Sunday, April 24, 2011

Maddox on Wesley on Making Disciples

My thanks to John Meunier for the link to Dr. Randy Maddox's paper, "Wesley's Prescription for Making Disciples of Jesus Christ."  I discovered that the Quarterly Review article was an edited version of a paper Maddox produced for the United Methodist Council of Bishops' Task Force on Theological Education and Leadership Formation.  The paper does not address seminary education or the type of training that would best prepare leaders for the church.  Instead, Maddox describes five characteristics of Wesley's ministry and discusses their implications for today.

The faculties of the soul (Understanding, Will, Affections, Liberty) are referenced in the paper, although Maddox uses terms such as "intellectual convictions"and "rational initiative" instead of Understanding.  This is an example of one possible approach to updating Wesley-- maintain Wesley's definition of the soul but use terms that are more familiar to a contemporary audience.

The advice that Maddox offers to the 21st Century church is shaped by Wesley's theory of the soul:
  1. Cultivating a Doctrinal Sense of Christ-likeness will reform the Understanding
  2. Offering opportunities to experience the Spirit will reform the Affections
  3. Engaging in formative practices will reform the Will
  4. Participation in the Means of Grace (which includes working with the poor) will reform the Affections and Will
  5. Creating small groups for support and accountability will reform the Liberty
I take away from Maddox's argument the insight that our definition of the soul matters because it determines the focus of our ministries.  Our view of the soul, its predicament and functions, is implicit in our church programming.

For that reason theological education must provide students with an opportunity to both learn and test various theories of the soul.  Activities such as reading, preaching, and writing about the soul are insufficient.  Seminary students must have learning labs in church settings where they can try out theologically-informed practices of ministry and evaluate their results in order to determine what kind of impact these practices are having on souls.

These reflections make me wonder if there is an unacknowledged theory of the soul that currently informs most church programming (including preaching)?  If so, how do we surface this theory and make it more explicit?  When we become aware of our definition, what means should we use to evaluate if our practices are producing the desired reform to the soul?

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Leadership Survey Results

Those responding to the Leadership Survey overwhelmingly agreed that "For United Methodists, spiritual accountability includes the state of our soul and the fruit of our ministry."  The vast majority of folks taking the survey also seem more than willingly to pray, study Scripture, participate in holy conversations, study the Call to Action report, set goals and measure results, become citizen advocates, celebrate the Spirit, and take other actions that support the reform of the UMC (question 22).  Their commitment to these actions is commendable, however such practices will not address the need to hold each other accountable for the state of our souls.

When Wesley wrote about the soul he described thoughts, feelings, attitudes, and dispositions not just words and actions.  Wesley's ministry was about inward soul changes as much as it was about changes in behaviors. 
We need statistics on the number of egotistical jerks, arrogant bullies, judgmental scrooges, and anxious fear-mongers converted by grace through faith.  Without commitment to this kind of practice, the UMC runs the risk of merely measuring the plaster over filthy tombs (Matthew 23:27).

Developing principled leaders must include giving them the skills to develop principled followers.  What processes of "identifying, training, credentialing, appointing and evaluating clergy leadership" produce those kinds of skills?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Call to Action report, Item #2-- “redesign the leadership development system”.

The seminaries aren't mentioned in the UMC Call to Action report, but as a significant part of our leadership development system they could help the Church fulfill the vision laid out in the Call to Action/Vital Congregations/Leadership Summit.  The proposed planning guide identifies 16 strategies for vitality that congregations should follow.  If this proposal is adopted, then pastors will be expected to lead their congregations in the implementation of these tasks.  Seminaries could help their students (and current pastors) by offering training related to these 16 strategies.  The training will have to move out of the classroom to be effective, however.  The interpersonal skills needed to accomplish all 16 strategies can only be acquired through supervision and mentoring.  The pastors will need to:
  1. shadow someone leading a church that has one or more of the vitality strategies running, 
  2. learn the steps taken by that church to start the ministry, 
  3. think through how to adapt those steps to their setting for ministry with the help of mentors and/or peers,
  4. take the ideas back to their congregations and share them with the lay leadership,
  5. evaluate their efforts to implement a vitality strategy with a supervisor.
The first three steps could be accomplished in a week.  The last two steps could take a year to complete.  This is an expensive proposal, but I think it is the only way that students are going to learn how to lead the laity and work as a congregation to fulfill the tasks laid out in the planning guide.  The 16 strategies can only be realized by a highly motivated congregation.  Motivating others is a learned skilled.  Done poorly, it leads to manipulation and exploitation.  Where else and how else can this skill be acquired if not in seminary?

July 24 addendum:  The Alban Institute's report on an initiative to train new pastors in congregational clusters.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Back to Wesley

     Just read another call for the UMC to go back to Wesley.  I wonder if those calling for a return to Wesley have this quote in mind--
"I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out." 
     That's from Wesley's article "Thoughts Upon Methodism."  I've been researching this article and Wesley's definitions of doctrine, spirit, and discipline and trying to understand how these three things worked together to keep Methodism from becoming a dead sect.
     What I'm finding are the seventeenth- and eighteenth-century sources that informed his definitions.  I enjoy tracing this intellectual history, but I don't think this is what people are asking for when they say they want to go back to Wesley.
     For example, Wesley's understanding of the Soul is informed by his Aristotelian education.  He identified the faculties of the Soul as Understanding, Will, Affections, and Liberty.  When he describes the healing of the soul as the healing of these four functions  (See Sermon 141) Wesley is using terms that current UMCs do not use any more.
     I question how valuable it would be to go back to this aspect of Wesley's doctrine.  At the same time, I think conversations about current definitions of the soul and what it means to save the soul, would be fascinating.  So, I'm concluding that Wesley's categories (Methodist Doctrine, Spirit, Discipline) are helpful, but that I need to think through what those categories look like today.