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The Love Required of Us

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Welcome

The video links on this page are provided as a companion to “The Love Required of Us” by Liz Cornell. Visit the author’s website at https://liz-cornell.com for more on her work and to request facilitator training.

“Eyes to See”

by Pastor Albert Tate, Fellowship Church, Monrovia California, as referenced in Session Two of “The Love Required of Us” on page 17.

“Clark Doll Study”

As referenced in Session Five of “The Love Required of Us” on page 72.

“Brown Eyes, Blue Eyes”

As referenced in Session Six of “The Love Required of Us” on page 87. This is an external link to the PBS Frontline page where you can view the video. Please see page 87 of your book for specific viewing permissions for PBS. 

“High Bar Discipleship”

“What is a disciple and how do we make one?” This question has been a blessing and a curse to many leaders in the church in the last few years. We are reaping the fruit of decades of attractional, consumer focused, seeker-sensitive, non-missional forms of “church” which have left us with shallow spiritual consumers and converts but not disciples. If you were to ask a group of church attenders, “how many of you have been intentionally discipled and subsequently discipled another person?” most would stare at you without being able to answer you. People who have been in church for decades have never been discipled. Even some pastors struggle with this question! The Church has a discipleship problem. The main thing Jesus calls his church to has become one of many products and services offered by the church for spiritual consumption by the masses. Mike Breen, founder of 3DM, says in his book Building a Discipling Culture, “If you make disciples you always get the church. But if you make a church, you rarely get disciples.”[1] This statement should give us pastors and leaders pause, as well as challenge us to run into the arms of Jesus if we are caught up in managing the church instead of making disciples. Most of us are very familiar with Matthew’s great commission text to, “go and make disciples of all nations”[2] or John’s commission, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”[3], but again we are left with the question, “what is a disciple and how do we make them?” As with everything in our faith, we must turn to Jesus. How did he live his life? What can we learn about being a disciple from Jesus? How did Jesus make disciples?

Being a disciple means growing in intimacy with Jesus and imitating him in all areas of life. The “What?” of growing in intimacy and imitation of Jesus is described in a variety of ways in missional discipleship literature: some call it worship, community, mission[4]; others call it communion, community, co-mission[5]; and even others Up, In, and Out.[6] The Inspire Movement, an international network of people committed to developing missional discipleship in the life and leadership of the church breaks down Jesus’ Way of Life into four ingredients: 1) seeking growth in the love of God; 2) using spiritual disciplines as means of grace; 3) sharing fellowship with spiritual friends; and 4) engaging mission through love of neighbor.[7]

Seeking growth in the love of God begins with truly knowing and holding onto one’s identity in Christ. Before Jesus began his public ministry he hears from the Father in his baptism, “This is my son, whom I love, with him I am well pleased.”[8] Jesus knows who he is and whose he is before doing anything. One cannot join God on mission and follow him without first receiving the love of the Father. 1 John 4:19 tells us, “We love because he first loved us.” Being a disciple means breathing in and breathing out the holy love of God. We continually press into and respond with God’s loving presence and prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying graces which welcomes us as we are, brings us to repentance, regenerates and then transforms us more into the likeness of Jesus. In other words, it’s about being in relationship with the Father, Son, and Spirit.

Using spiritual disciplines as means of grace are the ways we cooperate with the Spirit of God in our daily life. John Wesley described the means of grace as, “outward signs, words, or actions, ordained of God, and appointed for this end, to be the ordinary channels whereby he might convey to men, preventing, justifying, or sanctifying grace.”[9] Scripture engagement, fasting, prayer, the Eucharist/Lord’s Supper, and Christian community are the five instituted means of grace that Jesus gives in the Gospels. Engaging with these disciplines awakens us to the presence and mission of God in our lives. These are to be done individually but also in community with spiritual friends and co-laborers in the gospel.

Sharing fellowship in community is modeled by Jesus as he chose the 12 as his missional community to invest his life into for the sake of many, as well as the smaller “band” of disciples Peter, James, and John who were the only ones to be invited to participate in the resurrection of Jairus’ daughter, the Mount of Transfiguration, and to pray with Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane. Jesus, being fully human, needed community as he joined in the Father’s mission. Jesus said, “where two or three gather in my name, there I am with them.”[10] This community listens to the Spirit, offers encouragement, support, unconditional love, and becomes an extended family to one another as we all seek to grow in intimacy with Jesus and imitate him in all areas of life. Without the support of others, we will fall away from Jesus because we were made for relationship with one another. It is modeled in the essence of the Godhead: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Our faith communities are meant to reflect not only the image of God to the world but the self-giving, mutually submissive, love between the persons of God. Discipleship must involve intentional spaces and vehicles to grow with one another in Jesus’ Way of Life.

One cannot be a disciple of Jesus without also engaging missionally in the world. We are each called to be everyday missionaries where we live, work, and play. We are each sent by the Father to announce and demonstrate the universal reign of God. The Kingdom is here in our midst and we are ambassadors of the King of kings and Lord of lords. God goes before us and invites us to join him! The more we abide with Jesus, grow in the Spirit, and receive the love of the Father we discover the heart for all those not yet declaring, “Jesus is Lord!” We are called to bless others, extend hospitality, notice the unnoticeable, listen genuinely to all, ask good questions to invite others into the life of God, and serve the least and the lost. We must breathe out the love we’ve received! We are sent out to incarnate in neighborhoods, social networks, and our workplaces, or as one mentor of mine says, “We must fish where the fish are!”

So, what is a disciple and how do we make them? A disciple is a follower of Jesus who increasingly is growing in intimacy with God and imitation of him in every aspect of life by pressing into Jesus’ way of life. It has to begin with us, though we cannot do this alone. We need one another and a community of other disciples surrounding us to keep us journeying with the Lord. One such way is through discipleship bands[11], a micro-community of 3-5 spiritual friends helping to point one another to Jesus. This band is a catalyzing and healing space to confess sins, grow in friendship with the Spirit, and be encouraged to continue looking at and being obedient to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith.

Pastors, leaders, church planters, beloved sons and daughters of God. Are we growing in intimacy with and imitation of our Lord and Savior? These questions can serve as an assessment and self-reflection for you to wrestle with the Lord, your family, and your community as we abide deeply with our Lord, keep the mission of God at the forefront of our lives and ministries, and discipleship the main thing the Church. This is the only way we will see the fulfillment of our vision as the Free Methodist Church to bring wholeness to the world through healthy biblical communities of disciples, leaders, groups, and churches.

 

Seeking growth in the love of God

  1. Am I enjoying the love of God?
  2. Am I becoming more like Jesus?
  3. Am I aware of God’s presence in daily life?
  4. Am I making God known to others by my way of life?

 

Using spiritual disciplines as means of grace

  1. Am I praying in all circumstances?
  2. Am I listening to God through the Bible?
  3. Am I meeting Jesus in the Eucharist?
  4. Am I practicing fasting and self-denial?
  5. Am I living as a servant of others?

 

Sharing fellowship with spiritual friends

  1. Am I sharing the ups and downs of my spiritual life?
  2. Am I giving and receiving spiritual guidance?
  3. Am I growing in the fruit of the Spirit?
  4. Am I developing the use of spiritual gifts?
  5. Am I sharing spiritual wisdom?

 

Engaging mission through love of neighbor

  1. Am I aware of being sent by God into daily life?
  2. Am I making new friends with my neighbors?
  3. Am I offering hospitality to others?
  4. Am I showing God’s love in practical ways?
  5. Am I speaking to others about Jesus?

 

 

About the Author

Derik Heumann is currently the lead pastor and church planter of Evergreen Church in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Evergreen is a 2-year-old faith community with a vision to see the Kingdom of God reigning in every heart and home in the city and beyond through planting the gospel through a network of missional communities and discipleship bands. Derik was ordained in 2016 and graduated with dual degrees (M. Div. and M.A. Biblical Studies) from Asbury Seminary in 2018. He is also an alumnus of Spring Arbor University where he met his wife Kimberly, who is also a SAU alumna. Derik and Kim have been married since 2017 and have two beautiful daughters Hannah and Lily. Derik is passionate about seeing people experience hope, healing, and wholeness in and through Jesus Christ, as well as seeing every person given purpose through joining God in His mission and great story of redemption as an everyday missionary.

 

[1] Breen, Mike. Building a Discipling Culture. 2016. Kindle Location 100.

[2] Matthew 28:16-20

[3] John 20:21

[4] fmcusa.org

[5] Woodward, J.R. & White Jr., Dan. The Church as Movement.

[6]. Breen, Mike. Building a Discipling Culture

[7] inspiremovement.org/missional-discipleship

[8] Matthew 3:16-17

[9] Wesley, John. “The Means of Grace.” The Sermons of John Wesley. Ed. Kenneth Collins.

[10] Matthew 18:20.

[11] For more information on discipleship bands see The Band Meeting by Kevin Watson, or visit inspiremovement.org or seedbed.com for more information and a contemporary model of this historic disciplemaking vehicle.

Setting the Bar

 

I have become an avid golfer. For most of the past 20 years of my life, I played golf sparingly — something like 12 to 15 rounds a year. The bar I set for myself as a golfer during that time was relatively low. Scoring below 90 was “clearing the bar” for me. When we relocated to Oroville, California, in 2019, I joined the local golf club as a way to meet unchurched members of the community. As a result, I have played closer to 100 rounds over the past year. As my skill level has improved, I have had to raise the aforementioned bar several times. Shooting a 90 now would be cause for some good old-fashioned club throwing. 

 

Does following Jesus work the same way? Does the bar, the measuring stick for success, move as we grow in faith? That is the question I considered when I was asked to write this article about “high bar discipleship.” If we start by agreeing that setting a bar equals setting an expectation, and go back to Jesus calling His first disciples, there appears to be just two expectations: follow me, and “[become] fishers of men.” The bar for following was high, as the disciples were required to leave everything behind and quite literally FOLLOW Jesus. As the next three years of their lives played out, Jesus’ disciples came to understand that being a fisher of men required much more than they could have imagined. From their point of view, Jesus kept moving the bar up, from follow me to give this massive crowd some food, to go heal the sick and cast out demons, to eat my flesh, to feed my sheep, to go make disciples of all nations. In reality, the bar never moved. Jesus set it, called His followers to it, and set about teaching them how to clear it. What moved, or rather expanded, was the disciples’ understanding of what following Jesus means.

 

Two thousand years later, as we live out that same call to follow Jesus and make disciples, we need to model His twofold approach. The “follow me” is a call to relationship, and growth in character. The challenge and promise to become fishers of men is a call to responsibility, to competency. The people we disciple will grow in their relationship with Jesus and in their competency as partners in His ministry in unique ways and at individual paces. To set the same bar, on the same linear timeline, for every disciple’s growth in their intimacy with Jesus is unrealistic and will lead to frustration and failure. The best discipling relationships allow space for people to struggle with truths, to wrestle with the level of sacrifice, incrementally surrendering more and more of themselves to the Lord.

 

High-bar discipleship needs to be just that — high-bar — but only as it relates to the commitment of followership. At the outset, discipling relationships must be based on a mutually agreed upon expectation of HIGH commitment, just as it was for Simon, Andrew, John and the others. The discipler has to be willing to do life together with those he/she is discipling, granting their disciples inner-circle type access and care. The disciple has to acknowledge a willingness to leave everything behind and follow Jesus wherever He may lead. Put more succinctly, the bar for commitment has to be high and unchanging, while the bar for results or competency must be fluid, and ever-evolving in tandem with the development of character. As a pastoral leader, it is all too easy to slip into CEO church-builder mode and start viewing disciples as faceless numbers moving through the church machine rather than people moving in relationship. We must remind ourselves daily that our primary and most important call will always be to make disciples, not build churches. Well-organized, well-intentioned groups of people calling themselves a church can do great things. Disciples have, can, and will change eternity. Who are YOU in a discipling relationship with?

 

 

About the Author

Chris Hemberry currently serves as lead pastor at Foothill Community Church in Oroville, California, and as director of church planting for the Sierra Pacific Conference.

 

Christians, Disciples, and Church Attendance

The Great Commission given to us by Jesus Christ was to go and make disciples. But what is a Christian and disciple? Churches have many different definitions of a Christian (convert, adherent, learner, member, believer, attender, etc.) and they also have many different ways for a person to become a Christian (go through confirmation, attend a class on membership, get baptized, take communion, go to the altar, sign a membership card, etc.). But is a Christian a disciple of Christ?

Christian and disciple are related terms but are not synonymous. All disciples are Christians, but all Christians are not disciples.

When I took homiletics, two principles on preaching were stressed: Bring people into the kingdom through salvation (having a personal saving relationship with Jesus Christ.). Build these saved people up in the kingdom. (Get them anchored in the Word and active in doing the ministry of Jesus.)

The third aspect of this article is church attendance. This relates to both what is a Christian and what is a disciple. According to the research I’ve read (and I haven’t read all of the research), church attendance has been going down for several years. Church attendance is related to being a Christian and a disciple of Jesus, but not as it once was.

I’m a fourth generation Free Methodist. I was raised in the church, when if you were a Christian, you went to church at least four times a week. Sunday school, Sunday morning worship, Sunday evening service, and Wednesday night prayer meeting were the weekly basics … or you had your Christianity questioned. Be there or be square for sure. Plus, there was the youth meeting Sunday afternoon, missionary circle meetings during the week, cradle roll meetings once a month, etc. Then there were the ten-day to two-week revival services every night twice a year — attendance required events for sure. I have not mentioned the zone rallies, CYC, Bible quizzing, potluck dinners, birthday fellowships — need I go on?

Church was a big part of your life, if you were a Christian and a good Free Methodist — big in terms of number of events and number of hours committed. Then by shear time, church was your social life, second home, and, in some ways, your life.

However, over the decades, church programming has changed. Wednesday evening prayer meetings have migrated to a brief time on a weekday morning or have ceased to exist. The Sunday evening services have faded off most church calendars, and missionary circles and cradle rolls are only remembered in the minds of some of the older members and on the yellowed pages of the duly recorded minutes.

Churches need to know that people do things that work for them—meet a need. They do not have white space on their calendars each week that are open. Most peoples’ calendars are filled with extra obligations written in the margins and arrows pointing to times. What gets on their calendars are activities, meetings, and events that work for them by meeting a need. People are looking for things to erase or delete off their calendars, not add.

A minister, now deceased, was noted for saying, “Find a need and fill it.” It is hard to create a need or a desire in people for something they do not perceive as a need and have no interest in whatsoever. Calendar items must be relevant to the people.

Also, churches have to recognize that perhaps the ways they have been connecting or trying to connect with people have been failing or are not the best. So, the question is not, “How can we keep doing the things we are doing the same way, but relate to more people?”

Churches must realize that they’ve been slowly getting more and more out of touch with the culture. So, the question is, “How do we present the church and gospel in a new way that relates and connects with people?”

The good news of Jesus Christ doesn’t change, but how churches package and present it to the culture should change. The presentation should be in a way that people recognize it as something vital to the point they need to know more about it. Therefore, churches need to be “as wise as …” to market, present, and promote what the church has to offer in a way that will attract people to the church whether in-person or online.

Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase, “The medium is the message.” The church can have a great message, but if it communicates it by the wrong medium, the message will not reach the desired audience with the desired effect. Those who read the local newspaper and those who read the news online are usually not the same people — different audiences. Churches need to market to all audiences via the right medium.

People can become born again Christians whether they attend church in-person or online. People can be discipled whether they warm a pew or watch online at the kitchen table or their desk. It’s not either or, it’s both. Also, churches can minister to both groups of worshippers.

I recently did a short-term interim. There were more people watching online than were in the sanctuary. I believe that’s the wave of the future … and the future is now.

Also, online worshippers have the opportunity to listen/watch more than one sermon per week. Or they can listen to the sermon again they heard in-person on Sunday morning. Churches have many wonderful opportunities for ministry to the culture of this day.

One final thought. Fellowship with other believers is important. However, some Christians have a greater need for that fellowship than others. Online worshippers can have Zoom meetings with their small group, while others can meet in homes or at church for in-person group meetings.

God should not be and cannot be confined within the walls of a building or traditions called “the church.” Our God is an all-consuming presence willing and able to meet His people anytime, anyplace, in a meaningful way. Praise be to His Holy Name.

 

 

About the Author

George F. Ford is a fourth generation Free Methodist and retired elder.

 

Rethinking Discipleship

“Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Discipleship is a word around which most followers of Jesus agree in its importance but have broadly different understandings as to what constitutes a disciple and discipleship — the practice of making disciples.

Many churches have defined a disciple as someone who attends, gives, serves, and invites people to the local church regularly. Discipleship programs have largely been designed to teach people these behaviors. Over the past few decades, there have been growing signs in the American church that our approach to discipleship has not been yielding the results we have been striving to attain.

Prior to 2020, a staggering 94% of churches in the U.S. were plateaued, declining, or growing at a pace slower than the population in their context.[i] Regular attenders are also attending less frequently. In the 1980s, regular attendance meant people attended services three or more times a month. In 2019, Stadia, a church planting network, said its research showed regular attendees attend three services across two months, an average of 1.5 times a month.[ii] We are especially losing ground with younger people. While half of Americans say that attending church is at least somewhat important, only 20% of Millennials say so, and 35% of Millennials have an anti-church stance believing the church does more harm to society than good.[iii] Giving to charity by Americans has been growing over the past decades,[iv] and, at the same time, giving to churches has been in steep decline with churches receiving about half the share of overall charitable giving (29%) as they did in the 1980s (58%).[v] The list goes on, but all illustrate trends that show clearly different results than what we are hoping to achieve through our discipleship efforts.

Then 2020 came onto the scene ushering in what seems like a never-ending series of crises. The events of this year have served as a magnifying glass highlighting the gaps between our aspirational views of ourselves and the realities that present us with the unflattering truth about our present state. The pressures of this year have also accelerated the trendlines and social shifts that were underway. Many churches are seeing much smaller attendance at physical gatherings, and digital attendance has shown further shifts away from Sunday morning as the primary time people engage with church.

These factors increase both the urgency for church to respond and create significant opportunity for church leaders to lead change that will help us recover our missional purpose and effectiveness in making disciples. We can lament the losses of the past few decades and pivot for the realties and opportunities of today. I am reminded of the popular Chinese proverb, “The best time to plant a tree is twenty years ago, the second-best time is now.”

Part of the challenge might be found in our approach to discipleship. In the last century, the American church has been massively influenced by the industrial revolution and has attempted to make disciples using a standardized approach for everyone that centers around a professional lecturing a classroom of participants about a specific set of information.

What if discipleship is something else entirely? What if the goal of discipleship is not mental assent to a set of doctrines or adherence to a set of behavioral norms, but rather the surrendering of oneself increasingly over to the leadership of Jesus? What if, instead of something that occurs over the duration of a class or series of classes, it is a lifetime pursuit meant to be fostered in the context of relationship?  What if we have been creating adherents instead of disciples?

To answer these questions, we must come to a common understanding of what it means to be a disciple. Jesus answers this question in Matthew 16:24–26 (NIV), “Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?’”

From Jesus’ words we can derive that a disciple is someone who does three things 1) denies themselves; 2) takes up their cross; and 3) follows Jesus. Perhaps part of our challenge in making disciples is that we have complicated discipleship by making it an external process we hope will produce internal fruit, instead of an internal process that produces external fruit. Jesus gives us a simple definition, but simple does not mean easy. Let’s unpack these three acts of submission: a disciple must…

1) “Deny themselves” – This is an act of laying aside my preferences, my desires, my ambition to position me to take up my cross and follow Jesus. This is an internal choice we make repeatedly. This a very personal first act of submission that is not something we can impose upon others. It is a skill we can help model and teach to others.

In a counterintuitive way, this begins in the heart of the discipler. We want to change the person we are discipling, but our personal transformation will always precede that of the people we are leading. Our first act of submission to Jesus is to deny our need to fix the people we are discipling. In the book Learning Change, Jim Herrington and Trisha Taylor observe, “We need to let go of the fantasy that we can change others. When we stop trying to change other people, we free up vast amounts of energy to focus on cooperating with God’s efforts to change us. … We may even see others begin to change in response to God’s work in us.”[vi]

What if instead of telling people how they need to deny themselves with a list of disapproved behaviors, we modeled self-denial and invited them to join us by examining their own hearts before the Lord and allowing the Holy Spirit to identify ways He wants them to deny themselves to make room to take up their cross? What is Jesus asking you to lay down? This would require us to teach the skills of reflection, self-examination, confession, repentance, and listening to the voice of the Lord.

The Holy Spirit is intimately acquainted with the workings of each person’s heart and knows exactly what to bring up when. He has asked people I was relationally discipling to quit their secret use of illicit drugs, quit their lucrative but immoral job, sell assets that had become idols, and break off immoral relationships. I have been repeatedly amazed at the audacity of the Holy Spirit in asking people to lay down things sacrificially that I would never have had the knowledge or perhaps the courage to ask them to lay down. In any case, the goal is discipling them to be obedient to Jesus, not to us.

2) “Take up their cross” – This is an act of obedience, repeatedly taking responsibility for the things Jesus has asked of me. When Luke records these words of Jesus in Luke 9:23-25 (NIV), he includes a modifier, “daily.” This decision is not a one and done. We decide repeatedly to say “no” to ourselves and say “yes” to Jesus.

Again, this begins in the heart of the discipler. As disciplers we replicate who we are not who we want to be. If we are not saying “yes” to Jesus and modeling sacrificial obedience, then the people we are discipling will not be either. We must model obedience by taking up our cross and inviting them to take up the cross Jesus has for them. We have different areas of responsibility and calling in which we are to be obedient. While the crosses have similarity, no two crosses are the same. We are all called to be witnesses, but the who, when, where, and how are a personal responsibility each of us must bear.

Larry Walkemeyer once noted that Jesus taught His disciples to cast out demons, but we teach ours to pass out programs. As church leaders we have to a great extent redefined the cross to eliminate discomfort for our disciples and lower the level of personal responsibility followers of Jesus must have for partnering with Jesus in His redemptive work.

What if instead of telling people their cross is limited to what happens in church on Sunday (attendance, giving, serving, and inviting) we ask people what is it that Jesus is asking you to do? Who is Jesus asking you to pray for and be a witness to? This would require us to teach the skills of prayer, listening to the voice of the Lord, the arts of spiritual conversations, and the ability to articulate what Jesus has done in our lives.

Jesus invites all of His followers, from day one, to pick up their cross and take up their responsibility in the kingdom work. The Apostle Paul marvels at this in Colossians 1:27–28 (NIV), “To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. He is the one we proclaim, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone fully mature in Christ.” It is Christ in each follower that is the hope of glory. In our obedience we lift Jesus up and in doing so He draws people to Himself.

3) “Follow me (Jesus)” – This is the direction we must be progressing in, not a destination we have arrived at. It is easy to identify at any given moment. Am I following Jesus or myself? Am I moving toward Jesus or away from Him? When we enter into a discipling relationship with someone, are we teaching them to locate Jesus in every situation and move toward Him, bringing others along whenever possible?

Again, this begins in the heart of the discipler. As disciplers we must follow Jesus. He has given us the Holy Spirit to lead us. Paul writes in Romans 8:14 (NIV), “For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.” Becoming more like Jesus is the goal. Progressing ever deeper in our trust and obedience is discipleship.

What if we focused on teaching people to identify Jesus and take a step closer? No matter where they are or what their current commitment level is, we can help people identify Jesus and move closer. This is why discipleship starts with “hello” and moves people toward Jesus. We can often help people take a step toward Jesus even before they have committed themselves to follow Him.

Our world is shifting significantly. The methods we have relied on for years are not suitable for the task. We need new wineskins. The good news is we can make disciples without having to rely on Sunday morning gathering. We can teach people to deny themselves, take up their cross, and follow Jesus in relational networks that manifest digitally or physically. But we must engage people again in this journey. Matt Redman wrote the lyrics “I’m coming back to the heart of worship” as a cry of repentance for making worship something other than God intended. Perhaps it is time for us to return to the heart of discipleship.

 

[i] Sattuck, K. (2017, December 14). 7 Startling Facts: An Up Close Look at Church Attendance in America. Retrieved from ChurchLeaders.com: https://churchleaders.com/pastors/pastor-articles/139575-7-startling-facts-an-up-close-look-at-church-attendance-in-america.html

[ii] Whitney, C. (2019) Performance Evaluation in Ministry Organizations/Interviewer: E. Creps. The Center for Leadership Studies, Northwest University.

[iii] Barna Research. (2014, March 24). Americans Divided on the Importance of Church. Retrieved from Barna.com: https://www.barna.com/research/americans-divided-on-the-importance-of-church/#.V-hxhLVy6FD

[iv] Firch, J. (2019). Charitable Giving Statistics: 2018. Retrieved from Nonprofitssource.com: https://nonprofitssource.com/online-giving-statistics/

[v] McMichen, T. (2019, August 6). Giving Trends Are Shifting. Retrieved from Lifewaygenerosity.com: https://lifewaygenerosity.com/2019/08/06/giving-trends-are-shifting/

[vi] Herrington, J. and Taylor, T. (2017). Leaning Change. Kregel Ministry. Grand Rapids, MI. P.40.

 

 

About the Author

Michael Forney is the superintendent of the Pacific Northwest Conference of the Free Methodist Church. He has been equipping church leaders in formational leadership, church revitalization, and multiplication across multiple denominations for almost 15 years. He is the co-author of the book, “Gravity: Seven Essential Truths About Leadership, Influence, and Your Soul.” Michael has an M.A. in organizational leadership, from Regent University in Virginia. He has been married to Nancy for 32 years. They have four grown daughters, two sons-in-law, two grandchildren and one on the way. Michael loves spending time with his family, the Seahawks, hiking, beachcombing, reading a good book, and enjoying a steaming cup of dark roast coffee.

Same Needs, Different Times

Anniversaries are times to celebrate and reflect, remember where we’ve been and dream of where we’re going. Such is the case with the Free Methodist Church – USA. We are 160 years old this month!

It’s appropriate to ask ourselves, are we the gospel movement that was intended at our founding? Are our senses heightened as much to our mission as they once were? Are we settled or unsettled? Such questions are intended to be answered communally, not just personally. The undercurrents of our founding were not viewed as merely good ideas that seemed to be more creative than other Christian sects; they were unstoppable impulses that to be undeniably Christian, must be part of the experience, practice and mission of the church. While some of the cultural specifics have changed, the condition of our hearts and the spiritual ills are much same. I’d like to draw our attention to three.

To believe, see, and experience holiness of heart and perfection of love. “Primitive holiness” was how B.T. Roberts described it, referring to John Wesley’s “A Plain Account of Christian Perfection.” The need for hearts and lives to be entirely sanctified should be self-evident in today’s toxic social climate. How do we re-ignite our urgency to see holiness spread through the land? Perhaps it begins with a personal cry that Wesley often quoted from Psalm 73:25, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” When is the last time you prayed to have the love of God shed abroad in your heart?

Freedom of the Spirit in houses of worship with free access to all. Is the Holy Spirit free to move in our churches? Perhaps it would be good to ponder that question with relentless repetition. Is the Holy Spirit – free indeed – entirely free – unhindered by human control to move in our worship? Let’s reexamine ourselves at this anniversary to seek full-on freedom of the Spirit in every worship gathering. Speaking of freedom, selling seats made houses of worship at the time of our inauguration inaccessible to many people. Although I don’t know of a single Free Methodist house of worship that charges a monetary fee to attend and occupy a seat, we should ask ourselves if we are still placing barriers of exclusion before people. I recall a message by Bishop Emeritus Richard Snyder at the Genesee Annual Conference in 2004, passionately reminding the delegation that we too often don’t like to let messy people into our churches for fear that they will mess up our church. Wherever there are deterrents to access, there is a “fee” whether monetary or through unrealistic expectations.

Freedom from oath-bound, secret societies. This might seem highly irrelevant today, but I believe, just like non-fee-based barriers to access in our churches, you can be a “secret society” in the heart of matter, even though you might not be in the letter of the matter. In September’s Light + Life Magazine I will be writing on the topic, so I encourage you to read my article, “What’s at Stake? A Lot!” Let me simply encourage us at this time to consider that there is a big difference between holy confidentiality and unholy secrecy. Let’s not kid ourselves into believing that certain dynamics of many private and secret social media groups are not secret societies merely because they’re not the Masonic Lodge. Wherever there is unholy secrecy, we are bound by oaths of secrecy and must be determined to live holy lives, above reproach in all our ways.

What will the next 160 years, barring the return of our Lord, say about our generation? I pray that tomorrow’s history books record the story of a generation that remained committed to our roots. Not because we are merely Free Methodist, but because our distinctives are biblically mandated. I pray that we are known as people who loved the Lord with our whole hearts and served our neighbor in love. In doing so, may it be said of us that earth looked more like heaven wherever the people called Free Methodists lived and ministered.

 

Empowering and Leading Volunteers

My Volunteers Aren’t Committed

Leadership has one frustrating ingredient: people. You can be the champion of the vision. It can be directly from God. But you can’t do it without people. And people can be tricky to corral.

There are going to be times in leadership where you feel like you are not on the same page as your volunteers. This could range from poor follow through, no communication, showing up last minute – or hey, not show up at all. Frustrations mount, then accumulate. As time goes by, your trust in your volunteers erodes, and your passion gets replaced by a sense of cynicism.

It may sound extreme, but this is true: feeling like you are ministering alone is the quickest path to burnout. A dedicated volunteer team who is bought in to the vision is essential to accomplish what God has called you to in your area. So what do you do if you feel like your team isn’t as committed as you need?

Human nature would tempt you to blame the team. But you’re better than that.

And since you are, here are four checkpoints to see what you, as the leader, can do to increase your team’s buy-in.

 

Articulated Expectations

I remember one time where I was on a completely separate page of a prospective volunteer. I was running him through my typical interview process. I went deep into our vision, beliefs, program arrangement – all of it. He nodded along, asking probing questions as fit. Once I got to the expectations page, his face dropped a bit. About halfway through I could tell something was up. He then showed his cards when he said this: “I was thinking I could just show up.”

It was in this moment we found the gap of expectations.

Many feel that “just showing up” will satiate what we are looking for on a volunteer team. After all, they’re not getting paid. Isn’t something better than nothing? There are plenty of volunteers who think they are doing exactly what’s been asked of them simply because they have not been told what is asked of them.

If we do not front-load the expectations that showing up is not enough, then we only have ourselves to blame if a volunteer isn’t fulfilling our expectations.

When I was a younger leader, I tended to undersell my expectations to a prospective volunteer. The hope was to do whatever I could not to scare them off. Then, after logging some months of service, THEN hopefully I could ask more of their commitment.

What a disingenuous approach. Needless to say, operating this way will ensure a higher turnover of volunteers. It wasn’t that I was being intentionally deceptive; it’s just that I needed people – BADLY – and wanted to fill the position with hopes of flexibility on their part.

Write down expectations. Present them to the volunteer. Hearken back often.

 

Areas of Ownership

A mentor implanted a philosophy in me at the beginning of my time in ministry that has greatly informed how I operate. It is a notion that doesn’t come naturally for most leaders. Still, the leader that is able to harness this reality will be set up for sustainable fruit over the years.

Here’s the phrase: It is your job to give your job away.

Sounds like rough job security, doesn’t it?

Although you may have been hired because of your talents and gifts, your mission is to unleash that in others. The more you do this, the more you are able to entrust to others, thereby rendering you the opportunity to blaze new trails and disciple new people.

You love preaching, but would sharing the pulpit allow others to develop their gifts and fall in love with it too? You are the one expected to make hospital visits, but what if you brought someone along and enabled your church to see another shepherd operate in their gifting? Could another qualified individual plan that event almost as well as you could?

We have more inner turmoil delegating away the facets of the ministry that give us life more than the ones that drain us. But these areas – yes, even the ones often deemed “by lead pastor only” – ought to be distributed to qualified men and women. After all, Ephesians 4:12 says that your role is in place to “EQUIP the saints for the work of the ministry.”

Your work is to empower others to do the work. Hoarding the ministry leads to a lack of interest for your team. Give away responsibility and you will breathe life into a leader.

 

Constant Encouragement

I want to be Joseph. No, not Disco Coat Joseph. And not the father of Jesus either. I want to be the Joseph of Acts 4. You know him by a different name. Apparently this “Joseph” was quite the uplifter, so much so that they gave him the nickname “son of encouragement,” which translates to us today as Barnabas.

We need to be the Barnabas of our teams.

Many volunteers are balancing jobs, schedules, kids, and everything in between, all the while trying to be faithful to their role in the church. Serving can often feel as one more thing on the to-do list, limiting their ability to recharge. Some roles have very limited visible return on investment too. It can get discouraging.

So how are we adding fuel back into our volunteers’ lives?

A leader ought to constantly evaluate if they’re taking more than they are giving. Do you only message that one volunteer to ask a favor or do you ask them how their day is going? Are your team emails only focused on the next task or do you celebrate what the team has done? Do you take opportunities to brag about a person’s willing heart when you are speaking to other people?

Serving in a thankless role will lead to higher turnover – guaranteed. Be the Barnabas of your team. Lavish them with praise. Send them random gift cards. Do everything in your power to let them know that they are appreciated for who they are, not what they give.

 

Space to Champion THEIR Vision

February 4, 2018 was one of the happiest days of my life. No, it’s not my anniversary. And no, it’s not the birth of a child. It’s the day the Philadelphia Eagles won the Super Bowl.

This event gave us one of the most memorable sports moments ever: the Philly Special.

Cameras caught a historic exchange between quarterback and coach. Conventional wisdom suggested that the Eagles ought to kick a field goal. But Nick Foles, the quarterback, suggests running the trick play. The coach, Doug Pederson, pauses, nods his head, then utters the phrase “Yeah, let’s do it.”

The play is executed perfectly and is instrumental in the Eagles 41-33 win.

But some, upon looking back on that play, have stated that the quarterback ought to receive the credit for the play. After all, he’s the one that suggested it. Isn’t it indicative of poor leadership that the coach didn’t make the play call?

No. The coach, the one obtaining the authority, recognized great vision and allowed his subordinate to carry it out.

The same is true when serving the church. There have been too many volunteers who, full of passion and energy, have been turned away by leadership. Nothing is more deflating.

Is there space for gifted leaders to create in your ministry? Are you coming alongside of their passions and ideas, or are volunteers just drones to carry out your mission?

The healthiest teams are able to create the “how are we going to do this” together. The mission and vision ought to be heavily directed by the leaders – no doubt. But is there enough room in your sandbox to allow other kids to build a sandcastle too?

If you are able to make a culture that welcomes new ideas and frees people up to run with them, you will certainly have a more bought in team. And the great news is that you’ll find that it will often turn out better than if you were the originator and executor.

When the whole team wins, it doesn’t matter if the coach or the quarterback called the play.

 

Final Thoughts

If your team is feeling less committed than you’d like, do the hard work and evaluate what you can do to change that. Perhaps one of these four areas needs a season of extra attention from you.

I’ll leave you with this final thought from James 1:5, “But if anyone of you lacks wisdom, let him ask from God who gives to everyone simply, and does not reproach, and it will be given to him.”

About the Author

Jonny Radcliff is the Student Ministry Director at Storehouse Church and the Philly Area Coordinator at National Network of Youth Ministries. He lives near Philly with his wife and the three little monsters that they rear together. His 10+ years of youth ministry have been spent in Indiana and Pennsylvania. He is a graduate of Liberty University and Grace Theological Seminary.

Celebrating Volunteers and Helping Them Thrive

Long before I was a pastor, my experience with church ministry was that of a volunteer. Growing up in the FMC as a pastor’s kid, I helped with a little bit of everything–from teaching CLC and singing in choirs, to painting on church workdays.

My first pastoral position was children’s pastor at a fairly large church, where I oversaw more than 100 volunteers. I’ve also overseen volunteers in other ministry settings, such as mission trips, church retreats, and the elementary children’s program at General Conference. As someone who’s been on both sides of the volunteering equation, one thing has become abundantly clear to me: volunteers are the heart and soul of the church.

Even as I affirm my own pastoral vocation, I celebrate the priesthood of all believers. In Paul’s first letter to the church at Corinth, he compares the church to the human body: As it is, there are many members, yet one body.  The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (I Corinthians 12:20-21). Paul gives us a vision of the interconnected nature of the church and reminds us that every single member has something of value to offer the body.

Part of our job as pastors and church leaders is to inspire and empower the volunteers we work with. If we truly desire to create a culture in which our volunteers can thrive, we must be intentional about equipping them. There is no formula for this process, but I’ve found a few things helpful in my own ministry settings.

  1. Fight the urge to settle for warm bodies. Keeping volunteer-driven ministries staffed is an endless task, and the temptation to recruit anyone with a pulse is strong. When you’re struggling to get volunteers, you may find yourself simply asking people you know will say, “yes”, regardless of their giftedness or actual interest. But this is problematic for a few reasons. First, these kinds of volunteers are much more likely to burn out quickly. If they’re not there because they want to be or because they are serving in ways that are meaningful to them, they won’t stay long. Second, just because they’re willing doesn’t mean they’re a good fit. I can think of some parishioners, for example, who may not be a good fit to work with children. The wrong person in a role could be worse than no person. Third, choosing anyone who will say, “yes” undercuts the value of the ministry you’re trying to support. It sends the message that you don’t care enough to find people who will be a good fit. When we take the time to discern who will best serve specific roles, our ministries are better for it.
  2. Don’t overestimate your own importance. As someone who hated group projects in school, I understand all too well the allure of micromanaging. It ensures that things happen the way you want them to, when you want them to. But operating ministries this way shows a lack of imagination. Who says that your vision of success is necessarily the best one? Micromanaging also ensures that ministries you oversee can’t succeed without you. That’s both unhealthy and unsustainable. Do the work of equipping your volunteers. Give them books to read. Mentor them. Let them try new things and take initiative. By empowering your volunteers to lead, you’ll remind both them and you that you’re replaceable. And that’s how it should be. Long after you’ve moved on to another appointment or ministry setting, those ministries will continue to thrive. (Thanks be to God!)
  3. Be honest about your limitations. As a leader, you want to be the one that people look to and trust. But you’re going to have bad ideas. And you’re going to make mistakes. Being honest about this doesn’t make you look weak. It makes you a better leader. Admit to your volunteers when you’re wrong. Ask them for their input and their advice. And when they have better ideas than yours, amplify and implement those ideas! If something isn’t working, don’t be afraid to change course. Not only will your ministries fare better, but your volunteers will be more invested (and stay longer).
  4. Help people move past an understanding of volunteer ministry as obligation. I’ll never forget the phrase I heard my first year as children’s pastor. When I asked someone if they’d like to serve in the nursery, their response was, “I’ve already done my time.” This person compared working with kids to a prison sentence. Ouch. This statement was telling on many levels. The person clearly didn’t enjoy working in the nursery, and I wanted a volunteer that desired to work with younger children where it was mutually beneficial for both the volunteer and the children. It also helped me realize that so many people see ministry as nothing more than an obligation. And that’s a problem. I recognize that a certain amount of sacrifice and self-denial is integral to the Christian life. But God gave us different personality traits and strengths for a reason. Let’s help people discover a fuller understanding of ministry: that in the body of Christ, ministering can, and should be, life-giving.
  1. Remember that your volunteers are more than what they can do for you. Sometimes we get so caught up in running effective ministries that we forget our volunteers have lives outside of the church. And we start to think of people only in terms of how they can benefit us. Fight this tendency by reminding yourself that your volunteers are made in God’s image and that their value doesn’t come from how much they produce or achieve. (For that matter, remind yourself that this applies to you too!) Find ways to get to know and support your volunteers outside the bounds of your ministry. And when you see that they’re overwhelmed or stressed out, encourage them to take time off — even if that means losing them as a volunteer.

When we do the hard work of investing in our volunteers and lifting them up, the body of Christ is richer for it. And so are we. What a gift!

 

About the Author

Katie Sawade Hall is Associate Pastor at Community of the Savior, a Free Methodist congregation in Rochester, New York. Before that she served as Children’s Pastor at Bedford Free Methodist Church in Bedford, Indiana. She is married to Andy Hall and they have a one-year old daughter named Ellie. 

 

Free Boutique Blesses People – And Connects Them With Church

A Free Methodist congregation in Louisiana has nearly quadrupled in size after establishing the Blessing Boutique last year to show love to people and help meet their material needs.

Martha’s Chapel is a country church near Deville, Louisiana (population 1,007). Along with a small population from which to draw people, the church’s location poses a challenge to growth.

“The church is in a hidden area back in the country where a lot of people don’t just pass in front of it,” Pastor Gladys Miller said. “Our challenge is getting people to come to the church, because nobody is going to pass by here and say, ‘Oh, ther5e’s a Methodist church. I think I’ll stop.’”

Before arriving at Martha’s Chapel a year and a half ago, Miller was a retired United Methodist pastor but still preaching almost every Sunday for different pastors who were away from their pulpits, but she was not pastoring one congregation. Then she was asked to fill the vacant pulpit at Martha’s Chapel — an hour’s drive from her home — for a couple of Sundays. She soon heard from then-Superintendent Darrel Riley: “The people at Martha’s Chapel love your preaching and want you as pastor.”

When Miller became the pastor at Martha’s Chapel, the church had nine people attending. Now a typical service has attendance in the “high 30s/low 40s,” Miller said, and a recent homecoming service drew 82 people. The congregation has switched from discussion of possible closure to consideration of how to handle rapid growth.

“I get emotional a little bit when I think about how God is moving. People are coming in, and that’s what we want,” Miller said. “It’s not just the numbers in the church. It’s the number of souls that we can win for the Lord.”

One of the reasons for the growth is the Blessing Boutique, which is held once a month — typically on the second Saturday.

Miller learned of the concept from Sunrise Church, an independent church near her home. With Sunrise’s blessing, she presented the idea for a boutique at Martha’s Chapel to her receptive congregation that began hosting the Blessing Boutique last March. Miller printed a banner that said, “Shop free at the Blessing Boutique at Martha’s Chapel,” and word began to spread in the surrounding area.

“I had no idea when we started it that it would blossom as much as it has,” Miller said. “I was amazed at the amount of donations we had — that people were bringing quality items.”

Martha’s Chapel started the boutique in a small portable building but soon expanded it into part of the church’s parsonage.

The Blessing Boutique has caused the hidden church to become well-known in the area.

“We started doing this, and now they’re coming far and wide to see the church,” Miller said.

After visiting the boutique, some people take an interest in what the church has to offer spiritually.

“Slowly but surely, these people are beginning to come to church,” Miller said. “We will be taking in four new members that have come just because of the Blessing Boutique.”

Martha’s Chapel previously had no children attending, but the boutique has helped change that.

“It’s the best outreach I have ever done to bring people into the church,” Miller said. “We don’t have to beg them to come or anything like that.”

Miller said she is 73 years old, “but I’m a young 73,” and health challenges haven’t stopped her ministry. “I do have Parkinson’s [disease], but the Lord has blessed me. I take medication that controls it most of the time.”

Some boutique shoppers ask Miller if she is Martha because of the church’s name, which was inspired by a founding member named Martha. She tells them, “No, I’m not the original Martha. I’m Gladys.”

Praying + Partnering

Free products may have been most people’s initial attraction to the Blessing Boutique, but the boutique also attracts people seeking prayer.

“People are coming in, and we’re praying with them,” Miller said. “I just walk around all day and have a conversation with these people who have come to shop, and then they will start sharing with me.”

The shoppers often share that they don’t go to church but know that they should. In addition to praying with Miller at the boutique, people now call the church with their prayer requests. Some boutique shoppers now call Martha’s Chapel their church even if they don’t attend regularly, and that is leading their friends to visit church services.

“It’s just spreading, and, of course, that is what we want to do. We want to increase the kingdom of the Lord,” Miller said. “I’m just a simple woman. I preach a simple message, but God is using it.”

The Blessing Boutique introduces people to Christ while also connecting Martha’s Chapel members to other Christians in the area.

“We’re getting people from other churches who are coming to help us,” Miller said.

Variety and Value

Boutique shoppers appreciate the variety of items that are available, and some express shock when they learn the items are available at no cost.

“We have everything. We have shoes. We have clothing. We have toys. We have bedroom articles — sheets. You name it, we have it,” Miller said. “When people come in, they start shopping, and they say, ‘What does this cost?’ We say, ‘It’s free. Freely we have received, and freely we give,’ and that amazes people.”

Miller said that some people offer financial donations after receiving the boutique items, and Martha’s Chapel members use the donations to purchase toiletry items such as toothbrushes, toothpaste and deodorant that are then added to the boutique.

“Every month that we’ve had it, it has picked up in number, and the last time we had it, we had over 100 people that showed up,” Miller said.

Blessing Boutique volunteer Katy Price said that number is a big deal to Martha’s Chapel, which she has attended for 48 years.

“We’re in a very rural area,” Price said. “A hundred may not seem like many to people who live in town and have people going by their church all the time, but for people to come to our location, it’s three or four miles from the nearest store.”

The isolated church is now an important destination for people seeking help along with people wanting to donate items.

“It has just expanded almost beyond having enough room. It’s unbelievable,” Price said.

Ensuring Quality

Although the boutique is held one day a month, volunteers work throughout the month to sort donations left in front of the church building or parsonage.

“It’s hard work though,” Miller said. “People bring us a lot of things, and we have to go through every stack and weed out things.”

Price agreed. “It doesn’t come easy,” she said. “It’s an ongoing process. Someone has to go through the bags and boxes and totes.”

The faithful volunteer said that Martha’s Chapel members want to ensure boutique items are in good condition, and she and other volunteers sort “mountains of clothes” to remove unsuitable clothing.

“We go through it and try to weed out the things that are not good. We don’t want to put anything out there that is dirty,” Price said. “No matter how needy you are, you want nice things.”

Volunteers inspect every donated item, and only items determined to be clean and in perfect condition are put in the Blessing Boutique to give away.

“We have many articles that are brand-new and still have the tags hanging on them,” Miller said. “We had a $150 men’s shirt that was donated. It still had the tag on it. We had several jackets that were $400 or $500 apiece donated.”

One area store is instructed by its corporate headquarters to throw items away when they don’t sell, but the store sets them outside and lets the boutique volunteers know.

“When people come, they know they’re going to get quality things, and we know that God is in this because of the huge amount of donations we have,” Miller said. “It’s been amazing. People say, ‘These things are new.’”

The December boutique especially drew people seeking winter clothes amid falling temperatures.

“We saw real needs met,” Price said. “There were people who really needed warm clothes, and we were so glad to be able to have those things available to them.”

Spreading

News of the boutique is spreading far beyond Deville.

“Because of our church putting it on the Internet, I’ve had churches as far away as Arkansas call me and talk to me about it,” Miller said. “They’re doing it in other areas now.”

The Blessing Boutique concept has spread to the NOLA FMC church plant in the New Orleans area, and Miller hopes free boutiques will open in many other locations.

As Martha’s Chapel members bless others, they find their congregation receives blessings.

“You never know where you’re planting the seed,” said Price who expressed hope that “in the future more will come and join us and become part of the church family.”

Jeff Finley is this magazine’s executive editor. He also serves as a delegate for John Wesley Free Methodist Church in Indianapolis. He joined LIGHT + LIFE in 2011 after a dozen years of reporting and editing for Sun-Times Media.