Archives For General Conference

Satan offered Jesus power over all the kingdoms of the world. Tempting indeed for a person who was here to proclaim the Kingdom. Yet what Jesus meant by “kingdom” and what Satan meant were two entirely different things.   Jesus had to have understood the difference. Otherwise, he would have succumbed to a soul-killing temptation.

Just as Jesus had to be clear about meaning, and to not project his understanding of Kingdom onto Satan’s, so we have to be clear about the meaning we ascribe to words. And to not project our personal definitions onto someone else’s words. Otherwise it’s like comparing apples and oranges and finding oranges wanting because they are lousy apples.

The Traditional Plan and the One Church Plan had different meanings for different General Conference constituents. From what I gather, many delegates who voted for the Traditional Plan were not voting against gays. Rather, they were voting for something else. Likewise, many delegates who voted for the One Church Plan weren’t voting against Biblical authority. Rather, they were voting for something else.

Some people are saying, “The United Methodist Church now rejects gays.” But IS that what happened at General Conference? That depends on who you ask.

I have to admit that as a One Church Plan proponent, I didn’t get why people would vote for the Traditional Plan since it seemed to allow space and grace for theological differences. So, I asked around amongst my friends and colleagues who supported the Traditional Plan. This is what I found:

One friend and colleague believes that the church moves forward only when it is countercultural. John Wesley challenged the culture of his time. Martin Luther challenged the culture of his time. Thus, my friend believes that we must challenge the culture of our time.

Another friend supports the Traditional Plan because she feels it supports a deep reverence for God and the Scriptures.

A third colleague believes that God alone wills human sexuality and that the will of God is delineated through the creation, and union, of Adam and Eve, which was male and female, and thus heterosexual.

When I polled One Church Plan proponents, here is what I found:

One friend supported the One Church Plan because her interpretation of the Bible prioritizes Jesus’ first and second commandments (to love God with our whole being, and our neighbor as ourselves) above any passages related to sexuality.

Another colleague supported it because of his understanding that our United Methodist baptismal covenant welcomes all people —regardless of sexual orientation—into the fullness of the life of Christ, and the fullness of the life of the church.

A third friend and colleague supported the One Church Plan because it would allow United Methodists the freedom to follow their conscience as they minister with the love of Christ in their various settings.

It is tempting to use either Traditional Plan or One Church Plan rationales as justifications to bolster your arguments for why supporters of the plan you didn’t support are wrong. I get it.   I’m quite capable of falling prey to the same temptation.

Here’s the thing, though. Making them wrong victimizes both you and them. Because it’s an “against” position. In the law of emotional triangles, what goes around comes around. Victimizing others because you feel victimized simply reinforces victimization. Jesus put it this way: Judge not lest you be judged. This is a spiritual temptation that will not get us where we want to go, assuming that where we want to go is Christ-like love.

A few caveats: First, to be sure, some folks did vote against gays and some folks did vote against Biblical authority. Second, regardless of why people voted the way they did, votes have unintended consequences which can do great harm. Third, I am not urging anyone to leave the denomination or to stay. That choice is between you and God. What I am doing is encouraging us to expand our powers of emotional intelligence as we traverse this Lenten journey.

Want to act instead of react? Step out of the emotional triangle and self-differentiate. Have the courage and clarity to say what you are for instead of simply reacting against what you oppose. In other words, lead with vision and not from reaction.

Self-differentiation is a key ingredient of emotional intelligence. Jesus shows us how it's done. Click To Tweet Notice that Jesus didn’t fight Satan in the desert, or even quarrel with him. Instead, Jesus simply articulated his own vision again and again. It’s what allowed him to emerge unscathed from his 40-day journey through the desert.

How will your 40-day journey go?

By now you know that it was a brutal General Conference. Personally, I was in favor of the One Church Plan. I thought it was a gracious acknowledgment of our varying cultural contexts, biblical sensibilities, and deeply held convictions. It didn’t pronounce each other wrong or your way or no way take the highway absolutely not totally against my willright. It was a way to let each other be. Without judgement.

That plan failed, discouragingly. Much goodwill and hope disappeared along with it. Good people have been deeply hurt. Some will leave the church. Others will stay and resist. Still others are bewildered, unsure of what to do. Finally, others are satisfied with the outcome.

I am Facebook friends with people across the theological spectrum. While glancing at other people’s Facebook pages, I’ve noticed that One Church Plan supporters have been labeled everything from humanist to non-Biblical. The Traditionalist Plan folks have been labeled anti-love and anti-gay.

Going forward, how do you do ministry when you don’t see eye to eye? Not only with other delegates from around the world, but with people in your very own conference, district, and congregation? How can you reconcile seemingly irreconcilable differences?

I’m going to share three options and two offers for moving forward.

  1. Get mad.Righteous anger can be a good thing. It can fuel you with new courage and empower you to take actions that once seemed impossible. It can also blind you to possibilities. And cause you to hurt others or trample on other people’s humanity.
  2. Get defeated.“Clearly they don’t want me, so I’m out of here.” Being so hurt that you can’t take action can allow you to retreat from a painful, hurtful arena. You are able to nurse your wounds, consider your options, and find the next right choice. Far from the hurtful arena.   On the other hand, everywhere you go, there you are. Leaving with hurt in your heart will haunt you. Avoiding getting hurt in the future will be your driving motive and plant you firmly in victim mode. Decisions made from a victim-stance are less likely to be empowering for you in the long run.
  3. Get savvy.It’s human nature to frame other people’s decisions in light of your own decision-making context. For instance: I stand in support of full inclusion of LGBTQIA folks in the life and leadership of our churches. Therefore, if you don’t believe/vote the way I do, then you are against this deeply held principle of mine. You are anti-LGBTQIA, or anti-love of all people.

Or this: I treasure the words of the Bible and try to uphold my understanding of it in all that I do. Therefore, if you don’t vote the way I do, then you don’t love or respect the Bible. You are anti-God or anti-purity or unholy.

Either way, “those people” become the enemy. This is why Jesus said “Judge not lest you be judged.” Judging leads only to enemy-making.

Here’s a healthy way to get savvy. Don’t make their decisions (whoever “they” are) about you and your deeply held values. They’re not about you. Their decisions are about them. Their decisions arise from their own decision-making context.

It’s hard to do this, I know. But it’s also crucial to your long-term well-being. Otherwise you land in rage mode, victim mode or enemy mode. None of those are helpful long term. And none of those get you where you really want to go—able to live out your values with a clear and open heart.

Not sure how to do any of this? Join us in The Listening Room all next week: March 4-8, Noon-1pm, Mountain Time. This will be a constructive place to vent, grieve, pray, consider next steps or plan what to say to your people. The Listening Room will be hosted by myself, our Creating a Culture of Renewal Faculty and our Staff. Email us here for a Zoom invite. Then mark your calendar and plan to join. We’ll have breakout rooms so you can have privacy if you need it.

Also, don’t forget our March 1 webinar: Does Your Church Dream Like Jesus? This is an opportunity to discover whether your church leads with a Jesus-like dream or not. And what you can do about it. We’ll meet from 11am-Noon Mountain Time.   Email us here for a Zoom invite.

Finally, I want you to know that ALL persons are welcome and invited into the Creating a Culture of Renewal network. No questions asked. We are open to the whole of the church. Conservative, centrist, progressive. Straight, gay, questioning. Life-long Methodists and newbies. The confident and the confounded. High church or high Christology as well as low church or low Christology.   We welcome you regardless of your sexual orientation, gender identity, theology, conference, jurisdiction, beliefs, biblical hermeneutic, or General Conference votes for that matter.  Creating a Culture of Renewal creates a safe space for all church leaders to find their voice, claim their calling, and manifest their Jesus-like dreams.

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.

On the evening of December 31, 1999, First UMC of Rawlins Wyoming hosted a Y2K gathering at the church.  We prayed, played games, y2kand ate.   We danced like it was 1998, as we waited to see what would happen.  Would computer networks make the big turn to 2000? Or would they falter, forever stuck in 1999, thereby plunging the world into darkness and chaos?

Even in the midst of the Y2K scare, one thing kept me going.  I knew that the sun would rise the next morning even if my computer wouldn’t turn on.  I knew I would continue breathing.  I knew that life would go on.  It’s old news now, but life did indeed go on.  Quite nicely in fact.  It seems anticlimactic to say it now.  But the anxiety was real back then.

In some ways, the special called session of the General Conference reminds me of the eve of Y2K.  No matter what gets decided or what gets postponed, no matter what holds together or what falls apart, life and ministry will go on.  Three things will remain true whether delegates pass the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan or the Traditionalist Plan.  Or, heaven forbid, whether they pass no plan at all.

Here are the three things that will remain unchanged:

  1. God will still love us—all.  And we will still—all–be called to love our neighbors and our enemies.
  2. We will still have disagreements on human sexuality and on biblical interpretation.
  3. We will still have people who love the church as it is and people who don’t.   We will still have people who leave the church and people who stay.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe this gathering and its outcomes are important.  They will determine how we will organize ourselves in years to come.

I’m personally in favor of the One Church Plan.  It allows for regional and theological diversity.  It provides a flexible structure that reflects the actual spectrum of commitments of the UMC.  And it allows for people to follow their conscience, without judgment or retribution.

But we don’t have to wait until General Conference is over to decide who and how we are going to be.  If Jesus is our leader, then love is still our foundation.   We would do well to breathe deep, calm our anxieties, and move forward in our practice of love and acceptance.

Are you ready to move forward in your ministry?  Join us for a free webinar:  Does Your Church Dream Like Jesus?  It will be Friday, March 1, 11am-Noon Mountain Time.  Email us at rebekah@rebekahsimonpeter.com to register and reserve your space in the webinar.

Then, stay tuned.  Next week, I’m going to share with you the seven abilities we need to cultivate no matter how General Conference turns out.

“We’re always on to the next thing,” one pastor friend confided to me. “At least that’s how the people in my Annual Conference see it. We’re ever on to the latest, greatest solution for church growth.”

“Do you ever pause and celebrate what you have accomplished?” I asked.resting on laurels

“No.”

That got me thinking.  These initiatives may seem like passing fads which Annual Conferences mindlessly chase after.  But I doubt that’s what’s actually happening.  In my experience, denominational executives are working on several fronts at the same time. After all, different kinds of congregations and leaders need different kinds of approaches. Congregational renewal is not one size fits all. My work with emotional intelligence demonstrates that.

I have often wondered, though, if people would respond more favorably to the myriad processes their Annual Conferences offer, if only they were aware of how much had actually been accomplished with each one.

There’s no way of knowing what’s been accomplished if we don’t pause, communicate, and celebrate. That’s why I’m defending the oft neglected practice of resting on your laurels.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with savoring our successes.   When the Romans borrowed the Greek idea of presenting a wreath of laurel leaves to victorious military commanders, there was no implication that “resting” on them was bad. That negative connotation didn’t come for another 10 centuries.

Getting back to my friend’s Annual Conference–I wonder how many new ministries they have launched since focusing on processes for renewal? Harder to measure but equally important—how many fights have been avoided, how many members and volunteers have been re-energized? How many callings to the ministry have been reclaimed?

We can’t know these things unless we make space for collecting and telling these stories. That means taking time to rest on our laurels. Not forever. Not even for a long time. But long enough to actually soak up and celebrate all that has been gained.

As the semi-frenetic pastor of an active congregation, I had habitually pushed on to the next thing. And the next. And the next. Driven by both the joy of accomplishment and the fear of boredom.

“Rev. Rebekah,” my active lay leader sheepishly confessed to me one day, “we’re tired. We need a rest. Can’t we just stop for a bit and see how far we have actually come?”

When Jesus went into the wilderness to pray, we have no idea what he prayed. But we do know this: he paused.   Surely something good and life-giving happened during that time.

Year End Reports are a statistical attempt to pause and to reflect on what has been done.  But we have to look beyond our own particular congregations to get the big picture. Sure, worship attendance or membership may be down in your setting. But other numbers may be trending upward. In one Annual Conference I work with, church attendance is down, but baptisms are up! Not bad. In another, average worship attendance itself is actually up.

There’s no way of knowing this stuff unless we, as a body, actually stop and reflect. Then take it one step farther: celebrate.

What could you celebrate in your Annual Conference? Look for what you are doing doing well, and then emphasize it. Perspectives shift when we focus on what is going well.

Recently, I listened to a panel of General Conference delegates report on what happened in Portland last month. I expected a reprisal of the tougher issues that emerged at GC including painful disagreements over how to address human sexuality. I was not disappointed.

What most captured my attention, though, was the report of a first-time laywoman delegate.   “This was my first time at General Conference,” she smiled. “I didn’t even begin to think about it until about a week or two before I went. I arrived with an open mind.”

She went on to relate her delight about the milestones celebrated: the 250th anniversary of John Street Church in New York City, the 200th anniversary of Bishop Francis Asbury’s death, the 60th anniversary of full clergy rights for women, the 30th anniversary of Disciple Bible Study, the upcoming 25th anniversary of Africa University and 150th anniversary of the United Methodist Women. She was amazed at all the Church had accomplished in such a short period of time.

Now I’m the last person to whitewash history. Much of my work has been about empowering the church to embrace a truly Jewish Jesus, unlearn anti-Semitism, deal with what our Scriptures say about environmental stewardship, and creatively address the reality of church decline.

But still! What a breath of fresh air to listen to her celebrate our accomplishments. For a moment, we all rested on our laurels.

I wonder what would happen if we insisted on these breaths of fresh air more often? If we purposefully paused and savored our successes more than once every four years?

No, it wouldn’t resolve all our challenges or erase our differences. But it might just energize us to carry on creatively—conscious of the positive impact we are having on the world around us, and proud of the gains we are making.