Monday, March 26, 2007

The Point of Pastoral Ministry: Lay Ministry

Bill Easum, our consultant in ministry in North Alabama, has a provocative word about the need to empower the laity to do ministry:

“You know, one of the issues here is that everyone relies too much on the pastor to do all the ministry.”

Before I could finish the man blurted out, “I’m aware our pastor needs help, but we can’t afford to hire any more staff."

I couldn’t let that one go unanswered, so I responded, “I’ve never met a pastor who needed help. You don’t need more staff. All you need to do is equip your congregation to do ministry.”
For a brief moment the man looked at me dumbfounded and perplexed. Then with a hint of sadness in his voice he uttered the most despicable statement a Christian can make: "But we’re just laypeople. We’re not called to the ministry and we certainly aren’t professionals.”
(From Put on Your Own Oxygen Mask First: Rediscovering Ministry, Bill Easum, with Linnea Nilsen Capshaw, Nashville, Abingdon Press, 2004, pg. 14)

One of the regrettable results of our United Methodist stress on careful preparation for, and collegial accrediting for our pastors is that there have been a steady “professionalizing” of ministry. Easum makes the flat, direct statement, “I’ve never met a pastor who needed help. You don’t need more staff.”

We pastors ought to see ourselves, not as the “ministers,” but rather as coaches and equippers of those who are called to the ministry of Christ - the laity, the People of God. Years ago, my friend John Westerhoff said, “If you are a layperson and you are spending more than fifteen hours a week at church, you are wasting your time. That is not your ministry. You are not to run errands for the pastor at church, you are to join in Christ’s ministry in the world.”

Westerhoff continued, “And if you are a pastor who spends more than fifteen hours a week working in the world, you are wasting your time. The work of the laity is too tough for them to do that work without being equipped and enabled to do that work. Your job, as pastor, is to equip them for their baptismal work in the world.”

So that implies that the test for our pastoral ministry is not, “How much have I been able to accomplish at my church?” but rather, “How much have I enabled the laity to accomplish at their church.”

William H. Willimon

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Dream of Pastoral Leadership

Most contemporary accounts of leadership imply that the leader is the one who asks questions, moves toward answers, and clarifies where we are and what we are doing. However, Lewis Parks and Bruce Birch note that the Christian leader may be the one who helps us live with mystery, to follow the Dream, to find meaning and direction, even when our final destination is left up to God:

By most contemporary accounts the leader should ask the sort of questions that clear up the fog and reveal a clear path forward to a specific destination. What traits do I need to be successful? Where are the models of excellence? What information must I process? What corporate culture must I penetrate? Where are the landmines? How accurate is our feedback system? What nostalgia is holding us back? What vision will propel us forward? What may we extrapolate from the present to prepare for our future?

According to the books of Samuel leadership is not about clearing up a fog or, to use a preferable word, a mystery. Leadership is about learning to accept that mystery and to live well within it. In the fecund language of William Cowper’s 1774 hymn on providence, leadership means being absorbed by the questions arising from one overriding fact: “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.” Are the ominous clouds on the horizon actually “big with mercy,” and will those clouds “break in blessings” on our heads? Can I stop projecting the fears of “feeble sense” on the Lord long enough to glimpse the “smiling face” that lies “behind a frowning providence”? Am I strong enough to break rank from those who “scan his work in vain” because of their unbelief? Will I allow God the courtesy of interpreting what God is up to because I hope that one day God “will make it plain”?

Leaders are normally consumed by action. By one well-known contemporary account the daily activities of a chief executive are characterized by “brevity, variety, and discontinuity.” Barely half of their activities engage them for as long as nine minutes. They may average 583 activities in an eight hour day, mostly collecting, processing, and transmitting soft information; negotiating potential or actual conflict; and attending the rituals and ceremonies of the organization.Only 10 percent of these activities will last as long as an hour.

Yet every leader carries some ultimate interpretation of who they are and what they do. It is a portable inner vision of self in the world. It is the stash of the pieces of their lives and the weaving together of those pieces into a narrative that gives perspective to the relentless daily practice. For some church leaders the interpretation of self in the world is still beneath the surface of speech. All they know for sure is how much they are not like the persons being described in some of the most popular literature of leadership and management. They hunger for an interpretation that has more to do with mystery and drama than those glib profiles of success.

For most leaders the interpretation of self in the world is a positive exercise of the imagination, even if only carried out at the edge of consciousness. It has the character of what one prominent writer on leadership calls “the Dream,” a vague sense of self in the world that generates energy and a sense of life as adventure. The Dream is “more formal than a pure fantasy, yet less articulated than a fully thought-out plan.” For the church leader this might mean viewing herself or himself in such a character as a rescuer, defender, mover and shaker, midwife, wizard, gardener, or coach.

For church leaders the Dream must be placed within a narrative of providence, the fabric of God’s larger purposes and movements. The Dream is more than a self-referenced project of determination and action. The Dream is a gift of experience and reflection that arises out of the drama of leading the people of God. It is God who gives to church leadership its integrity, and God’s actions in real time that give to church leadership its weight. To be a church leader is to theologize; to lead well is to theologize incessantly. The books of Samuel have modeled the practice throughout. What power behind the stars responds to social chaos by sending a leader? Who ultimately calls leaders and coaxes them toward their futures? Who finally judges leaders when they err and holds them to account when they repent? From whom do leaders receive their visions for a just society and their inspirations for compassion? How shall leaders manage their hungers and order their loves? [Here] we raise the God question once again, this time as the ultimate factor in the practice of church leadership.

-- Excerpts from Ducking Spears, Dancing Madly: A Biblical Model of Church Leadership, by Lewis A. Parks and Bruce C. Birch, Abingdon Press, 2004, pp. 149-151.

Blessings upon all you pastors as you attempt to help God’s people to live the dream.
William H. Willimon

Monday, March 12, 2007

Meeting and Being Met by God

Two people meet one another on the sidewalk. Their eyes meet. Will they greet one another, encounter one another, or only pass by silently?

One person extends her hand, the other responds. They shake hands, embrace.

“How are you getting along?” he asks.

“Fine,” she responds. “And you?”

The handshake, the embrace, the traditional words of meeting are a ritual that enables us to meet one another. Without the ritual, without the familiar, predictable pattern, we might not risk the meeting. We would not know how to come into the presence of another. The ritual helps us overcome the distance between the distance between us. It ends the separation.

The church also has a pattern of familiar words and actions whereby we are enabled to meet both other people and God. You might think of our Sunday morning worship pattern as a drama, a drama of meeting. On Sunday we follow a script--a pattern of words and actions that begins, moves from one act to another, and then comes to a conclusion.

Who are the actors in this drama of worship? The minister, the choir, the organist or pianist, and the ushers? This makes the congregation the audience. Is that the way it ought to be? No. The congregation are actors in this divine-human drama. We are not to come on Sunday morning as if we were going to a movie or play, as if we were coming to passively watch the stars act their parts. We are there to join together in prayer and song. We are the actors rather than the audience.

Our worship leaders, like your minister, choir, organist, and ushers, are to help us worship, not to worship for us. They are there to invite us to sing, to cue us when it is time to kneel or pray or speak, to lead us so that we can all join together with one heart and voice in the praise of God. When we experience Sunday worship as a time to walk in, flop down in our seat, and passively watch someone else meet God, we have not experience the fullness of Christian worship.
Why do we have a set pattern for our worship services? Why do we often print an order of worship in our bulletin that you follow on Sunday morning? Why does your church usually worship in much the same way every Sunday? Because it is easier to gather for worship if we have some predictable pattern, some familiar pattern that brings us together.

If you sing a solo, you can “do your own thing.” You can sing in your own style and temp. But if you are in a choir, if you want to make music with more than one voice, you must get together. Everyone follows the same set of notes, sings the same words. Private, solitary meetings with God have their place. But congregational worship, usually Sunday mornings, is a group time, it is a time for meeting, gathering in the body of Christ, joining together with one voice and coming before God.

To that end, we sing hymns together because it is fun to join our voices in shouts of praise. We pray together because our deepest needs and highest joys are generally those we share with others and so we now join with others in sharing those needs and joys with God. We listen to God’s Word together because the gospel is not simply addressed to us as solitary individuals but as the body of Christ. We respond to the Word by saying a creed because our beliefs are not simply the private thoughts of our hearts but are nurtured, corrected, expanded, challenged, and supported in fellowship with other Christians in the church. This is why we generally find it helpful to have a pattern for our Sunday worship--so we can get it all together.

You hear your voice, raised with others in the congregation, singing the hymn. Now, you feel that a veil has been thrown back. You see what you were unable to glimpse in your work-a-day, Monday through Saturday world. It is as if heaven comes very close to you and a new, wondrous world has been opened to you. You are able to say with your wondering ancestor Jacob, when heaven’s ladder was lowered to within his reach, “Surely the Lord is in the place, and I did not know it.” (Gen. 28:16).

So much of the time in church is spent using words like “should,” and “ought,” and “must.” Sunday, we keep a burden of greater responsibility on your shoulders, the day when we gather and the preacher tells us what we ought to do.

The “service” that we offer to God, but worship is also the service that renders to us. While we are busy praising God, God is responding to us. Faith is a gift, not our achievement. As we are praising God, we are being formed into God’s people. We are practicing the presence of God in way that, as God becomes more apparent to us on Sunday; God is surely more available to us on Monday.

Why do we do it? We do it because we are in love. The modern world teaches us to ask, of every event and relationship, “Now what good will this do me?” The modern world teaches us to make ourselves the center of the world. We have no more important project than ourselves.

Christian worship is counter-cultural to all this. We do it, not primarily to “get something out of it,” but to give something to it. We do it because we are in love.

Try this example. You are walking hand-in-hand in the park on a beautiful spring day. At some point, you lean over and kiss the one with whom you are in love.

Now, if someone asks you, “Now what good does that do you? What good do you get out of it?” It would be stupid question to ask. Gestures like kissing, hugging, are the actions of lovers. We do it out of love. We do it, not “to get something out of it,” but rather to offer something to the one with whom we are in love. Christian worship is a lot like that.

“All who believed were together and had all things in common; and they sold their possessions and distributed them to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:44-47)

“This is the day which the Lord has made.” (Psalm 118:24). Let us rejoice and be glad in it.

Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the lands!Serve the Lord with gladness! Come into his presence with singing!Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name! - Psalm 100:1-2, 4.

William H. Willimon

Be sure to register to attend "Costly Discipleship" with The Rev. Dr. Peter Storey at Canterbury UMC, March 23, from 10:00 a.m.-2:00 p.m!

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Worship: Acts of Love

United Methodists join with the majority of the world’s Christians in celebrating the sacraments of signs of God’s near and present love to us.

“Don’t tell me, show me,” pleads a song in My Fair Lady. To say “I love you” is to say something wonderful, but sometimes we want more than words. We communicate not only by speech but also by action. “Actions speak louder than words,” we sometimes say.

God knows this. In the Bible, God not only says, “I love you” through the words of the law, the prophets, the sermons of Jesus, and the letters of Paul; God’s love is also demonstrated.

God’s love is demonstrated through signs. “And this will be a sign for you: you will find a babe wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manager” (Luke 1:12). The babe at Bethlehem is a sign that God is acting to redeem his people.

God’s love is demonstrated through symbols. At a wedding, words of love are spoken by a man and woman. Rings are also given with the explanation, “The wedding ring is an outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual grace.” The rings become symbols to those who wear them of the covenant they have made. To the detached observer, the rings are only pieces of metal. To those who wear they, they are powerful symbols that express, in a visible and tangible way, some of the deepest and most inexpressible feelings in their lives.

A flag, a handshake, a kiss, a cross, a wedding ring--these are the symbols of love that say more than mere words can express. Jesus himself became the supreme visible and tangible symbol, which expresses and reveals God’s love for us.

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us,

full of grace and truth; we have beheld his glory,

glory as of the only Son from the Father…And from

his fullness have we all received, grace upon grace…

No one has ever seen God; the only Son, who is in

the bosom of the Father, he has made him known.

John 1:14-18

God’s love is demonstrated most powerfully through sacraments. Sacraments are sings and symbols:

Bread--Fitting symbol of hunger and nourishment, human needs and divine gifts.

Water--Symbol of birth, life, refreshment, death, cleanliness.

Wine--Rich and red symbol of spirit, vitality, life, blood.

Paul told the divided church at Corinth, “Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread?” (I Corinthians 10:17). Elsewhere, Paul spoke of baptism as if we were drowning our old lives so that we might be born to new life:

Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized

into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were

buried therefore with him by baptism into death, so that

as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the

Father, we too might walk in newness of life.

-Romans 6:3-4

Not only objects like a loaf of bread or a cup of wine can be symbols. Actions can also convey deep meaning. A hug, a kiss, a handshake, kneeling for prayer, applause, a shout of joy--all are ways of letting actions speak louder than words in our worship of God. Sacraments are everyday objects like bread and water and everyday actions like eating and bathing, that, when done among God’s people in worship, convey our love for our God. They are means by which we express feelings too deep for words.

We not only use these objects and actions in worship to show our love for God, God also uses sacraments to show his love for us. Our Creator knows that we creatures depend on demonstrations of divine love. So God uses everyday things we can understand to show us love that defies understanding. God gives us the Christ.

In many and various ways God spoke of old to our fathers by

the prophets; but in these last days, he has spoken to us by a Son.

Hebrews 1:1-2

Jesus, at the end of his earthly ministry, gave us a powerful symbol of love--a meal of loving friends.

The Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had

given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this

in remembrance of me.” In the same way also the cup, after supper, saying,

“This cup is the new covenant in my blood. do this, as often as you drink it,

in remembrance of me.”

I Corinthians 11:23-35

Jesus also gave his followers a sacrament of his love to share with the rest of the world--Baptism, the sacrament of initiation into the Christian faith.

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the

name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

Matthew 28:19

We United Methodists observe two sacraments, two “acts of love” that Jesus gave his disciples; Baptism and the Lord’s Supper (or Holy Communion). In these sacraments we taste, touch, fee, know, and experience the grace of God. We know the love of God to be a present reality in our lives.

We believe the sacraments, ordained by Christ, are symbols and pledges of

The Christian’s profession and of God’s love towards us. They are means of

grace by which God works invisibly in us, quickening, strengthening and

confirming our faith in him.

The Book of Discipline, par.68, page 634.

What do sacraments mean? Admittedly, the sacraments speak of mysteries too deep for words or mere understanding. As one person said of the Lord’s Supper, “I would rather experience it than understand it.” In another sense the meaning of the sacraments is close to the most common, everyday experiences in life.

The Lord’s supper means everything that any meal means: love, fellowship, hunger and nourishment of life, hospitality, joy. These mealtime meanings are given added significance because, at this meal, we commune with the risen Christ who joins us at our table.

Baptism means everything that water means: cleansing, birth, power, refreshment, life. These natural meanings of water are given added significance because his baptismal water is given “in the name of Jesus.”

You can think of other acts of worship beside the sacraments that are also acts of love: confirmation, a wedding, a funeral, sermons, prayers, hymns, altar calls. In all these activities, we reach out to God in love, only to find that, in love, God has been reaching out to us.

For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I in the midst of them.
- Matthew 18:20

William H. Willimon

Continuing with our discussion from January at Clearbranch with Tony Campolo, please be sure to join Peter Storey, former bishop of the Methodist Church in South Africa, and me at Canterbury United Methodist Church on Saturday, March 24, from 10:00 a.m.-2:30 pm, as we continue to explore what "costly discipleship" means.
Because of Dr. Storey's prophetic ministry in South Africa, involving prison chaplaincy to Nelson Mandela and other political prisoners on Robben Island, and three decades of preaching against the apartheid regime from his pulpit, Storey was blacklisted by the government, arrested more than once and his church tear-gassed and invaded by armed police.
Come and hear how we can be better disciples and practice prophetic ministry here in our context!