Two elephants in the room.

We just finished the Kansas East Annual Conference less than two hours ago… our last at Baker University for at least the next year. As we walked out the front door of Collins Auditorium, there they were… the two elephants who had showed up in the room at the beginning of Conference without ever being introduced or acknowledged. I almost went to the microphone toward the end of the session and pointed them out, but at that point things were moving along on a WAY different wavelength, so I ended up ignoring them too.

But that is one of the reasons we have blogs, isn’t it? I will admit, it feels a little cowardly to wait until I am safely behind the shelter of my keyboard to name the elephants, but I am still working on that whole “bold and prophetic voice” thing.

Elephant #1 was named GracePoint. More specifically the elephant was the decision of the founding pastor of GracePoint United Methodist Church to leave the denomination earlier this year. If you talk to this pastor, his version of why it was necessary to “de-Methodize” his church was because he had bold, innovative ideas about how to make new disciples for Jesus Christ that were just not being well received by a staid, stodgy, interested-only-in-defending-dying-churches denomination… a denomination that could not “get with” his radical thinking. Many discussions with people familiar with the case paint a dramatically different picture, but we won’t really get into that right now. Nonetheless, much blood was spilled and many tear shed over this event in the life of our Kansas Area. I guess we didn’t want to open wounds that have only recently begun to heal, but I believe valuable lessons still remain to be learned from this situation.

The second elephant was the official “un-shunning” of Adam Hamilton by his home conference. Craziest thing… the man who leads the largest, most vibrant, healthiest, and dynamic church in our denomination has up until now been something of a pariah in his own annual conference. That he was a delegate to last year’s General Conference (for the first time, I might add), and was invited to be the plenary speaker at Kansas East AC (also for the first time) seem to indicate that we are finally O.K. with him being a part of our group. 

I bring both of these up because they are very closely related to each other. When Bryson Butts (the GracePoint guy) talks about being blocked and resisted by his denomination in his attempts to be innovative, it is not really that hard to believe. We do that. We regularly throw cold water on people who think differently and do things differently. As he grew and led Church of the Resurrection into its amazing position of global prominence and leadership, Adam was very often on the receiving end of volleys of sour grapes and tomatoes (metaphorical) from other pastors and even from one previous bishop. “Stop growing so much!” seemed to be the message. “Stop making the rest of us look bad,” was what was really being said.  

But whereas Bryson quit, took his ball, and went home, Adam stayed. Adam continued to love his denomination, in spite of the crummy way it sometimes treated him. In fact, Adam has turned a significant amount of energy and attention toward the task of revitalizing and renewing his denomination, recognizing the amazing heritage and gift we – as United Methodists – have all received from John Wesley and his successors. It is truly a denomination worth saving. This might be a little overly dramatic for some, but Methodism –  done right, done faithfully, done with the humble, yielded approach of John and his fellow Holy Clubbers – might just be the thing that will save the world.

It is sad to see Bryson and GracePoint now on the outside looking in. But the prayer and the challenge I wanted to issue to my fellow Kansas Easters as they left the room today was to join me in a pledge to STOP beating up on the innovative leaders among us! As we go forward into the next quadrennium, united behind our commitment to “Rethink Church” and welcome those who don’t look, think, or act like “us,” can we also make a pledge to welcome those INSIDE our fellowship who think differently? Can we make room at the table for the young, excited leaders who want to try stuff that we haven’t ever tried before? When a young person approaches one of us “old-timers” – as apparently actually happened in one Kansas East church – with an idea to paint a giant Cross and Flame on the roof of the church to appeal to people in planes flying overhead, can we please first praise him for his enthusiasm for spreading the Good News BEFORE we tell him how dumb his idea is? 

The elephants at annual conference were pretty big and embarrassing, but I believe they were elephants that were there to help us be a better version of the body of Christ than we were when we came in.

That’s all I wanted to say.

1 Response to “Two elephants in the room.”

  1. 1 P2
    June 11, 2009 at 3:40 pm

    Your insights are interesting and provocative. It is no wonder that Methodism is in such a struggle for its life and future, given the less than progressive stance leaders have taken. I didn’t realize fully the degree to which Adam was outside the margins — he should be among those leading the charge! Perhaps now the door is open. Again, thanks for sharing your observations and perspectives.

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