Oklahoma Conference of the United Methodist Church

Orders Meeting: Schnase pushes clergy to innovate


Photo by Joseph Harris

Greeting one another in January at OKC-St. Luke’s, Bishops Robert Schnase, left, of Missouri and Robert Hayes Jr. of Oklahoma were elected to the episcopacy in 2004.

"If it’s not bearing fruit, stop doing it. We don’t have time." —Bishop Robert Schnase

The United Methodist Church is like the polar ice caps, and its clergy are polar bears, according to Bishop Robert Schnase of Missouri. Like the bears, clergy must adapt to invigorate a Church that has been slowly melting for decades, he told Oklahoma’s clergy.

Schnase spoke Jan. 15 in the Orders Meeting at OKC-St. Luke’s.

"If it’s not bearing fruit, stop doing it. We don’t have time," he challenged. "This is a time of astounding flux at every level of our Church. Claim this new world and maximize it for ministry."

Schnase urged Oklahomans to take risks, and innovate. "I give you permission to try," he stressed.

And he rejected several leadership perspectives.

  • The ethereal saint declares, "Wait for the Lord." Schnase rebutted, "I find this wishful thinking. It’s asking God to do for us exactly what God created us to do for God."

  • The technocrat assumes business models will work wholesale for churches. "This does not account for the messiness of church life and the interruption of the Spirit."

  • The doomsayer, claiming any effort is too little and too late, wields fear as a primary motivator. "To use fear is to contradict our sacrament of baptism, which is about hope."

In Missouri, Schnase sees many signs of life in both the people and the ministries.

He is author of "Five Practices for Fruitful Congregations," a book drawing congregations nationwide to deeper engagement for Christ. It is a foundational piece in the Oklahoma Conference’s Strategic Plan. And Bishop Robert Hayes Jr. requested Oklahoma’s clergy read Schnase’s newer book "Remember the Future" prior to the January meeting.

Schnase enlarged on six points "to stimulate new ways of thinking:"


1. The world is flat

"Within this new world, the small can act large. A handful of folks can make a huge difference because of their ability to amplify themselves," through social media, etc.

"A motivated layperson wants his church to build a parsonage in Mozambique. Today the layperson and pastor get online and connect directly with a person in Mozambique. That is substantive ministry. Our Church hasn’t absorbed this reality. The best thing I ought to do is get out of the way and bless it, but ask the right questions to avoid the dangers that might be inherent in that."

When a tornado slashed through Joplin, Mo., "more money came directly than through the general church structure. UMCOR money arrived six to eight months later." Schnase added, "God bless so many of you" for sending money and teams to help.

2. Beware the giant hairball

Schnase reported the Book of Discipline contains 4,835 shalls. Rules and expectations "can develop their own gravitational pull."

He advocates for permission-giving systems within a framework of accountability. "Figure out how to say yes."

 3. It’s the congregation, silly

"John Wesley didn’t have the first annual conference because he thought, ‘We’ve got enough congregations to start an annual conference.’

"He thought, ‘Let’s have an annual conference to talk about how to start more congregations.’ Ultimately ministry is local, personal, contextual.

"At all levels of the Church, we ought to be experimenting with all models of starting new churches. That’s how we fulfill the mission of the Church. We’ve got to figure out how to draw energy toward where the mission is."

4. It’s pastoral leadership, silly

Schnase urged extensive reform of clergy systems. In Missouri, 20 percent of the total attendance is in 14 congregations, and 20 percent is in 554 congregations. Each year, more pulpits among those 554 are filled by part-time clergy instead of full-time.

Schnase recalled past service on the General Board of Higher Education & Ministry. The board produced a CD titled "How to navigate the ordination process." Schnase’s reaction? "If that’s your title, it’s too complex."

 5. Focus on fruitfulness

"Some things in ministry are measurable; it is fair to talk about the number of people reached. (But) it’s not just church fruit; it’s Kingdom fruit.

"What’s the change going on in hearts and minds because of their engagement with the spiritual life? How is God working through your church to impact the community around you?"

 6. Maintain outward focus

At all levels of the denomination, reporting claims too much importance, Schnase said, keeping the church’s focus on the past. He pushes United Methodists to move away from "reporting mode," choosing instead to be future-oriented. He underscores that desire in his book "Remember the Future."

He drew the difference between "learning congregations" and "reporting congregations" by saying, "Some congregations come out stronger through hardship. Some don’t address issues, and their vision gets smaller.

"We’ve got to draw attention to the margins. It’s about that person somewhere out there that God intends to reach with the grace of Christ because of the work, the leadership we give to our congregations."

—Holly McCray


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