What’s the story of your encounter with Jesus? Sometimes He meets us in a quiet, simple moment, and sometimes He makes His presence known more powerfully. But no matter what the encounter looks like, we’re always changed in the presence of our Resurrected Savior.
Scripture is filled with accounts of Jesus’ encounters with ordinary people, and how He’s changed their stories. But these aren’t just stories from thousands of years ago. He continues today to meet with ordinary people like us. And each time He does, He transforms our stories.
Each of us has a story to share. And now more than ever, during this time of necessary limited contact, we need to share our stories. Each story draws us closer into community and connection. Each story reveals more about who He is. Each story reminds us that God is working in us and through us, even on the darkest of days.
Our church community needed to share and hear these stories in the past few weeks, to be challenged and encouraged, so we engaged in a five-week series called, “This Is My Story.” This was an opportunity for increased community and connection, with each other and with Christ. Each Sunday, we studied biblical encounters with Jesus. And we shared video stories from those in our church who have encountered Christ. During the week, we invited others to share their written story in our digital weekly newsletter.
Here’s one story:
I’ve known sorrow, pain, and rainy, gray days. My husband Mark and I were 32 years old
“I’ve known sorrow, pain, and rainy, gray days. My husband Mark and I were 32 years old when Mark came home from the doctor with the diagnosis of malignant melanoma.
Our daughter Erin was three years old. I remember not being able to go to sleep that night because of the nagging worry, ‘What if Mark dies? Who will take care of me and Erin?’ Then God spoke this answer to my spirit, ‘If Mark dies, I will take care of you and Erin.’ That gave me great comfort, and I was finally able to sleep.
“Mark died two years later.
“The first year after Mark’s death was very hard for me. There was a lot of stress from having to make important decisions, suddenly being a single parent, and the many daily responsibilities of life. What was hardest was experiencing the intense emotions of grief. Mark was a wonderful husband and father, and he was my best friend. That person who loved me, made me feel special, who I could talk to and touch, who encouraged me, who was part of my daily life and knew me so well, was no longer here. There was nothing I could do to change that!
“I’d say to myself and to God, ‘I don’t know how I’m going to make it through this.’ Sometimes I’d feel drained of energy, have no desire to do anything, and feel so dead inside. God seemed so far away, as if He was nonexistent. That first year was like a natural disaster had taken place in my life. The second year felt like a desolate time of trying to deal with the great destruction. I don’t know how many years it took for me to grieve, but it was a long time. I had to walk by faith, not by feeling. I had to believe what the Bible says, just because the Bible says it.
“The Bible says that God is; my believing it or not, will not change the fact. (Exodus 3:14)
I chose to believe.
The Bible says that God will never leave me nor forsake me. (Deuteronomy 31:6)
I chose to believe it.
The Bible says that God cares for me. (1 Peter 5:7)
I chose to believe it.
The Bible says that God loves me. (John 3:16, 1 John 4:9-10, Romans 8:37-39)
I chose to believe it.
The Bible says that ‘in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.’ (Romans 8:28)
I chose to believe it.
“I’m no longer in that painful and desolate time of my life, but the Bible still says those same things.
And I still choose to believe.”
Just like the biblical encounters with Jesus, our stories served as encouragement to each other and insight into who He is. And as we recognized the transformational power of these encounters, we closed our series singing:
This is my story,
This is my song,
Praising my Savior all the day long
Raging fires throughout Northern California have taken many homes, creating smoke-filled air that chokes out oxygen, making every breath a labored chore, obscuring the sun, and has made life dangerous and miserable for months. One Free Methodist church, the Foothill Community Church, was evacuated and hundreds of Free Methodists spanning a 300-mile range of burning landscape have been evacuated or under warnings to do so. We know Christ is our rock, and through faith we can be encouraged and undaunted. Yet, how does being in a connectional church help during times of crisis?
Simply put, we are stronger together. Pastors Chris and Kaydi Hemberry and their daughters were evacuated from their home in Oroville, California, and along with dozens of others fleeing harm’s way, were warmly received by the Table Mountain Free Methodist Church in nearby Thermalito. Two years earlier, when the Table Mountain Church community was reeling from evacuations and homes lost to the fire that destroyed neighboring Paradise, California, it was the Foothill Community Church that operated as the support network. Both churches rose to undeniably bless their communities. Further, the national Free Methodist Church, through the Bishops’ Crisis Response Fund, provided significant aid to help rebuild perishing lives through the FM presence in charred Butte County.
Early in the 2020 fire season, the Corralitos Community Church housed and supported fire refugees fleeing the ravages of the CZU Lightning Fire Complex, burning through large portions of Santa Cruz and San Mateo counties. The churches of the Sierra Pacific Conferences provided financial aid and support for not only Free Methodists in the region but all suffering and seeking aid.
Congregations closely networked together in a local community, throughout a region, and nationally provide deep spiritual bonds that are an extraordinary benefit of being a connectional church. Add to this the practical muscle that makes it simple to quickly transfer and provide aid, communicate with one another, and execute relief and guidance on a large scale, and we have a network of churches truly stronger together.
Many today do not trust “denominations” or institutions in general. In some ways, however, we see denominations in the same way that Winston Churchill viewed democracy, when he said, “Many forms of government have been tried, and will be tried in this world of sin and woe. No one pretends that democracy is perfect or all-wise. Indeed it has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.”
Free Methodists do not believe the denomination is perfect, all wise, or nearly as fruitful or beneficial as it could be. We do believe, with all our collective hearts, that despite imperfections, we are yet much stronger and wiser together. Our connectionalism remains, as John Wesley referred to it, a “means of grace.”
Jesus spoke of a yoke, a device that binds animals together, as liberating. Indeed, two horses can pull 9,000 pounds together, but yoke a team of four and they can pull 30,000 pounds. If horses that are yoked together, are stronger together, then imagine the great power that exists when the churches of Jesus are yoked together under the Lordship of Christ? Our burden, says Jesus, becomes light, and our yoke, rather than being a restrictive hinderance, is easy (Matthew 11:29–30).
Connectional church is nothing other than being yoked together under Christ’s direction. It does limit some freedom, and it does require that one church may sacrifice today for the benefit of another, which may sacrifice tomorrow for the blessing of yet another. But is that not what family has always done? Is that not the best scenario for a local congregation? Is that not then also the greatest hope for a national or global network of Christ-followers?
We have seen how this works during a fire. During the pandemic, which has significantly altered how churches operate, leaders and members have been stressed and pulled from so many different angles in their communities that reactivity or despair could have resulted. But as a result of national guidance for best practice, offers of financial support, translating into regional (conference) guidance, training, equipping, spiritual and emotional support along with funding to offset significant losses — our churches are surviving, and in some cases, thriving during what would otherwise be a devastating national tsunami of loss. We are, during a historic pandemic, stronger together.
But even in terms of “normal” church life, being yoked together has significant impact. Connections between churches in Redwood City, San Francisco, Modesto, Oroville and Ripon, California, along with financial backing from the conference, created the needed funds and volunteers to launch Iglesia Misionera Gracia y Amor. This church launched two years ago in a garage, grew to several living rooms, and is meeting now in a warehouse, reaching Stockton, California, for Jesus and could only have been birthed through connectional support. Sixteen new Free Methodist churches have been planted in Northern California and Nevada over the past four years alone, relying upon the mutual, connectional support of churches and church leaders working together. Leadership development and mentoring takes place between gifted church leaders, igniting emerging leaders and new calls, particularly among women and minorities. This is only possible through connectional collaboration and impossible to accomplish well for a disconnected church that is not a mega-church.
Cities are nourished through connectional ministry. The “Ghost Ship” burned to the ground in Oakland, California. This conflagration made national news as many homeless people and artists lived and worked in this large, abandoned, but densely populated building, and many died horrible deaths. It was the Bay Community Fellowship (FMC) of Oakland, strengthened and supported by representatives from several churches in the conference, that gathered around the ruins and provided pastoral care and opportunities for community lament and a way toward hope. We are stronger and more impactful in our communities when we act together.
Perhaps the most delightful yoked-together outcome is global impact. While bashed by many across America as antiquated, denominations remain the world’s largest source of leaders and funds to bring the good of Jesus to every nation. The network of Free Methodist churches requires that each one actively participate as able in the Great Commission through prayer, giving and even going. Every local Free Methodist church, consequently, becomes a global church with global influence.
In the Sierra Pacific Conference, for example, we share a sister relationship with the Free Methodist churches of Myanmar. Burmese Christians pray at every church service for churches in California and Nevada, and the networked churches in the USA pray every week for the beleaguered but undaunted brothers and sisters in Myanmar. A percentage of every offering any worshiper contributes to a church in our network is allocated to support churches and church planting in the 12th most dangerous place to be a Christian — Myanmar. Our leaders swap stories and grow from one another’s perspective in theology, evangelism, spiritual life and church growth. We are yoked together across oceans. There are many other Free Methodist missionaries and global leaders that local churches choose to support. It is no stretch of credulity for a member of a church plant of 12 or a worshiping group of 1,200 in the Free Methodist connection to claim the status of global Christian.
Whether across town, networked over hundreds of miles in a “conference,” united by national ties or connected across oceans by intentional faith and commitment as Free Methodists yoked together with Jesus, there is an undeniable truth. Whether struggling through crises, engaging ministry opportunities or supporting one another as individuals, it is clear. We are stronger together.
About the Author
Mark Adams superintends the Sierra Pacific Conference (Network of Undeniable Blessing), superintended the North Central Conference, and church planted and pastored at several Chicagoland locations. Mark has also worked as a mental health counselor, child welfare worker, social work supervisor and was on faculty at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. He is married to Kerrie, and they have four sons and eight grandchildren.
“When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you have to speak up. You have to say something; you have to do something.” – John Lewis
If you had told me over six years ago, when I entered the ordination journey, that this quote would reflect what I now know to be the heart of my ministry, I think I would have run! But isn’t that God’s way? There’s a reason that God shows up as a “lamp upon our feet.” It is likely that if we saw the whole path in the light of day, there aren’t too many of us who would follow.
But God! I grew up in a home where church was an unshakable part of our Sunday routine. Seeds were sown at a young age. With those seeds in my heart, I knew that whenever I needed some peace, hope, and love I could find it in Jesus. And it was in those early years that I experienced God tangibly and heard God most clearly in worship through music in church — standing and singing as one to an audience of One.
I am so thankful I had those seeds stowed away. They were what drew me back to the church in my early twenties and without them, I wouldn’t have stayed. While the church that I grew up in was a refuge, I’ve since learned that experience would be the exception instead of the rule. I visited churches trying to find one that felt like a fit but often felt out of place, unsure and self-conscious. Being multi-racial, there are very few spaces you can walk into and know you will fit. I kept pressing in, fueled by those seeds, and holding on to the little glimmers from God.
Eventually, I began attending a Free Methodist church, where I found a bubble of refuge serving on the worship team. After years on the team and in the midst of a tumultuous transition within the church, I felt God drawing me into ministry. I was shocked and frankly scared! I wasn’t sure if I could be called! I had never seen someone like me in ministry — female, not white, young-ish, nose ring, new mom. I had also experienced enough to know that churches, composed of imperfect people, are imperfect. I knew there was brokenness, but in ministry, I would learn how deep that brokenness might be.
After one of those moments where I knew I heard God speak clearly, I went ahead and made the leap. I began the ordination process. I thought if I studied hard enough, followed the “rules,” and walked in step with my lead pastors that everything would be okay. I would “fit.”
I tried and I tried. I aced every course I took for educational requirements. I served however and wherever the lead pastors asked (even when it was painful). But I didn’t fit, and I didn’t know why. The FMC ordains women! Although the only women I had seen preach by that point in my life were at Women of Faith. The FMC championed abolition! Although the only lead pastors I had met by that point in my life were White men. So … was it me? My confidence was slowly eroding and my questions started to shift from “Am I doing something wrong?” to “Is there something wrong with me?”
DISCLAIMER: I know in my heart of hearts that all of the lead pastors I served under had my best interests at heart. They supported and encouraged me … the best they knew how.
Yet, that’s the point. They did the best they knew how. It was in that realization that I experienced a turning point. Another pastor, a White, middle-aged, male mentor recommended a book, White Fragility. He had just read the book and recognized some of what he hadn’t known. He said I should read the book because “you need to know what you’re up against.” From those pages I learned that much of what I experienced was the result of implicit bias — the attitudes we hold that affect our actions in an unconscious way — on a personal and systemic level. It shifted my question from “Is there something wrong with me?” to “Is this the wrong place for me?”; from “Do I fit?” to “Do I fit here?”
As I wrestled with those questions, my heart began to ache. A new question rose to the surface: If I, a soon-to-be ordained pastor, have struggled to stay, then how many people walk away from our churches having been made to feel like they didn’t fit before receiving the seeds we all so desperately need? How many have we, as the church, turned away? A new word was added to the question, not just “Do I fit here?” but “Do I want to fit here?”
In the midst of chewing on those questions, I had another turning point. As one of my final ordination requirements, I attended the Embrace All Conference. I had never experienced diversity like that in an FMC context; diversity of perspective, leadership, preaching/teaching styles, gender, race, all engaging in discussions around justice (i.e. “what love looks like in public” in the words of Cornel West). At the end of the conference, they made a space at the table for me and, for the first time, I asked some of those questions out loud. As the table listened, they nodded their heads and then answered: not only did I fit there but, “We need your voice. We need you.”
I now sit on the board of the Justice Network of the FMC as affiliate director and am newly appointed as founding director of our first affiliate, the Genesis Justice Network. The Justice Network serves to resource, raise awareness, and be a catalyst of change for a greater emphasis on justice-oriented teaching and action in our denomination. The affiliates make that action more effective and accessible on a local level.
If you would like to partner with me and support my work and that of the Genesis Justice Network, please send your donations to the Genesis Conference with Genesis Justice Network in the memo line.
About the Author
Marissa Mattox Heffernan is a newly ordained (May/November 2020) elder in the Genesis Conference. She has served in various pastoral roles since 2013 leading in the areas of assimilation, discipleship, worship and facilitating leadership development of lay ministry leaders and is a trained facilitator in racial reconciliation. Her passion has long been leading worship through music. The unity experienced in worship has driven Marissa to explore what the culture of Christianity would look like if all people were equally recognized as image-bearers of God. Marissa is married to her best friend, Matt, and is mom to three daughters. Marissa loves a good road trip, a good book, and a bag of yarn.
“I want you to picture My kingdom in Uniontown.” The words echoed around me during a time of prayer, an unmistakable message to my heart from the still, small voice of God. In that moment I thought I knew what those words meant. It seemed to me an invitation to step into the new calling of lead pastor, something vastly different from the role I had previously held as family ministries pastor. I took the step, embraced this new season, and as I did so, I discovered that I had only begun to understand this message from God to my heart.
As I sought to live into this new role and embrace the calling of lead pastor, I kept the words “picture my kingdom” close to my heart. Soon, this message that had provided me comfort and assurance became words that challenged and stretched me. Truthfully, if I was going to seek God’s kingdom where I was, it meant first and foremost that God needed to be King. Jesus needed to be Lord. This was an easy enough concept to live out when God’s idea of how I should be seeking His kingdom matched my own preconceptions of what that meant. Then COVID hit, followed by the cry for justice from our Black brothers and sisters, paired with devastating local violence in the city where I had been asked to picture God’s kingdom. As each crisis came crashing down, God began to dismantle my small ideas of what it meant to picture God’s kingdom.
When I first began to articulate the call to picture God’s kingdom in Uniontown, it had everything to do with the success of the church I was pastoring. I equated picturing the kingdom with imagining the local church I was serving living into a missional identity. I saw this little church growing as it participated in incarnational ministry within its neighborhood. I dreamed up what I believed should be the future of this church for the sake of the kingdom. They were not bad dreams. In fact, they were hopeful and had strong theological backing. They were the goals all the books on missional churches and movements told me to work toward. Yet, as the various tragedies erupted around me, I realized I had painted much too small a picture of the kingdom of God. I had spent so much time imagining a future for this local church, that I had forgotten that my call was not to imagine one church, but to picture the kingdom. As I began to cry out to God for what it meant to live into that calling in the midst of so much suffering, I realized that my hands were closed too tightly around a particular dream for one church. If I would not surrender those dreams and visions, I would not be able to fully picture His kingdom. I had tried to live into the kingdom of God without allowing Jesus to be King.
It is tempting to think that because our visions for the local church we serve are biblical, and hopeful, and Christ-centered that we have allowed Jesus to be King and Lord of those visions. However, what happens when God shows us a picture of His kingdom at work in our city, and that picture calls our church in a direction that is different from the well-articulated vision we thought we were supposed to be moving toward? What happens when the glory of the kingdom calls our churches into a place where they don’t see “success” as we would measure it? In those moments, are we willing to lay down what we believe the future of our church should be so that our hands might be open to receive God’s vision and more fully live into His kingdom? All throughout Scripture, the kingdom of God is described in ways that surprise people, and God is almost always calling His prophets and leaders into ministry that is unexpected. God tells Jeremiah to prophecy in ways that both build up and tear down (Jeremiah 1:10) yet rarely do our visions of our local church involve tearing down. Would we walk toward that if that was what would bring the most glory to the kingdom?
It is this surrender of our own ideas of the future, the understanding that the kingdom of God is much grander than our one local church, that allows us to actually embrace God’s vision for the churches we serve. When we begin to live into His vision for the local church, we get to catch a glimpse of the way His kingdom is breaking into our neighborhoods and cities. Not only that, but we get to be a part of it! We get to see reconciliation conversations take place in the middle of clergy meetings. We get to witness healing at prayer vigils made possible by the partnerships of multiple churches. We find ourselves speaking life to a hurting community longing for justice. Most of all, we worry less about the future of our own local churches, and begin to yearn most for whatever brings the greatest glory to the kingdom of God.
Matthew 6:31-33 reminds us, “So do not worry, saying ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” I have come to understand that the call not to worry applies not only to clothes and food, but also to desired “successes” of the local church. Today I do not need to worry saying, “What will the church’s future look like?” “Will people engage in the mission? Will they buy in?” “Will tithing return to normal?” “Will people engage like they did pre-COVID?” No, I do not need to worry about any of it, for this is my Father’s church. I am called instead to seek His kingdom. When I do this, the peace of Christ, which passes all understanding, guards my heart and mind so that I do not grip too tightly to my ideas of how my local church should live into the kingdom. Instead, I am openhanded, ready to receive God’s vision of the role this church will play. When I seek the kingdom first, trust comes easier, and I am able to marvel at the way in which God is moving in, through, and far beyond my church. When I do this, I find I truly can picture the kingdom of God.
About the Author
Kayleigh Clark currently serves as the lead pastor of the Uniontown Free Methodist Church. She and her husband, Nate, spent their first year of marriage moving to a new state, starting new jobs, buying a home, and living through a quarantine — and they still love each other as much as the day they got married, maybe even more! She is a graduate of Eastern Nazarene College and Northeastern Seminary.
“God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them” (1 John 4:16).
“Those who look to Him are radiant; their faces are never covered with shame” (Psalm 34:5).
As the North Michigan Conference’s Global Associate Prayer (GAP) missionary, my call is to engage in prayer ministry as a full-time occupation in order to advance God’s kingdom from the place of heart to heart fellowship with Him — while embracing a missionary lifestyle with a ministry focused on others who will say “yes.”
The purpose of this ministry is that the body of Christ would become one together in intimacy with Jesus Christ via the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit of God. The mission is that every man, woman, Jew, and Gentile alike would be sanctified as one to shine His living radiance in a broken, lost, and dying world. The vision is for the church to become a home of prayer for all nations. The strategy is that she would take her place as His bridal warrior to rise up in victory over the entire kingdom of darkness. The goal is that the Spirit and the bride would sing together in a divine duet for Jesus to come at last, and invite those who are thirsty to drink of His living water. The prayer is that it would be used as an instrument to free us from the agony of living in the bondage of worldly sin so that we may experience the ecstasy of heaven’s glory … all to fully enjoy a dance of holy love with God now. Finally, the heart of this ministry is that heaven would invade earth, and those who say “yes” to Him would be made complete and ready to rejoice at the wedding supper of the Lamb. It is then that the sanctified church becomes a force that is unstoppable. In this place, we will not be shaken no matter what the future holds.
Years ago, I was an empty, broken, naked, and blood-stained soul. I knew I was a failure. I was desperate to experience God personally. I ached for more of Him. And so I began to singly pursue Him. My quest was based on the Free Methodist hallmark scripture, 1 Thessalonians 5:23–24, “May God Himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul, and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The One who calls you is faithful, and He will do it.” I began to understand that He was asking me to become authentic and transparent with Him. And so it was in the deep agony of failure that I cried out to Him to heal my bleeding soul. I asked Him to be my balm of Gilead, as His very presence came right into the depths of my shame, grief, and despair. He began to bind up the wounds of my broken heart. The process of it all took many years (and I am still a work in progress), but His grace gently healed my fractured past. He began to fulfill my deepest longings with the intimate heart-to-heart union of His loving presence, and gave me hope for the future. During this time, He whispered in my ear, “Write the vision and make it plain on tablets, that he may run who reads it” (Habakkuk 2:2). And so I began to write.
I longed for God’s joy, peace, and freedom to become my lifestyle — so I began to create the “Jubilee Experience.” In it, I developed seven categories of holiness in life that God could occupy and transform by His sanctifying presence. These are: spiritual, personal (or soul), physical, relational, vocational, economical, and synergistical (His momentum in the life of the church). Each category consists of a body of seven one-page minuets of prayer that brought me into heart-to-heart fellowship with God. As I moved through each day connected to Him in the minuet, His living Word became even more alive! He began to gradually bring my life into harmony with His. It was like poetry in motion with Him. As I was transformed, the writings were transformed. The more that I would invest in the Jubilee, the more He would bring sanctification into each area of living. I encountered a deeper communion of love with Him as He continued to set me free. As I grew in the journey, I experienced more of His perfect peace, fullness of joy, and unconditional love. I learned to be at one with Him in daily fellowship. My spirit was knitted in union with His Spirit. And so, it became a dance with God. This is the Jubilee Experience! Seven categories of holiness multiplied by seven minuets of prayer offer forty-nine areas of koinonia fellowship with Him and each other. The fiftieth day will be when we are finally and completely united with Him at the marriage supper of the Lamb!
The Jubilee creates a beautiful synergy of a holy love life with Jesus as the center. The life application of it will profoundly impact all who say “yes” to Him. Loving our Lord then becomes a holy dance of life together — as He invites us to freely move in the rhythm of His joy, the anchor of His hope, and the power of His love. Living here brings a personal vivacity and glow of His inner splendor that emanates His presence from the core of our being. His brilliance moves us outward. His living radiance will draw even the ones who are desperately lost into the bridal church for true discipleship. We will then shine with heaven’s glory to penetrate a darkened, lost, and deceived world. We celebrate as we are triumphant over the enemy who is continually defeated!
I close with this prophetic prayer of commune intimately taken from the Jubilee Experience as a gift from my heart to yours:
“Oh Lord God, my desire is for the church to invest her entire life focused on pursuing an encounter of intimate communion with You and each other in genuine koinonia fellowship … as I am in complete and humble awe that You gave up Your entire life on the cross to fervently pursue us. May our trembling heart be awakened in a continual state of yearning for the deepest connection of love that is possible on this earth and in this time of our life. Oh precious Beloved, show us how to become one with Your unconditional love that You have so freely given to us. Help us to realize that there is a wounded, gaping, and bleeding cavern in our human soul that can only be mended, healed, and filled by the occupied dwelling of the glory of Your presence. It is here that Your grace and mercy wait for us to ask You to come into the very core of our being. It is here that You knit Your eternal heart with ours. It is here that first love living is made possible. Holy Spirit, please commune with our spirit so that full joy, pure delight and transformed freedom will abound. Sanctify and infuse us with Your living radiance as we are one with You, so that we may shine brilliant in this lost, deceived, and darkened world. This is the absolute deepest desire of our heart. We love You so much! In Jesus’ beautiful name, amen.”
Please prayerfully consider how God may call you to help infuse this ministry into the body of Christ. If you would like more information, or if you would like a copy the Jubilee Experience for your own personal/corporate use, or would like me or my team to come to your church or ministry to host a retreat or conference, please contact me at:
Pastor Patricia Ann Tefft
320 E. Oak St., Apt. 110
Greenville, MI 48838
About the Author
Patricia Ann Tefft serves as the Global Associate Prayer (GAP) Missionary for the North Michigan Conference and beyond. She cherishes her Christian heritage as a fifth-generation (four of which were ordained) Free Methodist. When she was appointed to Millbrook FMC in 2008, she learned that her great-grandmother, the Rev. Coda Mae Butler pastored there in 1922-23. Patricia became ordained in 2013. She holds a certification in biblical counseling with the American Association of Christian Counselors. Patricia also served as a consecrated deacon and was a prayer team chair in several of her former churches. She has had over 30 years of experience in prayer counseling, inner healing, spiritual formation/direction, and bringing freedom to those held in captivity. She has infused the intimate love life of Jesus into hundreds of other lives. She has designed and written various prayer walks, retreats, seminars and courses on how to infuse prayer into the center of the life of the church. Patricia is the author, dancer, and prophetic poet of the Jubilee Experience – anointed writings that unlock the mystery of living in the grace and rhythm of entire sanctification. As His beloved ones enter in, they are taken from the agony of living in this world to experiencing the ecstasy of heaven’s glory. Life becomes a freedom dance of holy love with Him now! Patricia’s mandate is to help prepare the sanctified Bride for His arrival. She is now developing a new personal ministry and prayer team that will soon go online called Living Radiance Ministries.
Governor George Ryan handed me the Illinois Excellence Award for Hillside Free Methodist Church’s Refugee Ministry. It was a proud moment for the church. Serving refugees in Chicago had never been about awards (though the church received many) but simply about obedience to a vision and answer to prayer. Ministering to, sponsoring, relocating and providing spiritual and relational support for hundreds of refugees on Chicago’s North Side flowed out of an answer to prayer and has been accomplished through collaborative efforts with many organizations throughout Chicagoland.
Effective ministry — especially in the city — starts with prayer, leading to vision, and requires collaboration.
The first collaboration is always between the Holy Spirit and the community of faith. Christ’s Spirit filled our church with heartbreak over persecuted Christians around the world, and a desire to do something to help. Our hearts were particularly moved over the people suffering in Sudan. After a significant season of prayer, and of raising support for various aid agencies assisting persecuted Christians, we discovered that Sudanese refugees were arriving in Chicago. We could not pray to assist the Sudanese and then not take action when God brought them to our doorstep.
World Relief became our first community partner. This amazing global outreach and aid branch of the National Association of Evangelicals provided the church with its first taste of training, awareness and provision of support for refugees. In partnership with World Relief, we learned how to befriend, establish and empower new arrivals to the USA who were shell-shocked, culturally overwhelmed, in deep need and looking for the hope of a better future.
The church began to sponsor more refugees, setting up apartments in Chicago for people not only from the Sudan, but Kosovo, Bosnia, Eretria, Liberia, Rwanda, Burundi, Ivory Coast, Syria, Iraq and many other places ravaged by war. Multiple needs were represented. Of course, the basic needs for food and shelter meant church members began to forge healthy relationships with the Department of Public Aid, Senior Services, the Department of Housing and Urban Development, and the regional Interfaith Housing Center.
After salvation in Jesus Christ, perhaps the next most important thing in life is being able to secure meaningful work. Doing so in a strange land, not speaking the local language, and often not educated or certified for work in the profession of choice creates numerous barriers. Partnering with other churches that provide job training, local businesses to create open door opportunities, community coaching programs, etc., proved critical as the church sought to aid these new hopeful employees.
Many refugees arrive having been professionals in their homeland but not able to work similar professions in the USA. Many more have few educational accomplishments equipping them to work immediately in jobs paying more than minimum wage. Education is critical. The church learned to partner with local schools. We discovered Chicago community colleges and local high schools had affordable, sometimes free courses and certification programs that assist refugees navigate sometimes daunting educational and certification goals needed to open doors to the “American Dream.”
Networking in community to identify physicians and special care agencies, i.e. Lighthouse for the Blind, that have a heart for refugees added to community collaboration and have literally saved refugee lives.
As the church coordinated aid and support for refugees, all of these community support tools helped the church understand the real need to see ministry as cooperation across a broad spectrum of agencies, institutions and people. Church members proactively connected and engaged with meeting real needs as they arose, tutoring, transporting, befriending, opening their homes, and navigating legal documents and tax issues. But church volunteers alone are not enough. The needs of hundreds of refugees were beyond the capacity of the single congregation to meet on its own. Discovering local tutors, partnering with the University of Chicago student legal bureau and identifying partners through other churches made the ministry to refugees holistic, expansive and successful.
Community collaboration takes effort. Phone calls, face-to-face meetings, give-and-take, and misunderstandings abound. Far, far more difficult is accomplishing a holistic ministry in an urban center without it. What started as a need felt through prayer, and simple opportunities to do the next right thing for a devastated group of people, gave an already multicultural church new connections within the community that were necessary to accomplish our vision. What was unexpected were the benefits to the church as a result of community cooperation.
The church became known throughout Chicago’s North Side as the go-to resource for learning to work with refugees and a global population. World Relief referred churches interested in starting such ministries to Hillside as an example. As a result of ministry to refugees, the church rose in credibility in its immediate community, and attendance rose both from those being served and those wanting to connect with a ministry that was making a real difference in people’s lives. The blessing of forming a more multicultural congregation (30% African heritage, 30% Asian heritage, 30% European heritage) that spoke up to 16 languages on any given Sunday created opportunities to bear witness to God’s global redemption. Multiple recognitions, the Mayor’s Martin Luther King Unity Banner, World Relief’s Church of the Year, the Governor’s Excellence Award and others did bring opportunity for the Free Methodist Church to have citywide influence and provide a tangible voice for justice, mercy and humility in the city.
Effective urban ministry starts with prayer, leading to vision, requiring community partnerships to be truly fruitful.
About the Author
Mark Adams superintends the Sierra Pacific Conference (Network of Undeniable Blessing), superintended the North Central Conference, and church planted and pastored at several Chicagoland locations. Mark has also worked as a mental health counselor, child welfare worker, social work supervisor and was on faculty at Garret Evangelical Theological Seminary. He is married to Kerrie, and they have four sons and eight grandchildren.
Need More Books?
Watch A Discussion About “The Love Required of Us”
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.
“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.” 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” or John’s commission, “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you”, 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; others call it communion, community, co-mission; and even others Up, In, and Out. 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.
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.” 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.” 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.” 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, 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
- Am I enjoying the love of God?
- Am I becoming more like Jesus?
- Am I aware of God’s presence in daily life?
- Am I making God known to others by my way of life?
Using spiritual disciplines as means of grace
- Am I praying in all circumstances?
- Am I listening to God through the Bible?
- Am I meeting Jesus in the Eucharist?
- Am I practicing fasting and self-denial?
- Am I living as a servant of others?
Sharing fellowship with spiritual friends
- Am I sharing the ups and downs of my spiritual life?
- Am I giving and receiving spiritual guidance?
- Am I growing in the fruit of the Spirit?
- Am I developing the use of spiritual gifts?
- Am I sharing spiritual wisdom?
Engaging mission through love of neighbor
- Am I aware of being sent by God into daily life?
- Am I making new friends with my neighbors?
- Am I offering hospitality to others?
- Am I showing God’s love in practical ways?
- 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.
 Breen, Mike. Building a Discipling Culture. 2016. Kindle Location 100.
 Matthew 28:16-20
 John 20:21
 Woodward, J.R. & White Jr., Dan. The Church as Movement.
. Breen, Mike. Building a Discipling Culture
 Matthew 3:16-17
 Wesley, John. “The Means of Grace.” The Sermons of John Wesley. Ed. Kenneth Collins.
 Matthew 18:20.
 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.
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.