The View from Here is a Next Step blog ministry that has featured the voices of leading individuals within the Wesleyan family of Christ followers. While no longer active, this archive of The View from Here material is a valuable resource. For more current blogging in the Wesleyan perspective, please visit A Wesleyan Accent at www.wesleyanaccent.com.

The View from Here

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012 | By Bryan Collier
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The View From Here: Working For God or Walking With Him?

 

Then the Lord gave this message to Solomon: Concerning this Temple you are building.  If you keep all my decrees and regulations and obey all my commands, I will fulfill through you the promise I made to your father, David.  I will live among the Israelites and will never abandon my people Israel. (1 Kings 6:11-13)

 

These three verses come right in the middle of the chapter that is entitled Solomon Builds the Temple.  The first half of the chapter leading up to these verses is replete with details about how high and wide and long the Temple is.  Included in the detail is the number of rooms and a descriptive floor plan.  The back half of chapter 6, the verses that follow 11-13, detail the Temple’s interior and inner sanctuary.

 

You can imagine Solomon, having surveyed the preparations his father David had made and the finishing preparations he had made wanted to get to work—and he did.  But in the middle of all that work, God interrupts—“Concerning this Temple you are building.” (11).  God has something to say to Solomon.  We might expect, and maybe Solomon did as well, that God had an opinion about the Temple.  Maybe God wanted to change something or remind Solomon of something or share His opinion about the Temple itself.  Instead, God re-orients Solomon by giving him a message about the role of the Temple.  “Concerning this Temple you are building…” God begins and then adds, “Solomon, you need to know that the basis for My presence is not a place, but obedience and faithfulness.”  You might think that because you build me a house I will live there (God seems to be saying), but the basis of my presence is not a place or what you are doing for me, but our relationship.

 

How many times leaders and especially ministers confuse working for God with walking with God.  The call and demands of ministry can distract us from the very thing that gives us the passion and power for the ministry we are called too—a vibrant ongoing relationship with God himself.  In the service of the Temple, its building and care we can be distracted from the real work of ministry—leading people to intimacy with Christ out of our own intimacy with him.

 

Some of the maladies of our denomination can be directly attributed to this distraction.  But this sickness has infected many of our local churches as well.  This is primarily because our leaders and pastors have forgotten that working for God is not the same as walking with him.

 

I never will forget when one of my mentors confessed that he realized that in hindsight a number of his early years of ministry were spent working for God but not walking with him.  “The problem with that arrangement”, said my mentor, “is that God doesn’t have any employees in His Kingdom, only sons and daughters.”

 

The godly leader pursues a relationship with God out of which the work of God through their life becomes fruitful.  In obedience and faithfulness God finds a son or a daughter through whom His purposes can be accomplished in the world.  How wonderful for the son or daughter who lives in this truth and doesn’t have to be interrupted by God to be reminded.  It is equally wonderful for the people they lead.

Bryan Collier 

The View from Here

Thursday, August 16th, 2012 | By Mike Coyner
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“Hospitality and the Hospital” – August 15, 2012

Unfortunately we just had the opportunity to test out the hospitality
of a hospital while we were on vacation.  Marsha and I have been on a
short trip, and she became ill – which prompted a trip to the ER and
eventually a surgical procedure or her.  It could have been a terrible
experience going to a hospital in a town and state where we had never
traveled.  We were uncertain even of the location of the hospital, and
we were quite uncertain what level of care we could find.

To our relief, the hospital was clean, the staff was courteous, the
medical care was excellent, and everyone we encountered in the
hospital was so very hospitable.  Not only did my wife receive the
care she needed, but she received that care in an environment of
hospitality which helped move her toward wellness.

As I reflected on that experience in the “strange” hospital in the
“strange” city, I wondered how many congregations would measure up to
their standard.  Let me list a few of the ingredients of the
hospitality of that hospital to allow you to compare to your
congregation:

1.  Excellent signage so I could find the ER entrance even in the dark of night
2.  Free and plentiful parking
3.  A person greeting us as soon as we entered – who took us to the
right place to start the admission process (she did not just point and
tell us where to go)
4.  An admissions personnel who was an RN and really knew how to ask
the appropriate questions to determine the level of medical care
needed
5.  Prompt attention from a nurse and then a physician (we waited less
than 10 minutes)
6.  Many expressions of care, asking about Marsha’s level of pain,
offering words of comfort, and many comments about “I am so sorry that
has happened during your vacation”
7.  No one – NOT ONE PERSON – looked or acted strangely toward us
since we were from another state and not “local” persons
8.  The volunteer staff in the surgical waiting room gave me an
electronic caller (like you get in some restaurants when you wait to
be seated) that would locate me anywhere in the hospital when they
needed to alert me how Marsha was doing.  Those same volunteer staff
took the time to show me to the next location where I needed to wait
for Marsha in recovery.  Just like the greeter listed in #3 above,
they did not point and tell me where to go, they took me since I was
obviously new and did not know my way around
9.  The doctor gave me his business card and wrote his cell phone
number on the back, saying. “I know you are new to this area, so if
anything goes wrong or if you have any further concerns or questions,
just call me – even if it is 2 AM”
10.  The volunteer who wheeled Marsha out to my car took the time to
offer suggestions for places we could visit during the remainder of
our vacation, since our plans for bike-riding were changed by her
medical situation.

I could name others, but you get the point.  Hospitality means caring
enough to put oneself into another “shoes” and to try to provide for
their needs even before being asked.  Hospitality is really about the
Golden Rule of Jesus:  doing for others what we would want done for
us.

I pray that every congregation can offer as much hospitality as we
received at the hospital while traveling.

Mike Coyner

Bishop Michael Coyner

 

Emory - Brent Strawn

Brent Strawn ~ Candler School of Theology

Brent Strawn, Associate Professor of Old Testament at Candler School of Theology, Emory University, posted the following article on MinistryMatters.com. It also appears in the Justice in the Church (Aug/Sept/Oct 2012) issue of Circuit Rider. It’s an excellent reflection…

 

When God Seems Unjust

I make my living teaching the Old Testament, so I’m quite aware of its “problems.” You might say it’s a job hazard in my line of work. Even if people can’t cite chapter and verse, they often have a strong feeling that things in the first half (actually, the first seventy-eight percent) of the Bible aren’t quite right—that there are some disturbing things over there if you ever bother to read it (most don’t), and many of them have to do with God.

Just a week ago I was called in for something of an emergency “Save the Old Testament!” session for a Disciple Bible Study group at my own local congregation. There I heard yet again what seems to have become the standard interpretation among far too many Christians: “God is mean in the Old Testament, but everything changes with Jesus and the New Testament. What gives?”

This is a big question connected to a large number of others. I can’t solve the first, let alone the rest, not even if I had many times the space I have here, because the “best questions,” or in this case, the most difficult ones, simply don’t have any easy answers. That doesn’t mean we are relieved of having to try, however. The Mishnah has a famous saying to this effect: “It’s not your job to finish the work, but you’re not free to walk away from it” (Abot 2.21). So, here are four thoughts on the matter.

1. It’s Not Just an Old Testament Problem

The problem is not just an “Old Testament” one. It is, through and through, from top to bottom, a biblical problem in at least two ways:

(1) The New Testament also has its share of violence and wrath—“mean God” kind of stuff for short. One need only think of the Book of Revelation, or the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5), or sayings of Jesus that are far from “meek and mild” to get this point clearly (e.g., Matt 5:25-26; 10:34-36; 16:2-3; 23:1-36; Mark 10:38; Luke 12:49-53; 13:3, 5; 14:25-33; etc.).

(2) The Old Testament has just as much “nice God” kind of stuff as the New Testament. Indeed, much of the New Testament’s “niceness” comes directly from the Old Testament: The Great Commandment concerning the love of God and love of neighbor, for instance (Deut 6:5; Lev 19:18), but also love for immigrants (Lev 19:34) and good deeds for one’s enemies (e.g., Prov 25:21; cf. Matt 5:39; Rom 12:20). Or, more directly to God’s wrath, consider Isaiah 54:7-10, which acknowledges God’s abandonment and anger “for a moment,” but now promises great compassion and everlasting love (vv. 7-8). It culminates in the statement that God will never be angry with Israel again—never, just as God will never flood the earth again (v. 9)! Then:

“For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.” (v. 10)

What text anywhere else in the Bible could rival this one in raw mercy and unbounded grace?

Christians who advocate the “standard interpretation” mentioned above are revealing nothing so much as their ignorance on two fronts: (1) their lack of knowledge of the entirety of the Old Testament, including its many “good parts”; and (2) their lack of knowledge of the entirety of the New Testament, including its many “bad parts.” Once again, the problem of God’s violence or wrath is thoroughly a biblical one—not just an Old Testament one.

This means, in turn, that the solution to the problem cannot be only a New Testament one, since the New Testament itself has the same blemishes. The fact that so many Christians don’t know either side of this equation reveals profound biblical illiteracy. That problem, in turn, is especially acute because it prevents Christians from findingbiblical solutions to the very real difficulties posed by biblical texts concerning violence and wrath.

2. There Are Biblical Solutions

Happily, there are solutions to the problems of violence and wrath posed by the Old and New Testaments. Let it be underscored that these are biblical solutions, not restricted to one testament (invariably the New) over the other (inevitably the Old). These solutions will not satisfy everyone, and each difficult text deserves separate, case-by-case attention. It must suffice here, and speaking only of the Old Testament, to again highlight that it knows as much grace as the New Testament (recall Isaiah 54), and that it built into it what might be called “strategies of containment.”

One example: the problem of the conquest and settling of Canaan, and thus the problem of Holy War, bothers modern sensibilities. How could this be part of God’s purposes and plans in the world? Here again is a serious issue; it cannot be addressed simply or simplistically. That granted, it is worth noting that the Old Testament does not repeatedly enjoin this kind of military activity on subsequent generations of Israelites. Nor does it continually evoke the conquest as a metaphor for faithful life with God.

This should be quickly contrasted with the exodus, which is everywhere mentioned and used as a way to describe even much later acts of God, such as the return from exile. The point of comparison is that, in the very way the Old Testament speaks of these things, it suggests that the conquest of Canaan is a limited, time-bound phenomenon never to be repeated; the exodus, however, is the way God works, period (cf. Amos 9:7). That doesn’t fix all the problems with the conquest, but it is a start.

3. It’s Not a New Problem

The problems of violence, wrath, and the like—as well as the “standard interpretation” of these—are nothing new. They are very old indeed, running back at least to the arch-heretic Marcion in the second century.

Marcion was the first to articulate the standard interpretation in full-blown fashion and he ended up throwing the entirety of the Old Testament out (interestingly enough, his position also required jettisoning a good bit of the New Testament!). Marcion’s theology was predicated precisely on antitheses like evil/good, judgmental/merciful, old/new. The church declared Marcion a heretic and resolutely retained the Old Testament (and a fuller New Testament).

The early church father, Tertullian (ca. 160-225), wrote five books against Marcion. Among other things, Tertullian said that a God who disapproves of nothing (that is, who lacks the capacity or disposition to judge or discipline), is unable to approve of anything and thus cannot save or deliver those who experience injustice. Marcion’s “god” may be unambiguously “good” but this goodness makes no (biblical) sense and cannot provide justice for those who suffer. One must be very careful to define what one means by the word “good”—and it should take more than a sentence or two! Moreover, robust Trinitarian theology means the Three are One. To say that one (the Father) is mean with the other (the Son) nice is to introduce unorthodox distinctions into the Godhead. Anyone who believes that a “mean God” inhabits the Old Testament and a “nice God” lives in the New, is making divisions that are not only uninformed, biblically-speaking, but also far too simplistic—even, dare one say, heretical.

4. There Is No Simple Solution

Finally, the previous point means we must steward ourselves to prevent any speech or thinking about God that is too simplistic. God, the Infinite, can never “get said” quite right—not even with many words or even all the books in the world. If we can imagine a situation in which God appears to be as dumb as one of the Three Stooges, we aren’t thinking about God or the problem with sufficient complexity. It would be a mistake to think that we are smarter than God, or the book about God.

Again, that is not to say that the problems of wrath, violence, and so forth (and there are many of the latter!) aren’t real or significant. They are both, and just as they admit of no easy solution, they are not easily understood. Then again, maybe they aren’t meant to be solved or understood. St. Augustine said the following in a sermon:

“[Scripture] can only be understood in ways beyond words; human words cannot suffice for understanding the Word of God. What we are discussing and stating is why it is not understood. I am not speaking in order that it may be understood, but telling you what prevents it being understood. . . What I am saying is how incomprehensible is the passage that was read to us. But in any case, it wasn’t read in order to be understood, but in order to make us mere human beings grieve because we don’t understand it, and make us try to discover what prevents our understanding, and so move it out of the way, and hunger to grasp the unchangeable Word, ourselves thereby being changed from worse to better.”

Augustine wrote that about John 1:1-3! If it holds true for that text, then certainly it holds true for even more perplexing texts. And so it is that one finds a rich history of interpretation in both Jewish and Christian circles about the most difficult of texts—including and especially ones concerning God’s wrath and violence.

Much more could be said. Much more should be said. But this is a beginning. Perhaps if ministers spoke more about these texts, addressing them in ways like I have done here but adding to that and expounding upon it, the “intractable” problems of the Old Testament would suddenly become tractable after all, and people would find themselves confronted afresh and anew with the whole counsel of God, not just the last 22 percent of it. That would be a victory in more ways than one!

The View from Here

Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 | By Bryan Collier
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The View From Here: Wisdom Comes from God

God gave Solomon very great wisdom and understanding, and knowledge as vast as the sands of the seashore. In fact, his wisdom exceeded that of all the wise men of the East and the wise men of Egypt. He was wiser than anyone else, including Ethan the Ezrahite and the sons of Mahol—Heman, Calcol, and Darda. His fame spread throughout all the surrounding nations. He composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs.  He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen to the Wisdom of Solomon. (1 Kings 4:29-34)

That is quite an impressive set of accolades.  Not only was Solomon’s wisdom extolled but so was his fame, his writing, his speaking, and his popularity.  It is easy in the reciting of all of the accolades to miss the opening two words of the passage—“God gave…”  What a difference in the opening years of Solomon’s life when he knew where his wisdom came from and the end of his life where he began to “believe his own press clippings.”

Ministry offers us many opportunities to accumulate accolades.  If not formally through awards and recognitions, certainly we can accrue fame and popularity that unchecked can leave us believing that we are as wonderful and impressive as others say we are.

I am reminded of a story about Corrie Ten Boom, the little Polish woman who grew up hiding Jews from the Nazis and spent time in German prison camps for it.  After the war and the publishing of her book The Hiding Place she would speak and in response people would heap great compliments on her.  She never deflected the compliments in false modesty.  She simply said, “thank you” and received the compliment. “I take each remark as if it were a flower.  At the end of each day I lift of the bouquet off flowers that I have gathered throughout the day and say, ‘here you are Lord, it’s all Yours.’” (The Five Silent Years of Corrie Ten Boom, page 92)

That kind of humility and perspective never let her forget what James announces: “Whatever is good and perfect comes down to us from God our Father…” (1:17)

Few of us will ever receive the levels of fame and renown that Solomon, but those we do receive are no less a distraction that lead to self-deception.  It is with Corrie’s prayer and this truth clearly before us that we are reminded that the source of whatever attention we receive is God…who gave.  Leaders seek Wisdom, but they know where Wisdom comes from and readily acknowledge Him.

Bryan Collier

 

“Leaving a Legacy” – July 17, 2012

I Chronicles 22 tells how King David began stockpiling materials for the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. David had been told by God that he would not be the one who would build a temple for the Lord, because of David’s many sins and many killings in war. Rather than pout about that fact, David put his energy into stockpiling materials in hopes that his son Solomon could build the beautiful Temple which was indeed accomplished under Solomon’s reign.

David understand the important of leaving a legacy. He understood that each generation should stockpile resources for the next generation. He accepted that his own failures and inadequacies would prevent him from accomplishing everything he wanted to do during his own lifetime, but he used that fact as a motivation for the future success of those who would come after him.

Perhaps ministry today in the church is not just about the NOW but is also about the NEXT. Perhaps church leaders should always be stockpiling resources (financial resources, new leadership development, strong traditions) in order to help the next generation to fulfill its own ministry.

I am finding that more and more churches and pastors are wanting to develop “succession plans” for their future. Veteran pastors want to see their churches thrive beyond their own retirement, so they are thinking ahead about how best to provide their churches with the next leaders. I applaud such thinking, but I know it takes a great deal of humility and maturity to admit that our current leadership may not accomplish everything. Accepting our own limitations, including the limitation of time, can lead us to do what King David did – to stockpile resources for the future and to leave a legacy of faithfulness.

May it be so in all of our lives and ministries.

Mike Coyner

Bishop Michael Coyner

The View from Here

Wednesday, July 11th, 2012 | By John Meunier
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My son and I were talking about church and politics the other day. He works in politics. I am a pastor. He was talking about the way he recruits people to work on campaigns and take leadership in the organization. It comes down to explaining the plan the campaign has for winning the race and asking the person to do some specific thing. Once you’ve sold them on the soundness of your plan, you don’t make an open-ended request for help, you get concrete. Can you give me $500? Can you volunteer 2 hours on Thursday? Will you commit to recruit five other volunteers to help out next week?

I told him that was very helpful as I think about the challenges of recruiting help in the church and evangelism. Can we articulate “our plan” and do we ask people to do specific things? Are we concrete enough when we make “the ask”?

And then my son followed up with his concerns.

In the church, he said, there are two problems. First, in a political campaign you have a target date. The election is coming and you have to get more than 50% of the votes by that date. It makes it easy to focus attention. Second, in politics, he said, you always know that there are going to be a lot of people who disagree with your or don’t like you.

In the church, we often are so soft about what we are doing that we can’t speak to people about concrete objectives and goals. We can’t even tell whether we are doing well because we don’t know what doing well looks like. And, my son observed, we often seem more concerned about everyone liking us than speaking what we believe.

As we chatted, I found myself thinking about John Wesley who used to preach while people threw rocks at him because he considered preaching the gospel so important that it was worth the risk.

I know many of my brothers and sisters are engaged in bold evangelism and discipleship. May more of us remember that great gift it is to value what we are doing more than we value the good opinion of other people.

John Meunier

The View from Here

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012 | By Mike Coyner
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“Walk, Walk, Walk” – June 19, 2012

My granddaughter Leah is only 17 months old, but already she loves to go for walks. In fact one of her favorite pleas is to look at us with her beautiful blue eyes (her name Leah actually means “beautiful eyes”) and to ask, “Walk, walk, walk,” She wants to go outside and not just walk but run down the sidewalk. Of course we have to watch her carefully to keep her from veering into the street, and it is actually hard to keep up with her. Her little legs really move!

 

I like her spirit, and I believe she is reminding us that the Christian life is a walk, a journey, a following of Jesus and his ways. Sometimes I read various blogs, websites, articles, and books which seem to imply that being a Christian is all about having the right set of beliefs. I am sure there is some truth to that. After all, as one writer has said, eventually we must decide whether Jesus was a liar, a lunatic, or a Lord when he gave us his commands and spoke about his own role in bringing in God’s Kingdom. It is not enough to know about Jesus, we must come to know and believe the truth of Jesus.

But certainly being a Christian is more than just a set of right beliefs. The most common invitation of Jesus in the Gospels is: “Come, follow me.” He does not say, “Figure out who I am” or “develop a right set of beliefs and an impressive theology.” He does not even say, “You must have complete faith.” No, he says, “Come and follow me.” Or in the words of my granddaughter Leah, “Walk, walk, walk.”

The invitation of Jesus is an invitation to come along with him on the journey of faith, to learn along the way, to be tested, and to be stretched (after all, walking is good exercise). To follow Jesus is to walk with him, to discover that he is the way, the truth, and the life.

Want to be a Christian? Then put on your walking shoes and get going. Don’t wait until it is convenient or understandable. Don’t wait until you think you are worthy, and for God’s sake don’t tell anyone else on the journey that they are not worthy – if Jesus invites them, that’s good enough. Just get going. Follow Jesus.

And “walk, walk, walk.”

Mike Coyner

Bishop Michael Coyner

 

 

2012 IN AC logoAt the Celebration of Ministry Service at Annual Conference in Indianapolis last week, I was struck again by how we in the Methodist tradition continually strive to invoke the Holy Spirit upon the life of the church and upon those who are to order and lead it: in the midst of conference and bishop, in the call to itinerant forms of ministry and accountability, we confess how dependent we are upon the Spirit to share in the mission of the whole church. I was struck by the way we are to order our lives not simply toward God but toward one another, and by the way our guiding vision always takes a particular shape during a particular time regardless of the challenges. It was a grace-filled moment, to be sure, but also a reminder of the true end to which Christ calls each of us.

In a letter to John Smith on June 25, 1746, John Wesley, in reflecting on the Methodist movement, wrote, “What is the end of all ecclesiastical order? Is it not to bring souls from the power of Satan to God? And to build them in his fear and love? Order, then, is so far valuable as it answers these ends; and if it answers them not it is worth nothing.”

Wesley’s quote captures the deeply missional thrust of the people called Methodists: a church’s pattern of organization and authority – or polity – must be oriented toward the church’s mission of saving souls or making disciples. How we order our lives must somehow support that basic mission. As Wesley would say elsewhere:  if we can’t find ways to organize the church toward these ends, then we might as well let the devil win!

As United Methodists we have spent a great deal of energy over the years trying to align our organization more purposefully with our mission. As historian Russell Richey of Emory University has stated, Methodists have always tried to develop appropriate structures that would sustain and nourish their mission depending on the era. What have remained constant over time are those elements that have been distinctive to Methodists from early on: conference, episcopacy, itinerant ministry, and forms of accountability. While these aspects do not provide a full account of Methodist polity, the loss of any of them would diminish something unique to the Methodist way of sharing in God’s mission.

To be sure, it’s a tall order to keep these four elements together, especially during a time of historic transition. It would be easy, for example, to fall into the trap of wanting to do away with one of these principles at the expense of another. It would also be tempting to see the role of the Holy Spirit as only working in our individual lives or congregations as against the structures of the wider church as an institution. And yet, as our history indicates, our polity has persisted through time not just because we have the right structures but because we are actively seeking to respond to what the Spirit is doing.

Such characteristics, of course, are not unique to United Methodists. Other Pan-Methodists and Wesleyan Holiness churches have also struggled with matters of discipline and order – African Methodist Episcopal and Free Methodists come to mind. They are reminders that questions of mission and polity go hand-in-hand in the Wesleyan tradition.

Andy Kinsey

Andy Kinsey

Celebrating in worship at Annual Conference, and praying for those who were being commissioned and ordained, I was moved at how Methodism seeks to order its life as a mission-driven community of faith. Again and again, we invoked God’s Spirit as we sent out those who will serve among us, sharing in ministries of mutual accountability, and renewing our covenant to be faithful to the example of Christ. It was a hope-filled moment, to say the least.

However, as we think about the future of the United Methodist Church, we may also want to ask ourselves why these four elements in our polity have persisted throughout our history. We may want to ask what these may mean in light of our present challenges. As General Conference in Tampa revealed we have much work to do.

 

 

Andy Kinsey serves as the Wesleyan Theologian on the Leadership Table of the Indiana Conference of the United Methodist Church and as pastor of Grace United Methodist Church in Franklin, Indiana.

 

Matrix Mentor, Maxie D. Dunnam

Maxie D. Dunnam - Kingdom Catalysts

The heat is rising in United Methodism since General Conference. Retired Bishop Mel Talbert poured fuel on what have been dying embers only hours after the adjournment of the conference. He urged ministers to disregard the church’s position on human sexuality and perform same sex weddings if the laws of their state allowed it. A number of bishops, some retired but others who are active, stood with him as he made his passionate appeal to what he believes is a justice issue being violated by the church.

Minerva Carcano

Bishop Minerva Carcano

Within a month, Arizona Bishop Minerva Carcaño appealed to our African brothers and sisters to “grow up”…not a very polite, much less Christian, way to talk about the segment of our movement that is growing and impacting a continent for Christ. Carcaño’s thoughtlessness obviously flowed from the fact that the Africans have found their voice and are expressing an understanding and commitment to the Gospel that differs from hers.

The latest as of this writing is the New England Conference General Conference delegation’s claim that we must recognize and affirm our differences and that all the structures of the church (including bishops and the General Conference) must be ordered in a way to support but not control the local expression of the faithful.

New England ACThat sounds a bit like having your cake and eating it too! No accountability defined by the “whole community.” On the contrary, they suggest that the majority bodies of the church might need to be guided by the minority, though funding would still come from the majority.

The New England Annual Conference is not large nor is it growing. Numbers are not the ultimate measure but it may be worth something to ask if there are reasons growth is taking place in some areas and not in others.

Significantly, I did agree with one position of the New Englanders. They contended that strength and vitality will not be found in structures but in our identity as a spiritual movement, grounded in the grace of God and linked by common practices of personal and social holiness.

I agree; but I would invite them to consider that Jesus not only incarnated grace, he incarnated and called for truth. His followers have truth/authority, which is not relative. In the church, truth is posited in what we designate as “the faith once and for all delivered to the saints.” That truth can’t casually be altered by cultural norm.

Human sexuality is the issue that is tearing our church apart. Scripture, the church through the ages, and our present UM Church believes the practice of homosexuality violates the call both to personal and social holiness. It is impossible for me to imagine that we can grant the desire of a small segment of the church that they have support and freedom to deal with this issue as they please.

The Second Need of Leadership: Wisdom

(This is installment 3 of Leadership Lessons from the Kings)

Now, O Lord my God, you have made me king instead of my father David, but I am like a little child who doesn’t know his way around.  And here I am in the midst of your own chosen people, a nation so great and numerous they cannot be counted! Give me an understanding heart so that I can govern your people well and know the difference between right and wrong…(1 Kings 3:7-9)

Solomon, the boy king, was offered a “blank check” by God and instead of cashing it on material possessions, fame or power he asks God for wisdom.  I am not sure that Solomon at his age knew what he was asking for.  In fact it was likely out of desperation that made his request.  No doubt, his court was full of advisers and wise men who would have gladly filled the request.  For some reason, Solomon did not think their wisdom sufficient and so he asks God for it for himself.

If the first need of a leader is a relationship with God, the second need of a leader is the wisdom that comes from God.  There will always be plenty of people who offer their opinion and call it wisdom, but the leader has to be able to discern what is foolishness, what is worldly wisdom and what is God’s wisdom on the matter.  Leaders often find themselves surrounded by people who want what they want for the leader or they want what the leader wants for the leader, but finding people who want what God wants for the leader even thought it may cost them is a rare thing.  The leader who can claim such an adviser can certainly count themselves as blessed.

However, there is another level of wisdom that cannot be assigned to advisers.  When decisions come, surveying the data is important, listening to wise counsel is equally important—but seeking God’s wisdom is the key to leading wisely.  Sometimes the data and counsel both point to something that make sense in the moment, but only God can see clearly the outcomes.

Bryan Collier

Bryan Collier

The Israelites, under Joshua’s command found themselves in this position when they made a peace treaty with the Gibeonites (9:14).  The Israelites examined the “data” and did what seemed right and faithful, but the telling words are “…but they did not consult the Lord.”  The consequences of what seemed like a wise decision were substantial.

Solomon asked for godly wisdom, for a constant consultative relationship on the front end of his tenure.  He didn’t wait for a crisis or for a specific incident in which he needed God’s wisdom.  He knew given his task and responsibility that his need for godly wisdom was going to be a constant.

The godly leader understands the need for wisdom beyond the data, and beyond wise counsel…it is a wisdom that only comes from God.  Blessed is the godly leader who asks for it before they need it.