#UMCGC and moving on to perfection

perfection meme

Do you expect to be made perfect in love in this life?

For at least the last 25 years, I have answered this question, “Yes, by the grace of God.”

The other seven members of my ordination class in the Texas Annual Conference in 1991 answered the same. As far as I know, every ordained United Methodist has answered the same way.

I was pretty sure that the eight of us didn’t have exactly the same understanding of what this question meant. No one asked. No explanation, no dissertation was required

I can tell you that I full on loved that question!  Fresh out of Asbury Seminary, I was deeply committed to living into Christian Perfection. Wesley’s teaching on perfection played an essential role in my choice of seminary.

When I was 27 I fully expected, by the grace of God, to be made perfect in love in this life.

Today, at 52 I still fully expect, by the grace of God, to be made perfect in love in this life.

My understanding of what it means, and towards what, particularly, I am moving, has changed. If it hadn’t, I would have serious reservations about my fitness for effective ministry.

I haven’t talked to anyone from my ordination class in at least 20 years.  This is partly because I have changed conferences; I am now a clergy member of the Central Texas Conference.

Occasionally I wonder what the 27 year old Steve Heyduck would think of the 52 year old version. There would be some serious disagreements. And yet, we are together. I wouldn’t be the me I am today had I not been him then.

I wouldn’t be committed today to being made perfect in love in this life were it not for my original commitment then. With 25+ years on this path, then, I have to think I’m closer now than I was then.  If I didn’t believe this, I would owe it to the Church to surrender my credentials and find another vocation.

 

Putting Jesus “First”

“Put Jesus first.”  I feel like I hear this a lot.  The scripture that has informed our current sermon series, Colossians 1:15-20, supports this directive.  It says, after all, in verse 18

He is the head of the body, the church,
who is the beginning,
the one who is firstborn from among the dead
so that he might occupy the first place in everything.

But what does “putting Jesus first” look like?

In our society, people who “get to go first” don’t have to stand in line like everyone else. They receive protection from all the normal people; they can have guards and gates and get ushered to the front row or the luxury boxes.

Not only was Jesus NOT treated this way; there is no indication that Jesus ever sought to be treated this way.  In fact, I’m reminded that he said that “Whoever wants to be first among you will be your slave—  just as the Son of Man didn’t come to be served but rather to serve and to give his life to liberate many people.” (Matthew 20:27-28)

Jesus WAS the head, the firstborn from among the dead. He DOES and WILL occupy the first place among everything.  He was also so secure in his relationship with God that he felt no need to act like it, or to show it off. In fact, he emptied himself, humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:7-8)

May you and I, and all who are trying to follow Jesus, be secure enough in our relationship with God that we, too, might not seek to be recognized as first, or as more important than others. May we follow the way of Jesus – and, in doing so, we’ll find we are putting Jesus first.

But it’s in my DNA…

Blaming things on DNA is so 1990’s.dna.jpg

You’re going to need a better excuse.

In church work and leadership, it’s still a big thing to talk about identifying your church’s DNA. Of course DNA is a metaphor in this case.  We use this metaphor we we talk about a congregation’s origin story and significant points in that story that define it or limit it for the rest of the life of the congregation.

For instance,  in the late ’90s, I  pastored a church that had moved to its current location in 1925.  For the ensuing 75 years, this congregation perceived itself as a church that struggles financially.  It makes a lot of sense for a church, which relocated and built just 4 years before the Great Depression, to come to understand itself in such a way.

This insight is helpful. Defining as DNA, however, might not be.

Way back in the 80’s, when I was in college, all the psychology classes included some time for discussion on the “nature v nurture” debate.  What caused or most contributed to a person’s behavior, attitude, intelligence: the intangibles (DNA) one was born with, or the environment in which one was raised?

The answer was always some combination of the two, but we were pretty sure of one thing,: that DNA held deterministic power over the “nature” side of the argument.

But what we knew and what we know are always in a dance together, and this dance has changed.

Sure, genetics, or DNA sets some baselines, or some expectations.  But we now know that genes can be turned on and off during one’s lifetime. My favorite study – maybe because it is the only one of which I know any particulars. In a long-term study, rhesus monkies genetically prone to anxiety, when raised by non-anxious, ‘super-nurturing’ parents, had the gene indicating for anxiety turned off.

The DNA of the anxious monkeys didn’t condemn them to lives of anxiety.  In fact, the expression of the DNA was changed by nurture.

Takeaway:  You are not enslaved by your genes.  I believe this is especially true for any of those settings where DNA is used as a metaphor.  It can be helpful in understanding some of the primal forces that brought you, or the institution, or organization, to where you are today, but there is no good reason to let it limit or determine the paths who walk from this day forward.

So: “What’s in your DNA?” might be a good conversation starter, but it is not a conversation ender nor is it more ammunition for blame games or excuse making.

You Don’t Preach Right!

“You didn’t begin your sermon with the reading of the scripture text. You are always supposed to read the scripture as the beginning of your sermon.”

This is a very close approximation to something a colleague of mine was told recently.  This colleague is soon to go before the Board of Ordained Ministry for commissioning – a major step towards ordination.

Part of the qualifying process is submission of a sermon – both manuscript and video recording.

My colleague asked for my insights as to whether such a particularity could, in fact, derail his quest.

I shared that I cannot remember the last time I read the scripture text as the beginning of my sermon.

For me, anyway, this rarely if ever happens in part because our liturgist reads one of our texts immediately before I stand to preach.  Re-reading the scripture myself would give in to the notion that preaching is not really a part of the worship service as a whole, but rather a stand-alone event thrown into the midst of a worship service.

I encouraged my colleague to continue to preach the Word, and to preach the text for the service, whether or not that scripture text was written into the sermon.

A much larger concern for me is that someone would suggest so simple a component done differently would disqualify a sermon altogether.  What I think really happened was an incident of either

  1. “You didn’t preach the way I was taught to preach” or
  2. “You didn’t preach the way I like to hear someone preach.

Are there specific mechanics that you believe are absolutely essential to the successful preaching of a sermon? Do Jesus’ and Peter’s and Paul’s preaching always follow your rules?

Say it like you mean it!

There is some wisdom in “fake it till you make it.” Would you join me in providing proof this Thanksgiving?

John Wesley, the father of methodism, struggled in his early years to find assurance of salvation. His worked harder than most at the spiritual disciplines hoping to find peace with God, yet it seemed.to laude him at everry turn. Finally, after seeing a band of Moravianswas and being deeply impressed with their assurance, he asked. Them how he might find the same.

“Preach it till you have it,” they told him, “then you will preach it because you have it.”  Fake it till you make it. Or, if this sounds better, sometimes our feelings follow our actions rather than the other way around.

Tomorrow is Thanksgiving. I hope yours is wonderful. However, most of us are in for some level of disappointment. We too often cook up grand ideas of how this year everything will be better than it ever has been.

This year, tomorrow, I invite you to join me in an effort to put expectations where they belong: on myself. Tomorrow I expect ME to speak gratitude. I will recognize and voice what I am thankful for, no matter what happens for which I am not thankful.

If I don’t feel grateful first thing out of bed, I will by the end of the day, because my feelings will follow my words.

Are you with me?

Are You Either Or?

“You are either part of the problem or.part of the solution,” goes the cliche.

The only hope for The United Methodist Church is that we insist on being both.

The cacophany of blaming others is deafening. Local churches blame Boards and Agencies. Bishops blame elders. Pastors blame congregations and District Superintendents.

Whatever any task force or outside consultant tells us, we will not change the direction of our denomination until we move from casting blame to accepting it.

I did not begin to actually tithe until 10 years ago. I have looked past people I did not think belonged in my church (they wouldn’t feel at home here, I would rationalize). I have argued and condescended on theological points rather than showing the love of Christ.

If you cannot admit you have been part of the problem, you will not be part of the solution

Seeking Laity

CTC We start this year’s Annual Conference this coming Sunday, June 7.  This year, for the first time in a long, long, time, the Central Texas Annual Conference will meet in a church, not in a convention center.  We will not have assigned seats with name placards.

We will attend a Texas Ranger’s baseball game together Monday night.

Annual Conference sessions are designed to be very evenly divided between clergy and laity.  The purpose is to balance the leadership between the clergy and the laity of the church.

This will be my 15th consecutive meeting of the Central Texas Annual Conference to attend, my 22nd overall (I began my ministry in the Texas Conference).

Most of the laity are selected by local churches, usually at the suggestion or nomination of the Pastor.

Pastors are, it seems, from one of two schools of thought on selecting laity for representation at Annual Conference:

1.  In the interest of involving as many laity as possible, and giving them an opportunity to experience this level of church work, some clergy nominate different laity each year.

2. In the interest of developing particular and specific leadership on the laity “side of the aisle,” some clergy seek to involve particular individuals over as many consecutive years as possible.

This decision is not made entirely by clergy, however. My mom, for instance, used to serve as a Lay Member of Annual Conference for her church.  After a few years of doing so, she opted not to return the next year so that another member of her congregation could go.

Here’s my take.  I’ve been a clergy member for almost 2 decades.  I’ve got another 2 decades.  There are many clergy who have been active far longer than I have already.

It seems to me that if the revolving door of lay leadership turns much faster than that of clergy, the laity are likely not to gain an equal share of power, influence, and leadership in the Annual Conference.

This means the Annual Conference remains, ultimately, clergy-run. I am concerned that this means our ability as an Annual Conference to change and adapt as necessary to changing times, populations, and cultural shifts may be seriously lacking.

There is a move afoot in the United Methodist Church to attract and recruit young clergy.  We are also making effort s to attract younger members  – or laity.

What are  we going to do about giving them a large stake in the leadership of the Church?