I just finished the first day of the Change the World conference at Ginghamsburg church. The workshops were inspiring, the plenaries engaging, the worship dynamic, and the networking life-giving. As I wind down for the night, I wanted to reflect on some of the events of today. I have to be honest, although I remember some of what the speakers said, I remember even better some of the conversations I had with other plain, ordinary pastors. And when I did, I saw two very stark extremes at play. In fact, I want to share examples of these conversations, but in an attempt to protect people’s identity, I won’t. So I guess I am stuck talking in generalities.
What I tend to see in Methodist pastors is one of two extremes. The first extreme I see with pastors is submission—specifically submission to the connection, denomination, or tradition. Its submission mixed with loyalty. We live in a connectional system with District Superintendents, boards, committees, and bishops. We have processes for doing things. There is the Methodist way and there is the wrong way, and those who fall on the extreme side of submission do it the Methodist way every time. They go where they are sent and they don’t ask questions (but they do complain about it behind closed, cluster doors.) They do church like they have always done church. They maintain the status quo. I think submission is good, but I think it lacks something that the Kingdom really needs.
The other extreme I see with pastors in the Methodist church is innovation—usually in the name of the Gospel (or sometimes just for the sake of success but we say its for the “Gospel”). These pastors carve their own path. They live by their own rules and change the rules as they go. They work the system, play the politics, and speak their mind. They are not afraid to dream, pursue, push, and discuss. They want to see big things happen in the Kingdom, and they want to see those things happen within the Methodist church they love. They don’t maintain the status quo; they lead change. I think innovation is good too, but I also think it lacks something the Kingdom really needs.
As I reflect on my own journey as a pastor, I think I want to live into the best of both worlds. We should not be afraid to dream—to pursue God’s call on our life with boldness. We are children of God, called by God, and equipped by God. The Holy Spirit lives within us! We are called to be dreamers, and do innovative things for the Gospel.
But we are also called to submit. We are called to be innovative while also remaining humble. We belong to a connection—a connection made up of all kinds of people and perspectives.
I believe submission to authority is a lost art in the protestant tradition. Its in our bones to protest! If we don’t like what you are doing, we will simply do our own thing.
We protest or we give in. I think we are called to find a balance between the two. And so I leave you with a question: When do we innovate? And when do we simply submit? Is one more valuable than the other? If so, which? And why?
I think Jesus spoke about this balance, when he told us to be “wise as serpents”—innovative rule-breakers—“and innocent as doves”—humble Christ-followers (Matthew 10:16).