Culture Knowledge Quiz

Anyone on Facebook has probably seen or actually filled out the questions that tell you what character you are in a book series, movies, or what country you should be from, etc…

I just got back from Annual Conference here in New Mexico. For those of you not on the inside of the United Methodist Church, each Conference (generally about the size of a single state here in the US) meets once a year for worship, “holy conferencing”, and business. Almost all, if not all the conferences all over the world, have name tags in lanyards. This year I wore a lanyard behind my official name tag that was a lanyard connected with the TV show, “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” It is a very popular TV show on ABC based in the Marvel Comic universe (Yes, the one that the huge Avengers movies are based in, as well). It was rated 11th in all the TV shows in the 2014-2015 season. It has a huge geek following (of which I am one). The lanyard was a story plot joke within the TV show, and recognizable to anyone that might attend ComicCons (see the image above)

I wore the lanyard to see if anyone would recognize it. I only had 3-6 people even ask me what that tag was, much less know what the tag is from. Now, I had very little expectations that anyone would recognize the lanyard, but it was my small simple social experiment to start me wondering how well the church is at relating or communicating with the world around it. Our world is becoming more and more segmented and one person might have 4-5 invested affinity groups, but I wonder if there could be a questionnaire to be able to give to church people to “test their knowledge” of the social world around them and pop culture. Maybe a booth set-up at Conferences all over the country quizzing them that could share the results at the end of the Annual Conference that showed how well the conference knows the society around them, or the opposite. I have a hunch that most would have very little knowledge of pop culture, and prove the need for the church to really start getting to know the society around them, if nothing more than to be able to stick up a conversation and eventually get to know others good enough to find out what their needs are and to attempt to help their very own communities.

It think it would be extremely interesting. It might be able to show how the church is or is not engaging with the world around it. Would it “catch” the inside jokes? Would it be able to minister to the specific needs of different affinity groups?

I’ll never forget being able to purchase the “Kentucky Meth Campers Cookbook” a few years ago while attending the KY Annual Conference. We all know it was made by sweet people that were exited about sharing great camping recipes with other Methodist RVer’s and campers, but anyone on the street would laugh at the ignorance of the title of the cookbook and ask them if it had any recipes from Walter White in Albuquerque. I wonder if they would even know who Walter White is.

Who knows maybe the survey would find a much greater knowledge of pop culture in the west from the church members. It would be extremely interesting none-the-less. Maybe ReThink Church could sponsor or create this?

What do you think? Do you think the church has lost its ability to converse much less speak into the lives within our world, especially in the West? Do you think the church is deep within the culture and helping bring transformation or grace and peace from within it?

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Mainline Shifts towards the next reformation, this time bringing unity…. This is big….Pt. 3

Ok, welcome to part 3 of the Mainline shifts towards the next Reformation of Unity.

If you have not read or desire to remember the previous posts, please go back and read them so you are on the same page, because I will reference the previous posts within this one. (Thank you!)

I feel like I’ve covered the three most important pieces on the needed white board of the R&D Departments of the Mainlines: 1. Redefine Clergy and the roles of Clergy, 2. Redefine Ecclesia (what church looks like and acts like), and today I’d like to discuss the third piece a little bit more in-depth: The redefinition of Theological Education.

Not sure if you know it yet, but the seminaries in the US are hurting. For years they have enjoyed the mainline denomination’s requirement for clergy to have a M.Div. to be considered for ordination. This was a great steady stream of income and support the seminaries needed for them to continue in their current practice. But, the reality of the slow death/decline of the mainlines is starting to affect them.

If a denomination requires a M.Div. and then turns around and tells those that graduated that they are running out of churches that can even financially support a clergy in full-connection, then the number of potential clergy attending seminary and willing to take on that amount of debt for a 96 hour Masters degree will greatly decrease. And then this in turn obviously hurts the seminary. And this is being played out more and more as the decline of the mainlines occurs.

This model is not sustainable, and needs to bring about a change. Now, mainlines could change the requirements of clergy education and that; of course, would shift the base line around, but I personally continue to see a need for educated clergy in this world. But, maybe we could shift the length of time that our theological education occurs? The education could be over the course of 7-10 years while real application of doing ministry is expected. I believe if this could be done in community (in-person or online) that would make for a much more well rounded and applicable education. We would be getting a Master’s degree while also doing our practicum the whole time. Or, in other words, we would be excising the practical nature of a “lab” class the whole time we are reading and taking our “lecture” class. This would look differently in each ministry expression being lived into and those different local expressions of the “lab” are brought back to the education of others for an even deeper education experience.

I know from first hand experience that the classes I took in seminary while I was doing ministry were much better applied and understood when I could apply them the very next day in my ministry setting. I could bring to the class the questions of those I was leading that I did not have an answer to, and not only did it helpmeet own education, but the seminary was proving an education for those I was in ministry among.

Now, I believe that the church growth movement was based upon the attractional model of church [“If you build it (and pour tons of money into marketing), they will come”] seeped into the seminaries, as well. I know of several seminary professors that are adamant about never allowing a theological education completely online because there would be a loss of the the in-person community that is formed and grown by forcing the students to move and develop that community to where the seminary is located. While that is a beautiful expression of the church and theological education, it is also just not a sustainable reality financially, nor a model for a missional church.

So, while several seminaries speak of the Misio Dei(The mission of God), and the fact that God being a sent God is the very nature of our God! They teach that the church should stop playing the church growth game and the church should be just be joining God where ever God is already moving. The church should be going too, and not just sitting or staying in one place or building waiting for the world to come to them.

Well, the seminaries of the world need to live into this missional stance. The seminary will be forced to be missional in their approach to those that need a theological education.

One expression I’ve heard of is the seminary is creating a 96-hour M.Div. model that is broken up into 35-hour segments. These 35 hr segments would each come with a certification from the respected Seminary, and they could all be combined eventually into a M.Div., or used separately as a level of certified education that mainline denominations could accept as a new required piece for clergy and they would be specific for their specific area of ministry.

Buit, here is the kicker…. The seminaries GO TO THE PEOPLE!!! I can not tell you how many church planters are in the middle of a church plant, and when the conversation among the leaders in the mainline denomination turn to ordination, the seminaries then tell them they MUST stop the effective fragile ministry they are doing to go get a M.Div., or even offer an online class, but still be gone for 2-3 weeks at a time to go have some in-person time.

The seminaries now have the opportunity to send out professors (maybe 2-3 at a time) that would have similar teaching areas to fulfill the 35 hr segments in 2-3 week-long intensives (similar to J. Terms or Summer 1-month long classes) co-horts that would be located in the areas (all of the US or world) that the church plants are occurring and supplemented through online education. I could see them doing lot of reading for 2-3 months prior to the in-person cohort meetings. This would provide the communal aspect and not expect the students to leave their current ministries. Plus it would provide a missional model for seminaries to, “go where God is already at work”, instead of assuming God only works in theological education ON THEIR campuses.

I’m sure there are several other ideas around this. I know Fuller Seminary just released a M.Div. completely online, so that is an option now, as well. But, there is still a lot of debt to go with that. If these 35 hour segments would come with an “approved by the accreditation board” certificate, then that would go a long way into the future of theological education. What are your thoughts and ideas? What other seminaries are doing things differently for the sake of their future?

Mainline Shifts towards the next reformation, this time bringing unity…. This is big….Pt. 1

Ok. So, first off I realize the thoughts that I will be sharing in this blog post and the next one are very important and huge statements that I will be making. I will first give my thoughts around the whole idea and why I feel like I need to get these theories and ideas out of my head and into your hearts so that we can discern together what this all means and see if we can talk about the future with an emphasis on grace and hope. First off, Our Current Reality: I am a clergy in the United Methodist Church serving in the New Mexico Annual Conference. In the past I have been a church planter, an associate pastor, youth pastor, college pastor, and currently a Sr. Pastor. I have a deep love of the UMC and it is not my desire to see it die, but my deeper desire to allow it to be transformed into a deeper expression of ecclesia (church) that is not dependent on the current institution. Let me explain… Right now in most (or all, I’d love some comments from other denominational leaders on this) mainline denominations if you have a calling by God to be clergy, then one of the many requirements is for you to attend seminary. Mine and my wife’s education was a 96hr master’s degree of divinity. Along with that wonderful and amazing education came lots and lots of debt. YEA!!! And so the thinking goes, ‘But, if God is involved in this process that God will help us through this, because, “with God all things are possible”…. yeah, even bankruptcy’! ha ha ha ha Anyway, with the decline of the mainline denominations over the past few years, the case that is becoming more and more common, is that when a seminarian graduates they are told that they do not have any churches that can afford a full-time clergy(The UMC has minimum salaries, housing, health, etc…), and in the Methodist church they appoint them to a multi-church “charge” that can share the cost of a clergy, or they just will not appoint them until a church opens up. This habit is slowly becoming the norm. Anyone who does not see this reality, is choosing to not be in reality.  It is just one of the huge issues facing the institutional mainline churches today. I know of several churches that are lowering and lowering their budgets because lots of them are realizing that even if they go to a bare bones budget, cut all staff, and don’t give any money back to the larger institution, they would still not have enough money to continue the way they’ve always known church. There are, of course, many other things involved here, and even though I will be proposing the death of the current realized institutional church in this blog post, I still see God’s church and even the mainline churches continuing to “love to live and live to love” by bringing transformation into this world through Trinity Conspiring. But, much like Phyllis Tickle has proposed in her books (and others), I see a new reformation beginning. Yep, thats right the big scary R-word. But, in my happy positive thinking little mind I believe this one might bring back more unity that division with the Church (denominationally, generationally, etc…) I’ll get to more of this in Part 2. But, I believe that the current dying denominations must make room for future expressions of the church to occur. They must accept their evolution into God doing a new thing, but not commit their own self-death right now it will happen naturally, and it has the potential to be one of the most beautiful deaths ever to be experienced. The institution still has so much to give it’s future, and it has the potential to be a loving parent seeing it’s offspring live into their full potiental for the future of the kingdom. But, sadly most denominational leaders I’m running into are too worried about self-preservation, than providing an education, and R&D department for the future expressions of church to play, grow, and learn; to make enough mistakes so that they can thrive and grow into what God desires for all of our futures. I mean come on current expression of institutionalized church, its time to stop thinking about how you need to eat better or how should be getting on that treadmill…. you have lost your legs in the race, laying on a hospital bed with an O2 mask and a feeding tube in your nose. It’s not the time to think about how you can “come back”, or how much cryogenics costs, it’s time to allow your offspring to hear your wisdom, to find out how to handle their finances, to hear how proud you are of what they’ve become and encourage them to dream big, to conspire with the Trinity like you did, and to expect God to work! To be OK with the mistakes because we fail often to succeed sooner. Its a time to huddle up and listen to your children’s dreams and teach them discernment to follow their dreams as long as those dreams are from the Godhead and not themselves. How we can learn from your life mistakes and mature into deeper discipleship. No one wants to accept their own death at first, but when they do it is so freeing, and life affirming, that in the process of death you can pour what life you have left into your sons and daughters. So, with that said in the next blog post I’d like to give a few practical thoughts around how this new current mentoring and wisdom sharing from the institutional church can give its offspring empowerment and hope. The current church can pour itself into a living legacy that will be born from within it’s remnant, and the universal church’s new birth can be beautiful and transformational.

Image info:

Church ruins at Clonmore, Co. Louth
Ruins of the medieval parish church on the site of an Early Christian period monastic foundation of St. Columba.
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