Three years ago, pastors and other local church leaders gathered regionally for Equipping for Excellence (E2) to hear from Free Methodist bishops and other ministry experts. The sequel, Equipping for Excellence and Expansion (E3), arrived this year, and, unlike many movie sequels, it proved to be as acclaimed and popular as its predecessor.
From January through March, a total of approximately 1,700 people participated in the E3 events held in Tampa, Florida; Murrieta, California; Stanwood, Washington; McPherson, Kansas; Hunt Valley, Maryland; and Spring Arbor, Michigan. Each event lasted two days except for the Maryland event, which incorporated E3 into the three-day Ministers’ Institute of the North East (MINE).
Each of the three Free Methodist Church – USA bishops spoke to all E3 participants about a different aspect of the church’s Multiplication Plan (fmchr.ch/fmmplan). Along with their general session messages, each bishop also led a separate breakout group for people concentrating on different aspects of the plan. Go to fmchr.ch/e3break for a video featuring breakout participants sharing what they learned in the sessions. On the final morning of E3, bishops held a conversation on issues such as sexuality, immigration and women in ministry. The bishops then joined conference superintendents in answering questions from E3 attendees.
Bishop David Kendall kicked off each E3 with a message of revitalization based on 2 Peter 1:3–11 and titled, “There Is More — Full Participation!” Kendall said most American Christians understand salvation in a way that does not demand the church or lead us into Jesus’ ongoing mission, and they miss Peter’s statement that we can share God’s divine nature (v.4).
“The gospel — and the salvation it offers — has been domesticated and diminished severely both in the popular understandings of the gospel and, therefore, in the common experience of the gospel and grace,” Kendall said. “We have settled for less than the world of more Peter celebrates in this passage. … Divine power is at work in our world and in our lives.”
Kendall added that holiness requires church, and the gospel creates community.
Bishop David Roller emphasized recalibration, which he defined as “a prayer-filled, Spirit-led systematic method to help your church enter a new season of fruitfulness by rediscovering its collective direction.”
Roller began by sharing that Jesus “was rough on fig trees” (Matthew 21:18–22, Mark 11:12–14) that didn’t produce figs, but he added that Jesus also told of “another fig tree that bears a very different fate” because of a gardener’s intervention (Luke 13:6-9). He said, “Your three bishops have become gardeners, so we’ve got this crazy idea … that figless trees can produce again.”
Roller busted some common church myths, such as “a church has a life cycle just like a human being.” In a prerecorded video segment, he reprised his role as “The Baking Bishop” and presented the new “Recalibrate 2017” recipe book.
Bishop Matthew Thomas discussed reproduction with a message titled “More and Better Disciples: A Look at How to Produce More Disciples Through Producing More Leaders and Churches.” He said that despite our going-and-sending roots in early Free Methodism’s Pentecost Bands and the church-planting Methodist movement, some local church leaders now say, “It’s not our calling to produce more disciples or to develop new leaders, to plant new churches and do those kinds of things.”
But that response isn’t biblical, according to the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20). Thomas said we shouldn’t choose between making better disciples or more disciples. We must do both.
“The greatest thing you accomplish — your greatest legacy of ministry — will not be what you do, but what you enable to be done by others,” he said.
The first night of each E3 also featured a message by a Free Methodist pastor from another region of the United States. The alternating speakers were Deb Walkemeyer, co-pastor of Light & Life Christian Fellowship in Long Beach, California; Alma Thompson, co-superintendent of the Ohio and New South conferences; and Raisa Fabre, the founder and senior pastor of GracePoint Church in Lowell, Massachusetts, and Acts 12:24 Conference regional superintendent.
Walkemeyer based her message on John 7:37–39. “As leaders, if we are completely honest, we have to say that we are dry and thirsty so often, and this happens when we fail to access that living water,” she said. “When God’s people drink deeply of the Holy Spirit, we are empowered, and we are renewed to take the water of life on a kingdom mission.”
Thompson focused on renewal, offered multiple biblical examples and expressed hope for modern revival. “God — who is the same yesterday, today and forever — is doing a new thing,” said Thompson, who added that kingdom renewal “comes through the power of the Spirit to actually live out the love that we say we believe.
Fabre discussed the importance of passion, which she said is needed for great things to be occurred and sustained. Citing Romans 12:11, she called Christians to be passionate about serving the Lord: “God is the source of spiritual passion. The Holy Spirit comes to ignite us with holy fire.”
FMCUSA Chief Operating Officer Larry Roberts shared about “Protecting and Prospering Your Church: How to Protect Your People, Place and Property so the Kingdom of God Will Grow Through Your Ministry.” Roberts discussed cultural changes in recent decades and shifting attitudes toward churches.
“It’s imperative that we manage the operations of our churches in such a way that they are above reproach, and we are increasingly under attack from the forces of evil in this dark age,” said Roberts, referencing Ephesians 6:12.
He pointed to five pitfalls for congregations: not incorporating, ignoring employment laws, not following Obamacare rules, breaking the laws about gifts, and not protecting facilities.
Devotion + Resources
Light + Life Communications Director Jay Cordova spoke to E3 twice. He gave a devotional message to begin the second day, and he spoke later that morning about “Tools + Resources for Communication + Multiplication.” In the devotion based on Genesis 1–2 and John 4, Cordova said, “God always keeps His promises. This is not an alternative truth.”
Cordova compared our relationship with our Father God to the experience of his young son, Henry, taking a worker’s hand and entering a new day-care center without fussing: “Henry knows where his father wants him to be, and he feels safe.” Henry then left in a similar manner “because his dad’s calling him. He knows the sound of his voice.”
In the latter message, Cordova highlighted resources such as FM Connect, Whole and Intentional Leadership Development, Bad Bobby Leaders, Site Tackle, National Prayer Ministry, Engage Urban, Study Commission on Doctrine, denominational resource and legal sites, Free Mo Journals and this magazine. Visit fmchr.ch/lltandr for more information and web addresses.
Before the official start of each E3 gathering, International Child Care Ministries offered a meal with the opportunity for church leaders to hear ICCM Director Linda Adams, Church Relations Director Jen Finley and others share about Connected Communities. This new sponsorship model pairs a U.S. church with a school, hostel, child development center or other ministry helping children in another country.
Brian Kluth, the director of the National Association of Evangelicals’ Financial Health for All project, and Roberts also led a seminar on “Improving Finances for Yourself and Your Church.” The Lilly Endowment and the Free Methodist Foundation offered grant applications for four seminar participants to be awarded $2,000 each to cover medical debt.