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Responding to God’s Calling

“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.

Picture the Kingdom

“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. 

 

Intimacy … With Holy Love, Himself

“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

(231) 629-0363

sanctifiedjoy@gmail.com

 

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.

Fruitful Urban Ministry Requires Community Partnerships

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.

 

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The Love Required of Us

Need More Books?
Watch A Discussion About “The Love Required of Us”

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.