Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

"Know your disease, know your cure..."


In the 1700s, the first insurance company formed in America was the Presbyterian

Ministers Fund. It was initially created to provide benefits to surviving spouses and

children of clergy. Ministers Life was formed shortly thereafter for the same purpose.

From the 1700s to the 1960s, these two companies enjoyed a unique advantage in the

insurance business: Clergy lived longer and experienced fewer health claims than other

individuals or any other group of insureds in the United States. Therefore these

companies were able to offer to individuals and judicatories (Conferences) exceptionally

low rates and significantly higher dividends on life-insurance policies. Since the 1960s,

that trend has been reversed.


Clergy now have one of the worst—some actuaries say the worst—health history

of any identifiable group in the insurance business. As a result, Presbyterian Ministers

Fund and Ministers Life no longer exist.


The Reverend John Wesley was fond of saying, regarding the human

predicament, “Know your disease, know your cure.” So what is the disease clergy are

facing now and what is the cure for clergy? We affirm with Mr. Wesley that there is a

cure for our current situation.


Every one of us knows how important it is that we correctly diagnose the real

situation in order to apply the correct solutions. So it is with us clergy now.

We have taught in the Doctor of Ministry programs at three seminaries over the

past eighteen years. In all that time, we have identified only one candidate who, in our

opinion, clearly did not have a legitimate calling to ordained ministry. Without exception,

every other minister unarguably demonstrated a faithful call to ministry. These people,

whom we came to know intimately, truly felt called. They loved Jesus Christ and

sincerely wanted to be led by His Spirit and serve the Kingdom of God. In a number of

cases, they had made tremendous sacrifices to pursue their calling and were willing to

suffer whatever the cost to serve Christ and His Church.


However, in spite of all the faithfulness we have witnessed, clergy report having

many difficulties in ministry today. Almost all clergy have come to realize that ordained

ministry must be done differently—in some major ways—than we have conducted it the

past 40 to 50 years. Change is necessary not just because we are now in the 21st century;

change in the ministry was necessary decades ago, when we first began to experience a

declining and aging membership. However, many of the changes that were made then

were the wrong changes and brought worse results.


Returning to a Former Way of Ministry that Produces Spiritual, Emotional, and

Physical Health


For clergy, returning to a former way of ministry would produce a dramatic

improvement in our spiritual, emotional and physical health. That is a desire every one of

us has, and it will happen for the following reasons:

1. Clergy focusing on their salvation and calling as the top priority brings peace

of heart and mind.

Whatever happens to the Church in the United Sates, or whatever course The United

Methodist Church takes, we the clergy must not be deterred from nor distracted by nonpriority

issues. Then we will be able say that we have been found faithful to our salvation

and calling. On the day we stand before Jesus the Christ, we will be able to say we have

tried our utmost to serve Him and His Kingdom and have endured to the end. We never

gave up; we finished the race of life well.


2. Holiness of heart and life will improve spiritual health.

Spiritual health is a gift of grace. It is incumbent upon us to participate with God in

that gift by using our graces, gifts and expertise to do those things that we are gifted and

equipped to do. When we are performing ministry that we are gifted to do and that we

enjoy, we will feel worthwhile and be successful—and we will be happier and healthier.

We grew up in the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s. Even as adults in the early ’60s, we

experienced the clergy dictum that “the morning is given to God.” The morning was

spent in prayer, study and sermon preparation.


The motivation was that the clergy desired what Wesley wanted out of all his

preachers, whether ordained or lay: “holiness of heart and life.” In fact, Mr. Wesley

continually associated holiness with happiness. With holiness or perfect love abiding in

our hearts and minds and souls, we become the spiritual leaders we are called to be. The

laity can see, feel, experience and know if that manifestation of “holiness of heart and

life” is abiding in us. That is the primary desire and hope of laity for their clergy. It is

also the beginning of leadership.


3. Empowering laypeople for front line ministry will relieve the leadership

strain on clergy.

There is an expectation out there that is killing us clergy. It comes from senior

leadership, and it comes from the laity. The interpretation of the expectation—“Take thou

the authority”—is that if a church is to grow, it is the clergy’s responsibility. We

constantly hear the refrain “It is all about leadership.” Whether by innuendo or verbal

declaration, this is the expectation of many members of our senior leadership.

That expectation has been grafted into the minds of our laypeople. They say, “Let’s

wait until our new preacher comes and see what he/she wants to do. Let’s see what they

can do.” This is an impossible expectation! And it is a formula for failure. The rising

trend in too many of our churches—that we “hire and fire our preachers”—is not



Another expectation that developed in the late 1960s revolved around a

reinterpretation of the nature and purpose of the Church. Suddenly and unexpectedly we

began hearing that the role of the Church was to meet people’s “needs.” That expectation

has been a driving force in the Church in America since then. It is also a bottomless pit.

Noticeably Jesus did not come to meet people’s needs.


Most laypeople in Methodism love their clergy. Admittedly, some do not, but these

are the minority. Admittedly, sometimes that minority gains control of a congregation,

but that is a separate issue.


In the ministry situation to which we wish to return, the lay leaders will themselves—

with few exceptions—resolve the problem with destructive members. The new life begins

when clergy learn to be “leaders among equals.” The new relationship arrives when lay

leaders enter into full and front line ministry. When lay leaders are thrust into the

responsibility of full ministry and experience the complexity of it, they realize—as clergy

do—their desperate spiritual need, their need for partnership and cooperation in ministry,

and their need for training.


Suddenly and genuinely, there is an elevated and real appreciation for clergy and for

the graces, gifts and expertise that the clergy bring to their ministry. At that moment,

everything changes.


When we prepare and train lay leaders to become spiritual leaders and to do full

ministry, both clergy and laity experience the righteousness, peace and joy that we are all

called to experience. We clergy will have a more loving and genuine relationship with

our laypeople, especially lay leaders.


4. With these changes, there will arise the best opportunity for growth—growth

that is permanent.

Historically, one of the supreme strengths of Methodism was that we kept what we

won. A steady stream of people flowed in the front door, and only a small dribble

escaped through the back door or were dismissed from membership.

It is the ministry of lay leaders that will not only bring people to faith in Jesus Christ

but will keep what we have – the members, the strong faith, the growing, the action. Not

only is this the best formula, it is the only formula for bearing fruit, and fruit that lasts.


5. Our spouse will be happier.

Our spouse will be happier because we are happier. We will be more fulfilled, enjoy

what we are doing, experience significantly fewer conflicts in ministry, resolve those

conflicts differently, and spend more quality time with our spouse. In many situations,

our spouse will be more inclined to participate with us in ministry. All of that improves

our health and lifeline.


6. Our children and grandchildren will have a greater likelihood of becoming

committed Christians.

The dropout rate and the rate of casual participation of the children and grandchildren

of clergy, whether our own children or the children of friends in ordained ministry,

worries all of us. What children see, feel, and experience when they look at us will

become the model for how they love and serve Christ.


7. Clergy and laity will deeply enjoy being in ministry together.

There are a multitude of books that describe Conferences during the first two hundred

years of Methodism. The clergy and laity shared a dedicated and genuine love and

affection for each other. Conferences, especially Annual Conference, were the highlight

of the year. It was anticipated with enthusiasm and joy because it would be a week of

spiritual blessings, renewed friendships, and advancement of the Kingdom of God.

Reclaiming our Methodist heritage would restore that depth of love and affection and

comradeship among the clergy. It would be the end of competition, suspicion, and

improper back-stabbing and gossip.


8. We will make decisions on the issues that are most likely to bring these results

rather than focusing on secondary issues.

The fundamental organizational system of historic Methodism does not need to

change. The Church’s order of Bishops, Traveling Elders, Deacons, apportionments,

Conferences, etc., do not need to change. People today are so frustrated with the Church

that they want to radically alter the system. But the Methodist/United Methodist system is

still a great vehicle. It is not the primary problem.


What does need to change? Our attitudes, behaviors and results.

We fear that if we do not make changes on the a priori issues, we will by default

make changes that are deleterious to our future. We need to return to and strengthen the

already-functioning decisions outlined in our book Restoring Methodism. If we do that, it

will fundamentally change the issues that drive other issues.


9. The decisions we make will be—must be—faithful, both biblically and


As you can see by the people who are recommending Restoring Methodism, found in

the opening pages of the book under “What Leaders Are Saying,” the ten decisions

expounded upon are faithful to the biblical witness and to historical Methodism.

Having shared these thoughts, let us be soberly cognizant that we clergy still have

profound influence in our United Methodist Church. To a large extent, it will be us who

make the decisions about where United Methodism will be in ten, fifteen, and twenty

years. We are making those decisions today. Let’s make the right decisions.



1. “[Ministers] are supposed to go before the flock, (as in the manner of the eastern

shepherds to this day,) and to guide them in all ways of truth and holiness….”

John Wesley

2. “Therefore I remind you to stir up the gift of God which is in you through the

laying on of my hands… who [God] has called us with a holy calling…”

II Timothy 1:6,9a

3. “My design was, not only to direct them [Methodist ministers] how to press after

perfection, to exercise their every grace and improve every talent they had received….”

John Wesley

4. “If you instruct the brethren in these things, you will be a good minister of Jesus

Christ, nourished in the words of faith and of the good doctrine which you have carefully


I Timothy 4:6


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