August 9, 2011Annual Conference this year was my last as a pastor under appointment in the North Carolina Conference. It might have been a little bittersweet, except that I had such a profound realization in the opening moments of the Clergy Executive Session, that all twinges of melancholy evaporated and I felt a great consolation in my decision to leave appointment in the church. The clergy session was opened in prayer. Not unusual at all that the work of the conference would begin with prayer. It was the opening words of the prayer that gave me pause. I never heard beyond them. "Let us pray: O God, our CEO....." Really, our Chief Executive Officer..... I was stuck there trying to process what it means to call the Almighty, the Holy of Holies, the Great I AM whose name could not even be spoken by the early Hebrew community, the CEO of the corporation that is the 21c. church. Where did we lose our way? In the book Grace to Lead, Bishop Kenneth Carder and Laceye Warner offer a thesis in response to the references and language of the corporate America business model as a basis of defining church. They write, "The head of a Fortune 500 company told a group of church leaders, 'You are looking to business to teach you about leadership. You should be teaching business leaders. You are the ones who know about real vision, mission, service, and how people are to be treated.' It is interesting that leadership scholars are increasingly using the language of theology.... while many religious leaders are opting for the language of the corporate world: strategy, systems, structures, marketing, processes." And I would add, naming God our CEO. The reclaiming of grace as our "operating system" and of looking to the heritage of Methodist tradition of social holiness and personal piety will hold us in good stead going forward. In another book written 30 years ago, Bishop Richard Wilke asks the historic question, And Are We Yet Alive?, and gives a word to renewal of the church through the fire of preaching grace, grace, grace, and going to the world alive in a love that will serve the least, heal the wounded, and bear the Good News this old world hungers to hear. We all see that the business model does not even serve business very well these days. Why don't we try the way of our Wesleyan heritage and take a step forward in Kingdom living?