Today, January 2nd, I begin a new season of ministry. I say that because, as of today, I am “officially” (whatever that means) the District Superintendent of the Washington District of the United Methodist Church. If you are not a United Methodist, and perhaps even if you are, those words may mean very little to you. By way of translation, suffice it to say that, for the first time in twenty years, I am not serving as the pastor of a local church. Instead, I am now a pastor to clergy and their families, a vision-caster and vision-helper for a number of congregations, and a trouble-shooter for a whole bunch of United Methodist believers.
I don’t even pretend to understand what all of that means, practically speaking. The learning curve is pretty steep for me in that regard.
Over the last few months, I have been prayerfully contemplating what expectations I bring to this new season of ministry. More specifically, I have been praying and journaling over these two questions: What do I expect of myself as a District Superintendent? And what do I expect of the clergy I superintend? Those two questions have led me to the following list that I will soon place before the clergy of the Washington District. I place it before you now because I am genuinely interested in your feedback. The list is kind of a work in progress. Let me know how it falls upon your mind and heart, no matter whether you are clergy or laity.
A Superintendent’s Expectations of Himself and the Clergy of the Washington District
1. An Ever-Deepening Love for God and People
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus identifies the greatest commandment in this fashion: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and mind…and a second [commandment] is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:37).
The heart (“kardia”) is the physical essence of our being, the organ that is closest to the center of our physical sustenance. To love God with all our heart, therefore, is to practice faithful stewardship over our physical being, caring for our hearts and bodies in a way that honors the One who made them. Clergy are expected to grow in their commitment to physical health, including the maintenance of a healthy diet and a consistent program of physical exercise, thereby becoming more abundantly equipped to love God with all their heart.
The soul (“psuche,” from which we derive the word “psychology”) is the place of our deepest thoughts, feelings, passions, and emotions. To love God with all our soul, therefore, is to practice faithful stewardship over our inner being, caring for our emotional health and our spiritual growth in a way that honors the One who desires nothing less than an intimate communion with souls. Clergy are expected to grow in their commitment to the spiritual disciplines (such as prayer, study of Scripture and meditation upon its revelations, confession and repentance, worship, solitude, community, and regular participation in the Lord’s Supper), thereby becoming more holistically enabled to love God with all their soul.
The mind (“dianoia”) is a reference to the realm of our cognitive reflection and our rational analysis. To love God with all our mind, therefore, is to practice faithful stewardship over our intellectual development, caring for the formation of our minds in a way that honors the One who desires to be known, not only through feelings, but also through thoughts. Clergy are expected to grow in their commitment to the disciplines of lifelong learning, continuing education, and theological reading and reflection, thereby becoming more comprehensively energized to love God with all of their mind.
2. A Commitment to Personal Integrity
The word “integrity” is a derivative of a Latin word meaning “intact” or “whole.” People of integrity are people who commit themselves to authenticity, wholeness, and ethical intactness in their relationships, their administration, their self-care, their communication, and their personal conduct. Clergy are expected to commit themselves to living and ministering with the kind of integrity that bears witness to a holistic walk with Christ.
3. Participation in Incubator Groups
Communal accountability and collegial nurture are essential portions of our discipleship to Jesus Christ, who once promised to be uniquely present wherever “two or three” were gathered in his name. The incubator ministry is our conference’s most recent effort to create a spirit of authentic and intentional community among the clergy and laity of Western Pennsylvania. Clergy are expected to commit themselves to a positive participation in an incubator group and its ministry.
4. Tithing and Growth Beyond Tithing
In the ministry of the local church, clergy are to set the tone for generosity and boldness in giving. It is expected that clergy will teach both growth toward tithing and growth beyond tithing in the churches that they serve. Moreover, it is expected that clergy will model tithing and radical generosity in their personal walk with Christ.
5. A Commitment to the Payment of Mission Share
The local church’s mission share is part of the very lifeblood of United Methodism’s connectional ministry. When clergy and congregations commit themselves to paying their mission share in full, they enable the realization of every portion of the larger church’s planned ministry. Likewise, when congregations treat their mission share as optional, they hinder the church’s capacity to become all that God is calling it to be. Clergy are expected to be diligent, creative, and bold in helping their congregations both to understand and to meet their mission share.
6. Respect for Colleagues in Ministry
An eagerness to tear one another down is antithetical to the spirit of love in which we are called to live. Clergy are expected to encourage and support one another, to pray for one another, and to resist the temptation to speak negatively about colleagues when those colleagues are not present to defend themselves.
7. Hard Work
Clergy are expected to be disciplined about devoting substantial time and energy to the tasks of preaching, teaching, discipling, counseling, overseeing the church’s administration, visioning, and offering pastoral care, in order that every local church and every place of ministry might receive faithful, effective, and fruitful clergy leadership.
8. The Honoring of Sabbath
In the often-frenetic pace of life and ministry, clergy are expected to be Sabbath people, experiencing regular time away from work for solitude, communion with God, time with family, and rest.
9. Participation in District and Conference Ministry
United Methodist clergy are joined by a connectional covenant. District and conference ministry is a portion of that covenant. Whenever possible, therefore, clergy are expected to support district and conference programming and ministry through their participation.
10. A Stubborn and Prayerful Resistance to Cynicism and Chronic Negativity
Nothing corrupts the joy and vibrancy of the church’s ministry faster than the proliferation of cynicism and unrestrained negativity. All too often, even the church’s leadership allows itself to be drawn into this counterproductive spirit, choosing the drone of disparagement instead of the song of hope. Clergy are expected to resist such cynicism and negativity, thereby becoming instruments of prophetic joy and contagious encouragement.
11. A Commitment to Scriptural Holiness and Wesleyan Theology
Clergy are expected to grow daily in their embodiment of a biblical worldview and in their practice of a distinctively Wesleyan theology concerning God’s prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying grace.