Tuesday, July 17, 2012

"You gotta serve somebody..."

Just a moment of clarity, I am the third alternate clergy-person on NCCUMC's jurisdictional delegation. What that means for the "real people" (non-UMC's polity geeks) is that in order for me to ever get my hands on a voting apparatus something big will have to happen to call three other clergy members of our delegation away. So then the chances of my actually getting to vote at the SEJ Conference for our next bishops rank somewhere between getting stung by a scorpion in Alaska getting hit by debris from a falling satellite. That being said, if I were to vote here is the #1 thing I'd consider: Would I want to serve under the leadership of this person as my bishop? 

That great theologian, Bob Dylan said it best, "You are Gonna Have to Serve Somebody." We are an episcopally led connectional church. That means we believe that God leads us through our episcopal leaders. The Book of Discipline has pages dedicated to the practical and theological tasks of the bishop.  I have spent a lot of time in reflection of the biblical text related to the office of the bishop, I re-read the words of The Discipline, and I have reviewed the ream of recommendations from across the SEJ for the myriad of episcopal nominees, and yet the question that keeps burning in my heart remains the same: Would I want to serve under the leadership of this person as my bishop? 

I am sure it has never happend in the SEJ, but I have seen across the connection when persons were elected as bishop for the sake of expediency rather than for their call and effectiveness as a potential episcopal leader. I would like to offer three questions to consider as we elect bishops:

Do I trust their heart? Admittedly this is a highly subjective criteria. This is a "gut check" question. In my younger days as a youth in the pentecostal tradition, we'd call this a sense of spiritual discernment. At the end of the day I want us to have bishops whose primary desire is to be more like Jesus and less like the corporate model of a CEO. I believe our bishops should lead, and have the very best practical and proven leadership skills we can find across the connection, but I also believe these women and men should, first and foremost, be radically devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

Were they overly groomed for this position? I suppose my post-modern cynicism is showing but I'm reluctant to vote for anyone who I believe has been groomed for the office of the episcopacy. These men and women seem to have had doors opened sooner and more easily than the rank-and-file members of the clergy because somebody, early on, determined that they were "worthy" of the office. Once again, my post-modern cynicism is showing, but I do not believe anyone is "worthy" of being elevated to the office of the episcopacy. I believe it is a calling that should be thrust upon those in our conferences whose laity and clergy alike affirm their leadership and calling at the highest level to guide The United Methodist Church into the troubled times of transition we currently face. We can no longer settle for groomed leaders who seek to manage our church into oblivion, we need Godly, called, and dedicated leaders to help us navigate the future. I believe God is going to raise up a group of reluctant prophets and apostles to lead us rather and a set of highly groomed managers.

Have they spent time in "real churches?" The average United Methodist Church has between fifty and seventy in worship each Sunday. Scattered across the nine southeastern states at nearly every crossroad or hamlet, a small church is seeking to valiantly and faithfully proclaim the life-changing message of Jesus Christ to factory workers, farmers, small town business owners, and a host of other "normal" people. Have these women and men spent time in those churches? The churches no one "aspires" to serve but that are the very backbone of the connection? Have they spent years with people who have the dust of the earth covering their overalls and whose tithes come from the very sweat of their brow? Do they take seriously the concerns of the churches that have to be put on two or three-point charges just to be able to afford to have a clergy person serve their community? There are some things that cannot be learned in plush, "First-church" offices with luxuries like continuing education budgets and regular office hours. I still believe that the local church is the hope of the world. Not just the large, suburban church with a thousand people on Sunday morning, but also the small town and rural churches with a couple of dozen faithful people trying to serve Jesus. I believe our bishops should understand and have spent time in these "real churches."

So, should the stars align and I actually be allowed to be holding a voting machine when one of the ballots comes up, these are some of the questions I will be asking of the nominees. What are your questions? I remain:

Consumed by the Call,
Dr. Marty Cauley
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