern culture. According to Migliore, many people associate church doctrine solely with administration or organization. He calls the reader to recognize that understanding the nature of the church and its mission in the world today is central to the Christian faith. God is communal in nature and seeks to be in relationship with humankind. This God / human relationship is expressed in the church and through the church, making the nature and doctrine of the church central to our understanding of and relationship with God. Migliore then goes about explaining how western cultural biases have created problems for the church and distorted our understanding of the role of the church.

I agree with Migliore’s entire argument. Western culture is the culture of “I.” At the 2010, United Methodist Church Memphis Conference Len Sweet pointed out that we have “iPhones, iPods, and iPads. We cannot even spell wii without using two i’s.” I would add that we have personal shoppers, personal assistants, personal trainers, and a personal Lord and Savior. American culture celebrates the individual therefore, we tend to place our individual interest above all others, even in church. This attitude is compounded by our compartmentalized lives. We have our business associates, our friends, and our church friends. Luckily, these three groups usually only come together at our funerals or on our Face Book page.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Reaction to Erwin Lutzer’s Book, Pastor to Pastor

In his book, Pastor to Pastor (Kregel Publications, 1998), Erwin Lutzer offers practical advice to pastors and ministers on a range of topics related to pastoral care and shepherding a congregation. Lutzer’s intended audience for this book is professional clergy, those called to ordained ministry. The writer begins the book by establishing his biblical understanding of the call to ministry and his understanding of the qualifications a person should possess before being accepted and ordained as clergy. Lutzer goes on to give advice on practical issues dealing with conflict, pastoral care, church leadership, and worship, along with some other topics important to pastors and church leaders. Lutzer concludes with a chapter outlining his ecclesiological view and his view of Christ’s role in the church and Christ’s relationship to the church (his Christology). The purpose of this paper is to briefly summarize the advice given by Lutzer in Pastor to Pastor and to discuss my reaction to specific passages from the book.

Lutzer begins his book by addressing the call to ministry. He defines call as “God’s call is an inner conviction given by the Holy Spirit and confirmed by the word of God and the body of Christ (the church).” (Lutzer 11) He goes on to describe the “inner conviction” as more than a feeling, but a “God given compulsion” which is “not deterred by obstacles.” (Lutzer 12). Lutzer holds that 1Timmothy 3 provides the Biblical foundation for determining a person’s qualifications for ministry (Lutzer 12). Finally, he emphasizes the authority of the church helping persons discern their call and explore their place in ministry.

Monday, September 12, 2011

There is a force at work in the world greater than fear.

There is a great debate amongst preachers and church leaders over the use of the common lectionary in organizing Sunday worship and as the basis of Sunday Sermons. The aim of the Common Lectionary is to take the church through the scriptures over the course of a three year period. The readings are meant to coincide with the Christian calendar or liturgical year, reflecting the meaning of the seasons of advent, Christmas, ordinary time after epiphany, lent, Easter, Pentecost, and ordinary time after Pentecost. The years a labeled A, B, and C and the readings are always the same for those specific years. The other side of the debate encourages pastors to prepare topical sermons and sermon series based on their perceived needs of the church. In fact, studies have shown that topical preaching is more popular and is used more often in growing churches. I’m a lectionary preacher. Mainly because the lectionary is tied to the Christian calendar and I believe that following the Christian calendar is one of those ancient practices that give order and meaning to my life as a Christian. Additionally I believe it is good for churches to be on the same page, preaching, teaching, and praying over the same text each week all across the world.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Death of Bin Laden

     This is a tough issue, an issue many great theologians dealt with in the 30's and 40's regarding Hitler. Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Reinhold Niebuhr agonized over what the Christian response to Hitler should be. Bonhoeffer was complicit in the plot to assassinate Hitler. In doing this he believed he was committing a sin that might keep him from heaven.
     Jesus taught that the greatest gift a person can offer is to lay down their life for a friend. How great was Bonhoeffer's gift in that he was willing to lay down his ETERNAL LIFE for his friends.
       In the end they came to the conclusion that evil must be confronted and if taking the life of one person prevents innocents from dying then it is a valid response. I agree that the same is true of the death of Bin Laden We must also understand that evil was not eliminated and that evil will respond to this act of justice with even greater evil.
     We know as Christians that Christ's love is available to all people and that God desires a relationship with us all.
     Yes, Osama Bin Laden was consumed by evil but he was a child of God who was consumed by evil and who waisted his life and failed to live into God's will. God pursues us all the way to the grave, of that I am certain and for that I am grateful. The role of a pastor is to be God's hands and feet in that pursuit. In dealing with this question we are not just addressing the life of Bin Laden, we are speaking to others who are, right now, consumed by evil, letting them know God still loves them and that there is a way out.
     Think of the parable of the vineyard workers and the story of the 2 believers on the road to Emmaus who turned their backs to Jerusalem, abandoned their beliefs and denied the resurrection. Christ pursued them despite that denial and He did not give up on the chance that their eyes could be opened.Their eyes were opened and they became witnesses for Christ's resurrection to the disciples and to you and I.
     We cry out for justice in this world and in the case of Bin Laden justice was served. 
However, I am thankful our God is a God of mercy.

Yep, this is a tough one.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

i thank You God for most this amazing day

i thank You God for most this amazing
day: for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky; and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun's birthday; this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings: and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any--lifted from the no
of all nothing--human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

                                e e cummings

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Prayer as a Means of Grace

     John Wesley, father of Methodism, teaches that prayer is a “means of grace.” A means of grace. By that, Wesley is saying that through prayer we can connect to God’s Prevenient grace. Prayer connects us to the fullness of God’s love, that’s what Grace is, the fullness of God’s love for us. The reality of God. The reality of God seeking relationship with us. God’s grace is always there, available, but we need a tool, a means of grace as Wesley called it, to tap into this Grace that is here with us, around us and in us.

     That’s another concept that’s hard for me to wrap my head around too. God’s grace is all around us all the time no matter where we are or who we are . No matter if we want a relationship with God or not. God’s grace is free and available to all, at all times and in all places?
     A few weeks ago, I was watching a TV preacher, I tuned in late so I never learned this young man’s name. And he was young, in his 30’s. He was preaching grace, which you don’t hear, a lot of from TV preachers. But this man was preaching grace and preaching it in a powerful way. He had this wonderful metaphor for grace and how it is that God’s grace surrounds us and is available to us even if we are un-aware.

It was something like this.
     Say I’m driving my car and there’s a radio in my car, but the radio is not turned on. I want to hear some music, so I turn on the radio which is tuned to 103.5 soul classics and instantly Marvin Gaye is in my car sing “Heard it Through the Grapevine”.
     Well Marvin didn’t get there because someone at 103.5 was notified I turned my radio on wanting to listen to some R&B. No, the entire time I was driving in my car I was surrounded by radio waves from 103.5 and many other radio stations. These radio waves aren’t just around me and available to my radio but everyone around me and everyone for miles around is surrounded by these radio waves. The waves move in and out of our homes and cars. Probably even in and out of us. But, we can’t receive the music, we can’t hear Marvin singing heard it through the grapevine until we turn on our radio. Marvin and 103.5 are the music and the radio is our means of getting to the music.
     Same with grace. The fullness of God’s love is surrounding us, always, no matter where we are or who we are. But God doesn’t push himself on us. God waits till we turn to him. That’s why we practice prayer to open ourselves up to the fullness of God’s love. I can tell you from experience, and I’m sure you know this as well, once we open that bridge to God, he pours out his grace with a fire hose.
     Not only did Wesley identify prayer a means of grace, he says prayer is the chief means of grace. Prayer is the only means of grace that requires nothing but an open willing heart. We can pray alone, and no one can ever stop us from praying.
     But what do we pray? I know for me, as I came back onto the Way, to following Christ, I had a hard time knowing what to pray.
     Ann Lamott, great writer who shares her life fully with her readers. Ann suffered addictions and substance abuse. But she lays it all out there for everybody to see. For everybody to see what Christ has done with her life. Ann says if we don’t know what else to pray, the two most effective prayers are “help me help me” and “thank you thank you.”

"Help me help me help me."
"Thank you thank you thank you."
Simple yes, but those 2 prayers cover a lot of stuff.
     We’re not alone in asking how we should pray. The Lord ’s Prayer appears in the Gospel of Matthew and Jesus also teaches this prayer in Luke. In fact, in Luke we are told the disciples specifically asked Jesus to teach them to pray and the prayer we call the Lord’s Prayer is the prayer He taught them. This too is a simple prayer that covers a lot of ground.
     Sometimes we are in such pain no words can express how we feel, even to God. Paul, in his letter to the churches in Rome talks about this. In chapter 8 of Romans Paul is encouraging people of the way, on the way in the first century and people of the. Paul tells us that when words cannot express what we need to share with God, the Spirit, the Holy spirit, the paraclete, the comforter translates the needs in our hearts into spiritual groans and takes them before God on our behalf. That’s why I said earlier, no one and nothing can ever stop us from praying.
     When we pray we need to include times of silence. Gaps and spaces where we listen for God and listen to God. I confess silence is very hard for me. My goofy A.D.D mind goes 10 different directions 24/7. I’ve really had to practice silence.
     My best friend, my former pastor, helped me greatly with practicing silence, practicing being still. She taught me to use a breath prayer, no she didn’t invent breath prayer, Christians and people of other faith traditions have been using them for centuries.
     What Martha taught me to do is to close my eyes and set everything aside. Breathe in deeply praying “Breathe on me breath of God”. Hold that for a bit. Then exhale slowly praying “fill me with peace”. When I take time each day to pray, i always, start with this breath prayer.

So give God your best and set aside 10, 15, or 20 minutes to be still, enter into the fullness of God, express yourself to God, and listen for His voice, confident in knowing God hears our prayers.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

1 Samuel 17 Haiku

David & Goliath
by Larry Chitwood

Simple shepherd's sling.
Iron weapons held back by fear.
God does more with less.
©2011 L.M.Chitwood

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Recent Photos

I haven't felt much like writing the past few weeks. Thought I'd share some of my more recent photographs.