Wednesday, March 7, 2012

MY CALL TO ACTION

I was sixteen years old, traveling with my church youth group in the New Mexico mountains: listening to an American missionary talk about his work in Korea. Blah, blah, blah the speaker went on. Calling us to action. It meant nothing to me. But it just so happened, as I zoned out from whatever he was talking about, that the Spirit of God started chattering in my soul. I experienced that night what my faith community confirmed to be a "call to ministry." I had no idea what I was getting into, but the sense of God's calling that began that night, has guided and motivated me now for more than 33 years.


Because of this call, a call to serve God in the context of the church, and to help my church build bridges with persons beyond its walls, I have worked my tail off!  Sixty- and seventy-hour weeks much of the time, often pursued with an urgency that John Wesley and many of you know all about. The urgency, the internal Call to Action, that comes from the Holy Spirit.

I am not bragging here. This is just how it works. It is hard to diddle around with a Call burning in your soul.

So I have benchmarked my work constantly (and a bit ruthlessly) across the years. I cannot imagine not doing so! No bishop or DS asked me to do so. I did it because I believed the work mattered! Because I believed God demanded it!

In my first appointment out of seminary, as associate pastor to a suburban church, I decided in my first week on the job (the last week of June) that we needed to double the number of children's church school classes from 9 to 18. This would entail quadrupling the number of teachers by August. I convened a group that walked with me through the church membership roll, discussing each name, in terms of their potential to teach. I started calling with A, and secured my last teacher somewhere in the W's in early August. That year our church school attendance rose from 370 to over 500. I did this because I believed that it mattered to get more people into Christian formation experiences.

A few years later I was appointed to a church that was consistently taking in 200 new members a year. But I wanted 300. So I began to calculate, and to work a series of strategies that would kick that number over 300 within a couple years.

Some would say I was driven. Yeah, maybe... But I always took my day off, came home for dinner, played with my kid, and so forth. I just believed this work was really important - and so I kept careful score about key metrics that seemed connected to fulfillment of the mission. I constantly re-arranged my time to make sure that the most strategic things happened.

I no longer serve as a pastor. I now coach pastors. And I cannot count how many times in the past month I have gently but directly asked my pastors "How are you going to know you are making progress in the next six months? How will you know that you are on track in your mission?"   Ultimately, they set benchmarks for themselves and I help them reach those goals. It is a ministry of accountability and encouragement. I believe in accountability.

I have learned over the years that accountability has very little to do with motivation, and that it rarely ever motivates a person to work harder.   Pastors work hard because they are passionate about their work. That passion is almost always connected to their experience of God's call.  It grows from within their soul.

My denomination is moving into a season of renewed accountability. Long past due! Some of our bishops now want a report card from their pastors every week. Maybe overkill, but a little accountability will not hurt The United Methodist Church.

What might hurt is the disappointment five years from now when, after all our dashboards and report cards, the numbers are still going into the tank. That could very well happen, if we assume that accountability will produce the motivation now lacking.   The motivation that produced the Book of Acts came from a place higher than the Council of Bishops.

If the United Methodist Call to Action yields anything, it may be because the bishops themselves take action to remove ineffective pastors from vital places of service when those persons persistently fail to grow their churches or meet reasonable benchmarks in changing community situations. If the Call to Action yields anything, it could be because conference leaders do what it takes to help their conferences recruit women and men passionate and competent for the work of growing the church.  Shift some elders to the bottom of the stack and put some full time local pastors in charge, if that is what it takes!

To my friends in the episcopacy, thank you for caring about our church enough to call us to action - but now the church looks to you for action. When we see some $20,000 salary cuts begin to show up across the connection in response to pastoral ineffectiveness, that is when we will know you all were serious.

Please don't just call us to accountability. Hold us accountable!

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