Busy as a United Methodist Pastor!

Two charge conferences coming up, my first D.Min. paper is coming due, serving as an assistant spiritual director on a Walk to Emmaus retreat this weekend, kids turning 2 and 5 right around the corner, and I’m a little bit tired. Life is very good in spite of the hectic pace. Thank goodness I’m finished with my Board of Ordained Ministry work – waiting for the interview later this Fall. When things settle down a bit, I’ll post more regularly! Grace and Peace. 😉

Morgenthaler on Worship Evangelism

Sally Morgenthaler, who has a terrific article on leadership in a “flattened” world in An Emergent Manifesto of Hope, has been a pioneer in the world of worship. Her book Worship Evangelism set the tone for a large cultural shift within evangelicalism back in the late nineties.

Lately, she’s been rethinking some of the ideas presented in that work. In a new article from earlier this month, she reflects on the successes and failures of this movement (h/t Jonny Baker). Two years ago she taught her last seminar on worship, a year later she abandoned her worship resource website. This article is an explanation of the disappointment Morgenthaler feels over the way “worship evangelism” became an excuse for not being involved with those outside the Church. Instead of holding worship and mission together, some took her work as an excuse to believe that quality worship is a substitute for missional involvement.

Instead of attracting the unchurched, many found that their emphasis on evangelistic worship was not living up to that intention. Morgenthaler writes,

Were these worship-driven churches really attracting the unchurched? Most of their pastors truly believed they were. And in a few cases, they were right. The worship in their congregations was inclusive, and their people were working hard to meet the needs of the neighborhood. Yet those churches whose emphasis was dual—celebrated worship inside, lived worship outside—were the minority. In 2001 a worship-driven congregation in my area finally did a survey as to who they were really reaching, and they were shocked. They’d thought their congregation was at least 50 percent unchurched. The real number was 3 percent.

She later describes the movie Saved as an example of the true attitudes of many secular folks to the evangelical movement, and goes on to cite a journalist who observed worship in one of the congregations that has invested heavily in high-production worship for non-Christians,

“The [worship team] was young and pretty, dressed in the kind of quality-cotton-punk clothing one buys at the Gap. ‘Lift up your hands, open the door,’ crooned the lead singer, an inoffensive tenor. Male singers at [this] and other megachurches are almost always tenors, their voices clean and indistinguishable, R&B-inflected one moment, New Country the next, with a little bit of early ’90s grunge at the beginning and the end.

“They sound like they’re singing in beer commercials, and perhaps this is not coincidental. The worship style is a kind of musical correlate to (their pastor’s) free market theology: designed for total accessibility, with the illusion of choice between strikingly similar brands. (He prefers the term flavors, and often uses Baskin-Robbins as a metaphor when explaining his views.) The drummers all stick to soft cymbals and beats anyone can handle; the guitarists deploy effects like artillery but condense them, so the highs and lows never stretch too wide. Lyrics tend to be rhythmic and pronunciation perfect, the better to sing along with when the words are projected onto movie screens. Breathy or wailing, vocalists drench their lines with emotion, but only within strict confines. There are no sad songs in a megachurch, and there are no angry songs. There are songs about desperation, but none about despair; songs convey longing only if it has already been fulfilled.”

Morgenthaler’s response is direct, “ No sad songs. No angry songs. Songs about desperation, but none about despair. Worship for the perfect. The already arrived. The good-looking, inoffensive, and nice. No wonder the unchurched aren’t interested.”

I’m not capturing all of the nuances of the article here, but these are some of the high points that stood out to me. I would encourage you to read the whole article to get a sense of Morgenthaler living through the shift from modernity to “whatever it is that we’re now experiencing” (post-modernity, hyper-modernity, post-Christendom, whatever). In closing, she describes the uncomfortable call she is currently experiencing,

I am currently headed further outside my comfort zones than I ever thought I could go. I am taking time for the preacher to heal herself. As I exit the world of corporate worship, I want to offer this hope and prayer. May you, as leader of your congregation, have the courage to leave the “if we build it, they will come” world of the last two decades behind. May you and the Christ-followers you serve become worshipers who can raise the bar of authenticity, as well as your hands. And may you be reminiscent of Isaiah, who, having glimpsed the hem of God’s garment and felt the cleansing fire of grace on his lips, cried, “Here am I, send me.”

May we all be so uncomfortable.

Ordination Questions: Kingdom of God, Resurrection, Eternal Life

9.) What is your understanding of (a) the Kingdom of God; (b) the Resurrection; (c) eternal life?

Although there is a great deal of variety in United Methodist worship, I have yet to attend a United Methodist Church that does not pray the Lord’s Prayer.  Each week, the congregations I serve petition God asking that, “Thy Kingdom come, they will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”  So what are we asking for when we ask for God’s Kingdom to come?

One of the central themes of Jesus’ proclamation was that of God’s Kingdom and its entry into our world.  In fact, Jesus seemed to suggest that in some very real way, God’s Kingdom had already appeared on earth in and through his ministry.  Still, Jesus urged us to pray, “Thy Kingdom come.”  God’s Kingdom, therefore, is located somewhere in the tension between what has already arrived and what is not yet here, or as N.T. Wright once wrote, “an ‘arrival’ with Jesus and a still-awaited ‘arrival’ which would complete the implementation of what he had already accomplished”.[1]  Unfortunately, the language of Kingdom is not as immediately clear as it was in Jesus’ day.  After all, as Brian McClaren points out, “where kings exist they are by and large anachronisms…” and, “When people hear Kingdom of God, we don’t want them to think ‘the anachronistic, limited, ceremonial, and symbolic but practially ineffectual rule of God’”![2]  Instead, we want to communicate the powerful, earth-shattering, life-changing existence of God in our world!  McClaren goes on to suggest some alternative possibilities to translate the meaning of Kingdom: God’s dream, the revolution of God, the mission of God, God’s dance, and God’s party.[3] If McClaren is right, then we need to search for new metaphors to talk about the way God definitively entered our world in Christ and continues to invite us to participate and join in with God’s purposes.  Whatever language we use, what began in creation and continued in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is still happening in our world and awaiting its fullness in the future.  We both anticipate and participate in God’s activity on earth when we follow the command of Micah 6:8 to do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with our God.

            The resurrection is the basis of our future hope as Christians.[4] I believe that resurrection is far more than someone living in our memory or the appearance of someone being lifted up as an example in some spiritual sense. Instead, resurrection is in a very real way a bodily event.  The preponderance of evidence in the first century and before suggests that resurrection was the word used to refer to someone who had died only to be found alive again.  Of course, we must state that there is both continuity and discontinuity between the body before resurrection and the post-resurrection body, as seen in the confusion of Jesus with a gardener at the tomb (John 20:15). After Jesus’ resurrection, this incredible event was interpreted by early disciples as the very turning point of history, pointing forward to the resurrection of the dead at some future point in time.  Christ’s resurrection was the entry of the end of history into first century Palestine. Bishop Tom Wright helpfully speaks about the theological implications of resurrection for Christians and the Church, “Tyrants and bullies try to rule by force, only to discover that in order to do so they have to quash all rumours of resurrection, rumours that would imply that their greatest weapons, death and deconstruction, are not after all omnipotent.”[5]  Therefore, resurrection is the power of God and the hope of the Church, which gives us the strength to carry on, even in the face of those who might injure us physically.  We may therefore submit ourselves to the One who holds the power of resurrection even in the face of great evil.

            In the New Interpreter’s Bible commentary on the Gospel of John, Gail R. O’Day writes about the famous verse, John 3:16, “Eternal life is not something held in abeyance until the believer’s future, but begins in the believer’s present.”[6]  O’Day’s comments are helpful in that they remind us that eternal life is not simply living forever on clouds and strumming harps.  It is far more than the authors of such works as the Left Behind series suggest, because our hope is not reserved completely for the future.  Our participation in the kingdom of God and faith in the resurrection give us glimpses of the eternity that lies beyond our vision and a share in eternity in the here and now.  While it is certainly important not to discount major themes of the Bible, which suggest an eternity beyond our earthly lives, I also believe this is a great mystery (a phrase that we shouldn’t be afraid to use!) which calls us to be faithful disciples as we live in hope and expectation of something we cannot easily grasp. 

[1] Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 568

[2] McClaren, Brian.  The Secret Message of Jesus. (Nasvhille: W Publishing Group, 2006), p 139.

[3] ibid., pp. 144-147

[4] Wright, N.T. The Resurrection of the Son of God. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2003), p. 737

[5] ibid., p 209.

[6] The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IX. 1995 by Abingdon Press

Franchising United Methodist Churches?

I don’t know how comfortable I am with the franchising language used here, but I do wonder if this might be a real possibility for United Methodist congregations? Can you imagine this happening in your conference? Would people attend and grow as disciples at “Windsor Village UMC, Oklahoma City?” What about “Church of the Resurrection, Tulsa?” Is this already happening in an informal way when churches pattern themselves after these larger congregations in other conferences?

I know this might sound strange or even too “commercial,” but I’ve often heard the idea that denominations are based on the idea of “local franchises” of the mother denomination. Let me know what you think. Is this a dangerous idea? Is this catering to crass commercialism? More pragmatically, would it work? If so, what are the theological concerns we need to think about?

Weird Name…I Know.

Gavin Richardson over at The Methoblog asks, “How did your blog get its name?” (h/t John the Methodist)

This question spurred me to update my “About” space, so I thought I’d also post that information here with a few minor additions.

Catching Meddlers comes from an obscure old saying I first remember hearing from my Grandma and Grandpa. I would find something interesting – a piece of metal or some other kind of junk – laying around their place and I would ask, “What is this?” Many times they didn’t know what it was or couldn’t explain it to me, so they’d reply, “It’s a layover to catch meddlers.” Being a curious kid, I heard this all the time!

One of the things that kept me from blogging for a long time was the lack of a good name. Finally, I gave up looking for something cool and decided to go with something unique! When I was trying to think of a name for my blog, I wanted something that captured something about who I am while describing something about the blog as well. This obscure phrase became a way to capture a little of both. As an adult, I’ve come to realize that many of the sayings I thought everyone grew up with are actually either indigenous to my family or to the place I grew up in rural Southeastern Oklahoma. So the obscurity of the phrase became a picture of my family, my life, and my curiosity which I hope is apparent at times on the blog. On the other hand, it describes the fact that the blog began as something I had a hard time describing!

So there you go – the story of Catching Meddlers. That’s all there is to it.

Ordination Questions: Nature & Mission of the Church

8.) Describe the nature and mission of the Church. What are its primary tasks today?

The Church is the global Body of Christ formed for the salvation of the world.  The United Methodist Book of Discipline helpfully reminds us of the nature of the local church as: 1.) a place of disciple-making, 2.) a community of true believers under the Lordship of Christ, 3.) the redemptive fellowship where the Word of God is proclaimed, and 4.) the place where the sacraments are administered to the people of God.[1]  The Discipline then breaks these tasks into three distinct activities: maintenance of worship, edification of believers, and the redemption of the world. 

One of the congregations I serve has been transformed by the answer to this question.   Over the last few years, we have been involved in not one, but two mission trips to Rio Bravo, Mexico.  Although this is a fairly common occurrence for some congregations around the Oklahoma Conference, it has been extremely significant for our congregation.  Not only had our congregation never been to Mexico on a mission trip, they had never participated in a Volunteer in Mission experience in the history of the congregation!  The difference in the congregation has been profound, and I believe the reason relates directly to the nature and mission of the Church.  As we participated in these two missions, we have received far more than we have given.  The mission experiences have been far more than simply going to build homes and serve others; they have been opportunities for deepened discipleship, a testimony to the Lordship of Christ, the very proclamation of God’s word, and active participation in the redemption of the world.

As we have been formed by God’s true story of creation, fall, and above all, redemption, we have been much more sensitive to God’s claim on our lives and our community.  Worship of the Living God is no longer simply “going to worship;” it is training for our missional life together as God’s people.  Christian formation becomes far more than simply memorizing Scripture and learning historical facts about a dry and dusty faith; it becomes learning about a living and active God that we have seen working in our midst.  Redeeming the world is no longer something we hope and pray for as though we are simply wishing for something impossible; it is something we have seen on the ground, incarnate in Christ, and lived in our experience. 

As we are caught up in the passionate pursuit of God in our lives and world, the community of faith becomes the primary place where we grow as disciples, challenging one another, encouraging one another, and learning to embrace God’s guidance and grace.  Although each of our Churches are imperfect and flawed, God has entrusted us with the call to carry out the mission of the Kingdom as God’s vision made known in our world.  We receive a picture of this vision in Luke when we hear how Jesus initiated his mission as he read from the prophet Isaiah, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:18-19).  As followers of Christ, we can expect no less than full participation in this mission and God’s vision: preaching good news to the poor, proclaiming release and recovery, releasing the oppressed, and proclaiming the Lord’s favor.  This vision and understanding of the nature and mission of the Church is profound. As we move from an understanding of Church as “the place we meet on Sundays” to “an essential means God has given for redemption and salvation,” we will begin to live a different way.  If live a life of faithful response to God’s call and vision for the Church, our congregations, our communities, and our world will never be the same.

[1] United Methodist Book of Discipline, ¶201

Ordination Questions: The Sacraments

As I get into some of these questions, I won’t be posting everything. Some of the questions don’t require much more than our assent to certain things. These are important questions, but they’re not all that interesting to read.

7.) What is the meaning and significance of the Sacraments?

As United Methodists, we recognize Baptism and Holy Communion as the, “two Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord.”[1] John Wesley described the sacraments as means of grace and then defined that term, “By ‘means of grace’ I understand outward signs, words, or actions, ordained by God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men [and women], preventing, justifying, and sanctifying grace.”[2] Baptism is the sacrament through which we are united with the Church and incorporated into the body of Christ, and Holy Communion is the ongoing sacred meal of the community in which we celebrate by eating and drinking with one another and with Christ.[3]

The sacraments have a powerful formative role in the community of faith and are essential to our ongoing mission as God’s people. In Baptism, we are able to communicate the story of God’s people in a dynamic and dramatic act. Whether we are baptizing adults or infants, we are richly communicating the essential nature of discipleship and the salvation we receive through the loving work of Jesus, even as grace is conveyed and received. In Communion, we remember the mighty acts of our Lord who welcomed tax collectors and sinners to a common table for fellowship, we actively participate in God’s Kingdom, and we are formed, nourished, and strengthened in grace to live out our calling as those set apart by God for God’s mission in the world.

In closing, I want to use a story in order to more fully explore, understand, and explain the significance of the sacraments. When my daughter Emma was just old enough to start asking questions about the faith, our family went to an evening communion service at the Church where I was doing my seminary internship. After the pastor consecrated the elements and people started to go forward, Emma looked at me and said, “What are we doing?” I tried to summarize what took place in a sacrament in terms that a three year old would understand, so I said, “Honey, when we do this it means Jesus is here with us.” Immediately, with the faith of a child, she began craning her neck to see if she could get a glimpse of him. With the faith of a child, Emma noticed something that many of us take years to understand. In the sacraments, Christ is truly present offering grace, healing, forgiveness, and love. May we have the kind of innocent trust that might allow us to recognize God’s holy presence each time we see someone brought to the Holy Waters of Baptism and each time we celebrate the mystery, eating together at Christ’s Holy Table!

[1] United Methodist Book of Discipline. ¶103, Article XVI – Of the Sacraments

[2] Gayle Carlton Felton, This Holy Mystery: A United Methodist Understanding of Holy Communion. (Nashville:

Discipleship Resources, 2006). p. 15.

[3] ibid., p. 25

Ordination Questions: Traditional Evangelical doctrines

5.) How do you understand the following traditional evangelical doctrines: (a) repentance; (b) justification; (c) regeneration; and (d) sanctification? What are the marks of the Christian life? 

            Repentance has its conceptual roots in the Hebrew language.  The original word, bwv – transliterated as shuwb – simply means to turn around.  Thus, in terms of the evangelical understanding of the life of faith, repentance means to make a 180 degree turn with ones life.  In other words, when we are heading down a path separated from any consideration of God and the things of God, repentance would mean to literally change course and turn back on a path that led to the richness of God’s love and guidance.  John Wesley spoke regularly about, “bringing forth fruites meet for repentance,” such as ceasing from doing evil and learning to do well.[1]  Wesley also believed that repentance was in some sense a necessary predecessor to justification, even though he believed faith has to be the only absolutely necessary prerequisite for justification.

            Justification itself is a slightly more difficult concept.  According to the Anchor Bible Dictionary article by Richard B. Hays, justification is, “A term that describes the event whereby persons are set or declared to be in right relation to God.”[2]  This is justification at its very simplest.  Our experience shows us a demonstrable gulf between humanity and the Divine.  In order for us to regain a holistic connection with God, something must take place.  That “something” is the event we describe using the word justification.  Although Protestantism, beginning with Martin Luther, has emphasized “justification by faith alone,” Wesley and the Anglican tradition from which he arose have been careful to emphasize the dual importance of faith and works.  By holding these two together, Wesley emphasized that true faith is never simply mental assent to several difficult propositions.  One cannot simply mouth the words, “I believe in Jesus Christ,” like a magical formula and be justified.  True faith, instead, is always a faith of the mind and heart.  True faith is faith working in love.[3]  

            While justification gives us new standing in relationship with God, regeneration is the way we describe the renewed ability we are given to live life in a new way.  While some parts of the Christian Tradition have focused on justification alone, others have focused primarily on transformation that comes through faith in Christ.  The doctrine of regeneration, at its best, holds these together.  The doctrine of regeneration teaches us that salvation is more than a personal policy for salvation; it is the beginning of a transformed life to live out the call to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength while loving our neighbor as ourselves. 

            After justification and regeneration, we are called to continually grow in grace toward the end God has in store for us. Although we enter a new relationship with God when we are justified, we still have to undergo a process of transformation to be the people God ultimately calls us to be.  Over time, we are shaped and formed more profoundly as followers of Jesus.  Sanctification is the term we use to describe this long-term process transformation that occurs by God’s grace and the power of the Holy Spirit. 

            The marks of the Christian life are the tell-tale signs of growth in grace.  As we are shaped and formed more clearly into God’s image, by God’s sanctifying grace, we grow to be more Christ-like.  Galatians 5:22 gives us the fruit of God’s Holy Spirit which are definite marks of the Christian life: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.  Although the language sometimes obscures the meaning, we who follow in the theological traditions of John Wesley believe that we are being made perfect in grace.  Therefore growth in grace is one of the great distinguishing marks of the Christian.  I often tell people in my congregation that the question is not, “Am I like the perfect Christian I have pictured in my mind?”  Instead, we’re called to look at our lives and ask, “Am I more loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, and so on than I was one year ago, five years ago, or ten years ago?”  Further, “Are we seeing a transformation from selfishness and inward focus to loving God and loving neighbor?” By God’s grace, we will be able to respond with great confidence that we are moving on to perfection as we are shaped and formed more fully in God’s image. 

[1] Abraham, William., Wesley for Armchair Theologians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), p. 75

[2]Freedman, D. N. The Anchor Bible Dictionary . (New York, Doubleday, 1996)

[3] Abraham, William., Wesley for Armchair Theologians (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2005), pp. 76-77