How would we answer his question?

A man walks into a United Methodist Church. He finds his way to the pastor’s office. By some providence of God, the pastor is there working on next Sunday’s sermon.

The man says he has only one question to ask: “What must I do to get to heaven?”

Based on United Methodist doctrine, what answer should the man expect from United Methodists?

(The question, by the way, is what John Wesley wrote he most wanted to know the answer to.)

While riding a horse

By this time next year, I might be commissioned as a provisional elder in the United Methodist Church. This assumes I successfully demonstrate my fitness to the Board of Ordained Ministry, the conference has a place to appoint me, and the denomination does not disappear into a black hole during General Conference 2016.

I’m sure this time is anxiety inducing for all those who have walked on this path, but with the great flux in our denomination right now, figuring out what the UMC desires from me and what it will expect from me feels a bit like trans-warp beaming.

A word for Pietism

Stanley Hauerwas is an influential voice among United Methodist pastors. He is not shy about his dislike of Pietism, which is awkward for United Methodists since John Wesley was one of the most well-known advocates of the heart religion that is the hallmark of Pietism.

Since Hauerwas was influential in my early Christian intellectual formation and still tugs on my head-strings, I have always found his disdain for Pietism — I can still hear in my head his distinctive Texas twang’s mocking way of saying the word in some YouTube lecture I heard long ago — at odds with my understanding of what it means to be a United Methodist.

As a bookish man with a somewhat academic bent and a Midwestern introvert not given to emotionalism, I’ll admit that religion of the heart is not something I would have naturally been inclined to embrace. But, perhaps in good Methodist fashion, my experience tells me that the “heart warming” religion that so changed John Wesley’s life is still at work today.

I had a recent conversation with a man in which he discussed the jaw-dropping experience of discovering that all this church stuff was not just words jangling off his ears, but something that had gotten down in his heart. It was not just something in his head, but it was running through his whole life in an exciting and a little bit of a shocking way.

I know we need to be watchful for the ways Pietism can lead us off the narrow path of Jesus. We need to watch for hyper-individualism and mysticism and things that I’m not aware of, I’m sure. But this kind of deeply felt — yes “felt” — experience of faith seems to me to be one of the gifts of Methodism to the church catholic. It is part of what we exist to offer God’s world.

We won’t find many of our brothers and sisters in the Protestant world embracing Pietism. I’m sure there are orders and movements within the Roman Catholic and Orthodox traditions who speak this heart religion language.

It seems to me that we should be mining and preserving and passing on these forms of Christian spirituality. That is why God raised up our movement in the first place. Or, so it seems to me.

Watts: ‘I have nothing to hide’

Joel Watts shares his thoughts about human sexuality and the United Methodist Church.

Watts is a nominee for General Conference in the West Virginia Annual Conference. His answers to other questions can be found here.

What can Spener teach United Methodists?

I have been reading Philip Jacob Spener’s Pia Desideria. It is one of the foundation stones of Pietism, a movement that has had vast influence on both the Methodism of John and Charles Wesley and on the founders of the communions that would come together in the Evangelical United Brethren. Therefore, it is a book that should be read with humble and open hearts by United Methodists. It is a root from which our mingled traditions spring.

As a result of my first read through the book, I wanted to share some short observations about Spener’s method and his prescription for the church.

His method was exceedingly practical. He called upon clergy to examine themselves and the church carefully for signs of sickness and turn to God in prayer for the light to see the proper remedies. He urged them to do this task in writing to each other and in meeting together as they were able. He saw reform, in other words, as rising up from networks of clergy who shared a sense that something was not well and reached out to one another for discernment and encouragement in treating the illness of the church.

Having proposed some remedies, he urged them to put them into practice in their own congregations, but not with blindness of heavy-handedness. He urged clergy to first aim at those most ready to receive and be edified by what is useful and necessary to true and healthy Christianity. Aim first and exclusively at those who are “tractable.” As those efforts bear fruit, Spener argued, others would be drawn into the circle by their example.

Even as we do this, however, we must not expect instant results or immediate fruit. Spener urges patience and hope, knowing that the seeds we plant often bear fruit we do not see. He writes, “If God does not give you the pleasure of seeing the result of your work quickly, perhaps he intends to hide it from you, lest you become too proud of it. Seeds are there, and you may think they are unproductive, but do your part in watering them, and ears will surely sprout and in time become ripe.”

As I read these words, I find Spener both pastoral and practical in ways that draw me into deeper study.

So what are the tools by which Spener urged clergy to cultivate these seeds? What is the medicine he urged for the sickness of the church and the people?

He offers six proposals, which I will list here but hope to expand upon in later posts.

  1. Extensive use of the Word of God both by individuals and in small devotional groups
  2. Diligent exercise of the priesthood of all believers
  3. Emphasis on living faith beyond mere knowledge of faith
  4. Engagement with non-believers and heretics in a spirit of love rather than bitterness or competition
  5. Reformation of training of clergy toward the practical arts of ministry and inward formation
  6. Promotion of preaching aimed at producing faith and fruits

Each of these items requires further explanation and each bears examination, but as a United Methodist, I find some encouragement that there may be a program here that fits our spiritual heritage and practices. I want to study these more.

Did you see this study of pastoral effectiveness?

I missed this report when it came out in 2012.

I found a couple of aspects of the study interesting. First, these four qualitative assessments of what is required for clergy effectiveness are not surprising but still are interesting:

Calling
Effective pastors possess a profound inner sense of being called by God and called to ministry. This calling is manifested as a deep trust in God and the willingness to act boldly and to take risks as part of that called ministry.

Leadership
Effective pastors have the ability to cast a vision and mobilize and empower people to work toward it. Effective pastors influence people in ways that will help them achieve their goals.

Transforming Lives
Effective pastors are able to transform lives. People with transformed lives experience spirituality as part of their identity; that is, they incorporate spirituality into their everyday lives. People with transformed lives experience God in their lives every day of the week, not just on Sundays. Transforming lives involves helping people grow in their love for God and develop a deeper relationship with God. People with transformed lives also have a genuine desire for spiritual growth.

Helping Others
Effective pastors help people discover and utilize their gifts for the good of their communities. They help people grow personally as well as spiritually. They help people become better, more spiritual people who make better decisions and have stronger, healthier relationships with God and others.

I’m struck in this list by what is not here. Knowledge of doctrine, theology, church history, and the Bible are not here. They are implied behind some of these things, but they are not up front. Most of the education offered through seminary serves as the building blocks that are drawn upon as effective pastors exhibit the four attributes list above.

As I read those four, I also find myself thinking about reading lists and training opportunities. How much do we read and how much training do our conferences provide on how to grow as a leader, for instance? In my teaching, I spend some time with students looking at the leadership theories of Daniel Goleman. How many of our pastors in seminary or subsequent training learn about similar theories or find themselves in settings where leadership development is an important focus? Certainly this is hard for solo pastors without mentors or senior pastors appointed above them.

I have similar questions about the way we train pastors to transform lives and help other people find and develop their gifts.

Later in the report, it takes a more quantitative look at the knowledge, skills, abilities, and personal characteristics that are important for pastoral effectiveness. The report argues that things that can be taught (knowledge of doctrine and skill at preaching) should be less important in ordination decisions than things that are more stable and resistant to change (a sense of trust in God, personal integrity, etc.).

I’ve never served on a Board of Ordained Ministry. Reading the report makes me wonder how these various things are weighed in actual practice.

I’m curious whether readers have seen this report before and what you make of its findings.