Saturday, April 30, 2016


I've subscribed to Rolling Stone magazine for several years now.  The subscription, I believe, was a gift from a well-meaning but unimaginative family member who evidently had no idea what else to get me for Christmas.  After all, nothing heralds the birth of the Prince of Peace quite like a publication which has as its cover a cartoon drawing of Donald Trump wielding a pitchfork in his big hands, Ted Cruz carrying a torch, and little Marco Rubio swinging a nail-impaled 2 x 4!

I don't recall if it was in that particular issue, but not too long ago, a Rolling Stone writer asked some music biz big-wig how, in this day and age of Pandora, Spotify, and iTunes, the record company can possibly survive.

The executive's response came in the form of 3 simple words which will likely guide my ministry for the rest of my career - whether I'm a DS, a pastor, or whatever.  The music mogul said that in order to save the record business, his company will have to… "MAKE BETTER RECORDS"!


Someone recently asked me how, in this day and age of Joel Osteen, kids' Sunday soccer, and our culture's insatiable appetite for short attention span theatre (140 characters or less), the United Methodist Church can possibly survive.  My response?  "We will all have to… MAKE BETTER RECORDS"!

For starters, we are going to have to offer better worship services - with better music, and better preaching, in better facilities.       
a) The music will have to be made up of tunes which are lively and upbeat, with lyrics which show some measure of spiritual depth and thought.
b) The preaching will have to be Christ-centered, culturally relevant, and well-crafted.  Ya know, something with a beginning, a middle, and an end.
c) The sanctuary will have to be comfortable and inviting, the bathrooms will have to be clean and tidy, and the parking lot will have to be ample and maintained. (Don't even get me started on the nursery.  Wooden toys?  Ewww!)
In other words, we’ll have to... MAKE BETTER RECORDS.

Our church meetings will have to be purposeful and grace-filled.  Our mission endeavors will have to be meaningful and life-changing (for missionaries and clients alike). Our budgets will have to advance the Gospel, promote spiritual health and well-being, and ultimately fuel the disciple-making machine that is the Church, for Christ's sake!  In other words, we’ll have to... MAKE BETTER RECORDS.

Our Conferences (Charge, District, Annual, Jurisdictional, General, etc) will have to promote inclusivity among the least, the last, and the lost,  advocate and facilitate peace and justice here and everywhere, and invite and encourage ALL people (clergy & laity) to live out their Christian call.  In other words, we’ll have to... MAKE BETTER RECORDS.

Our Boards of Ordained Ministry will have to hold their members AND their candidates to the highest standards, expecting excellence (not mere competence) in ministry. Crucified Christ deserves nothing less.  In other words, we’ll have to... MAKE BETTER RECORDS.

And our Bishops and District Superintendents will have to make creative and courageous appointments which are based not on salary and seniority but on the gifts and graces of the pastor, the needs of the congregation, and the prompting of the Holy Spirit.  In other words, we’ll have to... MAKE BETTER RECORDS.

If we don’t, then I believe our Church will be making disciples about as fast as Kodak will be making film.

Picture that!

Thursday, April 21, 2016


"Parable of Portland"

Once upon a time, there was a United Methodist church in CT that was so close to NY that all of the local television channels were beamed out from the “big city”.  And on a reasonably clear day, one could easily see the magnificent Manhattan skyline from the town beach.  But while the residents readily and gratefully availed themselves of the many upsides of the upper East Side, they were not New Yorkers.  Not no way, not no how!

I, on the other hand, having been born and raised on Long Island, considered myself to be a native New Yorker.  And my sports allegiances have reflected that.  I root for the Jets and Giants, the Knicks and Nets, the Rangers and Islanders.  But mostly, I’m a Yankee fan.

Now, this posed a bit of a problem at this particular non-NY church I was appointed to serve, since more than a few of the flock were Red Sox fans (cross-cultural appointment?).  In fact, my Boston-bred Lay Leader was so upset with his pastor’s email address being “27yankees…”, that he actually refused to send me stuff electronically.

Things got so acrimonious between the two sides during the ‘03 and ‘04 baseball seasons that it was taking its toll on my spiritual health and well-being.  I finally decided to pray about it and God told me to just let it go (like an easy grounder through Bill Buckner’s legs).  So I did.

At our church’s upcoming Creative Auction, I offered to sincerely and enthusiastically root for the Red Sox for the next season (min. bid $500).  This was not easy to do, of course, but it would be good for my hardened heart and it would be good for the church’s anemic income budget.

In preparation for this transformation, I spent the entire pre-season pulling for players whom I had previously disrespected and disparaged.  These leprous, adulterous, tax-collecting red-socked Samaritans were now unique and unrepeatable miracles of God.  And if I loved God, I should love them too.  Amen?

On the day of the auction, the Red Sox fans in my church all got together and pooled their money to make the minimum bid of $500.  But the Yankee fans in my church were NOT going to lose to Boston again (see 2004), so they kept outbidding their foes until they finally prevailed (see 27 World Championships)!

Even though the winning bid was an astounding $800, the lesson I learned was priceless:  I am a unique and unrepeatable miracle of God - just like everyone else.

I pray that this thought prevails in Portland, at the General Conference of the UMC.

Friday, April 15, 2016


CONFESSION:  I have never written a blog.
TRUER CONFESSION: I have never even read a blog!

So now you know something about me.  There is something else you should know about me.  I am willing to be a leader in the United Methodist Church.  

Here's why: 

The Top 5 Reasons Why I'm Willing To Be A Leader in the UMC 

1.  Because I feel that God has both called and equipped me for this.  Not coincidentally, this is the same reason why I became a UM pastor in the first place.  This is also the same reason why I agreed to become a district superintendent 7 years ago.  And if there is one thing that I have learned over the years, it is that to ignore God's call is pure folly.  And hubris.
2.  Because I love the United Methodist Church.  I was baptized in it, confirmed in it, married in it, ordained in it, and have served in it as a clergy person for the last 30 years.   It has nurtured me, blessed me, strengthened me, inspired me, challenged me, encouraged me, fed me, and frustrated the daylights out of me.  It's my church, warts and all.   

3.  Because the United Methodist Church needs me.  One of the great takeaways from my time with the Marine Corps is the following credo: "All problems are leadership problems."  Frankly, our church has a leadership problem.  And because God has blessed me with strong leadership skills, I would like to use them to help reverse the decades-long trend of membership loss and cultural irrelevance.  Granted, the obstacles have never been greater.  But then, neither have the opportunities.  

4.  Because the last 4 years of my life have groomed me for this.  Since 2012, I have served on the appointment cabinet with 5 different bishops.  I don't know if that is some kind of record, but it has to be close.  Novelty aside, though, it has been a remarkable learning experience to work so closely with so many episcopal leaders.  Each brought different strengths and styles and emphases to the cabinet table, and I expect to take full advantage of that breadth of knowledge as a leader in the UMC.   

5.  Because we can do all things through him who strengthens us.  Enough said!

I invite you to keep your eyes and laptops open for my next blog.