St. Simons Update #2

Our retreat at Epworth By The Sea at St. Simon’s continues. Here is another update from our friends at UMCom:

Leadership Retreat Includes Immersion Experience

During the morning worship, Dr. Christine Pohl discussed living truthfully – a practice we tend to overlook unless it fails. Living truthfully is mostly taken for granted because it is fundamental to community life. Redeemed communities are called to a common life of grace and truth.

In communities that love truth, there is a close connection between what people say and what they do. They are encouraging communities where people want one another to succeed. They are quick to listen and slow to speak. When communities are infused with the love of God, they are safe enough for real truthfulness.

Dr. Pohl says the notion of speaking the truth in love requires gentleness, humility, and careful use of words. There are cultural differences in how we speak truth. Indirect approaches could include telling the truth in the form of a question or a story. Whatever the style, truth telling should build people up, not tear them down.

When discerning or speaking truth is hard, it should happen face-to-face. Our perceptions of what people are saying depend not just on words, but also on body language and the way it is said.

One of the roles of pastors and leaders is to help people see what God is doing when it does not fit their expectations.  Some ways to help foster a truthful environment are listening carefully for truth; speaking the truth with love and kindness; avoiding gossip and disparagement; and finding a friend who will speak truthfully to you. Truth telling from the pulpit helps form the identity of a community.

Following worship, the group resumed their work on adaptive leadership, led by Marty Linsky. They spent the remainder of the morning and early afternoon looking at adaptive leadership challenges for leading the church, including small group discussion and individual exercises.

Linsky asked participants to look at what types of things, if they were to happen more often or less often, would enable them to fully realize their aspirations. They were then to look at the values to which they are committed, and the things that they themselves are doing or not doing that get in the way of those things being realized.

Next they looked at other values that cause them to do those things and why. Linsky says these values may counteract one another. What keeps organizations from moving forward or making progress are unresolved conflicting values, driven by fear. In any system you are trying to change, you own a piece of the problem. If you identify what that is, you might be able to fix it – and signal to others that you are also willing to do some difficult things yourself.

During the afternoon, Bishop James King of the South Georgia Conference hosted the group on an immersion experience to The Chapel in Brunswick, Ga. to learn about how the conference is using innovative adaptive leadership to revitalize congregations and plant new churches.

Dr. Tim Bagwell, executive director of New and Revitalized Congregational Development, shared helpful information about some of their experiences, successes and struggles. The group heard stories from pastors at three of 48 new and revitalized congregations. Of the average Sunday worship attendance at South Georgia churches, 16.8% are part of these 48 congregations.

Dr. Drew Young of New Covenant United Methodist Church told the story of how they buried one church and birthed another at the former Epworth UMC. Volunteers from other churches helped with repurposing the building. They started with a two-pronged approach that included invigorating worship and teaching the Bible in real and relevant ways.

Dr. Young said increasing “foot traffic” was one of the strategies they used to increase attendance. “If you can get people moving through the church, some of them will stick,” he said. They revamped unused classrooms and leased them for art studios; they started a preschool. They came up with innovative ways to reach the community, from giving away free ice cream cones at the Dairy Queen to free prom attire to live jazz and poetry.

“What once was a dying flagship church is now on its way out to sea finding new disciples,” said Young.

Matt Hearn and Andy Laymon told the story of a church that birthed another church three years after it started. Gateway Community Church in Pooler, Ga. is a church “for the beat-up, broken and bored in church.” No matter your past, come here to be loved, they say.

Gateway’s approach to planting new churches is to plant sister churches that have Gateway’s DNA but are unique to their own communities. The pastors are initially appointed to Gateway, and while they are there, they gather a launch team who serve in their ministries to learn how it is done. Gateway Community Church in Effingham is a successful church plant with a focus on ministry to the poor.

Kevin Veitinger of The Foundery says that some people would never darken the door of a church, even one like Gateway. Veitinger, who once worked for Starbucks, drew on that experience and connected it with his Methodist roots to plant a different kind of church.

The Foundery has four parts: the church, a coffee shop, a conservatory that allows artists to show their work at no cost, and a ministry that develops community by providing free spaces for groups. Their building ends up being used for many hours of the day, and the coffee sold helps pay for the ministry.

Dr. Bagwell said that what great leaders do is to empower other leaders, and that is the focus of The Chapel in Brunswick, Ga., a place where significant adaptive leadership is at work.

Senior Pastor Jay Hanson is clear on God’s purpose for his life: “to seek God, share what he shows me, and serve where he sends me.” He believes that churches will have problems, but the answer to problems is the right leadership. He believes that there are leaders perfectly suited for particular challenges, but no leader is right for every challenge – so you need lots of leaders.

After sharing his philosophy of leadership development, the group had an opportunity to meet and hear from other church leaders at The Chapel about how they work to develop leaders from as early as fourth grade. There are leadership development opportunities at different levels, including helping parents to be spiritual leaders at home.