I am in Nashville, at the offices of the UMC General Board of Discipleship, for this year’s Wesleyan Leadership Conference. I am glad and grateful to be here, and to finally meet in person many friends whom I have only known online. Brothers and sisters, be patient with me as I write; I love you all, and I mean no disrespect in any way.

Once again I am struck by how deeply the pastors need pastoring. There’s such a need to share the struggles, the challenges – and a deep and genuine yearning to actually be able to *live out* their call, not just tend to the business of running a church and putting worship services together. In fact they sound exactly like folks in our covenant groups – really, folks desperately in need of a covenant group.

I’m grateful once again for my odd position as laity, being outside of that particular dynamic; I can speak from a different place.

I called the pastors out, over dinner the first night. I did, God help me!  The conversation was starting to spin around how hard it is to get something Wesleyan going (like class meetings), and this was after we’d already spun the part about it needing to be lay-led. So I asked them all where their laypeople were. Again. A year ago right now, this journey hadn’t even started for me (but it was about to!). That cliff dive was in November. Good Lord, can that be right? Not even a year. I told my dear clergy friends that one year ago, I didn’t know my Wesley from my Willimon, couldn’t explain the first thing about early Methodism, and had no idea what a class meeting was or why somebody might want one. I told them that a year from now, I think they should each have *at least* one layperson either with them at this event. And, I told them that I’m more than willing to provide whatever encouragement, support, or help that I can to their layfolk, or to them, in the process.

Clergy types have the same needs we do. It’s not different. It’s not, as they say, rocket science. All God’s people gotta have folk they can be honest with, folk who will stand by them, folk who will watch over them in love and pull them back off the edge when it gets too close. If the clergy don’t have this, how can they possibly lead others to it? You can’t lead where you don’t know how to go. It’s too threatening. You might point in that direction, but there will be a hesitance that conveys “…but you really don’t want to actually GO that way.”

There’s such a hunger, a longing, and yes, such fear. Fear to be honest about the hard parts. Fear of losing the job and the livelihood. Our church cannot lead others into a life of discipleship if her leaders are bound up in this fear. We cannot model stewardship while we are caught up in worldly standards about salary and career climbing. We can’t show people the wild, life-changing Gospel if we can’t claim it and live it ourselves. It takes someone – and someone else to go with them and stand by them – to take a bold outrageous step, and do it publicly.

I swear I was one sheet of paper away from making this group at table Wednesday night start writing out a Rule of Life and covenanting to hold each other to it.

So, this is a long way of saying Thank You, again, to each of my pastors, past and present, for causing me to be here this week. And thank you also, my brothers and sisters here in Nashville, from the bottom of my heart, for sharing your honest journey with me and with each other. Our conversations strengthen the larger community as much as they strengthen and enliven each other and our own selves. Thank you all for believing that God is at work, believing it enough that it truly shapes your own lives. There’s nothing more powerful.

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