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Leadership Needed in the United Methodist Church (and quickly please)

Rev. Shane L. Bishop

I was not reared in the United Methodist tradition. Melissa and I were loved into the United Methodist church when I was teaching and coaching in Louisville, Illinois in the mid-80’s. It was only then I began to take a serious look into historical Methodism. In Methodism I found a theological tradition to call my own and my love and appreciation for her only grows as the years pass by. I became a Methodist because the movement had good roots and I believe these deep Biblical and historical roots to be our best hope for a future.

That mainline Christianity is dying in USAmerica is no longer an insider’s secret. Founder John Wesley wrote, “I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe of America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of…

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I have been amazed of late at how many people have asked me, “What are your plans for the next fifteen years?” Perhaps they see the new building completed, the campuses in place and the Student and Children’s Ministries booming and wonder, “What is the next big thing for Christ Church?” Or perhaps they do the math and see that I have about fifteen years before mandatory retirement and are curious about what is in my head concerning it. So I have been thinking much about my plans for the next fifteen years.
Here are my plans:
1. Keep connecting people to Jesus
I plan to keep Christ Church focused upon our mission. “Keeping the main thing the main thing” and avoiding institutional distraction is my most important job as a senior pastor.
2. Stay relentless in my life’s work
I plan to keep working hard every single day. The age-old formula: “Success = Excellence over Time” is absolutely true. I discovered long ago that the only two things I can control are effort and attitude. I plan to be unrelenting concerning both!
3. Improve my preaching
I LOVE to preach and teach (though I am increasingly unsure of the difference). I don’t want to be a pulpit preacher in the next fifteen years who coasts off of what he has accomplished in the previous twenty-five. I want to get better, push the boundaries, trust the Holy Spirit for new insights and serve up every message I present homemade, tasty, hot and fresh!
4. Keep Christ Church healthy, growing, functional and vital
I love Christ Church. In many ways, this congregation has been my life’s work. I plan to effectively lead us so the church will continue to thrive in her mission and effectiveness long beyond when I have retired and people have forgotten my name.
5. Become a mentor to young pastors
Shifting from a player to a player-coach has been significantly easier than I anticipated. Pouring into promising young Christian leaders and watching them impact the world for Jesus is something I hope to continue well beyond my formal ministry years. Mentoring and coaching will be my professional legacy.
6. Be a good Christian
The past handful of years have brought unexpected challenges into my life that have necessitated personal growth in Christ. Had I written the script for my life, I would have edited out all the pain. But that pain has produced a more reflective, compassionate, humane and empathetic man as Christ has walked with me through it. I plan to know Jesus even better in the next fifteen years!
7. Give Melissa her best years
People outside of pastoral ministry can little imagine the stresses, sacrifices and challenges that are common to those who have obeyed God’s call. Melissa has been as much a part of the history here as I have been and I am grateful. Leading a congregation through change is hard and at times, Melissa has been placed on the back burner. I have some making up to do. I plan to be a better husband to her in the next fifteen than I have been in the previous thirty-three.
8. Be a great father and grandfather
I used to try to juggle my busy schedule. I stopped that a few years back. Now I attempt to be 100% present wherever I am. If I am at work, I am 100% engaged at work. If I am at home, I am 100% engaged there. I have four young grandchildren. I plan to be a major shaping force in their lives. 100%.
9. Enjoy every day of my life
Happiness is not something others give you, it is something you must choose for yourself. I choose to be happy these days in ways I didn’t know how when I was younger. I plan to enjoy sunsets, climb mountain trails, take pilgrimages to Israel, read great books, spend time with my family and schedule in plenty of adventures along the way!
10. Finish well
This is actually my number one plan. How tragic it would be to run the race well only to stumble at the finish line! I plan to make the next fifteen years the most successful years of my personal, professional and spiritual life!
The first four of these items would have been on my Top Ten list had I made it in 2001 but the next six represent a “transformation” of sorts. Now settled into my fifties, I am as passionate about my call as I have ever been. I have lost no drive from the early years, I am a whole lot smarter and have lost surprisingly little energy. But I am frankly more concerned about relationship, gratitude, life and legacy than I used to be. How do you truly thank a wife who has stuck with you through thick and thin? How do you make quality time for the people you love most and best? How do you ensure that you will forever be the “Great and Mighty Papa” to your grandchildren? How do you truly leave a leadership legacy beyond the point the Methodists tell you that you are too old to be a full-time pastor? How do you truly live each day to the fullest?
As I get older (and hopefully wiser), I am reminded that our legacies will not be defined by what we have accomplished (or even failed to accomplish), but by the investment we have made in the Kingdom of God and in the lives of others.
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL since 1997.

What Is A “Tween” and Why Should They Matter To Your Church? (by Amanda Cates)

What Is A “Tween” and Why Should They Matter To Your Church?


It’s a Sunday morning and I couldn’t wait to get to work! I knew that all my elementary kids were going to love the Large Group set we designed for the month, and that we had finally found worship music that would engage our older elementary kids as well as our younger ones. So there it was; time to see their reactions to the set! I was excited, but they didn’t really react as I had thought. My 1st-3rd graders seemed to like the set, but just as every other week, it seemed as though many of them were holding back for some reason. My 4th and 5th graders again seemed like my set was about as cool and engaging as if I was showing them a toddler TV show. I can remember thinking, “Ugh, what is it going to take to get through to this group?”.  We still had worship to go, and I knew it was going to be awesome! It wasn’t.

My 4th and 5th graders continued to be the wall flowers they had been every other week for as far back as I could remember. My younger kids wanted to be involved with the worship and dance moves, but something was holding most of them back. What was it going to take for me to solve this problem in my ministry? It was taking a toll on my volunteers. It was taking a toll on me. We would watch kids feel “too cool” to be involved and others want to be involved, but then they would hold back. Why was this happening? Why wouldn’t the kids just let go and enjoy our worship time? Then it hit me. The kids weren’t the problem! My approach was.

My first step was to figure out why this age group was different from other age groups. My daughter was in this age range. I knew clothing stores and TV shows targeted this group called Tweens. Why? What makes them so unique? Let’s start by defining “Tween”. A Tween is commonly defined as a child between the ages of  9 to 12 years old; or 4th-6th grades. We certainly did not have this term when I was that age. Next, I had to learn what’s changed between my childhood and now that would make this group a target audience.

In the early 20th century the word adolescence was invented to describe the years between childhood and adulthood. This was considered ages of 14 -16 years. Prior to that, girls were considered adults around the age of 14-15 years and boys at 15-16 years old. In the 1950’s we began to see the emergence of a thriving youth culture all their own. Teens continued participating in this youth culture up to the age of 18 years. Society responded by extending the upper limit of adolescence to 18 years. Jump forward 20 years to the 1970’s. It’s noted that the onset of puberty is starting at the age of 13. Society responds again by now extending the lower boundary of adolescence to 13 years old. In the 2000’s we start seeing our not quite teenagers trying to participate in the youth culture of our teenagers. They aren’t teens, but they aren’t willing to be considered little kids any more either. They are in between. They are Tweens!

Why should we, the church, minister separately to the Tween group? Let’s look at the differences in learning stages between a 1st grader and 5th grader. A child in 1st grade is moving from a world of play based learning into a learning environment of routines with plenty of room for exploration still. A prepubescent 5th grader is working on complex projects and tasks that force them to utilize all the skills they have thus far learned. They are most likely switching teachers for one or more subjects per day, and are spending much of their time learning and understanding complex social rules and interacting with peers. They also have the ability to think logically. With such differences between the learning stages of these two examples, how can we possibly teach them the same thing at the same time? We can’t. Disney and Nickelodeon are capitalizing off of understanding this. Tween’s have TV shows created specifically for them. They are filled with all knowing tweens and young teens, idiotic acting adults and parental figures, witches, wizards, and materialism. This isn’t the message that we, the church, want our future based on. By creating a separate ministry for tweens we can put Godly influences into their world. If you are a Children’s or Youth Minister you have either read or heard of Thom Rainer’s and George Barna’s research regarding youth and children’s ministry. It’s clear that kids are leaving the church as young as 5th grade. If the church doesn’t reach kids by the time they are 13 years old the statistics of them being reached at all drop drastically. The tween years are the last frontier of reaching kids for Jesus!

How does one go about starting a ministry for tweens?

Start by meeting them where they are.

  1. Separate Them. Give them a space of their own.  We all have limited abilities for this, but even using a multipurpose room that is separate from your younger elementary kids will work great.
  2. Use videos! Try not to use animation, but if you must, be picky. Ask yourself, would a 13 year old like this? If not, don’t use it for tweens.
  3. Use music! Have high energy worship music. Play genres they listen to; rap, rock, pop it’s all available in Christian music.  Use fun games to energize your Large Group time. Try Stuff You Can Use and Fun Ninja as resources for ideas.
  4. Build a Youth Group. This can be accomplished by planning events such as lock-ins, camps, movie and game nights, etc. You can add a Youth Group night to your schedule. It doubles the time your Small Group Leaders get with these kids. It’s a win/win!
  5. Assimilate them. Connect tweens to the adult church. If we have research that shows kids are leaving the church around this age, we need to provide them a place they WANT to be. Show them that their church needs them and that they have a place in the church besides a class room. Allow them to greet, usher, hand out bulletins, occasionally lead prayer or read scripture during services. Some of this may take coordinating with others leaders on your staff, but in the end it’s worth it.

As a Mom, I saw my own children’s world shift at the 4th Grade ages. I talked to other parents and found out we weren’t alone. The media, music industry, and commercials all spend millions of dollars targeting this age group. They have figured out that these kids are an influential part of society. As the church, we need to realize the same. After all, we are influencing them for the Kingdom of God. As a KidMin Leader, I have been able to create a place for tweens where Small Group Leaders understand that they think mainly in the abstract for the first time in their lives. We focus every week on how Biblical principles apply to the pressures they face in today’s society. They are slowly integrated into the Youth Group atmosphere through intentionally mimicking our own Youth Group. Most importantly of all, they have the opportunity to see how they fit into the larger church. We have an obligation to the kids God has called us to minister to. That obligation is to connect them with Him. By making a few changes in your ministry you can impact them for the Kingdom and keep them in church.

-Amanda Cates is the Director of Elementary and Tweens Ministries at Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois 

My Social Media Pledge for 2017

Reaffirmation of a pledge…

Rev. Shane L. Bishop

My Social Media Pledge for 2017

1) I will always keep things upbeat and positive
2) I will not squirt “weak sauce” in the eye of humanity with my whining
3) I will temper my innate sarcasm (except when I deem it too hilarious not to share)
4) I will not pass along “chain letter” kind of stuff nor will I respond to it
5) I will celebrate the gift of life in any way at all times
6) I will celebrate the beauty of God’s creation
7) I will try to have some thoughtful things to say (tbd)
8) I will celebrate the faith that fuels and empowers me
9) I will celebrate my family and joyfully share in your family celebrations as well
10) I will be sensitive and prayerful before I post anything
11) I will not get political (others seem to have that well covered)

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Musings on Civility

I have no idea why I felt compelled to reblog this…

Rev. Shane L. Bishop

Musings on Civility

I don’t think it is a problem that people in USAmerica disagree on things.  In fact, I think that is a good thing.  If everyone in my life agreed with me on everything, I would live unchallenged.  And as good as that initially sounds, it is antithetical to growth as a human being.  I am not always right.  I need people around me who love me enough to tell me so.  The problem is that we disagree disagreeably.  Most disagreeably.

The problem is that many people don’t know how to have civil discourse concerning the things upon which they disagree.  It is not always their fault.  Many Americans are simply not equipped to have difficult discussions so they keep silent and rob their conversation of their voice.  These very “nice” and often silent people may well be the majority but we have no metrics to measure them. …

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Hopeful Signs for United Methodists Abound in Len Wilson’s 2017 “Top 25 Fastest Growing Large Church Report”

I am thankful to Len Wilson for compiling his Top 25 each year but even more grateful for his analysis of the statistics.
Here are a few statistics Wilson reported that I find very encouraging as a United Methodist:
1) 13 of the 25 have joined the list in the past two years! We have emerging congregations!
2) 5 of the churches on the list have been planted with the past 10 years! Our church plants are growing huge and well!
3) 9 churches have been able to stay on the list for three straight years. We have sustained growth!
4) 5 of the churches have reversed previous declines! We have turnaround churches!
5) 8 of our churches have averaged 9%+ growth for ten years! We have some powerhouse churches!
6) 5 emerging churches are poised to be on the list next year as they are projected to break 1000. We have up and coming churches!
7) The number of churches averaging over 2,000 per week in attendance over the past ten years has grown from 31 to 39! We are producing more sociological mega-churches!
8) 13 of the 25 largest churches in the UMC grew last year! We have growing flagship churches!
And this is just the good news concerning large churches, We have MANY more wonderful things happening in smaller congregations all over the country and great pastors doing transforming ministry!  That is clearly a story that needs to be told as well!
I find this very, very good news and food for thought for a denomination that could use some good news as it envisions a way forward!
Shane 2015 Winter
 -Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, IL since 1997

Does the American Church Have a Future or Just a Past?

Does the American Church Have a Future or Just a Past?
Fifteen years ago everyone was using the word “post-modern.” I used it a lot. Made me feel like a hipster preacher before there were hipster preachers.  I had more hair back then.  It was an easier sell.
The definition of post-modern generally centered upon the premise that the modern world was slowly crumbling (due to the advent of the personal computer) and a jagged new world was slowly emerging from the ashes. The time it would take to get from “this world to that world” defined the term. I truly thought my ministry years would be conducted with one foot in the old world and the other slowly venturing into the new. I was dead wrong. The shift I thought would take decades, happened in about a minute and a half and the world I live in today has little in common with the world in which I was reared. The fact that I liked the old world substantially better than I like this new one is completely irrelevant. The fact that I was formally educated to succeed in a world I preferred on one hand and that no longer exists on the other is not irrelevant; it is straight up problematic.
The congregation God has called me to lead has experienced significant numerical growth for twenty-one consecutive years. We have grown from just over 200 to 2,200. Our mission is to connect people with Jesus Christ. But to connect people, we have to be connected with Jesus and with people. Five to seven thousand churches will close in the United States this year. Half of our churches in my United Methodist conference will not receive one person on Profession of Faith or baptize one human this year. Most are in death cycles and many of our white steeple, small town and country seat congregations are running a fraction of what they did thirty years ago. Many churches who once had an appointed Associate Pastor will not be long able to pay a full time pastor of any kind without going on a charge. Clearly in 2017 and beyond, it is going to be easier to die than to live.
At Christ Church we operate by some core values that have guided us well in our pursuit of our mission of “connecting people to Jesus Christ:”
1. Offer Christ as revealed in Scripture Though the means by which churches reach to the world must constantly be renegotiated during cultural shifts, we believe the centrality of Christ for salvation and the authority of Scripture must remain non-negotiable. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father but by me.” We can accept this claim or reject it but we can’t modify it. Our task is to hold fast to our central Christological message while being creative with our mediums.
2. Laser focus on the mission We exist to connect people with Jesus Christ. Most churches in 2016 and beyond will not have the available resources to allow them the luxury of being non-strategic around their mission. Your shrinking budget could be a blessing in disguise if you discontinue ineffective and off-mission programs and use your resources toward worship, creativity and supporting what is working. You know what horses are dead in your church; dismount. In addition, we live in a divided country and our denominations is exploding. We can be divided and explode with them or we can allow our mission to take us higher. A singular focus on our mission allows us to rise above many lesser conflicts. Christ Church is both the largest and most diverse church in our conference. We have people of all races, political persuasions, cultural backgrounds, social economic statuses, ethnicities and sensibilities worshipping each week. We can’t be all things to everyone, we get that but we can get laser focused on our mission and transcend many things that divide.
3. Affirm orthodoxy We believe Christ was born of a virgin, he performed actual miracles, he literally rose from the dead and will return for his church. We believe in the God revealed in Scripture and that God forgives sin, sets captives free, offers us purpose and passion for living and desires to be in relationship with the likes of you and me. We believe the Holy Spirit came to rocket fuel the ministry of the church. No asterisks. No apologies. No chip on our shoulders. As I like to say, “We are orthodox Christians but we aren’t in a bad mood about it.”
4. Offer experiential worship We spend a lot of money on worship. Our eight worship services we offer each week in four locations are our bread and butter. If there are not people in the seats, there will not be dollars in the plate and if there are not dollars in the plate you are out of business and if you are out of business you are out of ministry. Worship services must move people, inspire people, motivate people and challenge people. I work hard on my preaching, travel to enhance my understandings and work with my Worship team to created inspiriting and Spirit filled worship experiences. We use sound, light, screens and anything else we can find to make that happen. Parts of our services are unapologetically entertaining but all of them are experiential. If you don’t give people some of what they want, you will be in position to give them nothing that they need.
Thinking Differently
Learning to think differently and to do new things in new ways is a risk but the single greatest risk in this new world is acting like we are still in the old one. We all know that our world not only has changed and is changing but we are beginning to realize that our world is change. You see, change is no longer the obstacle around which the fish swims, it is the water itself. Many years ago, a wise mentor named Dr. Roderick McLean taught me to read futurists, analyze the world around me, anticipate trends and have a church prepared to be effective once the future arrives. It is the difference between a young soccer player chasing the ball around and a more experienced player learning to anticipate where the ball is going to be. I began to read authors from both business and theology and in time, I began to apply my own sensibilities to anticipate what is about to happen and to follow what is happening to a logical extreme. The skill set has served me well through three decades in ministry. My mantra has been simple, “Don’t play catch up. Anticipate. Get out in front.”
So let me share four trends I am seeing as we march toward 2020:
1. Trend: People will actively seek community
Implications: Churches must grow larger by getting smaller and giving people places to connect
Getting Ready: More worship times, more small groups, more support groups, more accountability groups on more days in more places
End Game: Church shifts from a place to be once a week to a place to belong everyday
2. Trend: People will actively seek a sense of purpose
Implications: Churches must engage in community, regional and world transformation from a theological context
Getting Ready: Unite “doing good things” (which most churches do well) with evangelism (which most churches don’t do well)
End Game: Embody loving God (diet) and loving neighbor (exercise)
3. Trend: Increasing spirituality
Implications: People are certainly spiritually oriented these days but spiritual and Christian have never had more distance between them
Getting Ready: Become a community house of prayer
End Game: Calls to prayer give the church a place in the community and offer opportunity for evangelism
4. Trend: Fewer resources for churches
Implications: Think Bricolage. As churches have less resources, they must create dynamic ministry from existing materials
Getting Ready: Focus on what you have, not what you don’t. Focus on who is in your community, not who used to be. Focus on who is outside your church, not who in inside. Build on your strengths.
End Game: Innovation, more effectiveness for less money
The Big Finish
My greatest temptation concerning these trends is to put value judgments on them but this must resisted. We live in a jagged world that is going to continue to surprise and even shock our sensibilities. The question is not, “Are things going to change?” They have changed and they are not done changing yet. The question is, “Is the American church prepared to connect the people of this world to Jesus Christ?” These anticipated trends will guide our ministry strategy for the next handful of years at Christ Church and I pray they are of some use to your church as well.
Am I absolutely sure about all this? Don’t be absurd, of course not. But I do believe the riskiest thing you can do in this new world is keep acting like you are still in the old one.
Christ Church 2017 I.jpg
-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, A Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois