Thoughts on Leadership Institute at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection

LI Mainstage

A couple of weeks ago I attended Leadership Institute at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas, as part of my DMin studies. The assignment attached to the class was to write about the key observations and significant learning points that i was able to take away from Resurrection in general and Leadership Institute as an event/conference. Below is the main body of that assignment.

Observations & Impressions

Taking the time to spend three days at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection (CoR) in Kansas, and attending the main sessions and various break outs of their Leadership Institute (LI) has been absolutely worthwhile. The experience has left me with a number of observations and impressions regarding CoR, as well as some key points of learning that will be applicable and also, I hope, significant in my own specific ministry context.

The first and most striking observation about CoR is its sheer size. Since CoR’s establishment in 1990 it has rapidly grown to become the largest United Methodist Church in the United States with a membership of 20,000 and an average weekend worship attendance of 10,000. According to a 2009 blog post by Michael Bell, which was based on the National Congregations Study of the same year, half of the churches in the United States have an average weekly attendance number of less than 75. My own church has an average weekly attendance of just over double that figure. When I consider the magnitude of the difference between what is considered average for half of the churches in USA against the huge numbers involved at CoR each week, I must confess to being quite staggered by the volume of people involved in CoR’s weekly operation. The being the case, in as much as I was staggered by the size of the campus and the numbers involved at CoR, I was also deeply impressed that I never felt over-awed by the size. The experience of visiting CoR was one in which I felt warmly welcomed and within which I sensed a high level of hospitality. To be able to pull this off in such a large church was/is a thoroughly remarkable feat.

I found the LI program itself to also be extremely well organized and managed. The range of break out session topics was wide and varied; the expertise of the break out session leaders and speakers that I attended was clearly abundant; the resources and hand outs were of a high quality; the main sessions were relevant, and the main stage speakers spoke in a manner which could be understood and related to.

The smooth running of the event – in a way which made sure that the size of CoR was never an issue – played a central role in creating the atmosphere in which I could learn many ministry lessons. The following are the key lessons that I learned at LI

1. Leadership Matters

I attended the pre-institute convocation on Church Planting throughout the day on Wednesday. There were two main sessions and two break out sessions for participants. The speaker in the first main session was Junius Dobson and his main point was very simple: Leadership Matters! He spent time emphasizing the point that in church life, solid leadership is a vital component for any church which seeks to engage in God’s mission and to experience any kind of growth. He teased this out further by offering some lessons for leaders that would help them sustain excellence in church leadership for the long haul. One of his main points was to remind the gathered leaders that if they want to remain in leadership for the long haul they must be remember “to check out the air at 30,000ft.” His point was that leaders must always take opportunities to remind themselves of the bigger picture of what they are doing; they must be able to step back at times and remember the vision behind what they are doing. Dobson enforced this point by reminding the gathered leaders that it is too easy to all too often be distracted by the minutia of ministry – the little day to day tasks that can bog leaders down in details and pull them away from being able to remember the bigger picture of what they are doing.

This reminder has specific implications for my own ministry at St. Andrew UMC where I can become guilty of allowing the daily tasks of ministry to become so prevalent in my daily actions that I become distracted and end up focussing on the “what” instead of the “why.” It is imperative that I put in place the practices and disciplines that will provide the necessary space for me to “check out the air at 30,000ft” and remember that while the daily tasks of ministry are important, also of vital importance is the fact I am called to visionary leadership and to being the chief communicator of the vision. If I cannot take the time to see the big picture of ministry in my context then how am I to lead the way in that vision or be the chief communicator of the vision?

From the main stage in one of the main sessions at LI, Adam Hamilton asked when had been the last time that we, as leaders, had taken an hour to walk and pray, or taken a day to go off and retreat in order to plan. One of the major implications for my ministry is that in understanding that my leadership in the local church does indeed matter, I must put in place the simple practices and disciplines, on a regular basis, which will allow me to be mindful of the bigger picture of ministry: the vision that is directing the next faithful steps for mission and ministry at St. Andrew UMC.

2. Small groups have many forms but they are vital in the life of the church

In selecting break out sessions, I had been careful to select sessions that would best fit the areas of ministry that are foremost in my own philosophy of ministry, and in what I am working towards in ministry at St. Andrew UMC. Undoubtedly, my key area of ministry development in recent years has been in recognizing and embracing the power and the influence of small groups in the life of the local church. It was with this in mind that I selected two break out sessions offering a focus on small group ministry.

Two years ago I attended New Room Conference and had the privilege of sitting in on a session being led by Kevin Watson. He spoke of the importance of small groups in the Wesleyan tradition and made a strong case for the rediscovery of the Class Meeting format among small groups. Since that time I have focussed on the birthing of three class meetings in my local church context. Those who are involved in them have found them to be of immense value in their journeys of growth in Christ.

At LI, I was attending the break out sessions on small groups to see what more I could learn about this important area of ministry. In the session with Craig Finnestad we focussed on the system of small group ministry that is employed at The Water’s Edge UMC in Nebraska. The most important lesson that I picked up on in this session was regarding the range of materials and styles that are used in the set up at Water’s Edge UMC.

Since being inspired regarding Class Meetings, I have allowed them to become my sole focus in terms of small group ministry and I have neglected to provide solid, curriculum based groups in which Christians can grow in Christ through the medium of a specific curriculum. Finnestad’s story of employing both the class meeting style and DVD/curriculum based teaching style groups opened my eyes to the fact that I have neglected the need to provide regular Christian Education classes, which offer specific teaching on a specific topic or theme, in favor of adopting a Class Meeting style of small group.

The implication of this learning in my local ministry context is simple: I can employ both the class meeting style for small groups AND the curriculum based style. In fact, I think it is imperative that i do become more proactive in employing both styles in order to provide a place for local disciples in my ministry setting to grow in both he ability to articulate their lives with God (class meeting style) and grow in deeper knowledge and understanding of God (curriculum based teaching on a specific topic). Already, in the weeks since LI, I have been formulating plans, and preparing a way to make this idea work in early 2017.

3. The personal touch matters

One of the pre-institute reading assigned to us was Adam Hamilton’s Leading Beyond the Walls. In the book Hamilton outlined the early days of CoR and outlined some of the methods and strategies that were employed by him to make sure that everything possible was done to ensure that when someone new attended CoR for the first time they would know beyond a doubt that they had been welcomed, and that the pastor people of CoR wanted to see them return again. The most effective method which Hamilton outlined in the book, and then again from the main stage at LI, was what he described as getting mugged at Church of the Resurrection. Each week after worship, Hamilton would find the names and addresses of first time visitors on the church attendance sheets, and would proceed to visit their home briefly to deliver the gift of a mug and to tell the recipient how great it had been to see them at church and how much he would love to see them again.

I have heard Adam Hamilton speak of this method before and it has always struck me as a deeply personal way for him to connect himself and his ministry, and the ministry of CoR in to the lives of people in his community immediately after they have visited CoR. In the break out session entitled, Leadership Lessons from Resurrection’s Early Days, the importance of making ministry personal was emphasized and reinforced for me. One of the means by which things were made personal in the early days at Resurrection was through hand written letters. We were told that Adam (in the early days and still to this day) took time to write personal letters to people and families within the Resurrection church family. It was stated that this was the best way to make ministry personal with people.

In my ministry I do seek to make a personal connection with the members of my community and church family. I seek to do this first and foremost by remembering the names of people, and then seeking to connect with them in conversation or through a home visit or over lunch. Sporadically, I have taken the time to write letters to church leaders and members to encourage them and thank them for their input in the life of our church. Last year, during Lent, I made it part of my Lenten discipline to write a letter to a church member each day to assure them of my prayers for them during that day. The feedback I received from the people who received the letters was that the personal touch had been something of great value for them. After hearing again of the personal nature of ministry at CoR, I am compelled to revive this practice of ministry, and inject the personal touch into ministry again.

There were several other lessons that were of significant importance for myself and my ministry context – making a commitment to excellence in all things; being able to ask the right questions in ministry; being clear on purpose and vision; using different approaches to preaching themes and plans (different from simply using the lectionary throughout the church year). Unfortunately, my maximum word count on this assignment will not permit be to expand on those lessons in this paper. However, already the implications of all the significant learning points outlined here (in detail or not in detail) are being put into action in my own ministry context. I look forward to seeing what differences a few significant changes and alterations will make in the life and ministry of St. Andrew UMC.

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