I know this is my third pop culture/video post in a row. I swear I’m working on some other stuff. I’ll be back to commenting on religion shortly…
Archive for April, 2008
Ladies and Gentlemen, John Daly.
Posted in Church Ministry, Cultural Commentary, Theology, tagged Christianity, Church, leadership, leadership development, seminary, seminary education, theological education, vision on April 29, 2008 | 3 Comments »
Not long ago my friend Andrew reported a conversation he had recently with a seminary faculty member who asked him, “Are we doing a good job?” Great question. I’ve thought about this quite commonly in recent weeks. I’m assuming your response to this question might depend on the extent of your experience with Christian ministers, or your own reflections from your seminary experience, if you are clergy.
Though there were aspects of my own seminary experience that I had hoped would be more helpful, I’m thankful for what I received from my theological education. I thought that my experience in seminary equipped me theologically, biblically, and practically for ministry. I do wish that leadership skills would have been emphasized more, and I also wish that greater theological diversity would’ve been present in my training. Overall, as I’ve stated, I’m thankful. My education was also supplemented by experience in great churches throughout my life.
I’ve spoken to friends who attended other seminaries who had hoped for more–practically, biblically, and theologically. I have also heard friends that retrospectively would’ve liked for more instruction on how to lead a staff, as well as how to engage theologically with the world as it exists today, not some time 50 years ago in which Christendom was still largely holding a grip on American culture.
The web is a great space for debate. Whether you leave a comment here, or write your own post elsewhere, I thought I’d derive a few questions worthy of discussion. So, do you think seminaries are doing a good job?
- Do seminaries do an adequate job of training potential pastoral leaders in line with the doctrinal heritage of their particular traditions (Methodist, Episcopal, Lutheran, Baptist, etc.)? (Scott Jones helped me see the importance of this question in his book Staying at the Table)
- Do seminaries do an adequate job of teaching the Bible? How many hours of an 85-90 hour Master of Divinity program should focus specifically on Scripture to be deemed “adequate”, particularly in a post-Christian culture that no longer is immersed in the biblical narrative?
- Do seminaries do an adequate job of leadership development? Are graduates equipped with the tools needed to lead congregations that are both large and small, single clergy or multi-staff?
- Do seminaries adequately equip leaders with the tools to creatively engage culture and speak to it (or form it) from the Christian tradition? In other words, have seminaries become a “noncontextual, academy based” ground for training that keeps ministerial leaders in a “wonderfully abstracted world of abstraction”, or are they seeking to help leaders engage the real world missionally and contextually? (Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways, 121)
- Do seminaries create occasions where practice and theory meet, so that pastoral leaders can be adequately equipped and taught skills which will be used day by day in ministry (pastoral care, etc.)? Are students observed somehow, someway in ministry contexts where they can be mentored to be better pastoral leaders during their seminary experience?
- Do seminaries adequately cast vision for evangelism, the importance of the church as the locus of God’s transformation, or for the grandeur of the Lordship of Jesus Christ? (I can think of no better example than St. Paul School of Theology, which has a window, I believe in the dining hall, on their campus overlooking the heart of downtown Kansas City. What a great opportunity to cast vision. How often that opportunity is taken I do not know. I could not find a picture of the view on their website.)
- Do seminaries form pastoral leaders into the type of people whom we can undeniably say have dwelt in the presence of Jesus, and whom we would sincerely like to follow?
Feel free to add to this list, or even call into question some of the areas of focus I have identified. What other areas should seminaries focus upon to train leaders for pastoral ministry today? What do you think?
Some of you may have heard about Radiohead’s move to make their latest album, In Rainbows, available as an online download. What was unique about this was Radiohead’s decision to make the album available without a set price. In fact, the person downloading the album could give what they thought the music was worth. The album was available for download here. The media covered the release here and here, among other places. Some people scooped up the album while it was available online for free. Others paid $5, $10, or $15. I missed the boat on the download promotion, and picked up the album at Target this week for $9.99.
I’m a music junkie with not a lot of disposable income for music. I really enjoy stuff outside of mainstream radio, and was a huge fan of Texas Country while I was a student at Baylor, and became increasingly a fan of alternative music thanks to my friend David G. Argueta. David’s middle name is actually “G”.
After giving Radiohead’s new album a few spins, it is fantastic. The Bends will remain the gold standard. I will say that Radiohead’s sound has had to grow on me, but now that I’ve begun to understand what I’m hearing I think it is phenomenal.
How much money would you pay for an album from your favorite band, even if they didn’t ask you for the cash? As seen in this experiment, people pay for stuff that they believe has value. Think this has anything to teach us in areas other than marketing?
Here is a great article from Clive Thompson on getting your hands dirty and becoming more handy. I’m not too handy myself, but I have enjoyed those occasions being a first time homeowner has provided to build and install stuff myself. Sometimes it is a disaster. Sometimes it is great.
I can see his point in saying that if we become increasingly engaged in building and fixing things ourselves we may create occasions upon which innovation and new ideas can take shape. The “information economy” Thompson describes has removed us one step from putting our hands to those projects we are seeking to form. In many ways, church ministry can relate.
Some Christian ministers/leaders/thinkers spend too much time in their head. We think great thoughts, tightly construct complex doctrinal statements, and perhaps have some really great discussions (or debates) with our friends (or our enemies). But there is something that comes along with putting our hands to the work that is vital for a life following Jesus Christ. By putting our ideas into action, we have occasions upon which we can innovate–occasions through which God’s Spirit can move us so that the world might be transformed.
In the morning I had the opportunity to speak to a couple of African delegates about their perceptions regarding the human sexuality issue. They too a conservative stance, and clearly could not understand the distance they observed between the first missionaries who taught them about Christianity and the current American church. One man said, “These people who first taught us about Jesus–what happened to them?” It is clear that we are dealing with two very different worldviews. This has clear implications for United Methodism if they wish to increasingly become a global church.
Those who wish to change the wording of the current discipline can be clearly identified through pins, colorful scarves, or badges that feature the pictures of family members who are part of the LGBT community. Some of the conversations I had directly with these Methodist people and some that I overheard clearly reveal the passion and the depth of conviction which these persons possess concerning this issue. Activist groups were present throughout the day. A group was keeping a 24 hour drum vigil to draw attention to the issue throughout the night. Their demonstration was peaceful.
Toward the end of the night I also witnessed some doomsday preachers near the protesters, holding a sign that said, “Homosexuality is a sin.” One man warned the protesters that they would “be held to an account.” I was invited by this same man to dedicate my life to Christ and live for him. When I declined the opportunity to take a tract from him, he told me he was “up for challenge.” He wanted me to take him on and engage him, perhaps to win me to Christ. I love Jesus. This man impressed me as hostile. I politely declined the invitation to engage in a verbal sparing match. I didn’t have the energy.
One of my final interactions was with an older woman who clearly advocated for a change in the discipline. She went so far to say, “What is there to talk about?” She stated that “the right decision is obvious, and they should just get it over with.” I responded that clearly it wasn’t that easy.
Overall today drained me of energy. My time spent with the subcommittee on Human Sexuality resulted in an immense amount of tension being carried in my body for the next several hours–I can still feel the emotion that was present in that room in the muscles of my back. My mind wasn’t only involved, but my whole being. I agonized with those persons on either side of this issue. It is clear that no easy answers are present, and to me it is unclear if there is a generative way forward from which both sides could approve of and experience mutual benefit. In fact, I see the chasm as nearly impossible to bridge.
I have been glad to be present and hang around today. Continue in prayer for the UMC.
Well, following the opening plenary worship session I headed over to observe a committee. I chose to join the General Board of Society 2, as one of their subcommittees would be responsible for the petitions related to human sexuality.
Morning Subcommittee Meeting
Following a welcome for the day and a few brief instructions about proceedings, each subcommittee gathered in its own space to work on the task at hand. The subcommittee consisted of mainly older males–of the 23 or 24 representatives I counted at the table only 5 were women. Out of those 5 women, two were from America—the other three women were international delegates who did not have fluent English skills, and were thus in need of a translator. One of the two American women is the chair of the subcommittee. Long story short, translation issues were recurrent throughout the day, and the inability to address the need for a translator was an inhibitor over the course of the meetings. If I were one of the international delegates I would have felt disrespected. From what I could tell as an outside observer, they were gracious. I was frustrated for them.
During the morning it became clear that there are entrenched opinions present in the room–the committee wasn’t sure where to begin. There are over 50 petitions directly addressing human sexuality. Of particular concern is ¶161.G, with the most controversial sentence therein being, “The United Methodist Church does not condone the practice of homosexuality and considers this practice incompatible with Christian teaching.” I did a quick tabulation–browsing the petitions I had on hand I found that there were approximately between 40 and 50 similar petitions seeking to strike this sentence completely. On the other extreme, there are more than 600 petitions that have been submitted which seek to retain the current language found in the Book of Discipline. Keep in mind that petitions can be submitted by Annual Conferences, churches, or any individual Methodist person–therefore regardless of the count it is uncertain how many individuals are represented by the number of petitions that have been submitted. You can search petitions here.
I’ll also add that there were between 10 and 15 petitions which had been submitted that proposed striking the most controversial sentence and indicating that United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue–one conception of a third way.
To provide just a few more details from this morning’s meeting of the subcommittee, it took about the first hour to establish some basic rules of parliamentary order and allow for the members of the committee to try and discern how they might attack this immense task. People were trying hard, but those on the committee were clearly frustrated. The only petition discussed directly was #81532 (you can search this above), only to see the discussion about this petition tabled for the afternoon amidst a great deal of confusion on how to proceed. Before the motion was tabled, there were impassioned speeches on either side of the debate.
Return for the Afternoon
Not much more came from the afternoon session other than a great deal of frustration, and anxiety. The proceedings began with petition #80055, which was affirmed 13-11. This particular petition removed the controversial sentence quoted above and another portion of ¶161.G, specifically “Homosexual persons no less than heterosexual persons are individuals of sacred worth.” The only other petition considered for a vote was #81357, which advocates for, “sex education programs that encourage fidelity in marriage and premarital abstinence.” The motion failed 13-11 on the grounds that marriage is not an option open to all persons. You can now see how the committee is split.
Even though I had to leave a few moments before the committee adjourned, I believe the committee reconvened tonight with petition #80449 as a starting point for discussion. Those in the room clearly recognized the division, and were struggling to find a way that divergent viewpoints could be voiced and understood, and unity in Christ could be demonstrated. One member of the committee directed the group’s energy to the petition cited above, as he felt it was one that could be amended to propose a new way to address this issue. If you look up the petition, you’ll see that it is a complete rewrite of ¶161.G. It includes a statement affirming the United Methodists are not of one mind on this issue, and seeks to frame the current state of the discussion in the UMC.
This stuff isn’t easy. That might be the understatement of the year.
What a day. What follows are my reflections–this will be part 1 of 3. Today took a lot of energy–particularly the afternoon sessions observing the discussion of the General Board of Society. I spent the day observing the subcommittee handling the petitions on human sexuality. You can probably guess where this is going, particularly if you know anything about UMC discussion on this topic in recent years.
I arrived this morning at the Ft. Worth Convention Center around 8:00 a.m. I was met shortly afterward by Andrew Conard. Upon asking for his first impressions, Andrew simply stated, “I’m really struck by just how much hard work it takes to be a denomination.” He’s right. Unity takes work, patience, listening, and thoughtful articulation of vision. As I walked in the front door I breezed past a number of people from all over the world. A choir was waiting to enter the convention center floor to contribute their gifts to our collective worship. I had the general impression that people were happy and excited to be there.
Worship was excellent. You can read about Bishop João Somane Machado’s sermon here. Bishop Machado is from Mozambique. He spoke in his native tongue with a translator at his side. Because the message was translated, I found myself listening more carefully. I watched his body language and listened closely to his intonation. Machado focused his message on Galatians 5:7-10:
7You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth? 8That kind of persuasion does not come from the one who calls you. 9“A little yeast works through the whole batch of dough.” 10I am confident in the Lord that you will take no other view. The one who is throwing you into confusion will pay the penalty, whoever he may be. (NIV)
He challenged the UMC, saying, “You were running so well–what happened?” He also focused on Matthew 28:16-18 as part of his message.
Machado was full of passion and excitement for the gospel. He emphasized the excellence of the theme of the conference. He was excited about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. He spoke of his own story and the way in which the United Methodist Church had shaped his own vision for caring for the poor and for evangelism. It was powerful. It was good.
If anything I left the opening worship feeling energized. I had already heard reports of church discussion regarding church planting, leadership development, and justice, which I had blogged about here. These early reports, which I had read, were confirmed as true by friends who were at the conference the last couple of days. Not only did they say that these points of emphasis were mentioned, but also that a plan came along with these initiatives that had measurable goals which were clearly stated. Vision was being cast, something which church leaders who are friends found very encouraging.
Those are my earliest recollections from today. More to come.
Today I’ll be headed to downtown Ft. Worth as an observer at General Conference ’08. Believe it or not, I don’t tote a laptop computer, so my notes today will be handwritten, and I’ll be posting a written update here at the end of the day. I would ask for continued prayer for UMC leaders today and till the end of the conference. I would also ask personally for your prayers, as I hope to meet people today who will help me in my research and thinking.
I’m expecting today to be a good day. I’ll let you in on what I see and hear this evening. Check in later tonight if you want to hear the details, or subscribe to the RSS feed on the site.