Archive for July, 2013

Small acts make a great difference

Posted: July 26, 2013 by efenster in Ideas, Stories
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BibleI had the opportunity to hear April Maley speak, who wrote the book entitle I  Will Not Be Silent.  This young woman shared about growing up with an abusive alcoholic father, who eventually shot and killed her mother.  She was only nine years old, and many times she found herself acting as the parent of her three younger siblings.

Church was never a part of her family’s life, let alone the Bible.  But thanks to an invitation from a girl in her neighborhood, she attended a church when she was five.  Although she didn’t continue attending, she remembers being taught the song, “Jesus Loves Me” and receiving a Gideon’s Bible.  She said that many, many days during her years of abuse it was that song that she would turn to.

What seems insignificant–an invitation to a young neighbor, a trite children’s song, a little book–can make a huge difference in people’s lives, people like April.  Small acts can make a great difference!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

When doing good causes harm

Posted: July 13, 2013 by efenster in Ideas
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John_Snow_memorial_and_pubSummer is a great time to read, isn’t it?  I recently read The Ghost Map, by Steven Johnson.  It describes how London developed its sewers due to a cholera outbreak in 1854.  (Yes, a book on sewers and pestilence!)  London’s population had exploded in the 1800’s growing to over 2 million people.  As a result, there were growing piles of human waste.  In fact, there were people who literally cleaned people’s cellars, cesspools, and gutters, moving the waste from one place to another.

Then a cholera epidemic broke out.  And here’s the irony that resulted…  Those in charge of the city’s health embraced the idea that cholera resulted from breathing bad air. With all the poop around, you can imagine how bad the air smelled in 1854, London.  So, the city started a giant sewer project, diverting the human waste into the River Thames.  This is the same river from which much of the population’s drinking water was drawn.  As a result, instead of ending the cholera epidemic by ridding the city of the stench, the city actually worsened it because cholera’s primary way of infecting people is through dirty drinking water.

So what’s that have to do with the church?  We United Methodists embrace Wesley’s rules of doing no harm and doing good.  Can it be that our churches’ good intentions sometimes actually do harm?   Books, like When Helping Hurts and Toxic Charity, point out that too often we do just that when we continue to provide people with relief when they really need development.  For example, we give people food through our food banks, thus, sustaining their need for food, instead of helping develop the gifts God has blessed them with that, once developed, can bring them to greater self sufficiency and self esteem.

Other examples might include, mission trips to third-world countries that provide such lavish Vacation Bible Schools, with all the bells and whistles, that the local churches give up providing VBS because they don’t have the resources to follow suit.  We create worship services and youth groups that are so attractive that other Christians leave their churches to attend ours; we  shuffle the sheep rather than reaching the ones that are lost.

Just as the London sewers contributed to disease, our churches’ good intentions actually end up keeping us from accomplishing our mission and causing harm.  (Okay, well maybe the comparison is a stretch but you get the idea!)  So what about you and your church?  How might the good you’re intending to do be actually creating more harm than good?  This summer why not give it some prayerful reflection.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

Circuit RiderToday is July 1st, the day that new pastoral appointments take place in United Methodist churches across Indiana.  If you’re a part of a church receiving a new pastor, don’t forget to provide your pastor and his/her family with radical hospitality.  Doing so will help your church and its new pastor get off to a great start, and getting off to a great start will impact your relationship for years to come.

Here are some ideas from Indiana pastors and church members…


1. No pastor can do it all.  Have realistic expectations.  Prioritize which roles are most important for the church (e.g. preaching, visitation, counseling, youth work, fund raising, facilities management, etc.).  Staff to compensate for the pastor’s weaknesses.  Remember that the biblical model is that the pastor is to equip the laity to do the ministry.

2. Just as the congregation may be going through grief at the loss of their pastor (and family), remember that the incoming pastor (and family) may be going through a time of grief as a result of leaving their friends at the former church.  Be gentle with them.

In the first few months…

1. Hold a welcoming dinner/reception that the congregation is invited to attend.

2. Schedule small-group meetings in homes that allow the pastor to meet parishioners.

3. Provide a welcoming gift of a night out with baby sitting provided if needed.

4. Provide a map with parishioners’ homes identified (in the case of a smaller church).

5. Help them locate grocery stores, good doctors, childcare providers, banks, hairdressers/barbers, vets, etc.

6. Staff-Paris Relations Committee (SPRC) chair meet regularly (monthly or every-other month) with the pastor; ask if there is anything s/he is reluctant to share.

7. Have the SPRC meet each month (at least the first three months) to a) give feedback and encouragement, b) with the pastor, identify realistic goals for the church for the first six months, c) review what their expectations are, and d) how things are approved in the church.  This will help greatly eliminate problems later on.

8. If the pastor has children at home, encourage parishioners with children to befriend them.

9. Encourage the use of name tags Sunday mornings and at meetings.


1. SPRC make sure to communicate; make it a priority!  Do NOT assume the pastor is aware of a situation, understands a need, or comprehends what’s expected.  Tell them!  Also communicate with the rest of the congregation.  Keep them informed.

2. Encourage them.  Words of encouragement should exceed words of criticism 7 to 1.

3. At least two persons on SPRC should be unabashedly supportive of the pastor.

4. The lay leader should help lead.  Don’t make the pastor have to lead every effort.

5. Make sure the pastor has regular time off to play, be with their family, and to pray.

6. Be as generous with your pastor as s/he is with you.  In other words, if there is a problem with the bathroom in the parsonage or the mower needs replaced, do it right.  Do it now!  Even when funds are tight, if the pastor is providing committed, loving leadership for the church, make sure they are given appropriate raises in compensation.

7. Intentionally support the pastor (and their family) with prayer.  Have the SPRC members commit to praying for the pastor (and their family) and ask the pastor to pray for the SPRC.  Have at least a couple SPRC members commit to pray with the pastor prior to worship services.