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As General Conference meets to decide the future organization of the United Methodist Church, anxiety hangs in the air.  Will delegates So What, Who Cares. Unsure Doubtful Dark-skinned Woman With Blacadopt the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan or the Traditionalist Plan?  Or will they defer decision-making altogether, buried in an avalanche of possible amendments and alternate options?  That’s a real possibility.

So what happens if nothing happens at General Conference?

Last week I wrote that no matter what holds together or what falls apart  this General Conference, or any General Conference, life and ministry must go on.   But there’s a caveat.  Leaders cannot go on with ministry as usual.  This is the time to up your game.  Especially if nothing happens at General Conference.  Survival mentality does not bear good fruit.

Here are the 7 leadership abilities that you will need to cultivate especially if nothing happens at General Conference.

Before I lay out the 7 abilities, let’s consider the meaning of the word able.  Able, the source of the word ability, has two primary definitions.  First is having the power, skill, means, or opportunity to do something.  Second is to have considerable skill, proficiency, or intelligence.  As online and face-to-face options proliferate for people to engage in spiritual community and meet like-minded souls, churches need to be able to operate in both senses of the word.

Leaders need to not only take the opportunity to engage in ministry, but to do it skillfully and with considerable emotional intelligence.  Why?  The rising number of the spiritual but not religious, dones and nones, indicate that people won’t put up with mere survival-mode mentality. Click To Tweet

Now on to the 7 leadership abilities you will need to cultivate if nothing happens at General Conference.  I’ll lay them out here, and then revisit them in the coming weeks, giving you tips and tools for how to skillfully cultivate these abilities.

1.  Your way forward.  Even if nothing definitive happens at General Conference, you will need to cultivate the ability to envision an intentional future for your setting.  Don’t hold your breath waiting to see what others do before you act.  As a spiritual leader, it’s your job to sense the movement of the Spirit in your setting, and to proactively respond.

2.  A purpose.  Now is the time to cultivate the ability to articulate why your congregation matters.  Don’t assume your people or your community knows.  Instead of letting the national news narrate the story, step up and frame your congregation’s story.  Locals will appreciate it.

3.  Vibrant ministries.  You will need to cultivate the ability to connect the Gospel and daily life.  Being clear about the connection is what makes ministries vibrant, relevant, and relatable.  It also generates buy-in.

4.  Faith.  Cultivate the ability to move forward with uncertainty.  Predictability sometimes masquerades as faithfulness.  But these days it’s all about living purposefully in the midst of unpredictability.

5.  Vision.  Congregations shrink when leadership is weak.  Weak leadership puts comfort, safety and likeability above vision, mission and values.  Cultivate the ability to lead from the latter, not the former.
6.  Apostleship.  Churches shrink when buy-in is limited.  Cultivate the ability to empower others.  Otherwise, all the work falls back on your shoulders, narrowing ministry to what fits on your to-do list.

7Love and forgiveness.  I was getting ready to get resentful if nothing definitive happens at General Conference.  Then it occurred to me that resentment is a weaker power than forgiveness.  Likewise, fear is a weaker power than love.   You and I will need to cultivate the ability to release resentment and fear, and to move on.  Define what you stand for, not what you stand against.  Then carry on bravely.

Join us for a free online workshop on Friday March 1, 11am-Noon Mountain Time, called “Does Your Church Dream Like Jesus?”  Discover if it’s time to cultivate a Jesus-like dream that allows you to do all of the above.  Email me at rebekah@rebekahsimonpeter.com to register and reserve your spot.

In the meantime, stay tuned for the prompting of the Spirit, and the guidance you need to cultivate these 7 abilities.  You’ll need them if nothing happens at General Conference.  Truth be told, you’ll also need them no matter what happens at General Conference.  God is with you.  You were called to lead at such a time as this.

I’m not much for reality TV.  But many a Monday night I can be found in front of the TV watching aspiring vocalists sing their way into the hearts the-voiceof America. Yup, I am hooked on The Voice. The live finals were last week. Like millions of other Americans, I stayed up way too late waiting to see who won.

What I love most about the show are the blind auditions. At an early stage in the game, a dizzying array audition for a spot on a team where they’ll be coached by a pop culture superstar like Adam Levine, Miley Cyrus, Alicia Keyes or Blake Shelton. Unlike American Idol or America’s Got Talent, these coaches initially can’t see the singers. Their backs are turned to them as they audition. They don’t know the singer’s age, height, weight, attractiveness, fashion style, body shape, skin color, or story. They’re simply responding to the singer’s voice.

A lucky few dozen make the cut. Over the course of the season, they adopt fancy clothes and learn stage moves. But it’s always the unique quality of their voice that takes center stage.

There’s an important lesson here for the mainline Christian church. We have a unique and compelling voice.  Now more than ever we must claim and develop it.

For too long others have used their voices to speak for all of Christianity.   On the one side, we have people who preach fear and hate under the guise of love.   And exclusion under the guise of faith.   On the other side, we have those who preach abundance without accountability. And grace without growth.

We in the mainline church have been endowed with a unique voice. It’s time for us to sing our own song—loud and proud.

We know who we are. We are the church of the community. If your church is like most mainline Christian churches, you perform funerals no one else will touch. You offer love where others offer judgment. You dole out food and financial assistance and flood buckets like nobody’s business. You welcome in the weird, the worried and the waylaid. Everybody gets a hug.

That’s well and good. But are you using your full range? Are you hitting all the notes you can? Are you drawing upon all the color and depth available to you?

When we’re at our best, you can’t beat our preaching, music, Bible studies, outreach, justice-work and pastoral care. It’s informed by head and heart; personal piety and social justice; Gospel and world. At our best, we’re tops at critical thinking, nuanced theology, and the ability to offer more than stock answers. We even know how to change our minds! And our hearts.

We have a history of ultimately getting on the right side of social issues: from the treatment of debtors to addicts, and the poor to the mentally ill. From slavery to women’s right to vote. From the equal humanity of all ages and races to equal civil rights.

All of this contributes mightily to the richness of our voice. At our best, we’re not knee-jerk people.

This is more important than ever in a season highlighted by Trump.   Knee-jerk reactions aren’t going to cut it. If the incoming President means to make good on campaign promises to deport millions, scapegoat immigrants, isolate Muslims, and a host of other indignities, then no voice is more important than ours.

This is our chance to really belt it out! To sing our rich and nuanced song.  No more bowing out while others portend to showcase the faith on our behalf. This is our chance to strut our stuff: love and rational thought; mercy and prophesy.

No need to lower our voices if ethnic profiling is proffered as good social policy.  Or if the almighty dollar seems to trump the common good.

Yes, there’s a downside to our primarily white, middle-class, well-educated constituency—at least in North America. We’re a bit stodgy. We’re not terribly diverse. We’re on the older side. We’re not all that hip.   We disagree amongst ourselves on human sexuality, interpretation of the Bible and other areas.   I take us to task on a lot of this in other posts.

But here’s the upside: We have privilege. We have power. We have connections. We can use all of that for the greater good.

If we use our unique and compelling voice.

Mainline church, don’t be afraid to audition. Sing your song—loud and proud. If we give it our all, I’d say we have a really good chance of winning this season.

Not sure how to engage these conversations?  Join me at Discipleship Ministries for a webinar on Why Churches Should Discuss Politics: How to Talk Politics in your Church Without Being Unchristian on January 23, 2pm Central Time.  Information

I mourned when I heard that Elie Wiesel had died. I grew up with this Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate.  elie wiesel No, not in Auschwitz or Buchenwald, the concentration camps of his childhood experience, but in the darkened room of my 8th grade Jewish Sunday School class. There on Sunday mornings we watched films based on his classic books about the Holocaust. They were dreary, somber films. Even so, watching them made me a better Jew, and a better Christian.

Early on, from these films, I learned the value of wrestling with God, the post-Holocaust stance of much of world Jewry. I also learned the value of wrestling with my place in humanity.   Some post-Holocaust Jews asked “How could God allow this?” I asked, “How could fellow humans turn and look the other away?”

Rather than turn me off from God or religion, these movies instilled in me a deep sense of right and wrong, and the need to watch out for each other. From the conversations that followed the movies, I learned the mantra of my parents’ and grandparents’ generations: “Never again.” Never again to genocide, repression, racism. Never again to silence in the face of injustice.

I’m grateful to Elie Wiesel. His work raised important questions, not just for my 8th grade self, but for the world. He stood for worldwide human rights—for Jews in Israel, the Soviet Union and Ethiopia; for the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, the Desaparecidos of Argentina, Bosnian victims of genocide in Yugoslavia, the Miskito Indians in Nicaragua and the Kurds.

All of this made me a better Jew because he taught me the value of knowing one’s history.  Later, it also made me a better Christian because I understood the danger of the church’s silence in the face of evil.

These days the church is often loathe to venture into “politics,” preferring to be a neutral, conflict-free oasis of spirituality. But when are politics and spirituality ever really separated? Certainly not in Jesus’ day. Nor in our own. Spirituality—especially the spirituality of love—must be lived out in the real world to have real power. Especially in the face of fear, bigotry, and scapegoating.

We live in an age when the words “Never again” seem to have been forgotten. Refugees are once again turned away at crucial borders. Immigrants are eyed with suspicion. The “other” is scapegoated. Violence and power go hand in hand.

What are you teaching in your Sunday School rooms? It can’t be all Veggie Tales, fun and games. There needs to be some substance–where our faith interacts with the injustices of the world.  Let’s not be afraid to tell our kids the way it really is. Chances are they already know. And if they don’t, maybe they need to.

 

 

 

General Conference is a quadrennial gathering of the global United Methodist Church. But by definition, this global gathering is intensely local. Local dialects, languages, costumes, greetings, and worship practices take center general conferencestage. This convocation begs the question: What, if anything, does a global UMC mean for a local congregation? I posed that question to a handful of young United Methodist clergy with whom I recently met.

“I bring in different worship styles from other countries to our local church,” Sara Rettig, a pastor from Appalachia serving in the Rocky Mountain conference explained. “I make sure they are incorporated in my congregation. We talk about how our way of worshipping isn’t the only way.”

Other young clergy shook their heads. “A lot of time we don’t think of ourselves as a global church. We’re just busy trying to make things happen in our own setting. How can we focus on bringing in more global aspects to our local church instead of just catering to our own needs?”

Many churches find a way to highlight the global church on World Communion Sunday. Greetings and prayers drawn from other languages are a good way to highlight our unity in diversity. But is a once a year shift in perspective enough to create a true sense of community?

Other churches engage in annual or bi-annual mission trips to connect with sister churches across international borders. Always enlightening and uplifting, these opportunities, however, can reinforce a sense of “us” and “them.” We have the resources; they have the needs. We have the answers; they have the deficits. Is that what we envisioned when we set out to create a global denomination?

Sara’s next thought pressed the group: “What does it mean to have different theologies, and be an open church where all of us can be who we are and still be part of a connection?”

Good question. It made me wonder if that’s even allowed in the UMC. We have it, of course, but do we actually acknowledge it or welcome it?

As one young clergy leader pointed out, “The UMC tends to prize uniformity over unity.” That would seem to undermine Sara’s point of inherent diversity in a global church. But maybe the pressure for uniformity boils down to just a few select issues.

“We have one Book of Discipline that assumes we all look at issues in the same way,” said Sara’s husband, Major, also serving in the Rocky Mountain Conference. “For instance, take human sexuality. In some parts of Africa, the primary concern is over polygamy. In the US and Europe, we’re up in arms over homosexuality. If we’re really a global church, how come our Book of Discipline doesn’t reflect that?”

“True,” noted Dustin Burrow, serving in the New Mexico Annual Conference. “How can one Book of Discipline even cover places as disparate as Eastern Europe, the American Southwest, and the African continent?”

The dance between unity and uniformity, the global and the local isn’t new for Peoples of the Book. Think of it: we have four different gospels that give four fairly different accounts of the life of Jesus. Two of them don’t even recount a birth story. The two that do supply radically different details. That same pattern continues all the way through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Not to mention the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. It contains two different creation stories, two exoduses from Egypt and a plethora of names of God. Even so, throughout the testaments, you can still detect unifying themes of creation, covenant, sin, forgiveness, and redemption. Then there’s the matter of the Trinity itself—God in three persons.

If the Bible itself conveys unity without requiring uniformity, maybe there’s hope for us!

Especially if we were to take a page from Jesus and his tribe. Judaism, from ancient to modern-day times, intentionally cultivates a diversity of voices and viewpoints by which to understand God and God’s will. Books like the Mishnah and Talmud even record these voices in conversation and are studied to this day.

My point is that enforced uniformity across a global denomination like the UMC is actually a disservice. It erases the very things we can learn from each other—the varying ways we read scripture, do mission, understand the world and even our own selves.

Unity in the midst of diversity is not only Biblical, it’s Wesleyan. John Wesley famously wrote, “If your heart is as my heart, if you love God and all mankind, I ask no more; give me your hand.”

Our unity as a global denomination can become a source of inspiration, curiosity, and growth. Not a condemnation of differences. Or a striving to be exactly the same. But rather an expression of God’s own unity in diversity. Let’s see what that would mean for local churches scattered across the globe!

Thanks to Ministry Matters where you can see this and other blogs by Rebekah Simon-Peter.

The power of affirmation is well known in human relationships. In fact social scientists have identified the ideal say yesratio of positive to negative statements for happy and healthy marriages and work environments; it’s 5:1. The same applies to churches. Robert Schnase, author of Just Say Yes! outlines critical ways individuals, systems and congregations can say yes to insure church health. As he points out, there are all kinds of ways that yes empowers growth.

But yes isn’t the only one-syllable word that creates health and happiness. Equally important is the word no. Too many yesses can spoil children, and churches. Jesus said no at key points in his life. Each no furthered and focused his ministry. In the same way, no can sharpen your ministry and inject new vitality into your leadership.

Discover if your church is suffering from too much yes and not enough no. And the 4 ways you can get back on track.

Saying Yes to Avoid Hurt Feelings

Does your church say yes to everything for fear of hurting feelings or offending people? Chances are this tendency means you are not actually able to affirm your vision. Or that you have no vision. Just because you can do it doesn’t mean you should do it. Your activities need to line up with your vision. Otherwise, they dilute your efforts while giving the congregation the false sense that you are accomplishing something.

Let’s take a look at Jesus’ ministry here. Early on in his ministry, Jesus was ministering in the Galilee, healing ???????????????????lpeople and upgrading the quality of their lives. “Stay,” the people begged him, “please!” “Nope, no way, can’t stay.” Jesus replied. “I have to share this with the other towns too.” (Luke 4:40-440) That’s a paraphrase of course, but you get the idea. This no allowed him to focus his efforts, share his vision, and expand his impact. The locals wanted nothing more than to keep Jesus for themselves. Understandably so. But staying would have prevented Jesus from living his dream, and fulfilling his purpose in life. Since he couldn’t send out Kingdom tweets, or Skype into the next town, he said no, laced up his sandals, threw on his backpack, and kept on going.

This no requires clarity, courage, and the willingness to disappoint or even offend people. The upside is it frees people up for ministry that matters, and aligns the church with its purpose. You can get back on track by surveying your active ministries. Weigh each one against your vision statement and against your available volunteers. See if it really advances your mission or not. If it’s just for the locals, see about re-engaging them in something with a greater return on investment. If it advances the mission but you don’t actually have the people for it, give it a rest, at least for a season. Don’t be afraid to disappoint people for the greater good.

Saying Yes to Reduce Fear and Avoid Risk

Do you say yes to anxiety and fear and no to a necessary risk? One church I know of feared the potential negative impact of hosting a Spanish-speaking ministry in their building. “What if we can’t understand each other?” they worried. “What if something breaks or breaks down and we can’t solve the problem because we don’t share a common language?” Those anxieties weighed down on the Church Council and ultimately the nopastor. This church ended up saying no. A second church opened up their doors to the ministry, and has experienced renewed vitality because of it.   The first church said no to a necessary risk. The second church said no to the naysayers.

In the Gospel, Peter tried to dissuade Jesus from taking a necessary risk; one that would end up getting Jesus killed. On the surface, Peter’s concern was well-founded, laudable even. But Jesus saw through the false comfort it offered and said no, forcefully, “Get thee behind me Satan!” Jesus knew he must take the risk of moving forward. Otherwise, once again, his vision would not be fulfilled.

Where are you letting people talk you out of taking risks? It’s time to say no to the naysayers so you can take necessary risks. As one of my favorite sayings goes, “Nice girls rarely make history.” In other words, too much caution takes you out of the game. So press on, trust God, and take risks to advance the cause.

Saying Yes to Keeping Things Small

Are you a “just us” church? Saying yes to keeping things all in the family? This can mean only looking toward people who share your primary ethnicity, socioeconomic status, generation, world view, educational background or even religion.

Jesus famrefugeesously said no the people closest to him. His mother and brothers wanted to see him while he was holding court with his disciples. (Matthew 12:47-49) As much he loved them and as great a value as family was and is in Judaism, Jesus put them off. He was building a larger community. It incorporated Pharisees and Zealots, poor and rich, saints and sinners, friends and enemies, the exploited and the exploiters. Eventually it even incorporated Gentiles into a distinctly Jewish movement.

It’s time to look and see if you have been saying yes to subtle pressure to keep things “in house.” Time to say no to shutting out the other. Intentionally welcome gay, lesbian, and transgender persons. Begin a prison ministry. Open up your aging congregation to kids from the nearby school. Create an outreach to immigrant or refugee families.   Let your building be used by other groups. Even if some of your people grumble, groan or leave, God will remain faithful.

Saying Yes to Everything

Do you have a hard time saying no to requests? If you can’t say no to some things, you’ll never have the time or energy to say yes to the things you are absolutely called to do. Maxie Dunnan famously said, “Not every need is a call.”   Sure, people have needs, and lots of them. But there are over 7 billion people and countless creatures on solitudethe planet. God has plenty of other options beside you and your congregation.

Jesus wasn’t always on. He wasn’t always available. He insisted on protecting his time to keep intact his spiritual unity with God. He took time away from teaching, healing, vision-casting, and disciple-making. That’s when he went away to pray, to talk with God, and maybe just to rest.

Church leader: don’t let your heart of love bleed you dry. Or talk you into staying past your effectiveness. Take your Sabbath. Take your vacation. Take your continuing education time. Then, when the time is right, take your leave.

Each time you say no, you run the risk of sharpening your vision, calling people to greater faith, and upping your game. Yes, there may be disappointments. Yes, people may leave. Yes, you make be taking on more risk than previously. But what are we here for after all?