Sky's address to the southeastern jurisdiction of the umc
I’m thankful for this opportunity to speak to you where I am in this journey of faith. In the last year, the confirmation and affirmation that I have received has been humbling and uplifting, and readies me now for this next season of my life in ministry.
We are in a season of challenge in the church that few of us have seen in our lifetimes; some call it a crisis – and maybe it is. Our failure to bear witness to the love of God is not lost on those outside of the Church. We say that we need to be graceful to a broken world, but we have to begin with the confession that we have not been graceful to each other, and we have not always loved our neighbors as ourselves. The ease of our dis-ease with each other at General Conference, on social media, and in all other ways of communication speak volumes to the world in which we witness. In short: we can’t tell others about the transformational power of the grace of God through Jesus Christ if the transformation we preach is not demonstrated in what Wesley called “our tempers and affections with each other.” Rest assured, the world notices how the words we speak do not align with the behaviors they observe.
As a result, our witness is diminished. And here’s the thing: we are better that this, and the grace of God is far better than all we can ask or think or do.
And while we are in crisis, a colleague of mine is fond of saying that, “A crisis is a terrible thing to waste.”
Dallas Willard wrote, “The world can no longer be left to mere diplomats, politicians, and business leaders. They have done the best they could, no doubt. But this is an age for spiritual heroes- a time for men and women to be heroic in their faith and in spiritual character and power.”
We – each of us, all of us - must to be heroic in our faith. We must take risks – in how we evangelize, how we do mission, how we live out our discipleship. We must take risks in challenging what it is in us, as individuals and as a denomination, that we’ve allowed complacency to be “good enough.” We have to risk listening to each other rather than speaking over each other – and in light of the events in the past several days in our country, more listening, especially from those who are in pain, is the thing most needed.
Rather, we must strive toward excellence in every aspect of our ministry and mission. That means how local churches live out their mission in their neighborhood. How clergy move from mediocrity toward excellence, and how General Boards focus on mission rather than survival. New wine calls for new wineskins.
We can do all these things without giving up the essence and genius of Methodism – indeed, I’m convinced Methodism gives us the best way forward.
I am not afraid of both the turmoil and the ferment that exists in the church, and not afraid to partner together as lay and clergy as the Spirit shows us the path forward. I’m not afraid to make tough calls; I make them without hesitation as a superintendent when the moment calls for it. I find enjoyment in enabling others to dream dreams and embrace vision. I think these are among my greatest spiritual gifts.
Howard Thurman once said, “What the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Is there anything more powerful than seeing God’s love come alive in someone who never thought it possible? Or in a local church that thought that they were done. Or in a neighborhood who was transformed by a local church who finally realized that their neighborhood IS their missional field. For someone to say, “Yes Lord, I’ll serve you.”
This is what makes me come alive. This is our essence! This is what it’s all about! Isn’t this the journey we ALL want to be on? If I’m blessed to serve as a bishop, this is the charge I will keep.
Sky McCracken, 51, has served as superintendent of the Purchase District (known as Paducah District before April 2015) since February 2011. The district encompasses the Western Kentucky portion of the Memphis Conference and includes the metropolitan areas of Paducah and Murray, Ky., along with many suburban areas, small towns and rural communities.
McCracken was appointed dean of the Memphis Conference cabinet in the spring of 2015.
He was born and raised in Martin, Tennessee, located in the northwest corner of the state. His father was a professor at the University of Tennessee at Martin (UT-Martin) where McCracken graduated in 1988 with a B.S. degree in psychology and criminal justice. He received his M. Div. degree in 1991 from Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.
McCracken has served churches in Tennessee, Georgia and Kentucky. He was licensed for ministry in 1987, ordained a deacon in 1990 and ordained an elder in 1993. He served a two-point charge in Graves County, Ky., during his last year in college and served as a student pastor in the North Georgia Conference while in seminary.
Among many board and agency positions, he has served on the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship (now known as Discipleship Ministries) as a representative from the Order of St. Luke. He was a member of the Nashville Area Strategic Mapping Team. He has participated in several Spiritual Leadership Inc. (SLI) projects and is co-author of the Memphis Conference’s Generative Leadership Academy.
In 2012 McCracken authored a petition to General Conference that was slightly amended and adopted, resulting in a change to the United Methodist Book of Discipline – in the section that deals with funding to theological schools from the United Methodist Ministerial Education Fund. McCracken believes the change better guarantees Wesleyan-trained faculty are in place at United Methodist seminaries for the future.
Married in 1987, McCracken and his wife, Liz, have one daughter, Sarah, who married Jordan Weekes in 2014.
I am a life-long Methodist. While Methodism goes back in my father’s family for several generations, I was convinced at an early age that Methodism is the best expression of the faith and work of Jesus Christ. I was also convinced at an early age that we need to be aware of, and to help others discern, our gifted-ness as given to us at our birth and our baptism. While I once believed I would help the church best by being employed in the secular world and serving the church as a volunteer musician, others shared with me that they observed that I had the gifts to be a pastor. After thought, exploration and prayer, I realized that they were right, and gave myself to God and the Church. That call continued to be confirmed as I served churches as a student pastor, finished college, and finished seminary. My call and passions continue to emerge in the areas of leadership and discipleship.
I have been a pastor since I was 21-years-old – and love parish work. Much of my passion was to help churches “go deeper,” knowing that trying to foster growth without a radical culture change leads to limited and short-term growth in numbers, but not in disciples. I continue to believe that, and since being appointed as a district superintendent, I see the much-needed shift that needs to occur in American United Methodist Churches: we have to regain our “method” of Methodism and make our mission the top priority at every level of the church: to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world.
I have fallen in love with the “chief missional strategist” part of being a superintendent. Securing and developing resources to help churches and pastors become comfortable and proficient in discipleship, implementing strategies to do ministry in our local contexts, and developing spiritual leadership in both laity and clergy have become passions for me. Getting to see the “aha!” moments remind me that hope and discipleship are not only possible – they are the essence for the people called Methodists. I have also realized the crucial task of superintending in the development and appointment of pastors to churches; matching pastoral gifts and parish needs are an essential part of this work as well, which involve both prayerful discernment and bold risk-taking. Helping churches work through and manage conflict and adversity is a reality to this work as well, and 28 years of officiating high school and college sports has been a great asset. Most would consider me “an orthodox Methodist” theologically; and gracious, encouraging, and loving when it comes to working with people.
In the last few years, several have approached me about offering myself as an episcopal candidate, which I took seriously and made a part of my ordered prayer life. Much of me felt energized and excited about such an opportunity. Being a cabinet member, however, also exposed me to the difficult sides of the Church, and being present at previous General Conferences has exposed me to the realities of deep divides and challenges that face us. My love for God and for the United Methodist Church outweighed the fears and dark nights of the soul I experienced in considering whether or not to offer myself for election. Having the endorsement of both the Memphis and Tennessee Conferences of the Nashville Episcopal Area where I serve was humbling and affirming.
I feel called to the work of a bishop, but realize that calling will be confirmed by God and those entrusted to electing bishops. Augustine wrote that no one can be a good bishop if they love their title but not their task. If elected, I pray to never forget those words.
What Sky's Colleagues Think
Pastor, McKendree UMC, Nashville, Tennessee
Sky has proven to understand the diverse contextual realities of our beloved global UMC through the Wesleyan lens of discipleship and evangelism. His adaptive and humble leadership style, social consciousness, Christ-centeredness, and spiritual and strategic guidance will serve our global church well. Sky is a bridge builder at a time when our church requires courageous leadership that is contextually aware and nimble to the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel to the world.
Jonathan L. Jeffords
Chair, Board of Ordained Ministry, Memphis Annual Conference
“I’ve known Sky for over 30 years,” said Jeffords. “We are friends who are as brothers to one another. I know of his love for the Church and his belief that Wesleyan spirituality is relevant for a time such as this.”
Jeffords expressed “great passion” in his support of McCracken. He said they are of “one mind” about “essential Christian discipleship” – “love of Jesus” and “loving our neighbors” – even though they do not agree on every issue confronting the Church.
McCracken and Jeffords both were born and grew up in the Memphis Conference.
“This is the place that raised us,” explained Jeffords. “It is the ground from which we were hewn. We stand upon the shoulders of faithful leaders in this conference who were never really given due consideration that they could be effective in the episcopacy based not upon their gifts or call to it, but simply because of where they were from – The Memphis Conference. The Church may be asking, ‘Can anything good come from the Memphis Conference?’ It can and has many times over. Sky is a manifest expression of that and he will make a remarkable bishop.”
District Superintendent, Tennessee Annual Conference
“Innovative, visionary and deeply principled” is how Bryan described McCracken. He is “unafraid of having difficult conversations” and “able to hold the tension and facilitate conversation among people with differing viewpoints,” she said.
Bryan called McCracken “a scholar,” but added the word “practical” and said she knows him as an individual “committed to prayer and seeking God’s will.”
Among the initiatives of McCracken’s Purchase District that Bryan said she believes “speak volumes about his leadership” are the Purchase District Generative Leadership Academy and Purchase District Mission Blitz.
District Superintendent, Memphis Annual Conference
God’s Word gives instruction and wisdom on how to choose our leaders. It is wisdom which dictates leaders demonstrate hospitality, love what is good and is reasonable, are ethical, and who personify humility. It has been with wisdom and discernment that Sky has led the Paducah District as their Superintendent embodying the role of pastor, administrator, visionary and shepherd. Sky is a strategic thinker; an erudite, balancing the complexities and challenges of a dynamic Church with integrity. Whether leading small groups, having difficult conversations, or preaching God’s Word, Sky pours himself out and gives himself away for the glory of God. It is with full confidence that I offer my support of Sky McCracken as an Episcopal Candidate from the Memphis Conference.
Chair, Board of Ordained Ministry, Tennessee Annual Conference
Sky McCracken is a leader the United Methodist Church needs. He is deeply faithful and focused on vital ministry; his wisdom and sense of humor make him particularly effective in leading Christ’s church. My life and ministry are enriched by having him as a colleague and friend.
Lay Leader, Memphis Annual Conference
“He’s one of the best clear-thinkers during stressful situations I have ever known. He’s a great Christian leader possessing a remarkable intellect. Sky is a devoted husband and father, and is a wonderful friend to all who know him. He is quick to arrive when you are in need.”
Reed believes the best test one can use when deciding whether or not to support someone’s candidacy for bishop is to answer this question: “How would you feel if this person is elected bishop and assigned to your home conference?"
Reed’s answer about McCracken: “I would be delighted for my conference to receive such a proven leader.”
Author/Speaker/Worship Coach, Midnight Oil Productions
Sky McCracken is one of the most affable and genuine leaders I’ve worked with across the connection. Having worked closely together during the 2010 Memphis Annual Conference, I found his deep passion for ministry to be infectious. His ability to step up and lead is matched by his unshakable steady spirit.
This past year when I was asked to lead a seminar in his district, I had the good fortune to re-experience his ministry. I was thrilled when I learned that he would become a candidate for bishop. I wholeheartedly endorse his candidacy. I think the United Methodist Church would benefit greatly from his leadership.
Shane L. Bishop
Sr. Pastor, Christ Church, Fairview Heights, Illinois
The United Methodist Church has two fundamental challenges in the foreseeable future. We must work through the current crisis and then turn our attention to addressing our decade's long decline. The former will require unusual wisdom, integrity and sensitivity; the latter great energy, passion for Jesus and a compelling vision of our church. Sky simply "gets it" and utilizes every communications tool 2016 has to offer to lead and lead effectively. I cannot imagine a better candidate to "lead us through" and "lead us to" than Sky McCracken.