Speaking the Truth in Love

I’m no Fox News, but I do attempt to be fair and balanced.  This past week I struck a chord with a significant number of people with my Igniting Misery and Taking It All Too Seriously posts.  One subtext of both posts is that some of our decision-makers in the denomination are out of touch with the larger culture and are not aligned with the importance of our mission.  It would be irresponsible of me to only offer a negative view of our leadership.  In the past three days, I have received email communication from some of my episcopal friends, district superintendents, annual conference leaders, agency staff, and even two international leaders — one from Africa and one from Puerto Rico.  While I honor their wishes not to publically enter the conversation, I do want to anonymously lift some of their comments that give me great hope and encouragement for the future of our church.  I present them in no particular order:

Take heart.  There are many <in leadership in The UMC> who agree with you.  As you know, working with the national church, there are certain things we can’t say.  It isn’t about our personal opinion, but about being an advocate for Methodist programs and projects.  It doesn’t mean we necessarily agree with them, but we need to be politically sensitive.  Just know that many of us applaud what you are attempting to do.

Hold our feet to the fire.  It is very important that we hear from people outside the church.  We end up spending most of our time with church people, and sometimes lose perspective.

Don’t for one minute think that <we> don’t take our faith seriously.  We give our lives to the work of the church, and we take very seriously the sacred trust and stewardship of the church in our care.

You are saying many of the things I have felt for years, but it isn’t always acceptable for <those in my position> to take one side over another.

A dissident voice is important.  Don’t apologize for telling the truth.  You are talking to people that we haven’t talked to before…  if we aren’t open to criticism, we’re not a very strong church.

What you say is what we are also dealing with.  Our people do not know the Bible as they should.  Our people depend too much on the pastor.  Our people are wanting to be cared for more than caring for others.  We all need to be encouraged to do better.

I might not like what you are saying, but that doesn’t mean I don’t respect your right to say it.  You obviously represent a large number of people who feel the same way you do?

When did you get so smart?  You weren’t that smart when we worked together.

You are quickly becoming a core resource for people who are thinking deeply about the future of the church.

I hope we take some time to rethink the ReThink campaign.  We need more theologians and critical thinkers and fewer marketing pros working on our future.

I don’t disagree with what you are saying, I do wish you would soften the criticism a bit and offer more positive feedback on the good work being done.  We need more encouragement and less condemnation.  Many good people work very hard to put together the materials you so freely criticize.

When you put the many different ideas together, there is a really cohesive vision for our church.  You are laying the groundwork for a systematic approach to a church-wide process of disciple-making.  It would be very good to pull the parts together to present a position paper on our church aligned around our mission.

I have virtually no time to read all the things that come in the mail, cross my desk, or that flood my inbox.  The one thing I find that I am reading almost every day is your blog.  You force me to think about this church I am leading.

Just so you know, <we> think about, wrestle with, and are really concerned about many things you write on your blog.  It would be nice if you let people know that their denominational leaders do care about discipleship and the transformation of the world.  We might not do it the way that you and other people think we should.  But we do a good job.  You are a valuable resource, but so are we.

And this I feel is a nice summary of many comments I have received (from Leona Worley)

You have called the question on how serious we are about discipleship, our mission and core process, our sense of identity and purpose, our vision for the church in the near and distant future, our styles and models of leadership, our ability to change, and our commitment to excellence.

There are many great people who love God and this church of ours and they are sharing their gifts, vision, passion, expertise, and dedication to making The United Methodist Church the very best it can be.  It is never my intention to offend anyone.  I want us all working together — discussing, debating, disagreeing and dreaming — to honor and glorify God in everything we do.  I am privileged and grateful to be a part of a community of believers with such amazing potential.

7 replies

  1. Signing off; have enjoyed these posts. Parting thought — how difficult it must be to face the reality of an “under-funded” pension fund to meet the needs of those who have retired after years and years of service with the UMC, this against the intent to respond to those who suffer, for example. At a much, much lower level that sort of thing is going on here in Matamoros as a volunteer, use of my savings versus responding. Que Dios les bendiga, larry

  2. Were I to sit in front of a bishop or group of bishops or a group of leaders I would ask that all that they do be easily seen as in alignment with paragraph 122 and the paragraphs near it. If this alignment can be demonstrated or communicated as though one is speaking to each member of a local church, that would be a good thing, I believe. I might even ask that they do an exercise by inverting their “organizational chart” and consider themselves an insignificant dot at the bottom of the chart with the individual member(s) of a local church at the top and test their alignment, if this could be done peacefully. I am simply an advocate of putting paragrapn 122 into operation. I believe demonstrated alignment to it to be an important aspect of leadership. Others are making the case that we are not in alignment. Apparently, some leaders accept the case. Peace,larry

  3. There appears to be a lot of egg shell walking here. I don’t find it acceptable that Bishops who are called to be firm in their beliefs and teach are failing to lead on this initiative. I hear a lot of Corporate speak. I expect that in my profession not in the church.

    I am frustrated that whenever a leader in the denomination is freaked out to speak transparently of their concerns for fear of offending others in the connection. I don’t think that is what I read of how Jesus pursued ministry and that is definitely not how Paul pursued his ministry. There seems to be fear that they will be brought up on charges if someone is offended. ReThink is too big a mission to be accomplished without a total rebuilding of what it means to be a Methodist in our current times. I just feel that if higher ups are so concerned as to email you then there is a bigger problem than the ReThink initiative will ever resolve. But that is just my opinion.

  4. For my part, please consider that my comments do not come with a “negative” opinion about our present leaders. Here is something I posted earlier: “Sabes que? Es muy dificil a leer los comentarios alrededor de los obispos y lideres de la Iglesia Metodista. Los videos de obispo Jones y pastor Dunnam provocan sentimientos diferentes, positivos y encontrados. Para mi es un choque.” I do not like all the “negative” talk around or about our leaders. I have confidence that our leaders can lead us relative to paragraph 122 and those paragraphs near it. Please forgive me if anything I have written has contributed something “negative” about those whose comments you posted today. Peace,larry

  5. Well I don’t have an ordination on this so I can be blunt. Folks need to come out into the open and put their name on it. Folks are trying to protect their jobs and toe the party line. This is unacceptable. If we are to be an accountable denomination there has to be transparency. I just think that given what ReThink could mean (given that leadership is actually interested in transformation back to a missional church) transparency is critical.

    The big thing that is missing here is a grassroots base. This is a top down initiative lead by clergy. As long as laity are not allowed to live out mission in ways that make sense in the contexts they finds themselves and OWN that ministry we will continually make our annual trip around the mountain.

    John 3 says that if we look to Jesus we will find salvation. Pairing this simple message with mission work is the simplest way to introduce folks to the kingdom and make the world a better place despite us.

    • I want to be fair. I didn’t ask anyone’s permission to reprint their comments, so I didn’t ascribe them to the people who said them. I hear what you’re saying about needing leader’s who will speak the truth and not equivocate, and there are a lot of people across our denomination who truly want to hear what our leader’s believe. Yet, our leadership must navigate an expremely diverse and complex tapestry of beliefs, theologies, expectations, agenda, and demands. Diplomacy and fair-mindedness are highly valued by most of our leaders — who strive to lead everyone and not just one segment or another.

  6. If these are leaders and they agree with you, please feel encouraged to come out in the open on what this pastor has written. Leaders act prospectively. Leaders communicate. Leaders are willing to address that which may not be acceptable. I am not a leader, but I imagine it is difficult to lead the UMC. If so, how much more difficult is it for people like me who struggle to follow you? Peace,larry

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