New Paths

If you were unable to attend the All-Church Council meeting on Sunday, you missed an exciting and invigorating presentation by members of the Vision Task Force. (You can view the presentation for yourself here.)

I assembled a group of 14 members of the church, most of them new-ish to the church, and tasked them with the job of looking at the vision and mission of the church, and evaluating our strengths and weaknesses with an eye toward pushing us forward.

They have met six times since last December, and have given me lots of food for thought. They took seriously the church’s own mission statement, and decided to make it shorter, snappier, and action-able.

The old mission statement: “We are a community of hope, founded in faith, fostering spiritual growth, and meeting human needs by reflecting God's love in Christ's name.”

The new proposed mission statement: “As disciples of Christ at Kessler Park UMC, we Welcome, Connect, Grow and Help.”

You will notice that the new statement focuses on four simple words. The group came up with these words when we pondered the questions, “How does one move from being an occasional observer to an intentional disciple at KPUMC?” and “What are the signs or markers that one is progressing?”

The group determined that there are four markers of a disciple at KPUMC. First, one is welcomed unconditionally into the community, and extends unconditional welcome to others. This is a hallmark of the KPUMC ethos; our decision to be a Reconciling Congregation affirmed this desire.

Second, a disciple is connected to others, not simply through attendance at Sunday worship, but through small groups, Sunday School classes, and other opportunities for fellowship. Nobody can be a Lone Ranger disciple; the walk of faith demands fellow travelers.

Third, a disciple is always growing closer to God. This is done intentionally through participation in worship, Bible study, and spiritual practices, such as prayer, labyrinth-walking, fasting, and meditation.

And fourth, a disciple is ready to help others, by getting her hands dirty in the mess of ordinary life. This can happen through formal and informal missions, as well as advocacy work for social justice.

That’s how these four words — Welcome, Connect, Grow, and Help — became the heart of the proposed mission statement. They are a very simple and concise summary of the Christian life.
They also make a handy and useful “discipleship path” for the church. In other words, when someone asks us, “What does it mean to be a member of KPUMC and a follower of Christ?” we can answer with confidence, “It means you are welcome here, and you’re invited to connect with others, grow closer to God, and help those in need alongside us.”

It’s so simple, and yet so full of rich potential and hope!

The Vision Task Force would love to hear your comments, opinions, and suggestions about their work. Please look at the presentation here, and then forward your thoughts and questions to

The next step will be for the Church Council to hear conversation about, and take a vote on, the proposed new mission and vision statements, which will happen in the next Church Council meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, June 27, at 7 pm. All are invited to attend.

I’m energized by this, as I hope you are. More significant to me than the results and findings of this task force is the fact that 14 people, some of them strangers to each other at the outset, bared their hearts and joined their minds together in a common effort to make Kessler Park UMC stronger and more vibrant. This church has a strong future!

My sincere thanks to all who participated, including: Sally Climer, Josh Deluna, Ashley Flores, Bridgette Hardy, Avia Haynes, Mattie Jette, Kacy Jones, Charity Meeker, John Mitchener, Barry Nash, John Ogren, Robert Rodgers, Donald Shugart, and Chris Shultz.

What Just Happened

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While I was busy at the NRA Convention last weekend, two significant developments emerged out of the Council of Bishops meeting that concern the United Methodist Church. Both were clouded in confusion, lack of clarity, and messy roll-outs.

After talking to the bishop and reading a number of articles and documents, I think I finally understand what happened. So let me try to explain as plainly as I can, without editorial comment …

First, the bishops heard the recommendations of the Commission on the Way Forward, which was created in the wake of the 2016 General Conference. This commission was tasked with presenting the bishops with a plan for unity amidst the denomination’s differences on homosexuality. The bishops were presented with three plans; I won’t bore you with the details of each plan (you can read that here).

All you need to know is that one plan was approved overwhelmingly by the bishops. It’s being called the One Church Plan, and it simply calls for the removal of discriminatory language about homosexuality and same-sex weddings in the Book of Discipline. It would be up to individual churches and pastors to determine whether or not they will perform same-sex weddings, and each annual conference would determine whether or not it will ordain gay clergy. 

This is the plan that the bishops will present in February 2019 at a specially-called session of the General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri. One thousand delegates will decide whether or not to accept this plan. They will also be free to amend it, change it, or perhaps even go back to one of the other two plans. Or they may do nothing. 

The problem is that the bishops bungled the communication of this news in the press release. The release stated “the Council of Bishops will submit a report to the Special Session of the General Conference in 2019 that includes: All three plans (The Traditionalist Plan, The One Church Plan and the Connectional Conference Plan) for a way forward considered by the Commission and the Council; The Council’s recommendation of the One Church Plan; (and) An historical narrative of the Council’s discernment process regarding all three plans.”

The fact that the bishops stated that “all three plans” were being submitted in the report led conservatives to seize on the idea that all three options were still on the table, one of which is their own preference — the Traditionalist Plan. They conveniently ignored the fact that the bishops clearly plan to recommend the One Church Plan.

I don’t know what will happen in St. Louis next year. Judging by the results of the 2016 Conference, and considering that most of the same delegates will be present, I don’t know how likely it is that the One Church Plan will be adopted. 

Second, the bishops also revealed the results of worldwide voting on five constitutional amendments, only three of which passed. Amendments are passed by General Conference but must be ratified by a 2/3rds vote in all Annual Conferences around the world. 

The amendments which did not pass revolved around gender equality. Amendment 1 would have added the following new paragraph to the Discipline: 

As the Holy Scripture reveals, both men and women are made in the image of God and, therefore, men and women are of equal value in the eyes of God. The United Methodist Church recognizes it is contrary to Scripture and to logic to say that God is male or female, as maleness and femaleness are characteristics of human bodies and cultures, not characteristics of the divine. The United Methodist Church acknowledges the long history of discrimination against women and girls. The United Methodist Church shall confront and seek to eliminate discrimination against women and girls, whether in organizations or in individuals, in every facet of its life and in society at large. The United Methodist Church shall work collaboratively with others to address concerns that threaten women and girl's equality and well-being.


This amendment failed to get the required 2/3rds vote, falling less than a 100 votes short: 31,304 “yes” votes were cast against 15,753 “no” votes, falling short by .2%. 

Why it fell short is hard to explain. Some perhaps felt that the statement was redundant; the Discipline speaks of gender equality in other places. But there were also conservatives who took issue with the second sentence of the statement, fearing it to be part of the liberal agenda to remove masculine language from God in worship, or to deny the divinity of Jesus.

Amendment 2 would have amended a paragraph in the Discipline which would now read (additions in bold):

The United Methodist Church is part of the church universal, which is one Body in Christ. The United Methodist Church acknowledges that all persons are of sacred worth. All persons shall be eligible to attend its worship services, participate in its programs, receive the sacraments, upon baptism be admitted as baptized members, and upon taking vows declaring the Christian faith, become professing members in any local church in the connection. In the United Methodist church, no conference or other organizational unit of the Church shall be structured so as to exclude any member or any constituent body of the Church because of race, color, national origin, ability, or economic condition, nor shall any member be denied access to an equal place in the life, worship, and governance of the Church because of race, color, gender, national origin, ability, age, marital status, or economic condition.


This amendment failed by a larger margin: 29,049 “yes votes against 18,317 “no” votes, for a majority of only 61.3%.

The problem with this amendment was, apparently, the use of two words, “age” and “gender,” in the last sentence. Conservatives feared that, by prohibiting discrimination based on age, the bishops would be unduly empowered. Here’s how one conservative commentator explains it: “Outlawing any discrimination over ‘age’ would have ended UMC’s longstanding requirements for bishops and other leaders to retire before reaching a certain age. Thus, this provision would have effectively served as a power grab for bishops seeking to consolidate and hold onto their power for far longer than what would be healthy for the church.”

Concerning the inclusion of the word “gender,” conservatives feared that this was a back-door attempt to legitimize LGBTQ acceptance in the church.

For more reading, I recommend this statement from our bishop, this press release about the constitutional amendments, and this pastoral letter from the female bishops

For The Dones

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In the coming days, I plan to release a new Kindle edition of a book I wrote a few years ago. My new title is Done With Church: A Guide to Following Jesus Outside of Organized Religion.

OK, OK … I can see the question marks over your heads and above your puzzled brows. Am I encouraging people to leave the church? Am I advocating for the decline of local congregations?

No, absolutely not. If I were urging people to leave the church, I would be — literally — biting the hand that feeds me!

Instead, I am trying to encourage and comfort the large numbers of people across the country who have left church out of disillusionment. A sociologist recently published an article in Christianity Today in which he dubbed these people, “The Dones,” because they are done with church. According to the article, these Dones were highly active in their churches and didn’t want to leave, but felt stifled and disappointed by church structure. They dropped out, and have no plans to return.

I’ve met lots of people like this in my ministry. The reasons for leaving range from disappointment with church leaders to no longer believing church doctrine to perceiving the church is anti-gay or anti-female. Lots of people have been hurt by the church, and they are understandably reluctant to return.

In my book, I speak directly to the Dones. I acknowledge their pain and frustration, and admit that I have felt it myself. I don’t try to “win them back” to the church. Instead, I offer them a new way forward, a path that creates authentic community in a smaller setting, focused on the things that really matter.

The truth is being a member of a denominational church in a traditional church building is only one way to be a faithful follower of Jesus. There are other ways to follow Jesus, and I have seen a lot of these ways in my life. For example, I have met people who live in intentional Christian community together, or who gather for prayer and conversation on weekday evenings in bars. They do “church” in a different way, but it’s still “church.”

The only way you can’t be an effective follower of Jesus, however, is BY YOURSELF. You can’t walk this journey of faith alone. That’s why my book advocates a relationship-based approach to following Jesus. You can’t be a “Lone Ranger Christian.”

I understand why some people are done with church, I really do. I still hold out hope for the institutional model; I think the way we do church still has value and meaning.

But we must keep in mind that the way we do church is not meaningful to everyone.

After I wrote the first edition of the book several years ago, I was contacted by someone who was a teenager at one of my first churches. She sent me a message on Facebook after reading the book, part of which read:

“I wanted you to know that I purchased your book a little while back but hadn't had the time to really read it. Last week I just felt like I need some perspective or reassurance or something so I picked up and read it! After the first 5 pages I felt like you wrote this book for ME and for this moment in time. I ended up highlighting quite a few paragraphs while I read. It really did banish guilt and gave me a bright and new perspective. I'm still figuring out what direction I want to take things as a whole but I'm definitely a huge step closer. I really want to thank you for writing this book. It spoke to me in a way I really needed in the here and now.”

That’s why I wrote the book. It may not be for you, it’s for the Dones. If you know any, point them to my book … coming soon.