March 1, 2017
Dear Church Leaders,
I hope you have just received the Bishop and Cabinet’s Lenten Devotion for 2017. It refers to an article written by church consultant Dr. Gil Rendle entitled: “Be Strong and of Good Courage: A Call to Quiet Courage in an Anxious Time.”
I wanted to make sure you had this article available, even if you have already read it (attached).
Please consider the important work that has shaped so much thinking around the primary initiatives for our Local Churches here and across the country. I have really been inspired to risk for the sake of the Gospel of Jesus Christ during these days of transition. Consider sharing your thoughts by:
· Sending this along to your Church Council and having a visioning meeting around these key subjects.
· Committing to use our Lenten Devotion 2017, along with what your church is using.
· Discussing this article at your next Mission Area gathering.
May this season of Lent be filled with reflection, confession, and restoration, as we deepen our walk with the One who loves us most.
December 19th, 2016
Dear Pastors and Church Leadership,
Matthew’s version of the birth of Jesus reminds us about Joseph’s journey alongside Mary. Joseph receives the news in a dream that God wants him to take Mary as his wife, even with an unborn child on board. Joseph is asked to trust the Lord. But also, Joseph was asked to have courage in the face of his cultural taboos and courage to endure disgrace for his family.
During this time of Advent and then Christmas, we are reminded that following the Christ-child is not an easy journey, full of light and lite situations. This faith journey is full of valleys, wildernesses, and places were courage is required in order to take another step. This is why I hold you in prayer each day. This is why I pray for your faith community every day. This is why I depend upon your prayers every moment .
I wanted to share with you a pivotal article about courage and the journey of the United Methodist Church. I find the nativity story embedded in this article by Gil Rendle. I look forward to us talking about this important article in the new year.
May you meet our Lord Immanuel in your dreams and in the lives of those who come looking to you for hope. During Christmas break, may you find time for peaceful and restorative fellowship with your church community, family, and friends.
Peace for the Journey,
December 5th, 2016
When I was dean of District Summer Camps, each year I would get to the last day of camp, when the parents were driving up the mountain to retrieve their precious campers, and pray that God would give me one more hour of patience and sleep. I loved those years because it was a multi-generational experience of the kingdom of God. People coming together of all ages, ethnicities, and socio-economic families to discover a deeper relationship with the Lord and with each other. This is “camp” and this is what our churches can be.
Unfortunately, too many of our seminars and popular media sources indicate that the gaps between generations and racial groups are too wide for us to traverse as the church. Too many believe that the church is too slow, too clumsy, and too old to relate to the newest generations. This is how I felt on the last day of camp – saying to myself “I’m too old for this! Maybe someone else should lead these children, youth, and young adults in their spiritual growth.”
But then the miracle of camp would save my soul. Children would run up and hug my knees and tell me that they have had the time of their lives… and they did not want to go home. Our young adult staff would hug my neck and tell me that this week had renewed their faith in Jesus and in the church. Adults would put an arm around my shoulder and ask if they could do this again – because this was “real fellowship that changes lives.”
So what was the secret to generations coming together and finding the Lord in their midst? What was the Holy Spirit doing at camp that does not always happen in the church? My thought is that we had a singular focus. Camp is creating a safe environment in which all human beings present are loved, where the Gospel of Christ is shared in creative ways, and where every spiritual gift of every person is honored and shared, sometimes in the light of a campfire, and, finally, we break bread together.
Another powerful article from the Lewis Center for Leadership focuses on the types of churches which attract young people. Kara Powell (no relation), Jake Mulder, and Brad Griffin have written an article entitled, Growing Young, dispel a number of common myths.
“Their research indicates that size, location, denominational tradition, worship style, and several other variables don’t matter as much as imagined and that congregations of all types have the potential to ‘grow young.'”
They write about the myths of relating to younger generations and find that genuine Christian love and warm relationships far outweigh any cool or trendy atmosphere. We have discovered this at the Cal-Pac Young Adult Camp held each fall at Lazy W Ranch. Even if people have never gone to a camp retreat, they find Jesus’ love in a setting away from the cool or hip scenes they seek out daily.
Powell, Mulder, and Griffin go on to write:
We need to prune distractions so the only branches remaining are those that help our churches grow young. Thanks to our research team’s surveys, interviews, and site visits with churches across the US, we can cross off these ten qualities from our list of what churches need to grow young.
A precise size. Don’t buy into the Goldilocks fantasy that some churches are too big, others are too small, and some are “just right.” We saw no statistical relationship between church size and effectiveness. Size doesn’t matter.
A trendy location or region. Did our data unearth churches flourishing near bustling urban centers and dynamic college campuses? Sure. But we also uncovered equally robust ministry in rural one-stoplight towns and middle-class suburbia. Your location does not have to be a limitation.
Read the rest of this article by clicking here.
This is a hopeful message for our UMCs. We can get focused on one or two priorities in our church families and return to doing camp each week in our communities. “Camp” is something our older generations remember fondly and it is a way of doing church that our younger generation is yet to discover. We are never too old to “go to camp.” Join me by the campfire someday soon. I am still committed to being there.
Pastor Jim (Camper at Heart)
November 4th, 2016
A Guest Devotion by Bishop Robert Schnase of the Missouri Conference
“You shall also love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
– Deuteronomy 10:19
Recently I heard about a woman who was going through a rough time in her personal and professional life; and in her search for connections, hope, and direction, she began to visit a few churches. After her first two worship experiences to which she came alone, sat alone, and left alone without anyone speaking to her or greeting her, her prayer for her next visit to another church service was simply, “I only pray that someone speaks to me today.”
What an indictment! Could that really happen to visitors in our congregation? The truth is, I’ve had that experience, even as a bishop! When I arrive at a church and start looking for the office, sometimes I pass by forty or fifty people with no one offering to help me find my way, despite my obviously being lost and my active searching for signs. At a few churches, I’ve had greeters offer perfunctory handshakes without even looking me in the eye, handing me a bulletin and pushing me along without any personal engagement or warmth. As my friend, Bishop Sally Dyck, reminded me, for the visitor or the person who is searching for spiritual help, “This Sunday is the only Sunday that counts.”
In the same way stores sometimes employ agencies to provide “secret shoppers” to test the responsiveness of their employees, perhaps churches should consider working with a few conscientious members of another congregation, asking them to show up for worship and provide a “secret visitor” analysis. How are we doing at genuinely and authentically welcoming people? At helping people find their way? At providing worship leadership, bulletins, or other cues to help people who are unfamiliar with us to feel at home?
If a “secret visitor” came to your church, what would be the analysis? If this is the “only Sunday that counts,” how do you respond to newcomers each week?
Dear God, open my heart so that I can see people as Jesus sees them, and see Jesus in the people you bring into our community. Make me attentive to others, especially help me support the newcomer taking tentative steps toward you.
Challenge: Commit yourself to offering a simple and gracious word of greeting in worship to one person whom you do not know each week.
(Find this and other devotions in the book Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations, by Bishop Robert Schnase of the Missouri Conference)
October 12th, 2016
Have we set the bar too low for ourselves… and for others as well? Have we, as church leaders, taken the easier path of Discipleship in Christ Jesus due to time constraints, weariness, or discouragement? Growing in our faith and teaching our faith to others was the center of the Great Commission Jesus left the church in Matthew 28.
I remember a time, while in the “trenches” of pastoral leadership of a church, when bringing people into a class on spiritual growth was a priority. I established several classes on the basics of Christianity and Wesleyan heritage. I worked weeks on curriculum, invitations were sent out, and announcements were made. When the night of the first class came, I had 3 people show up and one of them came because her mom was her ride for the night!
Discipleship training might be at the center of your church’s mission statement, but seems to be relegated to a membership class or a Sunday school class for those who have loved meeting together for years. Talk about discouragement. So I simplified all the classes for a time, not investing much preparation or energy in Bible studies or discipleship classes for the year following. And who was I cheating?
Actually, preparing for that fateful (and what felt like failed) discipleship training class reconnected me to some of the reasons I signed up to be a pastor in the first place. Our class of three led to a training curriculum for a 4 week basic Christianity class that fed hundreds of new Christians and new members over many years.
Discouragement is just part of the journey. Gatherings of just 2 or 3 persons is enough of a gathering to invoke the Spirit of God through Jesus Christ in their midst. This is how high the bar is for the faithful! Why have we set it so low for ourselves or for others?
Rebekah Simon-Peter just released an article regarding how churches position themselves in the eyes of people who are open to faith but not yet in our congregations. She writes:
“I’d like to delete the words just and simply from church vocabulary. They’re dishonest. I know; I used them way too often as a pastor. As in, “To be a disciple of Jesus Christ, all you have to do is simply give your life to him.” Or, “To join this church, you just have to come to a new member’s class.” Or, “Just give what you are able.” Or, “To be on this committee, we just need you to attend a monthly meeting.” I used those words because I was afraid to scare people off. I wanted them to dive in, unafraid.” (1)
We live in a time and a society when people are looking for the security of God’s love. The Body of Christ does not need to lower the bar to make it seem easy to be a Disciple of Jesus Christ. True discipleship is a commitment- but comes with the security of unconditional love we all seek day in and day out.
August 29th, 2016
Dear Sisters and Brothers,
A reality of living in the California-Pacific Conference is wildfires! These fires, whether caused by nature or humans, generates fear, displacement, or even death in some cases. We have been experiencing the threat and unpredictability of fire here in California this summer (even as I write you this letter) and very near my home last month.
Some believe we have also been experiencing this in the life of our United Methodist Church. There have been heated exchanges between persons on all sides of issues discussed at General and Jurisdictional Conferences in Portland, OR and Scottsdale, AZ. The heat has been felt in elections and movements… and itineracy. Like a wildfire, this has all created some fear, some displacement, and unrest for many in the Body of Christ.
Regardless of how you are feeling during this time of transition, allow me to speak as one who journeys with you and one who is learning to lean on the Word of God for strength and comfort. We cannot allow the “fires” of this world to distract us from our mission. We are called to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are not called to conformity to the world’s firestorms, nor to hatred of persons, nor to fear of change. The popular rhetoric of media and social media seems to want to divide us up into camps – for or against – defending and defensive. The Gospel calls us toward grace, accountability, and community.
As Christians and as United Methodists, we are called to live with the two tongues of flame in our UMC logo. These flames were to represent personal pity and social holiness not fire. There is always tension when we live according to the Gospel and even Jesus speaks of tension for the sake of God’s kingdom, however, it is in Christ alone what we find our hope and peace each day.
Christian leadership means challenging the status quo and can challenge us when we take the mission of the Church seriously. This is what I have learned from Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño during my first year of being a District Superintendent. This unexpected Episcopal Assignment to the California-Nevada Annual Conference emphasizes that change and transition are a part of our call to serve. She has been a leader full of “grit and grace”, as stated in a recent conference announcement, which has caused some conflict in our diverse faith community.
Personally, I have grown through Bishop Carcaño’s witness to her faith in Jesus Christ. My understanding of immigration and the LGBTQIA community has challenged me and my commitment to loving all persons. She has challenged us to stay in dialogue, work as a team, and deal with racism this past quadrennium and this work is still before us. I have also appreciated her love for the local church and her care (and accountability) for its leadership.
Through the work of the Western Jurisdiction, we have elected a new bishop, and will receive our new bishop on September 1st. Bishop Carcaño is being assigned to the San Francisco Episcopal Area (California-Nevada Conference) and our appointed leader for the Los Angeles Episcopal Area is Bishop Grant Hagiya. Many will remember that Bishop Hagiya was elected from the California-Pacific Conference and has served in the Pacific-Northwest Conference since. Many have asked how the election and appointment of a bishop happens so I have included a summary explanation prepared by Rev. Adiel DePano (Chair of the Cal-Pac Episcopacy Committee) to help us understand and to move us ahead with these decisions.
Shortly, there will be announcements for the celebration receptions for Bishop Grant Hagiya in September and October, hosted by all 5 districts. Please plan to attend one of these celebrations. Also join me as we hold Bishop Minerva G. Carcaño in our prayers as she moves to her new appointment.
How are bishops assigned?
Bishops are assigned by their jurisdiction or central conference to serve a geographical area for a four-year term. There are 46 episcopal areas in the United States and 20 episcopal areas outside of the United States. New bishops may not be assigned to the area where they were a clergy member for at least four years after their election, however, the Book of Discipline allows for this restriction to be ignored by a two-thirds vote of both the Jurisdictional Committee on Episcopacy and the jurisdictional conference.
Bishops may be assigned to the same area for up to three quadrennia.
After the election of new bishops, each jurisdictional committee on episcopacy recommends to the jurisdictional conferences the assignment of bishops to their episcopal areas. New bishops are consecrated, not ordained. They remain elders in the denomination, but they become ordained members of the Council of Bishops instead of an annual conference. Assignments take effect September 1.
For further reading, click on the link below:
This may all seem like “fires” but we shall strive to not be distracted from our mission. And as we all move through transitions (myself included), we know where to place our trust and find our peace and joy. We do not have to live in fear, anger, or spiritual death.
“Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. –Philippians 4:4-7
Peace of the Journey,
Pastor Jim Powell
North District Superintendent
July 19, 2016
A Guest Devotion by Pastor Diane Mettam
The head of a missionary family our local congregation is supporting spoke at our church recently, telling us about their work in southeast Asia. They are Christians working in a predominantly Muslim country, and something he said caught my attention. Seeds, he said, grow best where the soil is all busted up. That is what life is like where he and his family are living and working – all busted up.
Their work is, necessarily, discreet. They are helpers, not evangelists. If someone needs help with their garden, or fixing their roof, or repairing a bicycle, learning English, or anything at all, they are there to help. They do not openly evangelize or try to make converts – that would be very dangerous. But in private conversations they do share the gospel, and people do come to believe. Some consider themselves Christian Muslims, maintaining their cultural heritage. The ministry, and its results, aren’t exactly what this missionary family anticipated.
It reminded me of my first ministry, a cooperative effort between several churches to do outreach in the Hispanic community. Most of the people on the committee didn’t understand the Hispanic culture, so when I asked one of the pastors if I could hold an Easter service at that church, I was told I had to guarantee a minimum of 30 people in attendance. The reasoning was I had to have a certain number of people to serve as ushers, to take the collection, to read the scriptures, etc. and to collect enough of an offering to pay the organist.
I couldn’t help this person understand that many Hispanic congregations are quite small, especially at the beginning, and don’t follow the formal structure of our Anglo worship services. Oftentimes there is no music but the clapping of hands, or a single guitar. The answer was still no, I couldn’t use the church.
I wonder how often we start a new ministry or outreach with preconceived notions of how the results should (or must) look. When the soil is all busted up, the seeds have a better chance to grow, but the crop might look different than we expected. It doesn’t make it wrong.
Jesus certainly sowed seeds in many unexpected places – a Samaritan woman, Zacchaeus, the woman caught in adultery, a Syrophoenician woman, a couple of centurions. After his death, when his apostles believed only Jews should receive the good news of Jesus, God changed the game plan – first with Paul and then with Peter’s vision of the descending cloth.
While drawing up a mission plan for a new ministry is important, I think it’s just as important to be open to new and unexpected ways that ministry might develop and look. Instead of counting it a failure if things develop differently than we planned, it’s important to evaluate and even appreciate those different developments and prayerfully consider how God is leading us. Our plans are not necessarily God’s plans. And our ways are not necessarily God’s ways. I’m sure that Paul never planned to establish the church in Europe with a group of women at the river in Philippi, but that is what God provided. And despite Jonah’s protests, God cared about the 120,000 people in Nineveh.
“For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.” Jeremiah 29:11
We thank you, Lord, for the opportunities you give us to minister in this world. Help us to remember to look at each other with your eyes, not our own. If we will just follow you, and trust in you, the kingdom of God will grow and prosper. Help us, we pray. Amen.
June 27th, 2016
Hatred, Anger, and Fear
So often, when a person responds to changes in a church, they are responding out of anger, frustration, and the most basic of human responses – fear! Fear of change, fear of being left out, fear of becoming insignificant in the life of the church are all real feelings. According to psychologists, the fear of perceived threats can stay close to our emotional centers and can manifest itself as harsh words, anxiety, and even depression.
We are living in a time when fear is manifesting itself in angry words and insults. Kind words in public are the exception and not the rule. People just speak out with harsh words that insult one another- mostly out of fear and anger. My wife and I were in a movie theatre the other day when the pre-show videos asking people to turn off their cellphones had shown. A woman in the front row had not turned off her large cellphone and the people sitting behind her could see her scanning through Facebook, including me. All of the sudden, someone yelled out in anger and with great disrespect, “Hey old lady in the front, turn off your phone!” She did not even hear him but fortunately her partner did and encouraged her to shut it down.
Even that film we came to see, “Captain America: Civil War,” was based on fear! People feared those who were different than themselves and governmental powers tried to legislate when and where these superheroes were to defend justice. The Avengers were divided over this accord and when words could not resolve this issue, they fought each other, like school boys (and girls) on a playground. Entertaining as this might be, it illustrates our capacity to hurt one another – mostly out of fear –and fear that leads to anger – and anger that leads to violence.
Underneath so many violent events, including the mass-shooting in Orlando, and acts of terrorism across the world, we find that fear and anger have motivated the perpetrators, in addition to the fear felt by those who suffer. People afraid of other persons, other cultures, other religions, other gender identities, and even other gods – have driven some to act out in violence.
People all over the world live in fear for their own lives, and the lives of their family members, daily. Although we who live in the United States are not necessarily living in fear for our lives, we are participating in creating a more violent society. It begins with fears that live inside us and then becomes expressions of fear and hatred towards others. We hear harsh words of disrespect and degradation coming from our political leaders, preachers/teachers, neighbors, and even ourselves, daily. I am not making a political statement here, but I am naming that the effect fear has on someone who lives in fear each day can consume their life. This might be “Satan’s” greatest tool.
Thankfully, the Lord understands our capacity to be afraid and our ability to avoid dealing with such fears. Jesus addresses fear in the lives of most of the people he encounters throughout the Gospel stories. He asked for people to “fear God” instead of fearing each other. We can understand this to be an Old Testament definition of “fear” that associates with respect and honor. The Lord is not asking for an emotionally traumatic fear the incapacitates the spirit of hope in us. Instead, Jesus responds to the anxiety in each person he encounters with words of instruction, hope, and love.
Recently, Bishop William H. Willimon wrote an article entitled Fearing our Fears. “Fear not” is an expression found in over three hundred places in Scripture. Jesus frequently says “fear not,” but on one occasion Jesus urges fear upon his disciples: “Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body but can’t kill the soul. Instead, be afraid of the one who can destroy both body and soul in hell” (Matt 10:28 CEB). When I take requests for prayer on Sunday mornings, it’s always petitions for healing of bodily ills, never for help with the sad state of our souls. In light of Jesus’s statement in Matthew 10:28, I’d say that when Scripture urges us to “fear God,” it means that we ought to fear displeasing God more than we fear others.
When we understand this basic instinct of fear in ourselves, and in the people we serve, we can start to substitute the perfect love of God for this fear. When we start to see how fear has gripped the people we serve, we respond to them and not react to them. We can love others who act out in anger by not matching anger with anger. Instead, we recognize their fear and anxiety and let the Holy Spirit work through us to respond with understanding.
This is one of the most difficult practices of Christian community and requires deep prayer and study of the Holy Scriptures. “Perfect love casts out all fear” is the message of the Gospel. – 1 John 4:18. Yet, we have the greatest weapon to combat the violent words, hatred, and violent behavior that takes the lives of others every day. We have faith in the one who loves us, faith in Jesus Christ.
I will continue to pray for you as we respond to a world of fear and anger with words of love and acceptance.
Peace for the Journey,
June 2nd, 2016
We talk often about multi-cultural ministry in our part of the world. Most of the time we are referring to ethnicities, societies of origin, languages, traditions, and passions of people from all over the world. We are called by the Holy Spirit to love the people we serve in our communities through the communities of faith in our churches. We love as Jesus loves – meeting people where they are in their own languages and histories. We are called to love others by embracing each person with recognition of their unique culture.
Be that as it may, I would like to suggest that Biblical “culture” has more to do with our common human needs – living life together – rather than what makes us different. No matter where we come from or the traditions we hold dear from our homelands and families, we all come from God. Therefore, the church is a place where all are counted as blessed. Under the sacrificial love of Jesus Christ, we all fall short and yet all come to the foot of the cross as worthy of love and grace.
So our task is to create a culture of love and acceptance. This is more than events in which people gather. Instead, it is a culture of fellowship (Κοινότητα) in which people meet to deepen their faith in God through Jesus Christ. They feel safe and challenged – all in the same space. This kind of culture allows room for the Holy Spirit to move in the hearts of all who gather. This kind of culture invites all who meet to feel welcome, regardless of what our differences are. Compared to today’s modern American culture, it is counter-cultural.
Watching the General Conference proceedings, I was reminded that God left the kind of “culture” which happens in the life of the church up to us. The United Methodist Church at General Conference had moments of community, worship, fellowship, and reconciliation. There were also moments of separation, frustration, anger, distrust, and grief. What I kept praying for was a Koinonia culture of grace to prevail. Additionally, there were threads of no grace and even hatred evident in the social media spinning around General Conference.
When visiting our local churches, I also try to find a culture of open hearts, forgiveness, and acceptance. I pray that a pastor and a church can work together to create a culture of abundance, gratitude, and permission. Some churches have built this kind of culture and it is felt by those who walk through the door. The juxtaposition is a church that has developed a culture of power, protectiveness, and closed mindedness. These are places where people are afraid of anything that moves them beyond the familiar and this is felt at the door as well.
As a pastor, I discovered that creating a culture of permission and fellowship, openness and generosity, was everything. It was only by the grace of God that we can help our ministries grow a Koinonia culture. This Biblical kind of culture fosters growth and outreach into the lives of so many different people living in our community.
I believe that Paul was working to create this kind of culture in the harbor town of Ephesus. People came to Ephesus to buy and sell from cultures all over the known world. When the Spirit spoke through Paul’s letter, the culture of the Church of Jesus Christ was defined as, “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Ephesians 2: 6-10)
May 4th, 2016
In this upcoming season of Pentecost, there is a question that plagues the minds of church leaders year after year, decade after decade, as we look over our communities and congregations. The thought goes something like this, “What did the first Disciples of Jesus Christ have on that day of Pentecost, that brought thousands to confess and accept salvation, that we don’t have?” Pastors think, “Why can I not preach like Peter?” Lay Leaders ask, “Why can I not pray like Paul?” We wonder why people do not flock to our sanctuaries every time the doors open, like they came to the make-shift altar that day the Church of Jesus Christ was born on the streets of Jerusalem.
I found my answer to some of these questions in Venezuela. I have traveled to Barquisimeto several times with my pastor friends to teach at our Wesleyan Seminary – a miracle story for future devotions. What I found in the hearts of these students was a deep longing to know the Lord, while living lives of quiet desperation. The student pastors have risked their lives to get a ministry education and have inspired me to do the same.
Walking the streets of Caracas, Valencia, and Barquisimeto in neighborhoods of poverty and oppression changed my understanding of the world. Barbed wire covered each wall and front yard, with bars of steel bolted to the front doors of stores, with an opening just large enough to hand goods to people – who were not welcome inside the store. Sometimes our church doors must feel this way to those who come to sample what we have to offer.
I found people living in fear in their own communities throughout Venezuela – a beautiful country with every natural resource known to humanity. Yet, this is the environment in which God does powerful work. It was easy to imagine these South American streets being the streets of Jerusalem during the Roman occupation. A dangerous environment in which families had to live everyday lives.
Maybe this is what happened in Jerusalem on the “Fiftieth Day” when the Disciples were filled with the Holy Spirit. Desperate disciples living in fear and prayer were empowered to preach – totally dependent upon the Lord’s power. Desperate people from all the tribes of Israel heard the Word of Jesus Christ preached. Then those disciples and those people came together and prayed to be filled with this Holy Spirit.
Maybe what those people had in the first century church was the recognition of their own limitations, a contrite heart asking for forgiveness, and a quiet desperation that only God could relieve. In other words, they were available to the power of the Holy Spirit resting on them like tongues of fire. And then, they did not ask people to come into the Upper Room. The Disciples went out onto the streets!
April 13th, 2016
When Jesus showed up on Easter night in the locked room where the Disciples were hiding from the Jewish authority, the Gospel of John gives us the words of Jesus Christ. He was “among them” and claims their lives with, “Peace be with you.” Most of us would know this Hebrew word as “Shalom” and it connotes a peace that is steeped in forgiveness. The act of Jesus’ resurrection is the ultimate act of forgiveness and reconciliation with God. The power of resurrection offered to the Disciples was a gift of forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus was claiming that they were forgiven for running and hiding during his trial, denying their Lord, and being… Well… Human! The words that follow this greeting of peace are then focused on giving and holding forgiveness from others. Apparently, the power of forgiveness is a big deal.
As I travel our North District, I experience the Body of Jesus Christ in small, medium, and bigger-than-medium churches. I am discovering the need for spiritual maturity as the greatest challenge before laity and clergy- both. The places we are getting stuck in our ministry together is in our inability to claim the resurrection power of forgiveness. We get hurt and we hold on to this hurt. We get stuck. The church gets stuck. We are human and we let the fear of lack of resources, fear of loss of significance, and fear of the community around us capture our minds and hearts. The Gospel reveals that this lack of the spiritual discipline of forgiveness is the root of our fears. Just like the first night of Easter, we are the disciples waiting for the Lord to bring us out into the streets, free from fear. The Holy Spirit is breathed into those Disciples and empowers them to engage the world. This is the resurrection power of forgiveness that sets us free and is available to us today.
My prayers often include some of the following: “Lord, forgive me for not trusting in your forgiveness. Forgive me for letting fear rule my heart and mind. Thank you for healing me and setting me free to move into the scary places you call us to go. Thank you for bringing the church to this place of service in our world, during this season, and with the power to forgive. Forgive me for holding onto the debts against me. Now free me for joyful obedience, in the power of your perfect love – that casts out all fear.”
May we all claim our fears, offer them to the Lord and ask for the healing power of forgiveness- for the sake of us, our families, and our congregations. Peace be with you!
March 15th, 2016
I remember my first seminary class at Candler School of Theology on the history of Christian thought. Dr. Bill Mallard was the professor and he took delight in challenging us to think for ourselves and to contemplate if we were even ready to consider ordained leadership in the church. It was the “shake-down” class for first year students, in which many decided to find another career.
Dr. Mallard’s opening comments have always stuck in my mind. He said the job of Pastor is not to always have answers to people’s questions. Instead, we should love people into having them ask themselves better questions. I have found this wisdom in local church ministry and a way to get beyond issues that arise in church leadership. Part of our history as confessional people of God is dependent upon us stepping back from notions that turn into convictions that turn into “truths.” Sometimes, we have to step back and consider a better question through the guidance of the Holy Spirit.
Most of us who have found ourselves in church leadership are still wondering if we chose the right path. I have found that most of us who stay in ministry long enough realize that only God has all the answers, and we need better questions to ask of ourselves and others. We often have to wait on those answers through faithful prayer and discipleship. Yet, this is often the way forward for congregations.
The Lewis Center for Leadership has published a good article on this subject called “The Right Question” and subtitled “Leaders do not need answers. Leaders must have the right questions.”
A time of focused conversations with different types of people within a relatively short time frame can provide the makings of valuable insights about those you are seeking to reach. Imagine a small group of leaders finding ways to talk collectively with at least ten of the most active church members, ten of the least active, and ten people you are not reaching now. Usually there are those close enough to people in these three categories so that conversations would not be awkward. The conversations do not have to be especially about the church but about their lives as a whole — hopes, concerns, and interests. Then, the small group of interviewers can come together to talk about similarities and differences among the groups using questions such as:
- What do they all have in common?
- What are the differences?
- What do the similarities and differences suggest would help our church serve them all better?
For more good questions for your church to ponder, click here.
Hang in there, Sisters and Brothers in Christ, and love each other with the love of God… even those who have all the answers!
March 4th, 2016
I was moved by the story of Mary Jo Nye, sent to me by one of our North District pastors recently. While we were sharing a wonderful day of worship and training at the San Luis Obispo UMC with lay leadership and clergy from the Central Coast churches, people were losing their lives in the parking lot of a Cracker Barrel restaurant in Kalamazoo, Michigan. A gunman opened fire and killed 6 people including a friend and mentor named Mary Jo.
One of our workshops was on “Peace and Justice” with a focus on gun violence in our nation and in our world. We are all touched by violence and we are occasionally “first-responders” to violence and blood-shed in our own churches and communities. When a situation like January’s San Bernardino’s shooting happened, our own United Methodist Church leaders got directly involved and are still active in that community in the aftermath. When senseless violence comes close, people start to look for solutions, for answers, and for the strength to grieve one soul at a time.
Mary Jo Nye was a teacher, community volunteer, a committed Christian, and a faithful United Methodist. As a member of Chapel Hill United Methodist Church in Battle Creek, Michigan, Nye was a leader in the laity and had served on the church’s human resource committee, the Rev. Chad Parmalee said Monday. “She spoke the truth whenever she saw it; she spoke reason into conversation when things got out of hand,” Parmalee said. “You could always count on her to bring us back together. She was caring and nurturing.”
According to a news release, “After Mary Jo retired she continued to work with struggling students and continued to be a support system in the Battle Creek community.” “Mary Jo would go above and beyond to help kids. Mary Jo would spend time outside of school and took baby steps to help kids learn the writing process. She gave kids confidence they did not have before Mary Jo connected with them.” Mary Jo was shot and killed while sitting in her car in a Cracker Barrel parking lot.
The debate regarding gun control continues and we all have our opinions regarding the 2nd Amendment. However, the debate as to whether or not we need to respond to the cry for help in our communities ends with the Gospel. Like Mary Jo, who served her church and community one person at a time, we are called to reach one child, youth, or adult with the Good News, one soul at a time.
As leaders in the United Methodist Church, we are the “first responders” to the people we serve. The UMC is speaking out to say “enough” and to seek the persons who need us and who need another way to demonstrate their anger. We are called to seek out the mentally ill, the distraught, the hopeless, and the lonely before they lose all sense of the preciousness of life.
A workshop will not stop violence! Yet, it is one way to raise our awareness and to address what we can in our own towns and cities. Our work in Christian discipleship brings the kind of hope in Jesus Christ the world is crying for. Reaching one person at a time saves more than one life at a time. This emphasis is captured in our Cal-Pac Annual Conference vision/mission: “…As passionate followers of Jesus Christ, [we reach out into our communities] so all may experience God’s life-changing love.”
February 18th, 2016
In most church leaders’ lives, Lent has been a time of denying oneself of something, in order to gain a deeper awareness of the Holy Spirit in our daily lives. This is the theological predisposition we have inherited in modern Christianity. But more importantly, the story of releasing that which occupies our thoughts and desires is the story of faithfulness of our Biblical leaders.
The Greek translation of Jeremiah speaks of persons becoming empty (Kenoo) where there is pain and people becoming lost in their own trials and fear. The people of Israel become desperate for God and divine order during the Exile. God is present but they cannot hear the Lord’s voice.
Like Paul emptying himself so he could more fully receive the Holy Spirit, we too need the rituals of releasing our distractions and turning toward the Lord. So many have prayed for there to be less of themselves and more of Christ. This process of release and fulfillment is a constant in the Christian journey. This is a common prayer for me as well.
Finally, Jesus empties Himself for our sake. (Philippians 2:7) He released all divine power and stripped himself of all things so he would take on the cross for our sake – human like us. Jesus chose to do nothing for Himself and had to rely on the Father’s will. “I can do nothing on my own. As I hear, I judge; and my judgment is just, because I seek to do not my own will but the will of him who sent me.” (John 5:30) So how can we do anything but seek the will of him who sent Jesus?
With Easter always looming ahead of us during Lent, pastors have a load to carry. There is no getting around the workload of Lent. However, carrying the workload alone and without the guidance of the Holy Spirit in us, for our families, and for our churches, is just a labor in vain.
My prayer for us this Lent is that we have the courage to lay down the load before the Lord Jesus Christ. Pause and empty ourselves of… well… ourselves. Open our hearts and hands. Then pick up whatever the Lord guides us to do. Prepare for Easter as Jesus prepared for Jerusalem: with His face set resolute toward the mission ahead. God will do the rest.
Peace for the Journey,
Pastor Jim Powell