Monday, June 06, 2005

Teaching Integrity

The one thing I enjoy most in my position as Mission Director is teaching one-day seminars in various topics for my pastors. The pastors have decided to call our get-togethers a “School of Ministry,” but that sounds a bit more formal than it really is. I simply put together a lecture and readings on subjects which are pertinent and important. I have blogged previously about our conversation on Holy Communion, for example.

But last week’s meeting was our most controversial yet. I decided to tackle what I consider to be the most important topic facing pastors anywhere in the world – integrity.

I wish the teaching was unnecessary and redundant. Yet after spending a day talking about integrity, I came away convinced that it is a top priority, not for Cameroonians only, but for anyone of us who believe that God has called him or her into pastoral ministry.

After all, think of all the churches, denominations and ministries that have been destroyed, divided, and diluted because of dishonest and corrupt leaders. You don’t have to think very hard …

I pointed out to the pastors that in Scripture, in the one or two places where Paul deems it important to list the requirements of a pastor, it is striking that he focuses, not on educational degrees or intellectual accomplishment, but on character issues. He’s not so interested in whether or not pastors understand the finer points of the Trinity or knows how to conduct a proper worship service; instead, he wants church leaders to be “above reproach,” with a good reputation in the community, not drunkards or greedy.

This is an incredibly important insight into pastoral ministry. I explained that “integrity is not only the absence of sin, but the experience of a disciplined life which guards against the very appearance of evil and upholds honesty as a prime virtue.” I proceeded to unpack this definition for the pastors, with particular attention paid to four specially sensitive potential pastoral pitfalls: money, sex, use of time, and the tongue.

I truly believe that the key to the growth of the United Methodist mission in Cameroon lies in the integrity and character of the leadership of the mission, including myself. This is a daunting realization, a terrifying responsibility; but there is no doubt in my mind that this is the crucial question facing the mission at this moment in time.

The thing I fear most is building a church which will simply reflect the face of the nation, in its corruption, greed and apathy. The last thing I want to do is lay the foundations of a church which becomes nothing but a pale shadow of what God intended, which cowers in the face of the powers-of-the-be, which fails to recognize its true power and counter cultural witness. The United Methodist Church must present a true alternative to the way things are in this world, whether in Cameroon, Canada, or California, or we might as well just close our doors and go join some other gently-decaying mainline denomination.

Here at the formation of an emerging United Methodist Church in West Africa, the stakes are high.

But we serve an even higher and greater God …