Archive for September, 2012

What type of church is yours?

Posted: September 25, 2012 by efenster in Ideas

The following thought-provoking article was written by Rev. David Michel, District Superintendent of the Northeast District.  It is being shared with you with his permission.  (Thanks Dave!)

The Trinity and the Ultimate Concern of Your Church

Years ago I read Lyle Schaeller’s suggestion that one identifying mark of a local church is which member of the Trinity they most embraced – Father, Son or Holy Spirit.

I believe there are other identifying characteristics that are perhaps as helpful – organizing for mission by size characteristics, demographic background of the people including ethnic and economic factors,  and denominational background and theological heritage, although that one is fading.  A church’s actual (not official) mission statement is also pretty compelling in forging an identity.  But often that is related to the categories below, I think.  And perhaps whether a church is IU or Purdue dominated, but that is another article.

But in my current role as a DS, as I travel around the churches (Acts 15:41) I sometimes note that the language, concerns, driving force, worship and hymns/songs of a church fall into a pattern around the Trinity.   We discussed this during Cabinet once, and Bishop Mike commented that there is also a fourth member of the Trinity that shape some churches identity.  And there might be a fifth, I think. (You have to read on.)

An issue where this is sometimes helpful: when the pastor preaches and leads out of one paradigm, and the church has traditionally operated out of another, and they find themselves in conflict, often unable to articulate why. They just are puzzled why the other thinks like they do, and are convinced they would be happier if all thought alike.

And it’s not that these categories are exclusive, but rather one is dominant, a couple others are referred to somewhat, and some are almost totally missing.

I mention this in my January S/PPRC trainings, and it often gets a lot of conversation going.  And it came up at least half a dozen times in my summer conversations with pastors puzzling over their churches.

So let’s explore this.  At the end I’ll invite you to consider:

            What is the dominant theme for your church?

            And what does your personal ministry emphasize?

God Churches

I think there are two types:

God the Creator churches and pastors emphasize inclusiveness, the universality of God, are usually pretty precise in their language regarding gender, hold Creation in high regard, and less emphasis is put on the intimate presence of God in our lives.

God the Father churches and pastors emphasize Jesus’ “Abba” relationship with God, a closer, intimate, personal relationship is in the prayers and teaching, less so the transcendent God of the ages.

Jesus Churches

Again, I think there are two types:

Jesus the Christ churches and pastors emphasize the divine, exalted, resurrected Christ, Lord of all, Savior and Christ of the Church.  There are sure a lot of great hymns and songs for this one!

Jesus of Nazareth churches and pastors emphasize the humanity of Jesus.  He was a Jewish Rabbi with dust on his feet, who ate with sinners, was frustrated with his Disciples, suffered with people and at the hands of people, was crucified dead and buried.  Again, it doesn’t preclude the resurrection of Jesus the Christ, but the humanity shines through a bit more than the exaltation.  He walks with me and He talks with me in these churches and pastors.

Holy Spirit Churches

Two types?

Charismatic churches and pastors emphasize the gifts of the Spirit, where you hear “The Holy Spirit led/told me to……”   There is less need for hierarchy or Christian conference if the Spirit directs our every step. The worship in these churches can be energetic.  Sometimes I picture the worship in heaven like this.

This might be a stretch: Feeling Spirit churches and pastors are those that most value an emotional language and people’s affective response to the Church community and the Gospel. 

The Bishop mentioned a fourth member of the Trinity that some churches construct:

Bible Churches

Again, there are perhaps two types:

The Bible as Authority churches and pastors have a lot of “The Bible says…..” and refer to it as the guide and rule for most or all of our life.  Some churches even have rules about what you can and cannot do with a Bible as a book. (Don’t put that Bible on the floor. Don’t put anything on top of the Bible.) People carry them and mark in them.  Arguably, I think such churches/pastors tend to fall a bit more on the Law side of things.  There is a belief that the Bible means one thing which is self evident, although there is a lot of disagreement out there.  Tradition, reason, experience and Christian conferencing to understand the Bible is less relevant.  Personal comment: I thought the Bible said the Word became flesh, and He is full of grace and truth.  But I tip my hand.

This is definitely a stretch, but I’m not sure where else to put this. The Proverbs as Authority church and pastors have a lot of sayings that are almost regarded as divinely inspired.  Although they aren’t in the Bible, they are almost sacrosanct.  The Sunday morning schedule shall be ……..  You cannot take coffee into the sanctuary.  In worship you must dress like ………. Children should be respectful by ………   The Budget (note the capital B) must be ……….  Organs/guitars/drums/NODRUMS are the way God wants us to worship.  Communion shall always be taken by ……… (I once followed a pastor who moved away in a U-Haul after violating that one.)    

I guess you can tell this is my least favorite category?

And I think I have noticed one other paradigm that no church or pastor will admit to, but I really see it as the operative mission in some churches:

The Church as Ultimate Concern

Again, two ways I hear this lived out:

The Church as a Building churches spend most of their conversation, volunteer effort, and fundraising on maintaining a meeting place.  Some churches even hang on long after most of the congregation has left, and resist closing out of reverence and affection for their spiritual home.  There are even a lot of church arguments over stuff in the building: sanctuary furniture, carpeting, paint color and the like.  I’ve been called in to adjudicate several of these.

The Church as Congregation emphasizes a healthy, growing congregation.  The graphs should reflect an upward trend.  Or people express their mission “Our church needs to reach new/younger people” and the unexpressed purpose is that this will be good for the congregation. You are less likely to hear “We need to reach people because they need Jesus/are lost” as a motivating force.  Serving and helping the institution survive is a dominant theme.

What doesn’t fit?

Areas that don’t fit into this scheme nicely: Churches that emphasize service and meeting the needs of the last and the least, the poor and the marginalized;  St Theresa type churches?  And prophetic churches that spend a great deal of energy witnessing to a corrupt culture?  Maybe sacramental and monastic orders? And there are probably others.  But no paradigm is all inclusive, and I’ve probably stretched this one as far as it can go.

Conclusion and Challenge

Some might say “We don’t emphasize one over the other; we are balanced!”  But as I watch churches operate (I’ve been in over 100 in the last five years) one or two tend to dominate, with the others less frequently mentioned, and some even totally overlooked.

And I’m not saying one is better than the other.  Well, maybe I would say the Proverb as Authority Church sure isn’t what Jesus died for.  But I bet that there have been times when I’ve operated out of the others.

I have mediated conflicts over a Bible preacher in a God the Creator Church.  “Why don’t they believe the Bible?”  “Why does the preacher harp on these harsh rules?”  I have had pastors who are stunned to hear “Preacher, you mention Jesus too often.”   In another District a very faithful and fruitful pastor, who I think is primarily a Jesus the Christ pastor is serving a God the Creator congregation; very tall steeple, educated, respectable.  The congregation was surprised on the first Easter with the new pastor when he went on and on about the bodily resurrection of Jesus and the empty tomb.  He was surprised that they were surprised.

What I don’t want from this article is a lot of feedback telling me why this is wrong or misguided.  The Bible/Jesus/God/Spirit/Schaeller told me so.  So there.

What I do encourage is that for fun, perhaps insight, and perhaps growth, that you to talk with your Covenant Group, friends, church leaders, and your Ministry Cluster about these things:

What is the dominant inspiration or authority that gives your church its marching orders?

And what is the dominant inspiration or authority that gives your ministry its marching orders?

Do they match?  Do they complement each other?  Are they in conflict with each other?

Me?  I’m primarily a Jesus of Nazareth follower.  Secondarily, I appreciate God the Creator and God the Father emphasis, and I love the worship of Holy Spirit churches.  I am afraid I have bowed at the altar of the healthy congregation from time to time.  I hope I didn’t confuse the Church with its building too often.  I acknowledge that I really struggle with people who believe they are directed directly by the Holy Spirit and don’t need listen to others.  Especially me.  And the Bible as Law and Proverb churches really try my soul.

But as 1 Corinthians says, there are many parts and one body, so……..

Dave Michel, neds, Jesus follower

September 2012

Rebuilding after the tornado

Posted: September 18, 2012 by efenster in Stories

   The following article was submitted by Rev. Bob Vale, pastor of the Osceola UMC.  How have missions been a key aspect of your church’s ministry?  If you have a story to share, send to 

Greetings from what seems to be a distant land (Southern Indiana).  Fifteen souls from the Osceola UMC (North District) went to Henryville, Indiana, to serve our fellow man in need and become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. The small town of Henryville is about 20 miles north of the Kentucky line, just north of Louisville and directly off of interstate 65.  It is here where two powerful and violent tornados crossed paths above this tiny town and left destruction in its wake (March 2, 2012).  Nearly 300 homes across Clark County were destroyed or greatly damaged.  Many businesses were also devastated by the great storm. Not to mention several churches that were damaged or leveled.

 Last Sunday after church our 15 members of OUMC got into their personal vehicles and made the five hour trek down to Henryville to do what we could to help these hurting folks.  Our accommodations were better than expected, as there is a very beautiful conference center/Christian camp that is both housing and feeding us.    

Each morning we get up and eat breakfast with about 50 other servants from other churches, who have also come to lend a hand in the rebuilding process.  There are two other United Methodist Churches here this week.  One is the Ligonier UMC and the other is the Walnut Grove UMC out of Warsaw.  Once the breakfast meal is done, we begin the day by gathering tools needed from the tool shed.  During the week there are about four or five different homes we have been working on. 

Each of the homes we worked on looked about like a Habitat home; nothing fancy or huge, but big enough to raise a family, with two or three bedrooms and two bathrooms.  Two of the homes we have worked in had us rebuilding a deck and placing sheetrock on all the walls.  Another home was painted inside and had the kitchen cabinets and bathroom fixtures installed.  One home we worked on was adding a very large wood deck and wheel chair ramp.  Our mission host leaders are two individuals who work for several relief agencies to organize our efforts.  One of them is supported by the United Methodist UMCOR.  I am thankful our funding goes here to support these types of ministries.

On Wednesday evening we had a change of pace as all 50 or so of the volunteers decided to attend an old country church that was destroyed from the tornado last March.  The church family and leadership of the Mt. Moriah Baptist church were hurting as they had lost their church building. As a side note, this is where the famous Col. Sanders of Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant grew up and went to church.  One other time many years ago, the Mt. Moriah church burned down and Col. Sanders paid to rebuild the church. 

The Wednesday evening service at the Mt. Moriah Baptist church included about 15 of their folks including the preacher.   I asked the pastor if we could circle around their small congregation and pray for them.   I also asked if we could take up a love offering to help them and to have it used in any way they needed. The Baptist pastor said yes to both.  Our prayer time ended with a blessing of singing the doxology.  The air was thick with the presence of the Holy Spirit and I saw many tears as we soaked in our time together.   

 Today is our last day of working for the week.  We have accomplished much, but know there is still a mountain worth of work yet to be done.  We find comfort knowing each week another team of 50 or more volunteers from across the country will come to Henryville to give of their time for a week until the job is done and their lives are normal again.   I want to thank the fifteen folks from our congregation who took time off work or out of their busy schedule to serve and become the hands and feet of Jesus Christ. 

Interested in helping with the rebuilding in southern Indiana too?  Go to the Conference website for details. — Ed Fenstermacher

Signs of hope in the UMC

Posted: September 11, 2012 by efenster in Ideas, Information

As we United Methodists in Indiana strive to carry out our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, what signs of hope are we experiencing?  My Bishop, Michael Coyner, recently wrote an E-pistle devotional thought entitled, “Don’t Go Over to the Dark Side.”  In it, he mentions how he’s had several United Methodist pastors share with him their discouragement in our denomination, the fact it continues to grow older and smaller (in the U.S.) and that the recent General Conference didn’t do much to take action to address these issues, and that there’s a general sense of cynism among some clergy. 

Given this reality, where do we see signs of hope?  Working in the area of Church Development within the conference, I have the benefit of seeing the growing edges of our church with all its signs of God at work.

This past weekend I led a Fruitful Congregation Journey consultation team to help assess Rochester Grace UMC, and it was so encouraging to hear what God is doing in that church led by Rev. Maurice Grindle.  Is their community becoming more and more secular?  Yes!  Is the church growing?  No, but this past spring its young adults, though small in number, decided to be a part of the solution to the challenges facing their church.  They formed a new Sunday school class, and they helped initiate a new ministry that provides a free meal Wednesday evenings for the hungry in their community.  Well over 100 have been coming.  Who would have thought that would be the case in a small, rural county-seat town?  Now, we’re encouraging them to begin building relationships with those coming and to help them grow in their relationship with Christ.  God is moving in that church and many others!

God is also moving in many parts of our conference through the development of new UM congregations.  In the two districts I primarily work with (the North and Northeast), we have Hispanic congregations forming in Hammond, East Chicago, and Hobart.  Granger Community UMC is launching another campus in LaPorte.  There are four pastors in South Bend exploring a new outreach to the city’s poor that could involve a new congregation.  A major UM church in Elkhart is looking at giving birth to a new congregation in a former UM church building.  And I’m involved in helping St. Joseph UMC in Fort Wayne start a new congregation in my own neighborhood.  Is everything going perfectly?  Hardly, for example, we just had to stop our Gary new-church plant.  The vision is still there but how it’s done needs to be revamped.  But over all, new congregations are being developed to reach the unchurched  with God’s Good News of Jesus Christ!

Add this to what’s going on in the rest of the conference and it truly brings me great hope and encouragement.  I hope it does for you too.  Yes, the world has changed and much of what we’re doing is losing effectiveness.  So, let’s all begin to discover together the new wineskins that God is using to reach the coming generations.  May we United Methodists be right there in the thick of it too!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Assoc. Director for Church Development, Indiana Conference

Revitalization leadership training begins

Posted: September 6, 2012 by efenster in Information, Resources

How can a church become even more effective in ministry?  In Indiana, United Methodist churches are turning to the Indiana Conference’s Fruitful Congregation Journey (FCJ).  In fact, around 40 Indiana United Methodist churches are beginning Step 1 of FCJ this fall. 

FCJ is a three-step process designed to help indiana UMCs more effectively carry out their mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  Step 1 is called the Shared Learning Experience.  It consists of eight monthly teaching/networking sessions, each one focusing on a particular aspect of church ministry.  The participating churches send a team of laity to one of the teaching sites; pastors of these churches meet separately together at another time.  Between sessions the teams read books and do individual and corporate ActionPlans.

These sessions, led by trained facilitators, are especially designed for churches over 100 in average weekly worship attendance.  There is a similar process also being offered this year for churches averaging between 50 and 100 in weekly worship.  Nearly 40 churches are participating in this.

This is the third year that FCJ Step 1 has been offered in the conference for larger churches.  As of thise fall, 42% of the 310 UMCs in Indiana averaging over 100 in worship will have participated in Step 1.  Rev. Mark Gough, Director of Church Development for the conference, and his staff believe that once 50% of the churches have gone through the three FCJ steps that the conference will reach a tipping point where revitalization will become the expected norm.

Churches interested in FCJ should contact their District Superintendents or Church Development staff for more information.  Invitations will be going out soon to churches averaging between 50-100 in weekly worship for a new round of Step 1.  Invitations to larger churches will go out at the beginning of next year. 

So, is the process really making a difference?  Believe me, Church Development wouldn’t continue to make the significant investment it takes if it wasn’t getting positive reports back from the participating churches.  

Watch for a future articles on the results and more on Steps 2 & 3.   — Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director