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Archive for June, 2008

So True

My seminary buddy, Mofast, has written a great post about pastoral transitions especially within the UMC. Some are going read this and say, “Exactly.” The rest aren’t pastors 🙂

It’s as honest a portrayal as I’ve ever read.

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The Jesus Way – Part I

June 25, 2008 1 comment

I’m blogging a little bit at a time some notes I wrote for a clergy reading group that I’m in.  This month was my selection and my turn to lead so I broke a little bit from  the norm and chose The Jesus Way by Eugene Peterson.  It, like other Peterson books, is going to require another read but the first one was a great joy.  We talked about it today and I hope everyone else who read it was encouraged and challenged.

Some of what I’ve written may not matter to blog readers but I wanted to invite you into the conversation.  When I arrived in this district four months ago, I noticed from the reading list that most of the readings were concerned primarily with pastoral leadership. “How do we lead the congregations we are called to serve?” is the question these books have been designed to answer. “How do we fulfill the mission of making disciples within our congregations?” We all want the same thing in our ministries – to develop God’s people into world-changing disciples of Jesus Christ. I thought it might be helpful, though, if we considered the way in which we not only make disciples but the concern for pastoral formation. The quality of our leadership will only be as strong as our own formation as disciples of Jesus Christ.

As people who have inherited a magnificent theology from John Wesley, I decided to lead our discussion from a thoroughly Wesleyan standpoint. At the heart of the way of salvation is the conviction that salvation doesn’t end the moment we repent and believe but that it is holistic – to quote a favorite hymn “My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious though! My sin, sin not in part but the whole, is nailed to the cross and I bear it no more, praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!” Our salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ is actively worked out in sanctification. It is the transformed life that bears less the self-centered likeness of our own way and more the other-focused, sacrificial, and holy way of Jesus. Peterson, although is a Presbyterian, makes a compelling case for the way of Jesus that we Wesleyan heirs can co-opt as we seek to be fully formed by the way of Jesus and teach others to follow a similar path.

With that in mind, I’d like for us to consider some passages from this book and evaluate them in the light of our Biblical and theological commitments as United Methodist clergy (the audience of the group) so that we might be formed in the Way of Jesus.

To follow Jesus implies that we enter into a way of life that is given character and shape and direction by the one who calls us. To follow Jesus means picking up rhythms and ways of doing things that are often unsaid but always derivative from Jesus, formed by the influence of Jesus. To follow Jesus means that we can’t separate what Jesus is saying from what Jesus is doing and the way that he is doing it. To follow Jesus is as much, or maybe even more, about feet as it is about ears and eyes. (22)

Some questions that spring to mind are, “How do we pick up the ‘rhythms and ways of doing things’ the way Jesus does them?” The immediate response is in two parts one from me and one from the end of this book. Taking the book first, in the very last chapter Peterson sets up prayer as a primary means of connecting to the way of Jesus. “Prayer is basic. Prayer is basic because it provides the primary language for everything that takes place on the way of Jesus” (264). Looking back over the prayers of Jesus, are we emulating the prayer life of Jesus as we pray? Are we seeking for the will of the Father to be done, rather than our own (Matt. 6:10)? Are we praying for unity (John 17:11)? Are we praying for our persecutors (Matt. 5:44)? Consider this passage from the end of the book:

Following Jesus necessarily means getting his ways and means into our everyday lives. It is not enough simply to recognize and approve his ways and get started in the right direction. Jesus’ ways are meant to be embraced by our imaginations and assimilated into our habits. This takes place only as we pray our following of him. It cannot be imposed from without, cannot be copied. It must be shaped from within. This shaping takes place in prayer. The practice of prayer is the primary way that Jesus’ way comes to permeate our entire lives so that we walk spontaneously and speak rhythmically in the fluidity and fluency of holiness. (217)

This passage, a classic Peterson paragraph, highlights the reason why we have so many leadership books and church marketing books.  We market because “getting [Jesus’] ways and means into our everyday lives” is difficult.  Prayer is difficult.  It requires that we must die to ourselves and to the world.

The other manner in which we pick up the ways of Jesus is through reading the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ life and ministry. How familiar are we with the “feet” of Jesus, or rather the deeds of Jesus? How intimately aware are we of not what Jesus would do but that Jesus did do? Like Peterson notes, following Jesus is as much about doing the things Jesus did as it is telling what Jesus did.

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Brief Annual Conference Reflection

June 11, 2008 3 comments

Why it is so difficult to carve out one’s necessary time with God while at Annual Conference?

Wait, don’t answer that.

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Holiness Unto the Lord

The longer I occupy the office of pastor on my own without the benefit of a “senior pastor” the more aware I become that Jesus Christ is my Senior Pastor. Much of what I do as a pastor on a daily basis is an imitation of the two senior pastors under whom I served for the last five years. That is a good thing for I served under two great men who were also great pastors. They had great hearts for people – they loved folks and if I can do any more than that it will be by the grace of God.

I am now discovering that as I recognize the undeniable reality that Jesus is my Senior Pastor – and he’s been that all along whether I recognized it or not – I’m to imitate Jesus. Just like those two men under whom I served, I find that I want to imitate my current Senior Pastor and the terrifying reality of what that means has caused me to reevaluate how I live my life. The reason for this is because I now have a deep desire to live my life as an imitation of Christ’s life and in order to do that I have to become familiar with how Jesus lived.

Do you know what this means?

Phil 2:1-8 If then there is any encouragement in Christ, any consolation from love, any sharing in the Spirit, any compassion and sympathy, make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility regard others as better than yourselves. Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.

Can you imagine a man like me, a man of unclean heart who dwells among a people of unclean hearts, praying these words about Christ? What does God do with a man whose kenotic prayer is actually serious, or with a man who strains to beat his breast and say “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!”? I think I’m experiencing what God does and it is at the same time painful and euphoric. It’s a reshaping of the heart so that I can actually love people. Not to pretend to love people because that’s what I’m supposed to look like as a pastor, but actually and truthfully love people.

Of course, that’s not all it means but it’s a start for me. Join me, but be realistic and know that it means becoming empty no matter how much we fight it. I should know because my heart and mind are putting up the fight of their lives.

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