The Preacher-Moving-Season

The United Methodist Church is well-known for moving their preachers from church-to-church.  Sometimes congregations cheer and sometimes they jeer.  The same is true of pastors, of course.  Many people have asked me about this ‘strange’ practice.  First let me share about its origins before I share more about how it works and the pros and cons of this process:

In the 18th century there was this Anglican priest named John Wesley who was frustrated with the church in England.  He began an effort to revitalize it by developing small groups and inviting the whole church into both prayer and action.  Eventually the Anglican church was exasperated by him and his “methodist” followers so they shipped him to America.  He began his efforts in the new world until they, too, became exasperated with him and sent him back to England, but his effect upon the frontier of America was incredible.  Lay people began methodist societies and lay preachers would go from place to place, but the people who were part of these new Methodist societies didn’t want to then go to an Anglican church just because John Wesley said so, they wanted to be Methodists.  Methodist preachers were eventually ordained and they were sent on horseback from one society to another and new “Methodist Episcopal” Churches began popping up anywhere these “circuit riders” showed up.

Out on the western frontier, especially, the clergy would ride from church to church to preach, baptize and serve communion as they were able but in between visits it was the lay people who preached and taught in the church.  It was commonplace that a clergy person would only make it around about once a quarter.  As the church became more established clergy began to receive greater training and education.  As clergy became more educated ‘professionals’ they didn’t want to go out on horseback (at a breakneck pace) only to keel over dead at age thirty, so the bishops gave them smaller and smaller circuits until it became commonplace for clergy to be situated at a single church or churches for a year at a time. Back then, once a year the bishop would read the new appointments at Annual Conference and then all the clergy would go home with a couple of weeks to get moved!

Eventually the church realized that when clergy remained for more time it provided stability for local churches. Today, United Methodist preachers in Illinois are not very likely to be moved before they have been in an ‘appointment’ for three years, but it is also not very common for clergy to remain in a church for more than, say, 12 years.

How does it work?

The bishop can move a preacher at any time, but generally, pastors in Illinois find out where they are to go (or whether they will remain) by Annual Conference time.  Pastors can generally expect to be appointed to a local church from July 1 – June 30 of a given year, which makes July first “moving day” for many clergy across this state.  The bishop has district superintendents who are tasked with better knowing the individual churches in their districts and usually around January they begin discussing which clergy are retiring and any clergy or churches that are requesting a change.  By the way, requesting a move doesn’t mean a move is going to happen, but most bishops and superintendents take those requests very seriously (when the request has merit).

Between January and the annual meeting (annual conference), in June, the cabinet will likely meet 5-10 times for 2-3 days at a time during those months.  During each session of the cabinet they will discuss the churches where a pastor is needed and discern what pastor might best fill that position.  Once superintendents return home to their part of the state they begin meeting with churches and clergy who are affected and introduce the new pastors to their new soon-to-be churches.  This process often create a chain of changes, so it can be very complex and creative work when there are hundreds of churches and hundreds of pastors active in downstate Illinois!

There are many people who have given the bishop and cabinet flack about appointments, especially when they are thinking only of how a change affects them, but I cannot imagine how difficult it is to figure out the logistics in such a huge undertaking.  At its best, this system provides churches and pastors with ‘good fits’ that help the pastor and the church to thrive (and grow), but not every appointment works out as well as the cabinet expects.  Though, that does not mean that God wasn’t at work in the process, of course!

Why do we still do it this way?

Churches can become comfortable and, even, stale.  Sometimes change is needed to help the church gain new vitality and it is hard to see that from within the congregation.  So we have a bishop who looks at a church’s needs, solicits information and opinions, and brings wisdom.  It helps churches to not get stuck in a rut.  Moreover, who wants to tell their pastor: “Hey, everything is rolling along just fine.  We actually like you, but we’re going another direction.”  Even when the church is upset about pastoral leadership it can tear a church to pieces to fire a pastor and it can be just as destructive when a pastor decides to leave a church.  Churches that are not connectional, like us, can go years without a pastor…often feeling stuck…and pastors in those systems can go years without a job.

There is a larger issue at play, though, than just hiring, firing, and steady employment.  Sometimes when God speaks through a prophet / teacher / preacher the people are not going to like what they hear.  It happened for the ancient Hebrew people, it happened to Jesus in his hometown, and it happens regularly still today.  Just because it doesn’t feel comfortable doesn’t mean that it doesn’t need to be said.  If the church doesn’t hire and fire the pastor, but they are assigned by the bishop, it gives the pastor a certain ‘freedom’ in their preaching (but also when providing leadership and administration).  In the United Methodist Church the pastor has the authority to lead worship and preach with ‘freedom of the pulpit’ which has enabled United Methodist clergy, at times of great conflict, to offer prophetic wisdom and leadership when the church most needed it!

A Social Media Pentecost

To Ponder:  Full Pentecost Scripture

When Pentecost Day arrived, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound from heaven like the howling of a fierce wind filled the entire house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be individual flames of fire alighting on each one of them. They were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages as the Spirit enabled them to speak.  (Acts 2:1-4)

When the day of pentecost came, the believers were emboldened with the Holy Spirit.  They were able to be understood by the people around them, even if they spoke other languages.  The religious people of this past century have begun to struggle in being heard and understood by a new generation and their new and “troubling” ways of communicating.  I believe that the Holy Spirit is coming upon believers who are open to it and alighting us with new language and new ways of being heard!

Pastors and lay people alike who feel the Spirit upon them and who God has given the language of social media must be a new church, just like the earliest believers at Pentecost.

This is our chance.  This is a new day and there will be a new church whether we like it or not.  It will look different and it will not be confined by the traditional walls that we have come to associate with ‘church.’  Will the mainline (or I prefer to say: old-line) churches (United Methodist, United Church of Christ, Lutheran, Presbyterians, etc) be a part of this new church?

If we can let go of the structure and fear that is holding us back, we will.  And the price is too high to not be a part of this new church.  We have theological gifts to share with a new generation.


Unfortunately… and I can only speak for the United Methodist Church, but our UM Communications and, in Illinois, our Conference Communication team make the church look old-fashioned (that’s honest, mostly, I suppose) and they move too slowly and carefully.  Worse, they focus on communications rather than relationships!  Our denominations are stymied and they make us look terrible (recently at our annual charge conference we were shown a video of our bishop that made him look like a used car salesman, oh- and the district office couldn’t provide my church a digital copy when asked!!!).  But at the local church level and in our own communities we can now accomplish bigger things than they are even capable of with social media.  Our reach can be effective in our local communities (even the most rural) and they can grow our local, walled churches…  yet our reach can also,now, go well beyond our local communities and walled churches.  When we effectively use the internet, social media, and blogging we can share faith, touch lives, and experience community in places that we never before dreamed possible.

If you are listening for the Holy Spirit in this new generation and want to speak out and connect with new people, I have some suggestions:

  1. Make sure you have Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest accounts and (and this is the really important part) grow your presence:
    1. Work hard to cultivate a following by:
      1. posting often
      2. posting quality and relational materials
      3. try not to use insider language
      4. continually adding friends / followers
    2. Look at other accounts / pages / walls / feeds and share interesting items
    3. Don’t be afraid to share personal things about yourself (within safety and reason).  Use these avenues as a way to foster relationships!
  2. Get a blog account!!!
    1. There are several sites that can help you, I especially recommend:  Blogger (by Google, just use your Google user/pass) or WordPress.
    2. Get your blog and social media accounts connected to your webpage.  It makes your page more dynamic and personal.
    3. Share your blog by social media.  It turns 140 characters into a full and on-going narrative.
    4. I can’t emphasize this enough:  don’t be afraid to share your own personal stories, yet connect them to your faith.
    5. Keep it short.  Think in terms of a 1/2 to full page of paper at most when you write your blog! (This blog post is pushing the limit)
  3. Keep your eyes peeled for new ways to connect online.  If lots of people are using 4square or LinkedIn, etc…then go where the people are.

Paul used tent making to build relationships, John Wesley went out to the masses in England preaching in fields and cemeteries…I don’t know what it will look like entirely yet, but we have to find new venues and ways to build relationships and share our faith story!  Now, in 2012, we must be a Pentecost people!  We must feel the Holy Spirit as it enlivens us to share our faith and we must speak the languages that God is giving us the gift to speak.  It is our time and our new and exciting world.  Let’s share our faith as disciples of Christ!!!














Title image found at:  http://peacesojourner.blogspot.com/2011_06_01_archive.html
Ministry from the Backyard.

I’m still on medical leave from my pastoral duties…at least officially. Although I preached this morning for a confirmation service at my church, I get to walk away without the worries and responsibilities of being a pastor for the rest of the week.

I came home and relaxed in my recliner and did all the things that a guy should do when he’s recovering from surgery…but, then, when my wife got home I joined her in the backyard. She wanted to write a blog, but also enjoy the day. I couldn’t argue with that. I went out and did the same.

I logged onto facebook, then twitter, and then went over my blog stats and posts. I really did very little, yet I communicated with a number of friends, member of my church family, and people in the community. As I sit in the sun and write blog posts (feeling the wind whip past me and the sun on my arms) I am connecting with other people and building relationships. A pastor who only did this all week would be…well, quite simply, lazy… Yet, shifting some responsibilities to make time for social media is a smart move.

Getting a small laptop or iPad and going to the local coffee shop or a restaurant…or using an iphone to update your status (or check-in) from a community event or location will enhance and deepen your ministry and your connection to the people who live near you.

It is time for pastors to recognize that making time for social media, not at the end of the week when everything else is done, but throughout their week (as a priority) will help them to do every other element of their ministry in today’s new context!

NOTE:  The photos above were taken with intstagram.  If you are a pastor with an internet-connected smartphone, you need to get the app and start a photostream!  It’s a fun way to share your world with others.

Resurrection & New Life:  A New Blog Series
Image found at:  http://www.palmbeachdailynews.com/news/st-edwards-stained-glass-window-recalls-resurrection-1428418.html
A new Easter series from April 8 (Easter Day) – May 27 (Pentecost).  I have invited a number of friends, scholars, pastors, lay people, and even some bishops to share devotions about Resurrection and Eternal Life.  Over the next few weeks you will hear from me and many guest bloggers as they share about Easter from a variety of places, ages, and world views.  Be sure to come back often.  I’m already giddy with anticipation about some of the people I’ve lined up for you all!!!
If you would like the opportunity to contribute, simply send me a devotional (1/2-2/3 of a page maximum) and I will be glad to consider it:  scotteugene79@mac.com
Compelling Care

This is coming from a guy who just paid a guy to cut a hole in his head, so take it for what it’s worth. I may not be the most accurate source of information. Yesterday was a wonderful day. Oh, it was filled with pain and a few tears (don’t ever think you can’t cry), but it was also filled with friends and family.

I think of myself as a pretty independent person. I am usually stubborn enough to think I can get through things on my own, but it turns out that brain surgery is just one example of something I could not get through on my own.

Over the past few days I limited the people who would be with me, wisely, i think, because just my wife, parents and in-laws coming into a room in 2’s and 3’s was overwhelming at times. Yesterday, though, something happened I suddenly had visitors all throughout the day: Brooke Gulledge (my father’s cousin) and her son, Beau; Greg Weeks, the Senior Pastor at Manchester United Methodist Church; my District Superintendent, Leah Pogemiller; and, of course, Rev. Ray and Mrs. Susan Owens.

Each visit wore me out in its own way. Who would have known that lying in bed while people sat in a room could be an exhausting task? I didn’t! I thought I could handle it, and, really I did, I guess, but by the time Ray and Susan came late last night I was still, somehow, glad for this last visit. Carrie asked if I wanted her to turn them away because she could tell I was exhausted, but it was Ray and Susan! I so wanted to speak with them.

My wife, Carrie, wheeled me down to a lounge (my roommate was sound asleep and we didn’t want to wake him) and down the hall in the lounge we were able to have a lovely conversation with Ray and Susan. When I gave them an occasional word-in-edge-wise: apparently that tumor didn’t affect my ability to talk people to death! They told me of the outpouring of prayers, fasting and support that has been widespread across the church. At the 10:45 am worship service I have spoken of “signs of hope” for our church and this is one of them!

How incredible it has been to be surrounded by such prayer and support and I’m very proud of this church and it’s response, but I was thinking. (And that usually gets me into trouble…)

As your pastor, my medical condition has been very public, but how many people do we have in our midst who are suffering without feeling as though they have been thoroughly and overwhelmingly surrounded in prayer? Don’t worry, though, as your pastor I have some suggestions:  (Would you not except me to give you advice?)

  1. We must talk with one another about concerns that we know of: our own and others of which we are aware. We should never do this in a gossipy or negative way, but ask people who have trouble before them,asking, “Can I share this with a caring community of faith!”
  2. We must be willing to be people of fervent prayer. That prayer list in our bulletin is not just a list of names, but list of people who don’t just need a cognitive list of things said about them, but who need to be surrounded emotionally and spiritually.
  3. And, I’ve said this often before, but we need to actually surround one another.  We need to pick up the phone, we need to stop by, and we need to make sure that we have cared physically for one another.

Over the past few weeks the Pontiac First United Methodist Church has done just this! You have surrounded your pastor in love and support and with emotional and spiritual concern, now I ask: How many have suffered silently during this time? Who else can we raise up in prayer. Will this be just a one time out-reach for a public figure in the church or can we ensure that all who walk into this church feel loved and supported just as through they were the pastor?

I know I am putting a large task before you, but I believe this church is up to it!  I’ve watched as new friends have walked through the doors of Aflame Worship and been welcomed affectionately and invited to Bible studies and Sunday Schools.  I’ve watched as other members of the church have been cared for in crisis and new ministries have started for visitation services and grieving.  I have watched as this church has taken the initiative to begin a new “Fruitful Congregations” Initiative.  That means we are leaders in our conference stepping out in faith!  There are signs of hope at this church:  Prayer and compelling care for others will be at the center of our success.  Let us step out in prayer, care and ministry!

New Year.  New Blog.  New Life.
June 2012, Cancale, France



I have blogged in the past, but the service where I’ve hosted my blog is going away.  So it is time to start over.  Well, that can be a blessing sometimes.  First of all, I’m inviting my wife to contribute to a blog that will belong to both of us.  I thought it might be fun and it will make updates more regular.  Secondly, I’m about to have a major operation.  What a better time to start a blog.  I find myself, more and more, reflecting: on life, God, and my family.


Two years ago I had a very big year.  I graduated seminary, started a new time of ministry at First UMC Pontiac, and got married to my beautiful wife, Carrie.  The past two years have brought a lot of new experiences.  I know what it is to love someone so very much as I love Carrie and yet I’ve experienced the difficulties of learning to be married to someone so different from myself.  I’ve had deep frustrations with the church where I am in ministry and yet found incredible joy in serving there and coming to know these faithful people.  I left a place that I loved (Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston) and went to a very different sort of place in rural Illinois…and I’ve loved living here and found good people and good ministry here in Pontiac.


Suddenly, though, I have found myself in the midst of trauma over the past few months.  This church finally faced their financial reality, and so we will be leaving the church as it right-sizes itself from two pastors to one.  In the midst of that process, we discovered that I had a brain tumor.  Then, as had long been planned, the directing pastor left town for more than three weeks for vacation and a renewal of wedding vows with his wife along the Gulf Coast (we had three funerals over ten days during that time).


It’s funny how these things work.  I was so busy running a church of nearly 1000 members that I didn’t have time to consider my own condition.  If you had asked me if I wanted it that way I would have said, “hell no!”  Yet, God has a funny way of putting things in order, sometimes.  With so much transition and so much to do, I found that I was better able to cope.  I was filled with energy and filled with purpose over these past few weeks.  I was also surrounded by an outpouring of love and support by my family of faith as they walked with me during these last weeks.  I am thankful beyond words for the blessings God has shown me over these past weeks.


Now that I am officially on medical leave and I await a surgery in just 7 days I have had a moment to catch my breath and to ponder what is coming.  I can’t imagine my brain surgery failing.  All I can imagine is a year that will be filled with excitement like I experiences two years ago.  I will be sad to leave the people of Pontiac, but I look forward to the adventures that God will give me in a new church, living in a new community and living alongside a strong, confident, and talented wife.  I look forward to the wedding of my sister-in-law to her fiancé and I look forward to a family vacation next fall.  God has given me many great things to look forward to and I look forward to sharing them with you here on our new blog!


God is good, eh?


Scott

Blogging As Spiritual Discipline
    As I’ve begun to consider how the church (the people of Christ) must re-imagine how it shares its story with the world and one another, I keep coming back to blogging.  Blogging has been around for quite some time now, but it is not going anywhere.  If anything, it is gaining in popularity.  I think we have underestimated this form of communication.  Let me share a non-church example:
    One of my professors, Dr. Brook Lester, integrated blogging into his Introductory class on the Hebrew Scriptures.  He is convinced that the blog is going to become mainstream for communication in education. You see, so far there has been a sense that PhD’s are not taken seriously if they blog, yet serious -even ground breaking- work is being shared through blogs.  There are several reasons that blogging could be a powerful tool to education:
  1. First-of-all professors have access to new and exciting projects and work instantly, there is no waiting for publishers.
  2. Because the work of these academics can be tagged and searched, “pipes” of information can be setup so that all of the most cutting edge research (down to the moment) can be seen side-by-side in, nearly, real-time.
  3. The communication is raw and narrative in style…but more importantly it is two-way. Comments and photos can be quickly posted by others so that a new collegial environment can be formed.
    So, let’s break this down for the church.  The church website has always been far too static to do the church much good.  It is just another way for the church to put up information in hopes that people will come looking for it.  Imagine, instead a church that encouraged interested members and leaders to begin blogging as a spiritual practice.  Using Yahoo “Pipes”, they setup the church website so that church members whose blogs have a certain tag in them are piped into the website.  When ‘edna’ blogs about how she was spiritually transformed through a recent bout with cancer…. or John blogs each day of a church mission trip; the stories are being shared with the community of faith.  Best yet, their friends are seeing faith stories naturally.  You see, our church member’s friends can see these blogs in a number of ways and it is not just another avenue to creating ‘dynamic, emotive [and narrative] content’ but also an avenue of bringing people to the website and even to the church, perhaps.
    To get there: FIRST, pastors and other church leaders must begin blogging about their lives and need to make it part of their spiritual practice (not just something to check off a list at the end of the week).  SECOND, as we talk with our congregations about spiritual practices and Christian witnessing…. we need to talk seriously about this new, American schizophrenia where we lead two lives a “real life” and, then, a virtual facebook life where we say things or post pictures we would otherwise never show!  We need to begin modeling what it means to have an authentic witness not just during an hour on sunday morning but out in the world and even in the cyber-world.  THIRD, we must be willing to let go of content control.  Someone may post something inappropriate or, perhaps, not-flattering about the church….but as a community of faith, that is always possible right in the sanctuary of our church.  We must trust our communities to respond to negativity with optimism and love.

    As I understand it, John Wesley kept two journals:  one set of private journals and one set of public journals.  These were both for his own spiritual growth, but the more public journal was also intended that others would grow in faith.  If we are to continue this Methodist legacy, it seems that blogging is the twenty first century solution.  Let us grow our faith as well as help others as they seek to grow in Christ. Hmmm…Let’s take our faith outside of the church walls!  Let’s not just tell an ancient bible story yet again, but tell our own stories relating them to faith!