Archive for April, 2013

“Powers of this dark world”

Posted: April 25, 2013 by efenster in Ideas

BOSTON_MARATHON_EXPLOSIONS_30648477I tend to be a pretty positive person and view the world as generally good. (See Genesis 1.)  Yet, events from this past week in Boston remind us that this isn’t always the case.  Man has the power to destroy God’s goodness.  (See Genesis 4.)   Paul, in Ephesians 6, also points to the fact that there are “powers of this dark world” and “spiritual forces of evil.”

This week I was with pastors of churches that are participating in the Fruitful Congregation Journey, and they described encountering these powers of darkness and evil within their own congregations.  One pastor said that it is as though a bucket brigade–members filled with negativity and criticism, spreading rumors and lies–is pouring water on the fire and passion that the Holy Spirit is raising up.

Some call this spiritual warfare.  I have found over the years that whenever a church is making a Kingdom difference, it comes under spiritual attack and it typically is attacked at its most vulnerable place.  That’s why Paul goes on to urge us to “put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

These pastors suggested that we pray that God would bless the bucket brigade according to their deeds.  In Christ’s name, to reclaim them!  To change their hearts, or take them out.  Well, they were kind of joking at that last part; however, remember Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).

They agreed that the way to fight darkness is to expose it to the light, to lift up the unhealthy behavior, to call it what it is and to make it clear that it is harmful to the body of the church and its mission.

They are developing member covenants that leaders will sign, covenanting to behave in ways that build up the body–talking face-to-face and not behind backs, disagreeing during discussions but then supporting decisions once they’re made, regularly praying, attending worship, etc.  One pastor said, that dealing with those who break such covenants requires a pastor to strike the right balance between confrontation and grace.

So, put on the full armor of God, seek counsel from trusted friends, pray, and call on the name of Jesus Christ to cast the demons out.  My prayers are with all of you who are fighting such battles.  May God continue to sustain you and guide you.  Remember, you’re not alone!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Study points to what makes a vital church

Posted: April 15, 2013 by efenster in Ideas, Resources

The General agencies of The United Methodist Church recently conducted a study, entitled “Toward Vitality Research Project,” to determine what contributes to developing vital churches.  The study points to three key elements:  a pastor not afraid to lead, laity who will partner as a team with the pastor, and a God-led purpose or vision.

The study also indicated two specific types of attitude adjustments as change agents:

(1) moving from inward thinking and programming (it’s about our needs) to more outward thinking and programming (it’s about how God uses us in our community); and similarly, (2) the shift from making good “church members” (our pastor serves us) to making disciples of Jesus Christ (we work together in mission and ministry to serve others).

The study goes on to summarize six key findings:

Vision and Purpose offer a consistent focus for change experiences within congregations. Discerning a vision together through prayer and Bible study seems to be particularly powerful.

Clergy Leadership is an impetus for change, in that the desire for change often comes through the clergy leader, often at the beginning of a new appointment.

Lay Leadership is the hands and feet of change. Only when laity feel inspired, empowered, and connected to a sense of call will change really occur.

Overcoming Obstacles is the hard work of change. Employing a strategy to overcome obstacles is an important part of the work of clergy and lay leaders. Obstacles provide an opportunity for leaders to be proactive rather than reactive.

Spiritual Disciplines are the motivators for change. The discovery of God’s purposes through prayer and Bible study and other means of grace move congregations toward change.

Resources provide an opportunity to find help for change. There is no one right answer that will fit every congregation. Resources are as varied as congregations are varied, but some resources were reported consistently.

The Indiana Conference offers a local-church process, called the Fruitful Congregation Journey (FCJ), to help churches more effectively carry out the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.  This process reflects the discoveries from the above study and, thus, helps churches become more vital.

Enrollment is now going on for this fall’s FCJ Step 1.  Interested Indiana United Methodist churches can contact their Church Development staff person or District Superintendent for more information about participating in the next group of churches beginning the process.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development


Children shouting in the temple

Posted: April 9, 2013 by efenster in Ideas, Stories

Children with palmsAs I was reading scripture this Easter season, I noticed something I hadn’t seen before.  According to the Gospel of Matthew, after Jesus’ initial entry into Jerusalem on Holy Week, he  immediately goes into the temple and overturns the tables of the money changers and dove sellers.  Now, I already knew that, but then Matthew goes on to say that the children were shouting in the temple area, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” and the chief priests and teachers of the law “were indignant.”

I was just talking with two pastors yesterday over this very issue–children dancing in church.  They are pastors at a church–Lamb’s Chapel UMC–where their children have, without any prompting from adults, become a part of the church’s worship each week.

During communion, the children come forward, standing to one side of the table.  After the people take communion they then bless the children giving them hugs and pats on the head.  During the church’s last hymn, the children rush to the front of the church and dance and sing with the pastors.  When one of the pastors gives the benediction, raising his (or her) hands, all the children raise their hands too.  The children bless the people in the pews.  When faced with the question on Palm Sunday, “What should we do with the palms?” the pastors said, “Just give them to the children and have them do what they do every week.”

Now a church could be like those religious temple-folk on Palm Sunday who were “indignant,” but this church loves children, including those in the local mobile home park, those that make noise, those that act like kids.  The children love to worship Christ and, without even knowing it,  set an example for all the other worshipers.  Palm Sunday every Sunday!

What about at your church?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development