Clergy Stats – Revisited

Back at the beginning of 2012, I did some statistical analysis on the age of the clergy in the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church.  What is interesting is a lot of the trends I saw are now coming true.

Here are my posts from 2012; Part I; Part II; Part III.

I saw that 49% of the clergy in 2012 were over 55 years.  I predicted there would be a tsunami of retirements coming and low and behold there are.  Last year we had over 50+ clergy retire and the current rumor (I don’t know the actual number) is that we will have that many if not more.  The retiring class for 2017 & 2018 is guaranteed to be in the triple digits.  This is unprecedented and could possibly be our new reality.

My number was called and I will be moving in July.  I will say goodbye to Indian Trail UMC and hello to Milford Hills UMC.  This transition comes because of what I predicted in 2012.  I revisited my posts and I am sad to see that some of my predictions have come or are coming true.

As we deal with a dwindling amount of clergy, it will be interesting to see how the cabinet handles these new realities.  I wonder if other conferences have dealt with this already?  I wonder what solutions they have come up with and are they working?

It would be interesting to get my hands on this information again and see if we have improved our age demographic or if we are looking at even worse numbers.  However, I don’t have access to that information, so I’ll just have to wait and see.

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Sacred Bundles and Cows

Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows. — Jeanie Daniel Duck
The Change Monster: The Human Forces That Fuel or Foil Corporate Transformation and Change (New York: Crown Business, 2001), 263.*

My Pastor Parish Relations Committee and I recently went through a study together called Pastor and Parish.  It is an excellent study to help demonstrate what the PPRC is supposed to do and their purpose.  In this study it talks about something called the “Sacred Bundle.”  The “Sacred Bundle” is defined as “the congregational memories, taboos and traditions that define their church’s culture, but may not be readily apparent to a new pastor.” 
The Sacred Bundle is filled with the little things that make the congregation who they are.  Examples could be things like unwritten expectations like the Pastor always makes coffee for the Sunday School classes.  Or it could be that the offering plates were the only thing left after the church caught on fire in 1963.  Or the painting in the back of the church was the last one done by the matriarch before her passing.  It could be even emotional ties to events like July 4th BBQs or Christmas Eve 11:00pm worship services. 
The Sacred Bundle can be filled with glorious and meaningful things but it can also be filled with sacred cows.  The pastor and many times the congregations really don’t know what is in the Sacred Bundle until change starts to happen.  I think it takes at least two years to really start to understand what is in the Sacred Bundle, both the good and the bad.  A pastor almost needs two cycles of the Christian year, two Christmases and two Easters and everything after and in between, to fully understand the congregation.  For some congregations this process might take even longer.
It is only after truly understanding the Sacred Bundle that solid and lasting change can happen.  When you understand what is inside the bundle you can speak to the good parts and honor them and cherish them along with the congregation.  The bad sections, the sacred cows, you can speak to as well and start to discuss openly why they are there and if they need to be. 
However, one needs to be careful because as change occurs the Sacred Bundle changes as well.  Are you as the pastor setting things in that bundle that will build and nurture the congregation or are they simply sacred cows that will weigh them down in the future?  Do we remove congregational sacred cows and toss in our own?  Is the change we are offering the congregation fluid enough to go through its own change down the road?  Or do our egos as pastors get in the way because we see that specific change as our little baby or possession?

Jeanie Daniel Duck is right, “Don’t make today’s innovations into tomorrow’s sacred cows.”  Our job as pastors is to invoke, implement and invite change that will lighten, support, and build the Sacred Bundles within our congregation.  We cannot add more sacred cows.  True leadership through a time of transition and change is the willingness to admit if the change we desire has turned into a sacred cow and if so, are we willing to let it go?  We ask congregations to do it, but are we, as leaders, willing to do the same?


*a quote in Lovett H. Weems, Jr’s pdf called “50 Quotations to Help Lead Change in Your Church”

All I Need to Know about Church Leadership I Learned from My Massage Therapist – Part I

My wife, Alycia, is a very talented and gifted Licensed Massage and Bodywork Therapist (check out her Facebook page).  She knows the muscles of a human body more than anyone I know.  Just as a brief testimony, during our recent move I did something to my back.  I literally could not stand up straight and almost couldn’t walk.  An hour later I got off her table and felt much better.  The pain had subsided and I could move again.  Is she a miracle worker?  That day I would have said YES! 
I recently was on her table again getting some work done on my shoulders and neck when I realized the link between Massage Therapy and Church Leadership.  These series of posts will demonstrate some links between the two professions and what we, as Church Leaders, can learn from Massage Therapy.
Quick stop on my soapbox: The profession of License Massage and Bodywork Therapists (LMBTs) gets linked to the sex trade very easily because of the ‘massage parlors’ around the world that offer ‘happy endings’.  My wife is not a sex worker, nor are the vast majority of LMBTs.  But a few rotten apples always ruin the reputation of every apple.  She takes her profession, her calling, very seriously and handles her business with the utmost professionalism.  Please leave all gutter thoughts in the gutter.  We can be grown ups and move beyond the thought that whenever a human being touches another human being it always leads to sex.  These posts have nothing to do with any of that and the mere mention is truly offensive.  This profession has worked very hard to move beyond that notion, let’s help them continue to move forward.
With that said, my first post on “All I Need to Know about Church Leadership I Learned from My Massage Therapist” has to do with letting go.  As Alycia worked my neck muscles, trying to loosen up the knots, she kept giving me instructions to ‘let go’.  As she held my head in her hand and manipulated it side to side to access the right muscles I kept trying to control it without realizing it.  The best way for her to tilt my head in the right angle would be to simple relax all the muscles in my neck and let her do the work.  By ‘letting go’, I enabled her to do the work she needed to do. 
Many of us in the ministry have a problem with control.  We like it and we don’t want to give it up.  This fact can have implications in either direction.  It is a good thing because we can help steer a church or committee in the direction we see fit.  It can be bad because we take away the power from the laity to do the work they need to do, not to mention taking power away from God.  The art of Church Leadership is found in knowing when to lead from the front and when to lead from behind.  When do we allow others to do the work and when do we step forward?  How we answer that question tells us a lot about our leadership skills and mindset.  But to walk that line and know when to do one verse the other is tough.  Then there are the other times where we need to get out of the way all together.
“Let Go!”  As my wife’s voice echoed in my ears as she stretched my head towards my shoulders I was reminded that I am not the savior to my church.  My congregation already has a savior.  My leadership, my vision, my pride, my desires are not the things to be concerned with.  Let go.  God has placed a calling upon this congregation and that is what I need to be searching for, that is what I need the people of my congregation searching for.  We need to remove the I, me, my, we, our, out of the conversation and listen to God instead.  We need to let go.  I need to let go.
When we let go and enable ourselves to be pushed, stretched, and manipulated by the hands of God we open ourselves up to true discipleship, transformation, and sanctification.  Even the smallest notion that we can do it on our own removes our full faith in God.  We need to let go more as Church Leaders.  We need to let go the ideas we hold dear in our minds because we want to build ourselves up, seek credit and accolades, or look good to our bosses.  We need to let go and rest our hearts, our ideas, our trust in the hands of God.  Let God lead us to where we need to be and stop attempting to tell God how it should be done.
We can see the process of letting go and then attempting to take control back in the people of Israel.  They would follow God and then slip away, be called back and then slip away.  Letting go of our power and relying on God is a process.  Letting go is a journey towards holiness and to be made Christ-like.  May you be able to let go in your ministry and in your walk with God.

Ordaining Moments

This past week I was a retreat and they had us tell the story of one of our “ordaining moments.”  These are the moments we have in ministry when we feel we are doing exactly what we are supposed to do.  These are the moments when you know that you are doing what God has called you to do.

In all the crap that can happen in ministry it is important to realize and take in these “ordaining moments.”  If we miss them we will be burned out, but if we keep our eyes and hearts open to them we can grow and stay energized in ministry.

I wanted to share a couple of my “ordaining moments” with my readers and I invite you to share yours either in the comments or on your own blog.  One of the reasons I think people are so scared of ministry is because of all the crap we ministers go through and then vent about especially online.  But if we look at the “ordaining moments” in ministry, there is truly no better place to be.  We should share more of these moments with the world and others because they are truly sharing God’s grace.

A couple of my “ordaining moments”:

– Baptizing my children: I could not even utter the whole sentence “Name I baptize you in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”  I couldn’t because when I placed water on my sons head and then three years later my daughters, there was such a tangible presence of the Holy Spirit that words could not be formed in my mouth.

– Over and over again being invited into the tender and raw moments of people lives, especially at the passing of a loved one.  Over my four months at this appointment we have said goodbye to two parishioners who had massive heart attacks.  One was 56 and the other 42, both too young.  When I am invited in I feel I am able to use my spiritual gifts of peace and comfort.  I hate doing it because it means tragedy is there but none the less I feel my calling in those moments more as well.

– I recently went back to my first appointment and stood in the silence of a completed youth room.  It was a project I help start but moved before it could be completed.  I had listened to one of my youth workers tell me of this dream he had about this space and I could tell it wasn’t him but it was of God.  I get excited about hearing the calling God has put on the lives of people and helping that calling come into fruition   It can be a marathon of a process but it is what it is.  When it is form God, no matter how long it takes, no matter how much sweat and blood has to be put into it, it is always worth it.

Those are just three examples.  What stories would you share?  What are your ordaining moment?  When you tell the stories of ministry which do you concentrate on, the painful times or the times when you come into contact with our Risen Lord and Savior who is in our midst?

Job Security?

The Judicial Council of the United Methodist Church has upheld guaranteed appointments.  This was the news that my Bishop shared during a clergy meeting on Sunday.  He had received a tweet that the decision had just arrived.  When I got home I stumbled upon this news in about every Methosphere that exists.  It is big news to UMC-nerds and completely pointless to about everyone else, including the majority of United Methodists.

Is this decision surprising?  No.  It is just another target to point at and scream foul at a dying system that doesn’t want to change?  Maybe.  Is it the end of the world and the sixth sign of the return of Christ, (the seventh being Hurricane Sandy)?  Yes!  Okay not really. 

There may be some clergy out there that are breathing a little easier though.  Now they can continue their lack of commitment to the Kingdom of God and simply coast to retirement, no matter how many years that is away.  But I think those are far and few between.  

So what does this mean?  Really and truly nothing.  At least for a couple of years until the discussions, petitions, plans, and arguments start to happen again as General Conference 2016 comes into view.  

Andy B. has a great post over at Enter the Rainbow.  I liked what he said:

Because in the meantime, people and communities and congregations already are changing, in spite of the hairball. Or they might be orbiting around the hairball, drawing on its gravity in order to sustain forward momentum. This is why I’m not discouraged by the Judicial Council’s decision this week. They are going to do what they are going to do, functioning in a system exactly as it is designed. You cannot blame them; they are bound by the system in which they exist.

John Meunier also has a great discussion on what it truly means to be an effective pastor, which is at the heart of this discussion I think.  

With the failures or successes of General Conference (depending on what side you are on) and now this verdict from the Judaical Council all points to what the Book of Discipline makes extremely clear.  In ¶ 201 and ¶ 202 it defines the definition and function of the local church, respectfully.  “The local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs…Under the discipline of the Holy Spirit, the church exists for the maintenance of worship, the edification of believers, and the redemption of the world.” (¶ 201)

There is no talk of the General Conference being the source of the redemption of the world, that comes from the Holy Spirit and the local church.  For true change to happen to my beloved denomination we cannot expect it to come from the top down.  Instead it will have to trickle up from the local church level.  It will have to be so infectious that it cannot be ignored any longer.  The ‘system’ will have to change not because of  committee/conference votes and church politics lobbyists but because at its core it already has.

I’m have never been nervous about losing my job security because the Kingdom of God hasn’t come into fulfillment quiet yet.  It is my job to help my congregation live into its function and definition.  Therefore change will then have to trickle up.

Brand New Seminary Classes

Social Media in Ministry 213 – Learn the detailed nature of social media’s landscapes with this 3 hour course that meets on Friday and Saturday nights from 11:00pm-1:00am.  (because these are the hours you will be doing this stuff in ministry, except for Facebook which you are already on constantly).  Learn how to keep multiple accounts open using different web browsers and how to learn which social media your parishioners actually use, in a non-stalking manner.  Most of the course will be survey of all this social media stuff you never really heard of.

Promo Videos 304 – Mega Churches use them all the time to attract people to worship and their hip sermon series, but that is because they have someone on staff who is paid to sit in a dark room all day and create this stuff.  This course gets you ready to create low quality and low taste videos that your congregation of 32 will adore and share at their next bridge game via their community room’s VCR.

Basics of Sound Systems 142 – This course walks you through the complications of every Sunday struggles with the church’s sound system. Learn how to make the best of out of date equipment, how to duck tape lapel microphones on preaching robes, and how to talk in ways not to make the system squeal.  This is prerequisite for the 242 class where students will learn how to find the one spot in the sanctuary that has the best microphone reception.

MBFMD 386 – Learn the vital skills of detecting BS from a mile away.  Teaches techniques as small facial movements, tells, and the best way to escape when you are neck deep in it.  Develop skills in discerning between true church history and the way they remember it; defining a timeline using 27 first person perspectives; and ‘reading into the minutes’ to deduct what really happened in past Council Meetings.

Church Family Trees 249 – They tell you everyone is related to someone and now you can map it.  Use the skills of this course to map who is related to who and why.  Learn techniques to follow your Church Family tree as it branches up, out, circles back around, splits, splinters, withers or falls to the ground.

What classes would you add to your seminary/ministry experience?

Moving…Top Ten Ideas for Starting Well

It is that weird time in a moving pastor’s life when you have to think about two lives at once.  You have to think about the saying goodbyes to your present congregation but then in the same instance you are thinking and wondering about the hellos in the next appointment.  It is a mind numbing experience and is stressful to say the least.

This year I participated in our conference “Moving Pastor’s Seminar.”  Five years ago this did not exist and I found it to be very helpful and gave guidance on how to navigate through these waters.  One thing I enjoyed the most was Janice Virtue’s Top Ten Ideas for Starting Well.  I thought it may be helpful to share them.  The commentary is my take-away from her talk but the list is hers.

  1. You’re Fired – relinquish all control of your past appointment, that is the job of their new minister, NOT YOURS.  Think of yourself as fired from that congregation.
  2. Leave Your Baggage Behind – this does not mean leave cats, children or unwanted clothes in the parsonage, but leave the emotional, personal, and troubling baggage at the last church.  Start anew, start refreshed, this is a great time to reinvent yourself.
  3. Plan to Learn – don’t go in thinking you know everything, learn from your new congregation and grow deeper into who God has called you to be.
  4. Show UP! – be engaged in the new congregation.  Dive in to the community and Congregational life.
  5. When the going Gets Rough, Turn to Wonder – being knew you don’t need to know all the answers right off, plus they don’t know you well enough to be truly make anything personal.  When things get rough, ask questions of wonder.  I wonder why that person is so vocal and mean spirited during meetings?  I wonder why the congregation always has to get Mrs. Smith’s thoughts before they make a decision?  Turn to wonder.
  6. Don’t Keep Them Guessing – ministry is not a magic show, reveal who you are and what your gifts and graces are. 
  7. Know the Magic Words and Use Them – still not a magic show but three little words can go far in helping to build trust and understanding between a new pastor and congregation.  Those words are…wait for it…help me understand.  Those words give the people a chance to share their stories, their opinions, and their take on the life of the church.  Plus, this means you as the pastor have to listen instead of talk.
  8. All Ministry is Interim – Janice talked about the ideas of “Leave no Trace: and “Look at what we’ve done.”  Ministry is not about us, the pastor.  It is about the Kingdom of God, the Body of Christ.  Ministry is not about me as an individual.  Start off like you are always ready to leave and the church could continue on its path without you.  The church should not revolve or rely on the pastor, that’s Jesus’ job and you aren’t Jesus.
  9. You Hold the Hope of Many – many people look to the pastoral transition as a new start for the church, or a new chapter.  With that comes hopes of the future and what is possible through God’s grace and calling in their lives.  Don’t squash that, but capitalize on it.  Realize you hold the hope of the future of the church in your hands, that is power, that is responsibility, that is a great honor.
  10. For God’s Sake – remember what ministry is for.  Ministry is to help the people of God build up the Kingdom of God.  It is for God’s sake we do what we do.  Remove your ego, remove your needs for glory and get out of the way so God can work through you and your congregation.