Posts Tagged ‘discipleship’

18010760_1380122238677676_4717157016528137471_nHave you ever looked at a problem and upon looking at it from a different perspective, and being open to God, something beautiful results?  That’s what happened at a small United Methodist church in Scipio, Indiana, a tiny community between Columbus and North Vernon.  Pastor Dereck Fields’s wife, Angela, was looking out her kitchen window at the church’s garage.  A large tree had fallen on it and it was beyond repair.

At that moment she had a thought, what if rather than replacing the structure, the church built a larger structure designed for ministry.  What if rather than a structure used for storage, the church built one used for connecting and growing people in relationship with Jesus Christ.

And that is exactly what the church has decided to do.  This spring the church has been constructing a shelter house on its property near busy Highway 7.  And on June first, after much prayer and planning, the church is launching a new Thursday night worship service designed to reach those who aren’t connected with a church.  The hope is that using a shelter-house setting, rather than a traditional sanctuary, and using food, bands, and speakers on various practical life issues, the church will be able to provide people in its area with a Christ-centered community and connect them to Christ.

The church recently was awarded a $25,000 Church Development grant to help launch this project, the cost of which is estimated at over $85,000 for the next four years.  In its grant application, Rev. Dereck Fields wrote:  “In 1 Corinthians 9:19 the Apostle Paul reminds us, ‘Even though I am free of the demands and expectations of everyone, I have voluntarily become a servant to any and all in order to reach a wide range of people.’  In the spirit of these words, we have decided to put together a worship service designed to better meet the needs of our community.”

The Indiana Conference’s Church Development Committee jumped at the opportunity to partner with this congregation because it already had a track record of intentional outreach to its community.  Its annual Easter Egg Hunt attracts 150-200 each 17990579_1377429712280262_6606864339592548734_oyear, its annual Halloween Trick-or-Treating 200-300 people, its annual Vacation Bible School 75-120, its weekly Mommy & Me Class 15-30 people, its monthly Thursday meal for the community 150-200 people, and the list goes on!  The town of Scipio, incidentally only has 124 people!

These outreach efforts are viewed by the church as ways to begin developing relationships with people in need of God’s love and good news.  As a result, lives have been changed, and the church’s worship attendance has doubled in size to around 60.

So, what problem are you facing?  Could it be that God has a plan to take the brokenness resulting from the problem and do something incredibly beautiful through it?  God, through Scipio UMC, has demonstrated just that!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

 

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UM Faith SharingHow do you describe the process of growing in Christ?  Discipleship?  Today fewer are using this term according to a recent study by the Barna Research Group.  What are people using instead?

  • “becoming more Christ-like”  43%
  • “spiritual growth”  31%
  • “spiritual journey”  28%

Fewer than one in five Christians preferred the term “discipleship.”  Interestingly enough, those who are more active Christians prefer “becoming more Christ-like,” while less active Christians prefer “spiritual journey.”  Only one in four who were polled find the word “discipleship” still relevant.  It isn’t that what it represents isn’t important to them, it’s just the terminology isn’t meaningful.

So, why is any of this important?  Well, we United Methodists frequently refer to Jesus’ Great Commission:  “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…”  (Matthew 28:19).  Why?  Because it is at the core of the UMC’s mission statement:  “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Our denomination even has an agency that’s officially called the General Board of Discipleship, also known as Discipleship Resources.

Furthermore, the Indiana Conference’s Fruitful Congregation Journey, which has involved over 260 UM churches, challenges churches to clarify their “discipleship” pathways, that is the system they use to help people take their next step on their faith journeys.  The Barna study suggests that many in our churches prefer using different language.  What about yours?

My contention is that no matter what language your church may use, the important thing is that it is talking about disciple making, that it’s intentionally focused on helping its members live out the Great Commission.  So how are you and your church doing?

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director for Church Development

 

Halloween-CandyWaynedale United Methodist Church held its Trunk or Treat this fall and attracted 200 people from the community.  Not only did the church give away candy, but it also offered people the opportunity to submit prayer requests.  Twenty individuals took advantage of this opportunity and two asked for a follow-up contact from the pastor.  All were persons from outside the Waynedale Church.

Why did the church decide to incorporate prayer into this annual fall event?  According to its pastor, Rev. Ted Jansen, it was the result of asking the simple question, “Why are we doing this?”  Or in this case, “Why are we doing the Trunk or Treat?”  Asking such a question leads to important reflection.  It can help a church more intentionally “connect the dots” between an activity and the church’s ultimate purpose of making disciples of Christ and changing lives.

This Advent Season how are you making sure all your church’s activities relate to the church’s mission?  And what are the “bridge” events that you are offering that can help you develop deeper relationships with those God is calling you to reach?  Some churches follow up their Trunk or Treat with a Thanksgiving community meal, or Christmas with Santa, or a special one-day Vacation Bible School during Christmas break.  Offering such bridge events, provides a church the means to develop deeper relationships with those reached, relationships that ultimately can lead to a deepening relationship with with Jesus Christ.

—  Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

flameEd Stetzer recently wrote a fascinating article in USA Today, about how Americans are becoming even more divided in their faith.  According to a 2014 Pew Research Center study, which was just released,  a growing portion of Americans are less religious, while Christians in the U.S. are becoming stronger in the practice of their faith.  There are fewer nominal Christians–you know, those who only show up to church on  Christmas and Easter–but, those who do show up are more committed.

So how are United Methodist’s faith practices doing?  Using the Pew Research Center’s study, Cynthia Astle, in a Nov. 5th “United Methodist Insite” article, shares some very sobering results.  In fact, she writes:

“Methodism’s founder John Wesley would be downright dismayed, if not completely discouraged, by the Religious Landscape Study’s results on the faith practices of American United Methodists. It’s hard for spiritual leaders to understand how 62 percent of respondents could claim feeling “spiritual peace and wellbeing” at least once a week when so few report regular participation in worship, prayer groups or religious study.”  The report indicates the following:

  • 44% of UM’s attend worship weekly, 39% attend once or twice a month or less
  • 62% say they prayer daily, 21% pray weekly
  • 25% attend a small group weekly, 11% monthly

The Indiana Conference’s bishop, Bishop Michael Coyner, asks the question in a recent article, “Are you a functional atheist?”  His point isn’t that most of us United Methodist’s are atheists, but that we behave as though everything is up to us, that too often we don’t rely on God.

No doubt if we United Methodists are to fulfill our mission of making disciples for the transformation of the world, our hearts will need to be on fire for Christ and we’ll need to be committed to a relationship with Christ that is vibrant and growing.  The bottom line:  the above stats will need to change!  It’s not a technical issue–better pastors, better worship, better ministries, better outreach (although such aspirations are sometimes needed)–but a heart issue.

So how are we and our churches doing at changing our own members’ hearts?  Maybe that’s were we need to start.

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-28 at 4.31.57 PM“Take my grandchildren to Sunday school.”  These were the final words I was to hear from my neighbor who died of brain cancer in 2014.  How could I do that?  They lived in Japan at the time.  Their parents, as far as I knew, weren’t into church either.  This didn’t let me off the hook because a year ago the family moved from Japan into my neighbor’s home, and now her grandchildren are right across our driveway.  I see them nearly every day.  And I’ve discovered that Sunday school can happen more than just on Sundays and more than just at my church.  Right now it’s highly unlikely they would go to my church, but guess what, God brought the church to them through me and my wife.

Even though I’m committed to our United Methodist Church’s mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, I don’t always do a good job.  I many times get so involved inside my church, doing church stuff with church folk, that disciple making outside rarely happens in an intentional way.  I don’t know about you, but I need help.

That’s why I’m excited about the launch of regional Missional Peer Learning Groups.  These are designed to help persons like me, and church leaders and teams, with ideas, encouragement, accountability and prayer as we make all make disciples where God places us.  I encourage you to consider trying out one of these groups.  Just contact the person below and they’ll help you get connected.  Or feel free to contact me.

  • Dyer (near Chicago) – Jim Clark  (james.clark@inumc.org)
  • Fort Wayne – Steve Mekaru  (kristoshandsandfeet@gmail.com)
  • Centerville (near Richmond) – Jason  Morris (jason.morris@inumc.org)
  • Brazil – Rick Koch (rick.koch@inumc.org)
  • Indianapolis – Mike Mather (mike.mather@inumc.org)
  • Pfrimmer’s Chapel (near Corydon) – Tim Johnson  (tim.johnson@inumc.org)

Together we’re stronger!  God is doing a new thing.  Let’s not miss out!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

 

Kristo's-131020aSt. Joseph United Methodist Church in Fort Wayne, Indiana, has been spearheading a non-attractional church plant on the Fort Wayne’s south side the past few years called Kristo’s Hands and Feet.  Steve Mekura, the effort’s leader, recently reviewed an updated discipling plan with leaders from St. Joseph.  What the leaders discovered was that Kristo’s wasn’t a project that simply flowed from the mature Christians of St. Joseph to the non-believers and new believers in the south part of town.  God turned it around and now the Kristo’s project is actually challenging and shaping how St. Joseph members view disciple making where they live too.  Typically God, huh?

Here are comments from one St. Joseph member…

“The conversation completely changed for me when Steve started describing his formalized discipleship plan.  My heart was not open to the idea.  I thought our mission field is filled with people that often aren’t home, miss events, etc… there is no way we’re going to be able to convince them to stick to such a plan. I was skeptical that the idea of laying it out in such an intentional way, to people who have only begun to walk with or understand Christ, was way too much to ask.

“Then I started thinking about myself, “How would I react if someone from our church leadership asked the same of me?” What if there was something to hold me accountable for areas my personal spiritual growth is struggling and how I could be discipling others – which would both elevate my growth and impact others.  The thought was still terrifying and seemed like a huge undertaking – but the possibility of the growth it could bring began to be exciting.

“Then the conversation turned to responsibility … if I’m spiritually responsible for discipling those around me through the church activities I participate in, how does that change the way I act? What if everyone had that change in mentality, so that we are all discipling each other?  Putting aside the community for a moment, how would that change the culture of Saint Joseph?  What would it look like if instead of saying, “I get to hang out at camp with 27 senior high youth,” the conversation changed to the challenge of discipling them?  What if when we returned from camp, someone held me accountable for each person and asked what conversations I had with them … how I helped them grow for Jesus.  It would change the dynamic completely.  It could change the dynamic of Saint Joseph completely.  If it spread across Fort Wayne, it would change Fort Wayne completely.

“I commented that following Christ was never supposed to be easy, but we tend to make it very easy.  Maybe it’s time to make it more of a challenge.  Steve’s comment about ministry doesn’t end when he crosses Coliseum stuck with me too.  We need to be engaged in ministry at all times.

“The way God is leading us is consistent with what I felt at camp this year as well.  God loved us first, which the speaker turned into a verb: firstlove.  My takeaway from that week was, “Firstlove. Love first.” If we combine a genuine love for everyone with an intentional missionality focused on making true disciples, the possibilities are pretty exciting.

“Now, we do have to be careful not to make ministry a corporate chore. It still needs to flow out of a joy and not a duty … but if God is giving us joy by serving him, it may be important to formally recognize that comes with duty and responsibility as well. – Ryan”

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development

New wineskins needed!

Posted: February 6, 2015 by efenster in Ideas
Tags: , , , , ,

Vital SignsThe sign of a healthy, vital church is reflected in its ability to adapt to its changing context.  I recently was with a church that had older members bemoaning the fact that their church has been slowly  declining the past thirty years because their children no longer stay in the community after graduation.  Of course, churches throughout the U.S. have been experiencing this for at least the past forty years!  Most  have recognized that they can’t rely on simply maintaining their churches through biological growth but that they have to focus on inviting and welcoming those new to their communities, those who are unchurched, those who are looking for a church.

Well, things have changed again and churches can no longer simply be a welcoming church.  They must be a “going” church.  Effective churches realize that they must adapt once again and take the church to the streets.  Rather than worship being the primary doorway into the life of the church, members developing relationships with the unchurched through everyday life experiences will be a key entry point.  Discipling will more likely happen in our homes, neighborhoods, and favorite haunts before it happens in our churches, especially for those who presently have no interest in our churches.  How are our churches equipping its members to do this?

I’m writing this for myself as much as you.  I’m co-chair of my church’s Mission & Outreach Team and we’re wrestling with how we can help our church do this.  And I’m wrestling with how I personally am doing this as a Christian in the 21st Century.  Pray for me, and I’ll pray for you!

Jesus talks about how we need to put new wine into new wineskins.  Although the Gospel message is unchanging, the way we convey it to the next generation must change.    Thankfully, if we’re open, God will show us those new wineskins.  May we be open to them even if they’re radically different from what we’re used to.  And may we be willing to adapt and change as needed!

— Ed Fenstermacher, Associate Director of Church Development