Starfish & Spiders – The UMC as a Starspider

The past seven days have been a whirlwind! Back from Nashville, Asheville, and about to head to Nicaragua on a mission trip. I was in Nashville for a Connectional Table meeting and then had the pleasure of preaching at Lake Junaluska on Friday night as well as doing a Bible Study on Sunday morning for the South Carolina Laity Convocation. We had fun and great fellowship – in both places.  Well, almost, except that the Connectional Table is at a critical juncture for the denomination.

In the midst of thinking about both the UMC and the South Carolina Annual Conference in particular I am struck by a nagging question: “Where is God leading us next?” In South Carolina we have much to celebrate. We’re the 5th largest annual conference in the US. Professions of faith are on the rise in the Columbia District and we paid out 98.9% on our connectional giving responsibilities. Putting this district’s numbers on a dashboard of vital congregations is exciting. I just got off the phone with one of the clergy in the district who is doing an absolutely phenomenal ministry in partnership with extraordinary laity. The church is booming! That same kind of good news is happening all over the district!

I wish I could say the same about the denomination. Maybe I can? Regretfully, however, I saw the DVD “UMC Realities” with its somber Gothic-sounding music and terrible news that we’re graying out, dying out, less inclusive, and have fewer and fewer young people. That was the message. It may not be the reality that I see in SC and in the Columbia District, but it’s so true in too many places. I have hope, though! Aesop was correct and it wasn’t a fable: “Where water has once flowed, it can more easily flow again.” The waters of baptism and the power of the Holy Spirit have been the current we’ve ridden on before in the UMC and God float this boat again!

I don’t think changing the UMC’s structure will have as much to do with it as folks at the Connectional Table think. The Interim Operations Team (IOT) has offered its report. We approved it, though we went through multiple iterations to get to a place of semi-consensus. Honestly, do we think that buying into a so-called new business model is going to reshape the church and engender hopeful enthusiastic results? I certainly hope we’re not that tied to 20th century thinking! Aren’t we all tired of hearkening back to the good old days that must not have been that good or we wouldn’t be in the mess we’re in today? Isn’t Jesus the Lord of Resurrection which means that something has to die for there to be new life, that the New Jerusalem is our goal more than tired thinking that wants to go back to the Garden of Eden? Where we’re headed is better!

Just one example of old thinking that worries me from the Connectional Table’s work last week: a set aside bishop and a central office. Hey, I like bishops. I think they are critical for our denominational renewal, especially if they focus on their annual conferences. However, as the permutations of the IOT’s report dribbled out to the Connectional Table the set-aside Bishop was named at most the “Head of Communion” and at least “President of the Council of Bishops.” Either one is a little much for a denomination that has a historic balance between its two constitutive principles of conferences and bishops. This throws the equation off-balance. Now I can see why having a “United Methodist Center for Connectional Mission and Ministry” and a quasi-pope are great business ideas to those who like  20th century-like corporate structures and centralization. I’m worried that our going from our current model of 13 siloed boards and agencies with 565 directors to one single center run by a 13 member Board of Directors is more of the same but worse.

I’ve got a book I want you to read. On our Columbia District Clergy Retreat in early September we’re headed to Mt. Mitchell for camping and reflection. We’re discussing the book The Starfish and the Spider with its subtitle “The Unstoppable Power of Leaderless Organizations.” Pretty much it says that 21st century thinking is about organic growth with catalysts who step out of the way and people who are invested as equal partners. My summary with implications for the UMC: Connectionalism works best when its horizontal and/or circular! Starfish that lose a point grow a new one. When they’re cut in two, they don’t die, they multiply! A spider, on the other hand, dies when you smack its head. I tend to smack the whole bug and that’s what has happened to the UMC. We’ve  been smacked. We have lost a lot of our relevance to people because we don’t talk enough about Jesus and we don’t just get out there and be like starfish and multiply!

Central control systems are easily killed, and we’re about to put almost all of our institutional eggs in a couple of baskets – a set-aside bishop, a central office of ministry, and a small board of directors? Give me a break! Now I don’t want to give away the hopeful chapter at the end of the Starfish book but I will say this much: When we are at our best as a denomination we are starspiders, a hybrid of centralization and decentralization. Yes, there’s an important role for the Council of Bishops, General Conference, and the entities whether they’re called Boards and Agencies or some sort of central office. The bottom line is that all of these centralized functions MUST resource the decentralized local churches that live where the tentacles hit the sand! Growth is not top-down and that’s what bugs me about this report. Hey, by the way, just to put a polity/legal bug, pun intended, in your ear: read Pars. 140 & 2509 in the 2008 Book of Discipline and see what hits you. I look forward to your thoughts!

Connectionalism Begins at Home

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“My Three Sons” with Fred McMurray was a staple around our house growing up. With there being three boys in the family made it even more appropriate, even if we were 8years apart. Before I was 2 my oldest brother, Carlee, was off in college. We’ve all been close over the years, each reflecting our parents in different traits. Ralph is named after my Dad. Carlee was named after a great-uncle for whom my Dad worked. Me -Oh, well, since I came along very late in my parents’ lives, they let my two older brothers choose my name. I guess they thought it might give them some ownership, and give me some measure of protection.

They named me “William Timothy McClendon.” The “William” part was my Mother’s Dad’s name, William. The “Timothy” part was the name of the bear in the Dick & Jane books. So there you go. So much for the Greek meaning of “Timothy,” which means, “Honoring God.” Well, my two brothers did okay, and have been very special to me and are on my mind tonight. I just got a voicemail from my oldest brother’s former wife. She is very close to our family and we count her as a sister. Carlee has been in a Nursing Facility for several years with diabetes, heart surgery, neuropathy taking their toll. My niece, Julie, his daughter, called to say that Carlee’s blood sugar jumped up into the 500’s and that it appears he has suffered some sort of neurological event, possibly a stroke.

We’re getting to be a fragile bunch. Ralph has his diabetes to worry about, too; and he has also had heart surgery, plus neuropathy, and is currently wearing a boot too try and save his foot. Diabetes is so insidious. Mine has been under control thanks to diet, exercise, and Metformin. Our Mother and Dad both were diabetic, and Daddy lost both of his legs when he was in his early 80’s. Health is such a fragile thing. Both brothers and their families have been so good to call and ask about Narcie’s condition. Carlee called me just 3 days ago.

We were talking about his 70th birthday coming up August 15, and how I would be in Africa and wondered when I would get to see him. Well the answer is made up now. Tomorrow night we start Cabinet Retreat until Thursday and on Friday I fly to Mozambique, South Africa, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, and Senegal over the next 2 weeks, plus. I’m heading over with the Worldwide UMC Study Committee to check how much we connect with African UM’s in terms of how those areas have adapted the Book of Discipline. Maybe what we’ll end up with is a thinner common BOD and very few adaptations. That’s my hope as I support our connectional polity to the nth degree. So what about seeing Carlee? I’m headed there in the morning and see what’s up and go from there. If nothing, through everything in life and ministry – family comes first. Faith that doesn’t have priority at home is weak, if you ask me.

Pray for Carlee and Ralph; me, too, and please keep remembering Narcie. Family is a connection, a reflection of God’s Trinitarian self-revelation, the same reason for the UMC to be connectional, and for me to head off with the cabinet and then to Africa, or stay by Carlee’s bedside. Connecting the dots of our lives is difficult, but without any dots, life is pretty lonesome and not very fulfilling. Connectionalism begins at home, or not at all.

Killing the Giants Against the Church

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I’m at the Southeastern Jurisdiction DS Consultation and the leadership has been from the Turner Institute at Vanderbilt. It has been very thought provoking. Dr. Doug Meeks suggested this morning that our denomination, Christendom in general, and us as individual Christians have been overwhelmed by the “Giants in the Land” of Libertarianism, Utilitarianism, and Communitarianism.

All three thrive on a promise of false security by playing on our fear of death and guilt. Libertarians and Tea Partyists view everything as a property matter and it’s MINE, not yours and certainly not the government’s. I see this in the UMC and local churches and individual Christians as a silo mentality that is micro-congregationalism and anti apportionments; who devalue connectionalism and the view that I think is key: “Together We Can Do More!” General agencies are also libertarian in their turf protection. Utilitarianism focuses on public over private property and has great faith in governments and institutions to deliver us. It’s works-righteousness and leaves out sin and evil. Communitarians are believers in the tribe or clan’s ability to save us. No wonder that many of our church’s are tight-knit clubs/villages that won’t welcome a new idea or any risk-taking.

The Gospel is risk-taking and Jesus offends. The narrative of the Gospel promises real security through the resurrection message and grace. We cannot save ourselves by our human machinations as either Libertarians, Utilitarians, or Communitarians. The Gospel offers Jesus to a going-to-hell-in-a-handbasket-world in a radically different way than the culture’s panaceas. The source of our salvation is from God to us via the Incarnation, the Cross, and the Resurrection.

Our problem as a church, from my perspective, is having laity who are either libertarians who watch Fox or are Communitarians who want their church to be their homogeneous clan chapel; and clergy who are Utilitarians who are hooked on CNN or MSNBC and believe the notion that we are so innately good (not by the grace of God) that we can save ourselves and the world: be good, be good, be good (the essence of most children’s sermons). Jesus’ uniqueness and Christology are left out and resulting worship is a humanistic dull elegy not a resurrection experience.

Where have I been? All three, but I want to be an Easter person and trust Jesus to save the cosmos. He is the only giant in this farcical landscape of wannabe’s.

Staff-Parish Committees & Clergy/Well-intentioned Dragons

Ill or Well-intentioned dragons abound in some churches. I have been set up before by a person who said that she was concerned for her church and wanted to come by and talk. Through her tears I unfortunately said “yes” to her request only to be greeted by a group of 8 or more people. I gave them hospitality but quickly said, “You need to take this to your SPRC.” I have a meeting like this coming up.

At first glance I thought let’s have the pastor present, too, so it’s a fair fight and I get to stay out of the triangle, but then I thought better of it by the grace of God. If I pulled the pastor in, it becomes a contest between conflicting sides escalating into a win by the dragons who just want to go back and say to people, “We told the preacher off in front of the DS!” So I’m not going to meet with the people and the pastor. I’ll meet with the people and limit the number, defect in place, show them Jesus, hear their concerns, AND, the biggie, determine what the spiritual issue is.
You have to hear people’s grievances in this office, but you don’t have to empower the naysayers. Paying attention to the emotional process and not submitting to it is the key. Hoping to pay more attention objectively to the content is important, but, nonetheless, a rabbit-chasing fallacy. Anybody can juggle facts to suit their emotional purpose or their agenda. If their agenda isn’t Jesus then the conversation becomes a counseling session of pastoral care thereby defusing the anger not by authoritarian fiat, but by relationship salvaging. I’ll call the pastor later and give that person a heads-up, but I am NOT going to be caught in the triangle of “they said, you said” ad infinitum.
This time of year is anxiety laden for clergy and congregations because of last week’s move or stay deadline. People are taking sides and getting in digs or bribes to try to get the best appointment either for the pastor or the church, often at the expense each other’s expense. Of course, this isn’t the way it always is. Thank God there are churches and clergy who amicably part ways just because it’s time for someone else to take them over Jordan.
I pray that I can avoid the manipulation, the anxiety, the arguments, and the unrealistic expectations of both churches and clergy. I am reminded once again that this whole process is mostly about churches, then preachers; but most of all it’s about Jesus and the Kingdom – not friendships, sucking up, or people making up “bad” stuff about a preacher they have supposedly loved for so long. Rather than face the fact that it’s just time for a change people start the rumor mill of innuendo just to have an excuse to push someone out, or to leave a church. I have even had clergy tell me in my office they want to leave then go home and tell their spouse that I’m making them leave. Then I catch it from the spouse. It’s a strange dance that we move to in this process.
Well I pray that we move people this year like every year based on gifts, graces, needs, and primarily what Jesus wants for the Kingdom. So I’ll be heading to meetings with SPRC’s and consult with pastors, attempt to speak the truth in love, and show them all Jesus, both meek and mild & forthright and faithful. Here goes!

The Journey of a Connectional People

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Well, one more day of the Worldwide UMC Study Commitee. I’m looking forward to driving home tomorrow. It’s been a good meeting. The right issues have been raised about what’s contextual around the Connection and what’s universal and holds us together. There seems to be consensus that we will retain our unity and not slip into an Anglican-style confederation that abrogates our connectional polity. The discourse has been an example of holy conferencing. We have heard from divergent segments of the church from traditional and progressive caucus groups, general agency representatives, and persons from the Central Conferences. I sincerely hope that the US will not fragment into one or more regional conferences. I promise to help craft the best legislation possible while retaining my commitment to our distinctive polity. This isn’t about human sexuality. This is about our structure expediting effective ministry. Form should follow function. The question must be answered as to what we value: special interests or the common good. The local church and the annual conferences are the locus of primary disciple-making. Whatever we do must support and empower laity and clergy on the local level. There is much to process from what I’ve heard. It is humbling to be part of this group. Each person plays a vital part. I, for one, promise to keep localism as a core value without allowing regionalism to trump our identity as a movement of God. We will meet in Manila in the Spring and Africa later in the summer. It will be good to hear from the people in the places where the church is growing.

Human Self-headeness or Christ as the Head

I have been at two back-to-back General UMC meetings: The Connectional Table and the Worldwide UMC Study Committee. The Connectional Table coordinates the mission and ministry of the denomination and decides budgets. The WWNC is studying how we can be a worldwide church allowing autonomy in certain ways in diverse areas of the UMC while defining boundaries of non-negotiables that hold true for the entire denomination. Tomorrow and Tuesday we will hear from divergent and opposing groups on the issues. The defining issue that seems to be driving a desire for the US branch of the UMC to form its own regional conference or conferences is the practice of homosexuality. I think we should spend more time listening to the voices of those outside the US. By listening to US groups we perpetuate the reality voiced by overseas UM’s that we are a US-centric church that is structured to enable a codependency model and neo-colonialism. I think it is a matter of spiritual warfare for the heart and soul of the UMC, and I don’t think this hot-button issue should be the primary force for dismantling our time-tested ecclesiology. Our polity is one that does and should embrace diversity, but not at the expense of connectionalism. It is a work in progress. I embrace process theology that is dynamic and not static, but though theology should have local variation, doctrine should be off-limits. The first and second Restrictive Rules in the UMC Constitution protect our Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith. Our difficult task is to discern what is doctrine and what is theology. So… pray for us to have wisdom and truth-telling in love as we work on this task.

Of more importance than any of this is whether or not we witness to people of Jesus’ power to save and transform. Our only hope as a church is to share Jesus. All the tinkering and special-interest maneuvering is irrelevant if we don’t share Jesus with hurting people. What the world needs is Jesus. You can’t legislate the Gospel, you have to share it. May it be so! We can promote regional self-headeness (autonomy), but not if it replaces Christ as Head of the Church with Humans.

The Methodist Movement

As I write this I’m in the home stretch of conducting Charge Conferences for the Columbia District. I enjoy hearing the reports of what each church is doing. Each has a success story, a unique personality, a history, and a tragedy or two. I see much of my call as a District Superintendent to get to know as much as I can about the churches. Sure, I spend as much time as I can with my clergy, but I’m a firm believer that clergy exist for churches, not churhes for clergy. Our connectional system isn’t a welfare system for flunky preachers. It’s our special way to help Methodism remain a movement!

I have seen movement in the Columbia District churches. In my way of having townhall-style charge conferences, I give time for people to ask me whatever they want to ask, deal with the “hidden” issues that are beneath the surface, and simply have conversation. Sometimes things get heated. Usually, however, this is an opportunity for catharsis and healing. I even try to get to each church early so I can walk around the facilities, and the cemeteries. You can tell a lot about how a church is doing by how well things are cared for. So far, I can honestly say that things are going well in the Columbia District. Many churches have had significant growth in disciples and disciple-making. Our district is the only one in South Carolina that has gone up this year in apportionment payment to connectional giving. We lead the Annual Conference.

But numbers don’t tell the whole story. The people tell it and retell it every time they live and breathe their faith, and speak of the hope that is within them through Jesus. I have to share why this is important through a piece that I first heard through Bishop John Hopkins of the East Ohio Annual Conference:
“An interesting article was written in a journal called The Public Interest by Roger Starr, a professor at City College in New York. He is a liberal, Jewish Democrat. (Remember that; it is important to the story.)

Starr Concluded that there was only one other period in world history that matches the day in which we live. It was 18th century England. There was a problem of addiction – they had just discovered gin alcohol. Families were falling apart, Children were being abused. Domestic violence was rampant.
There were problems of pollution, crime, and violence – problems very much like our own.

When he discovered this, Roger Starr wanted to know what saved England, or brought them out of their situation. And would you believe? This liberal, Jewish, Democrat argues that the only thing that saved England was someone that he had not really heard much about – someone by the name of John Wesley who started a movement called Methodism.

“Now, I don’t even know any Methodists,” says Starr. “I don’t anything about them. But this Wesley started a movement that literally saved England. It was a movement that had profound social, economic, and political consequences and transformed and indeed saved that nation. Maybe what we need to do is to study those Methodists to find out how they did it, and to duplicate what they did back in the 18th century.”

About a month later, George Will wrote and editorial for The Washington Post. George Will is a conservative, Roman Catholic Republican. (Remember that; it is important to the story.)

· Will wrote, “I never thought I’d agree with anything Roger Starr has ever written. But you know, this liberal has actually got a point. It is that in the 18th century you have the German and French revolutions, and other revolutions around the world; but you don’t have an English Revolution. But they did, you see. It was called the ‘Methodist Revolution,’ because these Methodists turned their world upside down. Maybe what we need to do is to take Roger Starr seriously and look at what was the secret of those Methodists.”
· Then he added, “I know this is going to sound strange for me, saying that we need some more Methodists to save the world; and I hate to end the column this way, but does anybody out there have a better idea?”

About a month later, Fred Barnes, editor of The New Republic, wrote an article. Fred Barnes is an evangelical Episcopalian moderate. (Remember that; it is important to the story.)
He writes, “Can you believe this? We have George Will and Roger Starr agreeing on something. I can’t believe it! But the more you think about it, they are exactly right. But they forgot one thing. What they forgot was that basically the Methodist Movement was at heart, a spiritual awakening.”

Barnes continues, “Yes, it had tremendous economic, social, and political consequences, but it began as a spiritual revival – a spiritual awakening. And unless we get in this nation a spiritual awakening and a spiritual revival that will create these kinds of economic and political implication…in our day, it won’t work. It’s got to have a new generation of Methodists who will do for this day what they did in the 18th century.”

Other people see and say about us what we can’t see, or are too bashful to say about ourselves: The world needs a new generation of United Methodists to lead the way to change the world. Are we ready to go?”

Wesley Chapel – Going Home Again!

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Yesterday, I went back to a church that I started serving 24 years ago and left 17 years ago. It was their 220 anniversary as a congregation and the 100th year of being in their current sanctuary. Everything was beautiful and the fellowship was absolutely wonderful. It was like going home again. There was much talk about the past, but the future was on everyone’s minds, too. This church is declining, not precipitously, but slowly and out of sheer demographics. But, there is hope! As the old adage says it well, “Where water has once flowed it can more easily flow again!” The determinant factor, in my mind, is whether or not we will open the spigots and let the water of the Holy Spirit flow through us. We can’t just do good deeds and expect people to believe in Jesus and join the church. We have to have the Spirit-empowered courage and words to seal the deal, bringing people to Jesus and the church more than just inviting them. It’s up to us if the water will flow again.

Church Consultant George Barna has devoted years to tracking the impact of the church on society. In his book, The Second Coming of The Church, Barna says, “At the risk of sounding like an alarmist, I believe the church in America has no more than five years – perhaps even less – to turn itself around and begin to affect the culture, rather than be affected by it.”

Five years isn’t a very long time. Is it possible that the church that has been around for millennia is at death’s door? The answer is definitely, “Yes.” If one thinks back on church history, one can see those pivotal hinge moments in the life of human history when the culture was so corrupt that it crept into the church. At each juncture, heroes of the faith stepped forward. Certainly there were people like Martin Luther, John Wesley, Jonathan Edwards, and George Whitfield who were at the vanguard. But, just as important were the unsung women and men, boys and girls that held the church to a higher standard of Biblical holiness. The Reformation, the Counter-Reformation, the First, Second, and Third Great Awakenings are evidences of God’s resuscitation of the church.

At the core of any revival is the passionate desire of God’s people to know Jesus Christ and make Him known. The combination of faith and action is impossible to deter. When the church wakes up to its possibilities and acts accordingly, the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

It is important to keep faith and action in balance. Acting without thinking is dangerous. There’s a story about President Lincoln and Union General Joe Hooker. Hooker had replaced General Burnside, and he wanted to establish a reputation as a general who took action. Accordingly, Hooker’s first message to the president bore the inscription: “Headquarters in the Saddle.”

Lincoln noticed the heading on Hooker’s dispatch, but was not impressed. Lincoln had already heard that Hooker’s actions had not been well thought out on the battlefield. The president said to an aide, “The trouble with Hooker is that he’s got his headquarters where his hindquarters should be.” Action without thinking is dangerously unwise, but inaction is a poor substitute.

The Sunday School teacher asked her class, “Which parable in the Bible do you like the best?” One child quickly piped up, “The one about the loafs and the fishes.” Loafing as a Christian is an anathema to God. To change this world, we have to put faith and action together. Rudyard Kipling said it well: “Gardens are not made by singing ‘Oh, how beautiful,’ and sitting in the shade.” Let’s get to work!

Church Authority and Control

As I have been presiding over Charge Conferences it has been apparent that much of church life, and, I dare say, all life, is about authority and control. Nobody likes to be accused of having “control” issues, but I think we all do. It’s a part of our human condition to want control. Isn’t that what Adam and Eve were hoping for in their grasp for autonomy in the Garden?

I heard a “thinker” piece of humor some time ago. Somebody asked what the difference is between capitalism and communism. Someone replied that in capitalism man (pardon the sexist language) exploits man; and in communism it’s the other way around! Well, it sounds to me that no matter what you call the system, exploitation occurs. Control is when we want things our way and want to be the rulers of our own existence.
Many of the questions that come my way as a District Superintendent are about who gets to decide this or that in the local church: Is it the Pastor? Is it the Church Council? Is it the Trustees? Is it the Finance Committee? Is it the PPRC? Who’s in charge? These questions, however important, aren’t the penultimate most important question. Sure, on a specific point of church law, the question may be about one of the groups mentioned, but as Christians the real question is about who Jesus is in our personal and corporate lives.
All of our efforts to go our own way and manipulate power into control miss the mark of being under the Lordship of Christ. If Jesus is Lord then we yield to the Mind of Christ. Christ modeled humility rather than pride. Jesus did not try to grasp authority. He already had/has it! It was a non-issue for Him. It should be a non-issue for us. Jesus is in charge!
So when I sense and see the buzz-saw tenor of some of our church squabbles it’s easy to know that Jesus isn’t the One in authority. If a church is wrapped up in warfare over who’s in charge or control then it’s not a healthy church. The situation then becomes difficult as I preside over these meetings. How do I speak the truth in love and point out the fact that we’re seeking something we’re not supposed to have?
I think the answer lies in my own exercise of my authority as “Presiding Elder,” the old lingo and title for District Superintendents, and the title still used on the Charge Conference Minutes’ form. If I try to beat people up with the “power” of my office and make threats about sending the church a less-than-adequate pastor, church closure/merger, or some other very real possibility, then I’m not acting from the vantage point of being like Christ.
Perhaps the best way to be in authority is to be like Christ who was non-reactive before Pilate; and who said from the Cross, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do.” Humility and non-reactive leadership through listening and speaking only God’s words are the answers that I hope to model. Godly authority is about love not control. May it be so as I/we try to submit to God’s authority, and lead others to do the same.

Zingers and Well/Ill-Intentioned Dragons

I’m a creature of habit although I do like to try new things. Being shocked by the taste of a new dish isn’t something I relish when I already know what I like. As I have been engaged in multiple Charge Conferences at churches, and Consultations with pastors, I have attempted to go beyond my comfort zone and ask questions that I hope exceed the mundane same-old-same-old. I like to have time for a town-hall style meeting where we actually air questions that need asking and answering. One question that I’ve been asking to help prod things along is, “Why do we have Charge Conferences? What is the theological reason to do this?”

Now, to be sure, it’s wrapped up in United Methodism’s methodical DNA to add up the numbers of new members, deaths, transfers, and all the other offical things we vote on and hear about at Charge Conference; but all this belies a deeper purpose. Our emphasis on sanctifying grace is supposed to lead us into a closer walk with God, and we believe that we need to check on our progress. Therefore, District Superintendents come around and ask the questions and look at the reports. We’re answering two basic questions: “What business are we in?” and “How’s business?”
So far Charge Conferences have gone pretty well. There have been a few tense moments and I have received and offered some zingers, but that’s all a part of supervision and the give-and-take of being a part of a connectional system. One of the things that I need to work on is not being reactive and staying calm. There have been well and ill-intentioned dragons in more than a few of the meetings in which I’ve been. What to do or say in such a moment is a perpetual question.
The following is an example of a poor zinger plus poor timing, not the way I want to be, although secretly I may be tempted: There were two evil brothers. They were rich, and used their money to keep their evil ways from the public eye. They even attended the same church, and looked to be perfect Christians. Then their pastor retired, and a new one was appointed. Not only could he see right through the brothers’ deception, but he was also a good preacher so the church started to grow by leaps and bounds. A fund raising campaign was started to build a new sanctuary. All of a sudden, one of the brothers died. The remaining brother sought out the new pastor the day before the funeral and handed him a check for the amount needed to finish paying for the new building. “I have only one condition,” he said. “At my brother’s funeral, you must say that he was a saint.” The pastor gave his word, and deposited the check. The next day, at the funeral, the pastor did not hold back. “He was an evil man,” the pastor said. “He cheated on his wife and abused his family.” After going on and on in this vein for awhile, he concluded with, “But compared to his brother, he was a saint.”