What Happened in Missouri

Back when Patton Dodd asked initially asked me to consider blogging for Bnet, he wanted to play on the “Dispatches” subtitle of my book.  That is, he wanted to take advantage of my frequent travels to write about how the “emergent church” conversation is being embraced (or rejected) around the country and the world.

Well, I spent the better part of this week in central Missouri, addressing the annual continuing education event of the Missouri district of the United Methodist Church: the Missouri Ministers’ School.

On Tuesday night, I delivered my stump speech for the last year or so, “Ten Dispatches from the Emergent Church.”  It was, I think, well received.

On Wednesday afternoon, I was on a panel with the other three presenters.  Again, it went well.

And on Thursday morning, I had about an hour long public conversation with Missouri UMC bishop, Robert Schnase.  That’s when the wheels came off. 

He and I had, I think, a good conversation about the nature of the
church, and our ecclesiological differences were evident.  The
Methodists call their inter-church ecclesiology the “connectional
model,” which was instigated by Methodism’s founder, John Wesley.

But earlier in the conference, I had encouraged the UMC ministers
present to stop filling out forms.  The UMCers, by their own admission,
have to fill out an overabundance of forms — Schnase explained to me
that once per month, every church has to fill out a form that askes
four questions: How many professions of faith? How many baptisms? How
many in attendance? How many small groups?  Then they also have to fill
out an extremely long and complicated form required at the end of the
year.  One pastor told me that his secretary has been working on that
form and nothing else for the last two weeks.

Well, of course, it didn’t go over well with the bishop that I had told
his charges not submit their required reports.  He refered to himself
as a “numbers guy,” he poked some fun at me by wondering whether I care
about numbers when it comes to book sales, and then he used an analogy
that others told me he uses regularly: He said that everytime you go to
a doctor’s office, the nurse takes your blood pressure, temperature,
and weight in order to track your health over time.  He said this shows
that numbers can be a valuable indicator of health.

I took issue with this on a three levels.  First, I think it’s a bad
analogy, and I think that church leaders are often rpone to bad
analogies.  In his analogy, he (the bishop) is the physician and the
local church is the patient.  That’s problematic in itself.  But it
also brings up the question of how does one best gauge the health of a
local ecclesial community?  Are those the best four questions to ask? 
Probably not, as Willow Creek recently revealed.

I think the only way this analogy might work is if the pastor is the
physician and the individual congregant is the patient (though this has
problems, too).  In that case, the pastor’s job is to gauge the
spiritual health of the parishoner by checking in regularly and keeping
track of spritual health over time.  Then the onus is on the parish
minister to determine what are the best questions to ask.

Second, as the bishop admitted, the monthly reporting is a drain on
troop moral because, of the 900(!) Methodist churches in Missouri, the
vast majority go many months in a row with no professions of faith, no
baptisms, and flat or decreasing attendance.  This is reflective of the
overall denoument of mainline Christianity in the U.S.  Why not ask the
pastors to relfect on other indicators of spiritual vitality rather
than raw numbers?

Finally, I said that nurses take these stats every time you visit the
office primarily for liability reasons — to make sure they’re not
overlooking something like a spike in blood pressure.  A nurse from the
back of the room shouted me down when I said that and said that’s not
why those numbers are taken.  So, I could be wrong on that count.

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  • Dan H

    Well, yeah, I would focus more on how it’s a bad analogy, rather than start critiquing medical practices (I’m personally very glad that they take my blood pressure and weight when I go in to the doctor’s office, because those statistics actually do give you valuable information about the maintenance of your health).
    However, I think it is very to the point that keeping track of ‘conversions’ (defined in a very specific, ‘turn in the moment’ kind of way) and those other statistics are often not the best way to evaluate the spiritual depth and health of a congregation. How are people healing from problematic emotional problems? How are people coming to a deeper understanding of God’s vision for creation, and loving each other in more mature ways? These things are not so easilty quantifiable.
    Now, in the broader picture, I think it may be worth it to look at broad patterns. If the number in your community is stagnant or dropping over a period of years, it may be time to ask some questions. Now, those questions may look more like “Is God calling us to be a faithful small community, and focus on certain areas of spiritual growth?” or some such thing. I think we can be aware of macro-trends in our communities without being so regularly obsessed over statistics that often speak more to a Western/U.S. standard of a ‘successful enterprise’ than speaking to the spiritual maturity of our communities.

  • Your Name

    What can a ds from Missouri say at this point? At least we are still talking about ministers school today…it’s got folks thiking about ecclesiology….and that’s a good thing.

  • As someone who lived in rural Missouri for a short time, can anything good come from there?
    Did you ask the nurse for a second opinion? I’m sure there is something to looking at these numbers over time, but it would be much more critical if it spiked.
    I like numbers. Trends are interesting. They can tell you a lot. But it is impossible to tell you the whole story. In fact, they can be very misleading. A friend of mine had lost a significant amount of weight. He’d be running and eating well. He looked to be the picture of health. But turns out he had pancreatic cancer. In fact, it was only because he ate a really fatty meal that they found it. Just because the numbers look good doesn’t mean that something good is happening. It could actually mean something very bad is happening.

  • Pat

    This is really interesting – and important, and almost completely unknown to the congregation. How much does what the diocese chooses to measure drive what the pastor pushes the congregation to do?
    I have a friend who is still angry that a pastor asked her to stop collecting money from church friends for a local charity, even though she did all her service as a representative of the church, because it diverted congregational money away from donations that the diocese ‘counted.’ She called the diocesan office and found that this was indeed the case.
    What happens when you get a congregation of active people, who just aren’t interested in what counts on those year-end forms? It must be a temptation for the pastor to try and make them divert their energy into the proper channels, and that could have very negative consequences.
    The medical analogy could work, I suppose, if he posited a doctor’s office where the nurse ONLY took blood pressure and pulse — in a community where the big killers were diabetes and liver failure, which require different measurements entirely.

  • Stephanie

    Hey, Tony. I have been stalking your blog since I arrived home from Ministers’ School yesterday, hoping you might offer some insight to your experience with our bishop. I was one of the UM pastors squirming in her seat that last morning. First, allow me to thank you again for coming. So much of what you said, all three days, resonated with me.
    I think my bishop is probably a pretty good and decent guy, so I am deeply hopeful by now he regrets his words. He was the host, the one with all the support and power in the room, the one who wrote the book on “radical hospitality,” and I felt he failed miserably at his own advice. You were our guest. We expected you to challenge us. We expected to hear things that would resonate and unnerve. We certainly never expected to agree with or do everything you (or anyone, for that matter) say. I am deeply sorry that you were not afforded the measure of respect and hospitality you deserved as our guest.
    I was confused by the final morning’s subject matter, namely the numbers-or-no-numbers war. We were there to learn about the world that is changing at an exponential pace, and how our current and future generations will evolve as they relate in that world. If I were seeking a church, I don’t think whether or not the pastor sends in numerical reports, is going to be a deciding factor for me.
    But since we are on the subject, I would like to share that I totally agree that the numbers game can be a morale-killer, and a poor instrument for measuring spiritual growth. Unfortunately, it’s the only instrument we have to figure out how much each church should pay in apportionments. If churches do not pay apportionments, I do not have a bishop who chooses to place me as a female, in church leadership. If churches do not pay apportionments, we lack the massive organizational connection to dig wells in Mozambique, and deliver aid to victims of natural disaster, and provide pastors for our churches, and missionaries throughout the world. Like you said, there are pros to a connectional system.
    There are also cons. It is rumored that churches that pay apportionments, and better salaries, are more likely to get the “best” pastors, which at first glance kind of makes sense. However, that those numbers could in part determine my future as a pastor and leader in the UMC, frustrates the crap out of me. I feel frustrated, because it tempts me to sell my soul to say and do whatever it takes to get people in the pews (or couches, or chairs). It tempts me to desire a “good” appointment, leaving the “less desirable” ones for my sorry brothers or sisters who aren’t as slick as I am at telling people what they want to hear. People gather at football games. That I can draw a crowd is not sufficient evidence that I am sharing the Gospel.
    In fact, sometimes being prophetic causes a decline in numbers. If a bishop sends a woman to a parish who specifically says they do not want one, and that parish’s response is a decline in numbers, which in turn tarnishes that pastor’s career and stamps her as a failure (never mind what she endures in the meantime). I guess our bishop and we, as a denomination, have to decide whether or not the inclusive message of the Gospel is worth dying for. If numerical reports are an assessment tool for making appointments, then the message I hear, is that it is not.
    Thank you so much for coming, for providing so much insight, and food for thought. I am certain this year’s Ministers’ School has provided the most fodder for conversation in a very long time!

  • The Misfit Toy

    I am the anti-numbers guy that the number 8 warned you about. I hate numbers. It is so hard to find numbers which even weakly reflect the good that you are striving for, and as soon as you create a number, you care more about the number than you do the good.
    But you have to hold this in tension with the truth that things which are not measured do not improve. This is not because we are lazy, but it is because we are smart. We are terrific optimizing machines.
    You have to measure something and you have to always hate that you are measuring things.
    Actually I can’t stress that enough.
    The love of numbers might be the root of all evil.
    Until you hate and distrust numbers, you can’t trust them at all.

  • Andrew Coon

    An observation from the floor of the conference – I found it frustrating to hear the use of numbers named as sinful.
    Short of experiencing the life of a congregation in a direct way, when it comes to describing the life of a congregation something needs to be used. The something used will be symbolic for the fullness of the life of the congregation, and the question becomes “which symbols should we pick to attempt to convey this reality?” What is the difference between using words and using numbers in the process of describing/approximating? Both convey data, and both only have meaning in a context. A number, such as “25” is just as meaningless as the word “good” unless there is a context.
    So it strikes me that instead of conveying the message that “using numbers is a bad and sinful idea” it would have been much more useful to talk about how to provide a better context or contexts for numbers.
    Maybe the four questions asked by the conference are not the questions that we need to ask right now – but questions need to be asked (at least by a connectional system, not getting into the polity question of connection/congregational yet), and they will have to be answered. Numbers are as valid a way of answering a question as words are, though neither one can ever do more than approximate what is being described.
    Yes, the 900 churches of the conference are not experiencing regular professions of faith. That reality can be expressed/approximated by using numbers, or telling stories. Should we ignore this by asking something different? Would asking a different question, that is not answered with a number, change the central reality that people are not becoming disciples of Jesus Christ in many of our churches?
    Practically – the reports are not onerous. I spend very little of my time dealing with them, so the idea that someone has spent two weeks on year end reports blows my mind. I spent 3 hours, at most, on mine, and that was for two churches.
    On a different subject….
    I believe the wheels came off, as you put it, partly because I experienced a deep disdain of the connectional system during your presentations. The impression I received was a sense “we will be healthy over here, you denominational types can be sick over there.” Instead of offering us a glimpse of the great joy you have found in what has become emergent church, I found myself becoming defensive of the great joy I have found in my tradition. I experienced no sense of invitation, only angst on your part.
    The use of numbers did not work for you – fine, that is your context. But to assume that numbers can only be used one way, and then express such utter disdain at us for using them at all…. What else did you expect?
    If anyone would like to respond on-line, I will be tracking this page. If you would like to take the discussion to email, my email is ndrwcn at gmail.

  • Pat’s question is so so so good! Thank you for putting it that way. What if what we were expected to document and report was number of hours in conversation with people in spiritual crisis? Or hospital rooms visited per week? Or amount of sidewalk chalk utilized in the neighborhood?

  • Andrew Coon

    It occurs to me that the best case scenario would be to ask each other “how have you experienced God in your life and in the life of your church” and then have the time to listen to the complete answer, as well as the context needed to understand that answer.
    The reality is that I cannot keep my wife up to date on the answer to these questions, and I see her everyday. So if I cannot tell her everything, I tell her something, I tell her an approximation. My friends receive even more of an approximation, as they hear the answers to these central questions even less than my wife does. My friends end up hearing the one or two key stories from the month.
    Extrapolating this out, there comes a point where the most that can be conveyed is a few numbers and a general impression. I tell my distant cousin that seven people joined my church, I went to three great conferences, and my year has gone well.
    That is the nature of the relationship between the local church and the conference – a few numbers and one or two stories. The desire seems to be to be heard by the conference, to have certainty that we as pastors are not being judged by these numbers that are vague approximations of the reality in the local church. We want the relationship to conference to be more like the one with our nuclear family members, not our distant cousins.
    To modify this would be wonderful – to have more DS’s that could spend more time gathering better approximations, more stories, the context behind the numbers (what happened after that much chalk was used to advertise?) would be one way to respond to this concern. But no matter what the response, my belief is that there are always going to be approximations made as we tell others of our ministry as we are held accountable to our ordinations, and fear that we will not be properly understood because of this reality.

  • A couple of thoughts:
    1. I often wish John Wesley had chosen one of the other insults for his movement’s name. Better the “Bible Moths” than the “Methodists.” We’ve been saddled with the notion that at the very center of our identity is being methodical. I think our method-ism smells more of modernity than the faith. At least if we were “Bible Moths” people today would still look at as like we were crazy, i.e., not something readily and easily understood on the world’s terms.
    2. I don’t know how personality temperaments compare across cultures and through time, but in my current culture, I observe that some people are Js, and some are Ps, some are Ss and some are Ns. I’m an INTP. I’m not the one to whom counting comes naturally. I suspect that if I were an SJ I would love counting.
    3. Counting seems to have a strong biblical heritage in both the OT & NT. Sometimes seeing a practice in the bible gives us justification, sometimes it doesn’t.
    4. I’m not in Missouri, so the numbers we report weekly are a little different. There’s still plenty of griping. Personally I don’t see any harm in it.

  • daniel

    They used the tally-sheet report card at the church I grew up going to. The reason for this appears to serve two purposes: 1) It is a way to measure *effectiveness* and 2) It creates a persuasive means to raise support.
    I am not yet cynical enough to believe that reason 2 is what started driving churches into excel but have a hard time not believing it is what has kept them there. For the theological landscape around me (in MO btw) has changed drastically since I was younger. The pray-this-now-raise-hand-I-see-you-there-in-the-back-row preacher is fading. Why? If you don’t know the answer just find any 13 – 30 year old and ask them.
    People, don’t kid yourself…in this culture reason number 2 will keep the tallying going. That is, of course, until the theology that has driven reason 1 has faded. When my generation (those graduating in 2001) are the main financiers, the rules will change.
    I think we should consider our church’s *effectiveness* by finding the homeless, the alcoholic, the prisoner, the prostitute, the widow, the homosexual, the addict, and the atheist, and asking them, what have we done to make you feel loved? How many times have we shared a meal together? What do YOU think of US?

  • (I forgot to leave my last post with a humorous little scapegoat from one of the greatest movies ever).
    The Dude: Yeah, well, you know, that’s just, like, your opinion, man.

  • Andrew:
    Just to clarify: I don’t believe that I said “using numbers is a bad and sinful idea.” I said something like this: “When numbers are being used in a certain way, it becomes sinful.”
    I have nothing against a “connectional system,” and I regret that it came off like I did. But it doesn’t seem to me that the UMC is really connectional — it seems like it is hierarchical and bureaucratic. But, as I said several time this week, I’m an outsider looking in. All I’ve got to go on is what I read and what people tell me. And, I gotta say, a lot of people around meal tables and in the hallways said that my critique was spot-on. Those people also told me that vocal dissent is not allowed, especially among young or non-ordained persons.
    I have no disdain for the UMC or the connectional system. I do, however, believe that many ecclesiological methods that thrived 100 years ago must be disassembled because they’re no longer productive.

  • Stringbean

    I don’t think the wheels came off as much as the rubber hit the road. And I’m glad! You were gracious and restrained, yet truthful, in your response to several bad analogies. Thank you for modeling healthy behavior. Now to other issues.
    Whenever we try to translate an experience into a very limited numerical experession there is way too much lost to make the statistic meaningful, unless you are only interested in the number in the first place. I must admit to wondering if given the discussion of emergent(ing)and the ability of all persons to provide the sacrments on request, if baptism and profession of faith, as we currently interpret them, are meaningful categories anyway. Certainly think there would be very different understanding among the people in the congregations I serve. I know I don’t care about them enough as markers of spiritual maturity to make it my aim to get “more” for the form, but I do care about the ability of the folks I serve to deepen/expand their experience of faith. Would enjoy hearing your opinion about those you serve.

  • You’re right, Tony, at least as far as my experience goes. Though “connectional” is our special word, it usually looks and feels like mid-20th century American bureaucratic hierarchicalism. Sometimes we have nice, easy-going thorough spiritual people at the top. Sometimes not. But we always know where the power is, and until the power structure changes, we won’t be changing.
    The first thing we need to recover is trust. Pastors tend to not trust District Superintendents (or bishops, though the bishops come from outside the conference and are kept so busy ordinary people in a largish conference have no access to them), and the DSs tend not to trust the pastors. Local church leaders sometimes trust the pastors, more rarely the District and Conference hierarchy.
    The second thing we need is to overcome fear. Conference leadership tries hard to keep any outbreaks of charisma routinized and carefully controlled. We also have the fear of death (as a denomination, as individual churches) that keeps us bottled up.

  • Susan C-J

    That’s aunitedmethodistemerging.blogspot.com
    of course

  • I’m a UM “hyphenated” living in the full, often horrible tension of Phyllis Tickle’s description of us hyphenateds (I’m not from Missouri, though). The whole numbers/forms/institutionalism vs. true faith thing has long weighed heavy on my mind.
    If I may share a metaphor… I used to be a meteorologist. The key is understanding what you are measuring. Most people look at weather radar and say, “there’s the storm.” But the truth is, radar isn’t measuring “where the storm is,” per say. It shows “red-er” colors where hail is high in the storm (not necessarily on the ground) and will likely show little if any echo where a tornado might be. The trick is to understand what you’re measuring, the imperfection with which you’re measuring it, and most importantly what you’re not measuring.
    Forms measure something important, but they show little if any “echo” in the part of the “storm” where the real ministry happens. The problem is that most people look at the numbers on the form and say, “there’s the (lack of ministry.)”
    I really am a tornado alley meteorologist… I just compared good ministry to a tornado! An imperfect metaphor, but perhaps helpful in some ways.

  • non-metaphysical stephen

    Kierkegaard argued that church strength is measured in INVERSE proportion to numbers: the more people claim to be Christian, the more likely it is that Christianity doesn’t exist in that culture; conversely, Christianity only needs one person to exist.

  • Your Name

    I’ve lived in Missouri my entire life, and I’m a lifelong United Methodist. I have several relatives who are ordained Methodist ministers. I am as bothered by Bishop Schnase’s numbers game as I am by No Child Left Behind and for the same reasons: Numbers do not tell the story.
    And as far as these four questions, I guess I’m left feeling that the focus is on getting new Christians and members into the church. But what do you do with them once they’re there? Because I can tell you that at my church, I feel ignored. My minister has dumbed down the worship services so they’re more comfortable for the unchurched hordes he’s hoping to bring in.
    Where does that leave me? I am not being spiritually fed. I do not need a conversion experience. I need to be fed.

  • Joel Kidwell

    I was at this event. And I am disappointed with those who seem to think that this was the last possible word in this, I believe, ongoing conversation.
    I came away from Ministers’ School 2009 wanting to read Tony’s books, inclined to actually start reading blogs like this one (a huge “time-suck” – to use a phrase we learned at Ministers’ School), and grateful that Ministers’ School wasn’t a waste of my time and money.
    I am a life-long Methodist. I am, we are finding through family research, a 5th generation Methodist Preacher in Missouri. But I am also an attorney. I come from a family who values rigorous debate. So I am quite accustomed to heated discussion on foreign policy or what a dirt-bag a client is – and then going out by the grill with a cold beverage and talking about the kids’ latest activities as if nothing happened.
    My Point: Good debate, and yes, genuine Christian conferencing, sharpens us all to be more effective thinkers and in the Christian context, more informed disciples. “Wise as serpents”, right?
    So hand-wringing about one rough-edged conversation between an insightful and daring United Methodist Bishop and an extremely sharp theological thinker (yes – it should have been moderated a little better), or wanting to walk away from this ongoing conversation because of this one single event is adding up to too much weakness and fear for me. And it’s the same weakness and fear I saw in the room that knee-jerkingly defended our United-Methodism-in-Missouri status quo and thus not engaging the question at hand: “Is ours the best way do church?”
    I like Bishop Schnase’s way of addressing that question. He, I believe, re-asks that question and tries to answer it afresh every day. As Rev. Susan Cox-Johnson points out in her blog, it shows in the way he oversees and administers our Conference – and even gently corrects and goads upstart preachers like me.
    But what I experienced in that room was a frightened herd mentality. I really ran into that in our breakout groups the prior day. And the fear arises from those who, it seems, cannot even bring themselves to penetrate the question, “Is ours the best way to do church?” without an autonomic “yes!” They simply walk the cattle-paths of old – hoping for the same results, as people continue to not come to The United Methodist Church. Even pondering the smallest adjustment to church communication and media use elicited many comments like, “Oh – I don’t know what my Pastor Parish Committee (a committee with some oversight and feedback duties for United Methodist pastors) would think of that!”
    For those, like me, who wish to mine the gems of Methodist past, let us recall this: Our job is to spend and be spent in this work. We serve parishes where the founders were told to get off the train where it stops and start a church. Do you think they were scared? Yes. But they knew what there job was: to save souls and perhaps their own and to spread Scriptural Holiness across the land. Simple. God-imbued. Fearless. But because they were Methodist – also accountable to our Connexion [mostly via reporting numbers, right? ;-)]
    So let’s please continue this dialog. Let’s please stay at the table. God blessed us with the soul and mind of Tony Jones. And for those who haven’t noticed, Bishop Schnase is fearlessly leading into a different future. So what if Bishop Robert and Theologian Tony, two learned and competent disciples of Jesus Christ, clashed? That’s what fearless future treading looks like (ever read the Book of Acts?).
    Let’s learn from our successes failings in staging the event. Let those of us who do it continue to be fearless itinerant Methodist preachers. Let’s continue to engage and conference upon the question, “Is ours the best way to do church?”. Let’s continue to find conversation partners like Tony Jones to help us plumb the depths of the question. And let’s continue to follow the God who says, “Behold, I am making ALL things new” (even ossified Missouri United Methodists)!
    In Christ,
    — Joel Kidwell

  • Mike Miller

    The numbers game is not a new and bold direction. It is a failed business model of the last twenty years. I see our Bishop bringing in business models that have failed. We are not moving boldly forward, we are moving ignorantly backward. Fear is evident because the Bishop and his cabinet have worked hard at injecting fear into all that we do. Disagree with him, get told not to talk again. Disagree with Bob Farr, maybe you should not be in ministry. When you discuss Fear, you need to find it’s source.

  • Your Name

    I believe some leaders are so desperate so “save the UMC” that they are throwing the baby out with the bathwater: by removing methodism from the church, etc. You can’t can’t can’t run a church like a business. If you look at schools, you’ll see what a failure that can be. People are not a product.

  • Joel,
    It was great to meet you, and I appreciate your comments here. On the one hand, I think you’re right: in many occupations — like the legal profession — the friction between the bishop and me would not have made anyone uncomfortable. I think that many in the church world, however, are conflict-averse. And I think that’s too bad, because, as the Proverb says, “iron sharpens iron.”
    I have no ill will toward the bishop. In fact, I have a lot of respect for him. Honestly, the people I don’t have much respect are those who tried to shout me down, or even boo me, when I was doing just what I was paid to do: come in to your event and speak frankly about what I think about the church.

  • Your Name

    I get so irritated at supposed “followers of Christ” who complain that they’re being ignored when the focus turns to newcomers. When you were convicted of your faith in Christ, and you said you would follow him and follow his teachings…it was no longer about you! Your disicpleship – where you are fed-is your responsibility. If your current place of worship isn’t that place – perhaps there’s another place. We are supposed to grow and what was once good baby food, can’t nourish you as an adult. ANd if you can’t imagine leaving your church, then why don’t you look into teaching a study for those “dumb” new members. You learn the most when you have to teach.
    I was at the conference and thought it all very enlightening. Even the dialogue, but also think you needed something to blog about and coming back to say “it was all well received” wouldn’t have gotten you near the responses you’ve gotten

  • Samuel Wood

    Joel and Matt represent the two ends of the spectrum of almost any “instutionalized” denomination. The apologists want to talk about what is right (and there are many great achievements that UM’s can point to) and those on the other end of the spectrum are alienated thru either being abused by a system that demands loyality (In United Methodism that would include the itinerancy and faining excitement over each new marketing campaign that is supposed to “save our system”) or by being ignored (new ideals that come from other than the conference office are rarely welcomed).
    I moved on from ministry in the Missouri Conference after having to prove my loyality for “rocking the boat”. The then Bishop’s Administrative Director took exception when I took action to protect one of our children from physical abuse at the hands of local Admin. Council Chairperson (“rocking the boat”?). To redeem myself, I was compelled to serve 5 years at a punishment post(the stresses of which almost wrecked my marriage). If it wasn’t for a District Superintendent who came to my aid (as much because he personally disliked the Administrative Director as he believed in me) I would have never been ordained in Missouri.
    Now, I’m approaching 60 with 20+ years of experience in ministry and I sadly side with Matt. Too many of our brightest and best are sidelined because they are impatient for change and have ideas that aren’t in their Bishop’s playbook. Too much time is spent on “institutional imperatives” (the paperwork that is required only for the benefit of the district/conference/denomination and interminable meetings that accomplish little except showing “your support for the system”). And, pastorates are too often shortened because the appointive cabinet would rather avoid conflict by moving a pastor than support a minister who are leading toward a more just, inclusive, effective…(dare I say?) “Christian” future.
    I love my denomination. I’m a live long Methodist. I’ll defend both our heritage and the many postive things that we do. I would just like to see more respect given to the congregational leaders who “have their face in the dirt” everyday.
    BTW, I hope to meet you next week at the Winfield “Builders in Ministry Week” conference.
    Our opinions about our beloved church are really very much alike a gigantic Rorschach test. You see what your experience has taught you see… but you report what your experience has taught you is safe to see. Keep up the good work. You will always get pummeled when you comment on the “King’s New Clothes”