Monday, July 16, 2012

My Friend Gray...Thoughts on NCCUMC's Episcopal Nominee

As the Southeastern Jurisdiction gathers delegates from across the nine states that make up the jurisdiction, I wanted to weigh in on my friend, Gray's, episcopal nomination. Contrary to my normal style of blogging about all areas of ministry I have refrained from interjecting my opinions into the firestorm of ideas about what it takes to be a bishop and whether the NCCUMC nominee has what it takes to lead The United Methodist Church into the future. Saying that I will also affirm that the opinion below is mine alone, and does not necessarily represent those of the NCCUMC delegation or any other party.

I believe that there are at least three components vital for a bishop to be effective. I believe a bishop needs an evangelical heart, a theological mind, and practical, proven leadership skills. I am proud to say that I have seen all three of these traits demonstrated consistently in the ministry of Dr. Gray Southern.

Evangelical heart...Gray cares about your relationship with Jesus. I am one of "those" people. I was raised in a solid evangelical tradition, I was part of the Confessing Movement from its inception, I'm concerned about the evangelistic heartbeat of The United Methodist Church, and I believe nothing is more important than helping people be delivered, through the power of the cross, from the hell they are headed to and the hell they are living in without Jesus. That being said, after speaking to dozens of Gray's former church members and engaging him in conversations, seeing him proclaim the gospel, and seeing the results of his ministry I believe that he has an evangelical heart. I am not saying that he claims any label and I would not be one to place one upon him. I am saying that if we are to judge a tree by it's fruit (I think that was Jesus' criteria) then Gray's orchard is full of people who can trace the vitality of their spiritual health and the beginning of their Christian life back to his ministry. I want to serve a bishop who cares about my relationship with Jesus. Gray does.

Theological mind...I have known very few practical theologians more well versed in both current theological trends and historical theology than Gray Southern. He brings solid, orthodox theology to bear upon every difficult ministry decision. Even during the time he has been an episcopal nominee his focus has been upon the theological task of obedience, rather than the aspirational task of achieving the office. As a leader in our conference, and in the general church, Gray's inquisitive and thoughtful theological mind has brought truth to bear in many difficult situations. Not only can he think theologically but he can explain it so well and so understandably that even those of us with lesser theological aptitude can understand the concepts and constructs he explains. I want a bishop who knows how to allow good theology to come to bear upon difficult, and sometimes, divisive issues. Gray can.

Practical and proven leadership skills...at the end of the day a bishop is a leader. The concept of "leadership" has fallen out of favor due to some heavy handed tactics and coercive power issues both culturally and within the Church. No matter what you call it, however, a bishop must lead. They must have a grounded understanding of the past and a vision for a preferred future. Admittedly upon his nomination this was my biggest area of concern. Having worked with Gray closely over the past several months, having read the documents on his website, his responses to the questions offered by the SEJ and seen him in countless situations requiring practical and proven leadership skills, I can now affirm that Dr. Gray Southern is an outstanding leader. His gentle way of bringing consensus is a skill that I wish I possessed. His ability to listen, love, and lead the people under his care is, at times, humbling for one who considers himself a leader. I am happy to say that my reservations about Gray's leadership skills were unfounded and that I'd be happy to follow Dr. Gray Southern as my bishop.

At the end of the day, that's the real question, isn't it? Would you be willing to follow this person as your bishop? Are you willing to subject yourself to their vision for ministry, their discernment for your (or your church's) appointment? Are you willing to follow this person as an episcopal leader? Do they have an evangelical heart, a theological mind, and practical, proven leadership skills? At the end of the day I can say that I'd be honored to serve under the leadership of Dr. Gray Southern.

No matter what, may God's will be done as we elect five new episcopal leaders for the SEJ. I remain:

Consumed by the Call,
Dr. Marty Cauley
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