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.

Isolation kills

I posted on Facebook recently about the need for some old-fashioned peer pressure and support to improve my eating habits. That let to a bunch of helpful comments and some private invitations to join in with others in an accountability group.

As I read these comments on my Facebook page, I thought instantly about spiritual matters. Methodism grew out of such a group. The original Holy Club at Oxford was little more than a group of spiritual seekers gathered to support each other and hold each other accountable. As Methodism became a movement, it fostered such groups across Great Britain and North America. It understood the basic truth that we need other people and external structure to help us overcome our bad habits. Our own holiness grows best side-by-side with others seeking the same holiness.

And yet in so many of our churches we think that one hour of worship a week is all the spiritual effort needed to work out our salvation.

How crazy is that?

No need of redemption?

Over at the United Methodist Scholars for Christian Orthodoxy blog — a long title on a blog worthy of attention — you can find a discussion of the meaning and significance of the UM doctrine regarding Jesus Christ.

It is a good post and a helpful summary that makes a point of getting down to the “so what?” questions.

One part of it, though, did get me thinking about some of our trials in the UMC.

Why is it important to believe that Jesus is fully divine and fully human? Actually, our very salvation stands or falls on this question. If Jesus were not fully divine, could he redeem us (that is, would he still have the power to redeem us)? If he were not fully human, could he redeem us (that is, could his saving power be applied to us mere mortals)? As nothing less than true God in human flesh, Jesus identifies fully with us and is like us in every way except that he is without sin—precisely in order to save us from our sins.

Reading this, I am reminded that many of our brothers and sisters do not believe we need divine intervention to redeem us. They are not troubled by the problems that require God to be both fully human and fully divine. Whether it is the lingering effect of liberal Protestantism discarding of the supernatural or a latent Pelagianism, lots of people do not really believe in their bones that we are in need of a redeemer. A helper, yes. A role model, sure. An encourager and example, absolutely. But not a redeemer.

Many of us are not people who believe the verb redeem describes anything of which we are in need. Or we believe we are the ones who will do our own redeeming.

This is a fundamental problem. It makes Jesus Christ — as understood in our doctrine — unnecessary.

I’m not sure how to respond to that situation as a pastor. People who are not thirsty never seek out the source of living water, no matter how well it is packaged and sold.

The key to shrinking the Book of Discipline

The United Methodist Reporter has an interesting look at ongoing work to revise the administrative law in the Book of Discipline to reflect the global nature of the church.

At the end of the story, Bishop Patrick Streiff touched on what strikes me as a key goal:

Streiff hopes that one outcome of the committee’s years of work will be a more stable Book of Discipline that will invite fewer legislative revisions each General Conference.

“If we are right about the essentials,” he said, “they do not need to be changed every four years.”

The unspoken word here is “trust.” The reason why the Discipline keeps growing in length and complexity every four years has to do with trust. It is when we do not trust the structures that in place to oversee the denomination that we spawn more and more rules to try and force behaviors we want.

Worried that the church will not pay enough attention to diversity? Write rules about board membership to ensure it happens. Worried that the boards of ordained ministry will not do their jobs? Put in hard and fast rules about who cannot be ordained. Worried that bishops will run rough shod over clergy? Write rules that restrict bishop’s powers and expand clergy rights.

Rules rush to fill the vacuum created by an absence of trust.

As we all know, of course, trust cannot be decreed. It is the by-product of experience.