Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Why Mormons Score Highest On Points of Christianity

I have long been intrigued by the devoted and deliberate manner in which Mormons (LDS) live out their faith. Some might even label their purposeful and structured practices as "methodical." Particularly striking is the cultural expectation placed on their youth: the voluntary sacrifice of two years of their lives in service as a missionary. Incidentally, this missionary service is based on an appointment system administered by church leadership.

If you are already beginning to find parallels between the LDS and the faith practices of early Methodist circuit-riders, small wonder. Just as Methodism was sweeping across the face of Texas during the period the New Republic winning converts with a dominance that no three other denominations combined could match, the LDS is also still experiencing that same kind of phenomenal growth in the 21st century. In contrast, the UM church is currently in decline, as are all other Protestant denominations. Why?

Haunted by a driving passion to uncover the truth lying in the paradox between the remarkable effectiveness of Methodist practices 150 years ago and while struggling through the disheartening decline of our church today, I began a personal study of the LDS culture. For the last year and a-half I have orally read almost the entire Book of Mormon while being tutored by an LDS elder using seminary study guides during our lunch break every day at work.

What I have discovered is that what the LDS know and believe is of no greater importance in their dominant church culture than the way that they live out their faith. There is nothing passive or retiring about the practices for living out each individual member's call to discipleship. There is a strong cultural expectation for personal, spiritual integrity throughout the body of the church.

In essence, they know about their faith because they live it out in a way that no mainline denomination even attempts to do. By living out their faith in such a sacrificial manner it becomes more than just a belief system, it becomes an ingrained way of life. Major theological differences aside, this is pretty much the same type of dramatic witness provided to the world by sacrificial service of the early Methodist circuit-riding preachers.

I proudly claim my Wesleyan heritage and consider myself well-versed in Methodist history. So when I discovered that the successful faith-practices of the LDS church of today looks remarkably like the Methodist church culture 150 years ago I immediately ask myself, "When/why did we cease to live the word 'church' as a verb and instead resign it to function as merely a noun?"

Americans Don't Know Much About Religion?

AP Religion Writer Rachel Zoll entered an interesting story entitled Americans Don't Know Much About Religion on Sept 28, 2010 from which the excerpt below appears:

"A new survey of Americans' knowledge of religion found that atheists, agnostics, Jews and Mormons outperformed Protestants and Roman Catholics in answering questions about major religions, while many respondents could not correctly give the most basic tenets of their own faiths.

The survey was recently released by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life aimed to test a broad range of religious knowledge, including understanding of the Bible, core teachings of different faiths and major figures in religious history. The U.S. is one of the most religious countries in the developed world, especially compared to largely secular Western Europe, but faith leaders and educators have long lamented that Americans still know relatively little about religion.

Respondents to the survey were asked 32 questions with a range of difficulty, including whether they could name the Islamic holy book and the first book of the Bible, or say what century the Mormon religion was founded. On average, participants in the survey answered correctly overall for half of the survey questions.
Atheists and agnostics scored highest, with an average of 21 correct answers, while Jews and Mormons followed with about 20 accurate responses. Protestants overall averaged 16 correct answers, while Catholics followed with a score of about 15. On questions about Christianity, Mormons scored the highest."

I find the overall results of the survey somewhat disappointing, especially when "atheists and agnostics scored highest" in various points on religion. But while I find the last line to be the most condemning commentary of professing Christians, it hardly comes as any surprise, at least to me. The great irony is, of course, that most all Christian faith groups identify the Mormons belief system as a cult. If that's so, why are they so much more knowledgeable of the Christian faith that their detractors? The answer may surprise you.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Don't sacrifice small churches on altar of economics

Shifting Paradigms

The time is long overdue for a dramatic paradigm shift in how our appointment system serves small-membership churches. To abandon them is cowardly. We deeply believe that Wesleyan “grace upon grace” theology is more therapeutic and holistically redemptive than religious “brands” that preach emotionalism, prosperity gospel or harsh legalism.

In the country where I grew up, we had two sayings regarding this. One referred to a “chicken house complex” where any chicken with a drop of blood was pecked to death by the other chickens. We must guard against this judgmentalism in churches that are small. (The challenge of large churches, on the other hand, is overcoming anonymity.)

The other saying was “the chickens are coming home to roost” if poor farming practices—such as the absence of soil conservation, contour farming, use of legumes or rundown farm equipment—gradually reduced the harvests. All these agrarian terms have parallels in the church and will likewise lead to reduced spiritual harvests.

Kennon Callahan of Emory University was right a score of years ago when he insisted that the “age of the local church is over; the age of the mission station has come.” The answer is not in the size of the congregation; the answer is in re-kindling the flame of relational evangelism, enhancing missional ministry at the local level and deploying our personnel through a covenantal relationship between conference and congregation rather than the obsolete method of appointment-making.

Dr. Haynes is a retired member of the Western North Carolina Conference and current interim pastor of Kallam Grove Christian Church.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Let’s recover class meetings and share pastoral ministry

Steve Manskar, Sep 6, 2010

By Steve Manskar
Special Contributor

A recent story in The Tennessean, “Clergy Sacrifice Health for Flock,” caught my attention. It quotes Nashville area pastors struggling to balance the demands of pastoral ministry, family and self-care.

All-too-often, there is no balance. The demands on the time and energy of clergy leaves little time for exercise, a healthy diet and Sabbath rest.

The end result is increasing rates of obesity, heart disease and diabetes among Protestant clergy in North America. In other words, pastoral ministry is destroying the well-being of clergy.

This growing trend is also a symptom of a dysfunctional, enculturated church that David Lowes Watson describes in his book Forming Christian Disciples (Wipf and Stock, 2002):

“Instead of places where people come to be formed as Christian disciples, congregations . . . become places where people are primarily concerned with being helped and blessed. Instead of finding how they can serve the risen Christ in the world, proclaiming and living out the coming reign of God, they . . . look for ways in which they themselves can be enriched by God’s love and peace and justice. And even when they do make a serious attempt to form their members into Christian disciples, they will tend to focus on the development of personal spiritual growth to the neglect of helping Jesus Christ with the unfinished task of preparing the world for God’s coming shalom.”

Staff’s burden

Such congregations have become providers of religious goods and services. They are places of sanctuaries where members go to escape the world. The pastor and paid church staff spend most of their time and energy providing the programs people expect. They are also expected to visit the sick and homebound members, and comfort the grieving.

Their time is consumed with meeting the needs of the congregation. In these times of economic hardship and declining membership, church leaders are under increasing pressure to keep current members happy and do all they can to attract new members. As paid staff, the responsibility for all this work falls on their shoulders. It is no wonder that the stress of unrealistic expectations and demands is affecting their health.

This is a wake-up call for United Methodist congregations. We have within our DNA the means to address this growing problem: the class meeting and class leaders.

The class meeting is a system of small groups designed to teach people the basics of Christian discipleship and provide support for living in the world as a follower of Jesus Christ. The class meeting provided much of the pastoral ministry in early Methodism. They equipped lay members to provide pastoral care and support for their sisters and brothers in Christ. This freed preachers to focus on the work they were called to do: proclaim the gospel, administer the sacraments and order the life of the congregation.

Class leader’s role

Class leaders were (are) lay pastoral ministers who work in partnership with the preacher/pastors. They do the bulk of the pastoral care and nurture now required by the ordained/licensed appointed clergy. The work of the class leader is to help the members of his or her class to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ and to do the pastoral work of visiting them when they get sick and experience life crises and transitions. The key here is that class leaders are mature Christian women and men who are affirmed by the congregation and work in partnership with the ordained/licensed appointed clergy to see that the pastoral ministry of the church is faithfully performed.

Pastoral ministry is historically the responsibility of the congregation; it should not be the sole responsibility of the clergy. Unfortunately, mainline churches in North America have done an excellent job training clergy and laity to believe that pastoral ministry is the work of the clergy. They are the “experts” who have been trained. This, of course, is a lie. The consequence is a disempowered, passive laity.

It’s no wonder that many clergy get caught up in this lie and end up overweight, suffer from heart disease and diabetes. Is this the church of Jesus Christ who came proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe the Good News”?

The Rev. Manskar is director of Wesleyan leadership at the General Board of Discipleship. E-mail: smanskar@gbod.org

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Q&A: Restoring the supremacy of Jesus

A July 2nd article posted on the United Methodist Reporter Facebook portal really caught my eye yesterday. In the article, a staff writer is asking the co-author of a new book, Jesus Maifesto, a series of questions which in turn elicits a number of very interesting responses. While I've selected just a few of the questions and answers for the sake of brevity the entire article can be found @ http://www.umportal.org/article.asp?id=6915

Let’s talk about the title. Interesting word choice—“Jesus,” which usually has positive connotations, paired with “manifesto,” a much heavier word often associated with upheaval and revolution. Why those choices?
There are a couple of reasons. The theme of the book is that Jesus wants to manifest his presence to each one of us. So that word “manifest” is a very important word to us. And also, that word is misused in a lot of different circles. The word manifesto is a call for the church to move away from a lot of the things it’s been talking about.

We’ve been trying to do every kind of church imaginable—whether it’s a program-driven church, a purpose-driven church, a seeker-sensitive church, an NCD [Natural Church Development] church, an organic church or a missional church. We try every kind of church under the sun, but what if we were what the church is intended to be—the body of Christ living his resurrection, presence and power on this planet?

So the power of the word manifesto had two meanings—it’s a call to action, a call to summons, a call to regroup and at the same time, it’s a call to be a Jesus manifest in the world.

The book points out that the Old Testament is all about Jesus, the New Testament is all about Jesus, Paul was all about Jesus, the Holy Spirit was all about Jesus and the early church was all about Jesus. But you say that’s not so much the case today. What happened?
I think we went down a lot of very interesting rabbit holes, and each one was kind of fun and interesting to explore, but in going down those we lost sight of the journey we’re really on, which is to follow Christ.

Another place we went wrong is the Protestant Reformation, and I thank God for that because I’m here today because of it—we all are—but in some ways the Protestant Reformation was the triumph of the left brain in the history of Christianity. God gave us two sides of the brain for a reason. We’re suppose to live out of both brains, but by and large, the Protestant Reformation forced us to live out of the left side of our brain—the logical, rational, sequential, consecutive, word-based side.

The right brain is a very different world. It’s much more about the wholes, relations, images and the arts—all the things like music and reverence, love, affection and companionship. So the Protestant Reformation was kind of “the revenge of the left brain,” and from that came questions like, “What do you think?”

My argument is that the real question is not “What do you think?” but “Who do you love?” Thinking is important too, but on Judgment Day, you’ll be asked not “What did you think?” but “Who did you love?” The church has only half a brain right now, and it’s the wrong half. We really need a whole-brain faith. This book is really calling the church to a whole brain.

What has replaced Jesus as the focus of many churches?
Success—defined by a consumer culture. I call it the ABCs: attendance, buildings, cash. The biblical metaphor for this is bigger barns. We want bigger barns. The real question for us is not the bigger-barn question, but how well are you manifesting Christ in the world? How well are you being Jesus for the world?

There are three great transcendentals of being that our ancestors developed, and Thomas Aquinas is the one who really brought it forth. How do you know Christ is present? He said show me beauty, truth and goodness. I don’t know many churches that submit beauty, truth and goodness stories in their annual reports. We’re asked to submit statistics—and that’s the left brain’s work.

If you want a real annual report to the bishop and district superintendent, it ought to be: What are your beauty stories? How’d you beautify your neighborhood? What are your goodness and truth stories? I think we’ve really gone awry. The most creative, the most imaginative, missional, entrepreneurial system in the world ought to be the United Methodist connection, and often that is not the case.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Saturday at Local Pastors School

While most of our class seized the opportunity to take the required sexual ethics course during the week at Annual Conference, Brother Al Ammon and I had to take it last Saturday at Lon Morris due our work schedules. While I’ve never had the joy of being at Annual Conference I don’t think that I would have traded even that for my experience taking the class at Local Pastors School last weekend.

Much of the school environment was familiar to me, like the schools coordinator, Rev. Dale Chance, who is also senior pastor of Brenham 1st UMC, the “hub church” for Chappell Hill. Likewise, the intensity of commitment exhibited by the 25 or so appointees in the class was reminiscent of the atmosphere in our CLM classes. These folks all demonstrated the identical passion for service that we have. The only difference between their service as clergy and ours as laity, that I could see, was what they were willing to give up to be in service. And, from what I’ve learned recently, it’s considerable.

Because of this, I detected slightly different perspectives shared by members of the class than our own and I couldn’t help but feel that I had been immersed into a unique culture. Part of this was due to the intensity of what they had committed to. Unlike our one-day classes, they had committed to a 12-day intensive study and only allowed one free evening. I was just there for one day and then I got to go home - small wonder that I felt like an outsider.

But during our breaks I made some friends and we were able to converse and share our views of ministry during lunch. I received number of surprises when I learned that many of these new pastors and I share counter cultural perspectives for mission focus and building community beyond the local church. I came away from the experience with a renewed sense of hope that, given the caliber and commitment of these new pastors, maybe there is brighter future ahead for the church. We need to be supportive of not just these but all of our pastors and remain in prayer that the Lord will guide them.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Amy's friend Marc is ordained, and he's tired.

United Methodist Reporter On the blog:
June 11, 2010

Ordination Can Make You Tired

Monday night I had the privilege of attending the Service of Ordination and Commissioning of the North Texas Conference of the UMC. (I say "privilege" not only because of the enormity of the event, but also because even the overflow room became so packed that they had to turn people away. Thank heaven for live web streaming and archived video!)

During the Annual Conference business sessions on Monday and Tuesday, we viewed pre-recorded speeches by each of the ordinands. I know many of the people who were ordained this year, but among all of their speeches, which were limited to two minutes, the one given by the Rev. Marc Corazao stood out:

Bishop Bledsoe and members of the North Texas Conference,

My name is Marc Corazao, and I currently serve as Associate Pastor over Outreach Ministries at Floral Heights United Methodist Church and as Pastor with the Breakfast at the Heights Community in Wichita Falls.

So, I’ve finally gotten to this point of being voted on at clergy session and ordained as an elder, and you know what? I’m pretty tired…

I’m tired of watching pastors and churches cater to the comfort of an affluent constituency.

I’m tired of mission efforts that actually keep those in poverty at arm's length by drawing lines of givers and receivers, privileged and lowly, blessed and cursed, community and other.

I’m tired of coming to Annual Conference and repeatedly witnessing us being more concerned with the outcome of a vote than our sisters and brothers we run over, shut out, dismiss, and demonize to get what we want.

I’m tired of hearing us fearfully talk about our sinking ship that we supposedly need to figure out how to float again.

I’m tired of the part I have played in fostering all of this in the church today.

I’m pretty tired.

So, if I’m tired, and I go to sleep, maybe I’ll dream of something else...

Maybe I’ll dream of a people with the mind of Christ, who encounter the world with basin and towel in hand.

Maybe I’ll dream of a community that lives and works and laughs and serves together with sisters and brothers who live in poverty.

Maybe I’ll dream of holy conversation at Annual Conference that is characterized by outdoing one another in showing honor to each other.

Maybe I’ll dream of the lost, the marginalized, the outcast, the lonely, finding maybe the one place of welcome, acceptance, and counter-cultural love in their lives with us.

Maybe I’ll dream of a church not driven by the fear of self-preservation but by the calling of God to transform the world in love no matter what the cost.

Maybe I’ll dream of my own need to repent and God’s voice calling me and my family in Christ to live and love so dramatically, so humbly, so boldly, so differently, that people everywhere will ask, “What is with those United Methodists?”

And when I wake, you better believe that something’s going to change, and I’m not sitting this one out.

You know what Marc? I'm getting tired, too. Thanks for this prophetic word.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Soren Kierkegaard on "Spiritual Laziness"

From "The God of Intimacy and Action"
"Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes its place then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible. He reads to them:

"Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagels. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings and you can fly like birds!" All the ducks shouted, "Amen!" As the ducks left the service they commented on what a wonderful sermon it was. And then they all waddled home."

The author makes the point that to change, to act on what we hear, we must be intentional in our spiritual growth; we must seek to become more like Jesus. A church that is pursuing Jesus, becoming more like Him will want to get up, go out and help the poor, heal the sick, fight for justice for the poor and oppressed - all those things that Jesus did.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Apologetics Redefined

Following the worship service at Dickie Doos Bar last Sunday night (see post on January 25th) Rev. Todd Jordan briefed me on the preparations Caldwell 1st U.M.C. is making for their revival beginning May 16th. Foremost on the list is taking out a half-page ad in the local paper. Ironically, the primary focus of this ad is not to specifically advertise the planned event to be held at the Burleson County Fairgrounds but rather to issue an apology to the community. During the hour-long trip back home that night it struck me just how badly an apology is due to so many of the communities that our churches serve. Allow me to explain:

15 years ago I was chair of the board of trustees in a fair-sized urban church in the Houston, South District. Because of my position I was named to serve on the newly-created Houston South Parish formed to consolidate the assets and remaining congregation at the closing of a smaller satellite church, Temple U.M.C. Since the membership had dwindled down to just a handful it sounded like a good idea on paper. But as an elected community leader bent on achieving social justice for the residents of our declining neighborhood I was inwardly outraged by what we as a connectional church were doing.

Although then-current census tract information revealed the highest population, lowest per-capita income, and the most single-parent households in the history of the neighborhood, we closed the doors to Temple U.M.C. Rather than reaching out in Christian love, lending a helping hand, or embracing the “least of these” when the mission fields there had been never more ripe for harvest, we pulled out, packed up, and sold out.

Today, 15 years later, Houston South Parish is a consolidation of 5 area churches all closed, save one. It grieves me deeply for having been a part of this history of events and I see it as a testament of our lack of faith as a church. I sincerely believe that as long as we continue to be unfaithful to our true calling as Christ’s disciples and to our Wesleyan roots as a church we will (rightly) continue our decline as a denomination.

Due to its commonplace in our connectional culture we have accepted church closure as a normal occurrence. What a travesty that is given our rich heritage for church-building and ministering to those in need wherever they are encountered. How can we turn this situation around? I believe that it really isn’t all that difficult to be the authentic church of Jesus Christ in today’s world. All you really need is a little faith, a congregational culture dedicated to ministry in their community, and a humble spirit for service. You might begin with an apology…

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Reflections for Holy Saturday

This Lenten Season has been an especially transforming time for me, spiritually. I am very conscience of God moving in my life and the in lives around me, bringing change, healing, and again, transformation. For that reason, the image of the cross now instills a new sense of awareness within me. I know that I have been changed this year into something new and that I have no desire to go back to what I was before. I also recognize that there is nothing, no aspect of my life, that I can or need to withhold from Him. Sweet surrender, indeed.

We will finish our coursework in a couple of months and will then be done with our studies. I wonder, where we will each wind up serving and in what capacity? Regardless, I know that God has a plan for every one of us. The fellowship that we have enjoyed in class, as brothers and sisters together being equipped for His service, has been a major portion of the transformation that I have experienced. Through what you have shared from your hearts in class, I have been inspired to become a better disciple. I have been moved by the conviction of your spirit and your dedication to authentically living out your faith as you have been so called.

Additionally, I can see and attest to the transformation which has occurred in each one of you. Just as powerful as your own Christian witness to me is the awesome evidence of His mighty work that I see in each of you. It has been an honor for me to be a part of our studies together as your classmate and I consider it a privilege to soon go forth with you in service. May God continue to bless each of us.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

The Connection: Church Growth and Spiritual Formation: A Book Unwritten

I was researching a sequel for the book mentioned in one of the previous installments of this series until very recently when my life took a decidedly different turn. It was to be titled “What Ever Happened To The Methodist Excitement In Texas?” and would examine the decline of our denomination in a once great bastion of Methodism, Washington County, in hopes of reigniting the fervor we were once known for.

My inquiries into how and why a centerpiece of Methodist activity could diminish to the degree that we have were met with experts answers like, “demographic shift” or “change in population density.” My retort is that the population in Washington County has multiplied several times over during our denomination’s decline here – we have just lost our willingness, and apparently our ability, to evangelize.

When I point out to the experts that a denomination that is experiencing an even greater rate of decline than our own (Lutheran) still has two dozen churches thriving in rural Washington County their response is that they are of traditional German heritage indigenous to the area. Yet, we Methodists established a university here (Blinn) dedicated to training German-speaking preachers for the German Methodist Conference churches here and elsewhere, so that excuse doesn’t really hold water either.

It is quite easy to sit behind a computer and postulate reasons for the position that we’re in. But by buying into this cultural norm, we as a church have evolved into “Those who believe that evangelism is all about slick website, mass mailings, and posh facilities…” as our D.S. points out. Those who ascribe to such values “can continue in their fantasies that such strategies will actually usher in the kingdom” but in reality it will only serve to speed the church’s decline.

Clearly our history demonstrates that we are more than capable as an evangelistic church but that we have drifted from our roots. It long past time that we embrace our Wesleyan heritage and put it into practice rather than merely taunting it for advertising purposes. We will become effective in kingdom building only when we move out of our comfort zones and begin authentically living out our faith as the evangelists we were once where.

As for me, I’m moving out from behind my computer to embrace the good work that the Lord has given us. I may never get that book written but I now realize that there is a far more important One that I need to share with the world.


What are some of the ways that you believe the church could authentically live out its Wesleyan heritage?

The Connection: Church Growth and Spiritual Formation: A History Lesson

While the Methodist circuit riding preachers followed the Westward expansion of the frontier in the new Republic of Texas something else was occurring a few miles South of the original seat of government (Washington-on-the-Brazos) in Chappell Hill. Not one, but two Methodist colleges were established there in an effort to address the higher educational needs of the republic, and a short time later, the new state.

Washington County, and especially Chappell Hill, continued to figure prominently in the unfolding events of Methodism as six Texas Annual Conferences had been held there by 1882. By that time a third Methodist-affiliated college had been established in nearby Brenham for training German-speaking Methodist ministers as that was then the dominant ethnic group in the county.

While Chappell Hill may have served as the epicenter of conventional and educational Methodist activity near the birthplace of Texas, new churches began springing up all over rural Washington County as result of the circuit riders activity. As churches became established and clergy became available pastors were appointed to serve these “stations.”

During this process, however, something happened to the culture of these churches over the years. No longer reliant on strong lay leadership to hold the church together until a circuit riding preacher would return and share a strong message tinged with evangelistic fervor, they submitted to the authority of the appointed pastor. Having relinquished the welfare of the church to clergy, the laity was no longer empowered to determine the life of the church.

Almost all of these rural churches were on a circuit with the appointed pastor dividing his time among a number of churches and unable to effectively invest significantly into the life of any one specifically. The revolving door of the appointment system led to lack of continuity in clergy leadership which was compounded by the leadership vacuum in the ranks of the laity. With no one to take “ownership” of the churches they began to fail and close.

Even the once great bastion of Methodism, Chappell Hill, watched their colleges close and the church served as a part time appointment on a circuit with two others and membership drop to just a handful. Today, out of the dozen or so churches that once existed in Washington County only a third remain. Two are now full-time appointments while the other two are served part-time on a three-point circuit and continue to struggle with an uncertain future.


Do you see the CLMs helping to revive the evangelistic fervor of the circuit riders in our churches today?

The Connection: Church Growth and Spiritual Formation - Evangelistic Excitement

While the views of our D.S. and my personal perspective were shared in the previous two installments of this series, this one references a publication of the Texas United Methodist Historical Society. It is entitled The Methodist Excitement In Texas and was published in 1982 as a history of Methodism dating all the way back to the colonization of the then-Mexican province led by Stephen F. Austin.

The book draws its name from a letter Austin wrote as result of noise “excited Methodist preachers” made in public preaching and the threat that it presented to keeping the peace in the province of a country where Catholicism was the state religion. Introduction of Protestant beliefs in Austin’s colony would place him in contempt with Mexican authorities; hence, he penned these words to Josiah H. Bell in 1829: “It will not do to have the Methodist excitement raised in this country.”

Regardless of Austin’s preferences the “Methodist Excitement in Texas” only intensified. Methodist circuit riding preachers followed the Westward expansion of the frontier as new settlements were established. Much fruit was borne from the fervor of all of this evangelistic activity. Soon Methodists became a major political force in the delegated conventions of 1832 and 1833 to propose changes to Mexican regulations.

Later, Methodists would be a part of the shaping of what would become the new Republic of Texas. Many of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Methodists, as well. If the spread of Methodism was undaunted by the anti-Protestant requirements imposed by the Mexican government during the colonial era, it caught on like wildfire during the time of the republic: “During the time of the republic, the Methodist preacher – whose denomination claimed more than half of all church members in the republic – took the lead in moral reform as he had in education.”

Clearly, Methodism had become a dominant force in the development of moral, ethical, and religious beliefs in the new republic. By claiming over half of all church members in the entire country the Methodist movement had the ability to shape the destiny of an entire country with its doctrinal beliefs. And, from the back woods to the frontier, the circuit riding preachers dedicated their lives to doing just that.

In lieu of circuit riding preachers, how do you see CLMs reviving “Methodist excitement” in our churches today?

Saturday, March 6, 2010

The Connection: Church Growth and Spiritual Formation – Part Two

One Sunday back in January Calvin and I worshipped at a little rural church tucked back in the woods at a very remote location up in Williamson County. Calvin had served this church in the early '60s though he was never officially appointed as the pastor. Indeed, in spite of the fact that it was no longer served, this little church soldiered on miraculously without an appointed pastor and refused to close. Calvin was serving a church in a nearby town when he responded to their request to hold services at the little rural church on Sunday evenings. Because of their tenacity he gladly complied with their request.

Unfortunately, Calvin's decision generated some hard feelings at the church that he was serving and as result he was moved to a new appointment the following June.

Ironically, the church in town closed a couple of decades later and the little church in the woods flourished beyond anyone's wildest expectations. In fact, Calvin and I had returned to the little church that day in January for the dedication of their new building which more than doubled their square footage. Amazingly, it appears they may outgrow this new space within 5 years!

How can one explain the paradox between the two churches, the one which once flourished only to close, and the one which all but closed but now continues to flourish? Could it be that, in spite of leading expert opinion claiming otherwise, location really doesn't play a significant role in church growth after all? What then, IS the determining factor? Try this radical concept on for size: A church which authentically lives out the Great Commission while possessing a passion for the Greatest Commandment at the heart of its culture.

Travels with Calvin and my service as CLS have taken me to a number of different churches, some flourishing and others in serious decline. Predictably, I've discovered that those churches which actively engage in outreach with their community have a vibrant, spirit of anticipation of fruit being borne from their efforts and a sense of expectation of blessings to come. A big part of their success is just attitude with the remainder being a willingness to leave the confines of the four walls of the church and engage their community.


Where do you see the church authentically living out the Great Commission while possessing a passion for the Greatest Commandment at the heart of its culture today?

The Connection: Church Growth and Spiritual Formation – Part One

During a recent visit with my mentor, Calvin, he drew my attention to the article written by our D.S. on the front page of our District Newsletter entitled The Church's Mission: A World That Is Lost. The article speaks to the decline of the church as result of it seeming to have lost its mission focus: taking the Good News of Jesus Christ OUT to a lost and hurting world. The article states that churches both large and small will continue to decline (and die) because of their failure to understand this reality.

Indeed, with rare exception the prevalent vision in a number of local churches seems to be one inwardly focused on the escalating plant maintenance issues associated with aging edifices, compounded by the tough economic times in which we are living. But hey, who can blame us - we're just being good stewards of that which has been entrusted to us to care for, right? That argument might hold water for the 'bricks and mortar' issues of the church, but the central focus should never be consumed by the building with the steeple, but instead on the souls of the people. While only a few of us are called to serve on the board of trustees, ALL of us are called to serve as the ministers of the church, reaching out to those in need of the Gospel, all around us.

Calvin had drawn my attention to the newsletter article because of the reference our D.S. made concerning the remote churches in rural locations that defy demographic standards and church growth expert's predictions by continuing to bloom right where they have been planted. This conflicts with conventional wisdom which dictates a move into major population center in order to maintain an effective ministry to the masses. So, how can this occur when we have many churches in decline while prominently planted within well established population centers?

The article continues "there are a significant number of folks in the congregation who do not believe it is an imposition to be concerned about others' spiritual well-being, concerned enough to dare to bring them to the fellowship of the Body of Christ." Truly,

this is the mindset required to genuinely live out our call as the authentic church. Unfortunately, all too often the paradigm shift required to relinquish a bricks and mortar centered version of ministry to one which embraces this mission focus is regarded as too radical by many of our local churches with aging congregations already in crisis.


How do you see CLMs serving as a catalyst for change of the prevailing inwardly-focused culture and empowering our churches to embrace the mission that we have been called to?

Monday, January 25, 2010

Outreach Ministry in Caldwell

First United Methodist Church, Caldwell is putting their faith into action and reaching out to their community in an exciting and radical way by providing a contemporary evening service in a downtown bar. Pastor Todd Jordan contacted the owner of "Dickie Doos" dancehall and bar one block South of the courthouse square and asked if he could "rent" the facility on the second Sunday night of each month for $0. To the surprise and amazement of all the owner agreed.

Since then the church's "Might to Praise Band" has been providing motivating praise and worship music and Pastor Todd gives a contemporary and inspiring message at each service. Davis Mallard, a certified lay speaker at St. John's U.M.C., Rockdale, was on hand to share his moving testimony at the service on January 10th. This ministry is well supported by the whole church and entire families were present worshipping and praising together.

Please plan to attend this powerful, vital ministry on each second Sunday at 7:00 PM, Dickie Doos, 218 S. Echols, Caldwell, Texas. You'll be glad that you made the trip, I guaranty it -