BY JEFF FINLEY
Jason Morriss is leaving a key position at the nation’s largest church to lead a revamp of the Free Methodist Church – USA credentialing system for pastors.
Four years ago, a task force began evaluating FM ordination and developing a prototype of a character-and-fruitfulness-based credentialing process. Bishop Matthew Thomas said the task force of FM leaders found the ordination process focuses on training by academic institutions but lacks a church-based system of mentors, coaches and internships. Ministerial Education and Guidance (MEG) boards evaluate pastors on the conference level, but the MEG boards do not have a consistent system of evaluation.
The Board of Bishops searched for a leader to oversee a transformation of the denomination’s Ministerial Credentialing Services.
“We wanted someone who was somewhat of an expert in working with leadership development programs that train people to be pastors,” Thomas said. “This person would be responsible not only for helping us set the bar for the potential candidate but also for training the MEG boards themselves on how to help that candidate get from Point A to Point B.”
Meanwhile, Morriss — who directs Lakewood Church’s internship program and licensing training for ministry candidates and lay leaders — began learning about the beliefs of the FMCUSA because of his respect for FM Pastor Brandon Hatmaker of Austin New Church. Morriss explored the denomination’s history by reading Howard A. Snyder’s “Populist Saints: B.T. and Ellen Roberts and the First Free Methodists.”
When the bishops met Morriss, they knew they had found the right leader for the task.
“Here was a person that was basically the leadership developer for new pastors coming in the pipeline for the largest church in America, … Joel Osteen’s church,” Thomas said. “Theologically, he very much resonates with where we are and what we’re doing.”
Morriss becomes the denomination’s national MEG director on Nov. 1. He is excited about meeting FM pastors at the Equipping for Excellence gatherings scheduled for early 2014 in seven locations around the United States.
“I want to start by listening to our pastors in the trenches, as well as the distinguished voices in the academic institutions affiliated with our denomination,” Morriss said. “I want our churches to be the launching site as well as the landing pad for our next great generation of ordained leaders. We are positioned perfectly to preserve,
innovate and adapt to a changing reality if our schools and churches can create a dynamic collaboration in this new approach.”
Morriss also will serve in the trenches. Along with his national duties, he will join the pastoral staff at Austin New Church and will work with the rest of the River Conference where he will test some of the processes to be implemented at the national level.
Morriss’ first priority will be to connect with leaders in different regions of the FMCUSA and with FM-affiliated colleges, universities and seminaries.
“For me, it’s a dream come true to work with the established, historied, time-tested institutions associated with Free Methodism. With the support of our bishops we have the opportunity to connect our ministry majors, social workers and even our education majors headed for the inner cities with great churches doing cutting-edge ministry around the country through internships and intentional gift/skill exploration in the local church context,” Morriss said. “We are positioned to lead, and I don’t just mean in our FM circles. There isn’t a denomination anywhere that wouldn’t love to find this balance. I believe we can, and I can’t wait to get started.”
Morriss grew up in central Mexico as the son of a missionary-pastor. He and his wife, Alison, also served for three years in Uruapan, Michoacán, Mexico. He is excited about connecting with Spanish-speaking FM leaders.
“Our cities are changing. So are the demographics of our denomination,” Morriss said. “As we adapt to a new reality, we need to look at ordination and leadership development with fresh eyes.”
Morriss and his wife are the parents of five children. He has a Master of Divinity degree from Northern Seminary in Lombard, Ill.