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Inventory and Narrative

This past Monday (February 11th) the Central Texas Conference Cabinet began its annual four day Inventory Retreat at Stillwater Lodge in Glen Rose.  Together we will sift through the myriad of personnel issues that are before us as a part of the United Methodist connection.  We will look at:  1) the number of retirements taking effect at Conference; 2) the new seminary graduates and Course of Study candidates who are requesting an appointment at Conference; 3) those pastors and/or churches who are requesting consideration of a move or different appointment assignment. This is always a complex process with a host of “moving parts.”  The big difference is, of course, that the “parts” are not machine parts but real people and real churches both of whom (the pastors and churches) are seeking to engage in faithful and fruitful ministry on the part of our Lord Jesus Christ.  We will begin the process in worship and prayer. We will end it in worship and prayer. We will take periodic time apart for prayer and discernment.  This is a Spirit-led process, flawed and blessed by us as Cabinet, pastors, and churches seeking to faithfully do our best in service the Lord and His church. Bathed in prayer and spiritual discernment, we are governed by the principle that our (the Cabinets’) client is/are: 1)      God and the kingdom of God 2)      The mission field (the larger community and area of an appointment) 3)      The Church 4)      The Clergy In that order! We look at the vital signs as guided by the fruitful practices of ministry and illuminated by statistical data (passionate worship = worship attendance; radical hospitality = evangelism/professions of faith; risk-taking mission & service = number of people engaged in hands on missional outreach to the hurting, hungry and homeless; intentional faith development = small groups for biblical and spiritual growth, Sunday School attendance; and extravagant generosity = percent of connectional mission giving (CMG = apportionment) paid, financial generosity through second mile mission giving).  As always, such vital signs are important. They are significant, proximate measures of fruitfulness and faithfulness.  (A proven axiom of leadership development is that you get more of what you measure.) The key to understanding vital signs lies in the little word in the previous sentence – “proximate.”  No statistic, however good, tells the whole story of fruitfulness and faithfulness.  We always have to ask what is the narrative, the context, or what some call the “back story.”  It is here we look most carefully for insight, understanding and spiritual guidance.  Often (almost always) the narrative (“back story”) changes before the statistics.  It is why the vital sign statistics are never read unfiltered. What does narrative look like?  Why consider this story from Cross Plains UMC shared with the District Superintendent Rev. Carol Woods and passed on to me by Pastor Kevin Morton.  “Each year, during hunting season, hundreds, if not thousands, of hunters come to the Cross Plains area.  This year, we made a special effort to invite all the hunters to join us for worship.  We wanted them to feel welcome and to not worry if they did not have "church clothes", so we designated November 4, the first Sunday of deer rifle season, as Camo Sunday.  We passed out invitations, put out flyers, and posted it on Facebook, and the congregation attended worship wearing camouflage clothing.  We received a wonderful response from the community and had several visitors who attended wearing their camo.” Pastor Morton adds that among the other highlights of 2012:
  • Worship attendance is up almost 10%
  • 11 new members - two by adult baptism and profession of faith
  • As of 10/31/12, over 21% of offerings received have gone to missions, benevolences, and charities.
  • Established covenant relationship with UM missionary in Macedonia
Narrative is a key component of inventory.  It links with the vital signs.  Narrative both leads to and gives evidence of faithfulness and fruitfulness.