Author Lovett Weems offers leadership, stewardship tips

ORLANDO – Dr. Lovett Weems, director of the Wesley Theological Seminary’s Lewis Center for Church Leadership and a noted author, was in Central Florida last week, offering tips for fruitful ministry and “funding the vision” at United Methodist churches.

He led seminars on fruitful leadership at the National Fellowship of Associate Members and Local Pastors’ annual meeting in Kissimmee, followed by a three-hour workshop on “Funding the Vision for Your Church” at the Florida United Methodist Foundation’s sixth annual Stewardship Summit at First UMC, Orlando.

“He was fabulous,” said Suzanne McGovern, vice president of planned giving/communications for the foundation. “He draws on his experience as a church pastor and his experience as an academic. … He had a lot of data that was useful.” 

Lovett Weems
Dr. Lovett Weems takes a break from seminars during the NFAMLP meetimg at the Radisson Resort Celebration.

She said Weems laid out a simple step-by-step method of tying faith to finances and developing church members dedicated to “joyful generosity,” or going beyond the tithe. About 60 summit participants heard tips that included urging church leaders to model appropriate giving, demonstrate accountability for funds received and let people know what was accomplished through their donations.

He also offered practical advice, including a reminder to make giving easy by offering alternatives to check-writing, a practice that has been in decline since the 1990s.

At the NFAMLP meeting, Weems drew on his experiences as a church pastor to encourage local pastors and associate members to help their congregations discern and continue moving toward God’s purpose. The theme was “Guiding Your Ministry to Be More Fruitful.”

“Leadership is not about the leader,” Weems told a group at the opening seminar. “Leadership is helping God’s people take the next faithful step.”

He added that the “next faithful step” for one congregation might be different from the next step for another. He followed up with a story from the 1970s, when he encouraged a predominantly white congregation in Mississippi to accept an inter-racial couple, a challenge that might not have been much of a hurdle for churches elsewhere.

“You find your fulfillment, not in fruitfulness that’s biggest or greatest, but in what’s appropriate for where you are,” he said.

Joanne Lockard-Hawkins, who serves three churches near Columbia, S.C., said she had heard Weems speak before, and she always enjoys the “practical applications” of his coaching.

“It’s not lofty theology,” she said. “It is being pastors. That’s what I think we are called to be.”

She said she also likes to attend the annual meeting to enjoy the camaraderie.

“These are my friends,” she said. “I’m on Facebook with them. It’s a way to stay connected.”

About 25 pastors and associate members from Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Texas, West Virginia, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, as well as Florida, turned out to hear Weems speak at the first seminar. 

"Leadership is helping God's people take the next faithful step."

Weems also discussed declines in church attendance across the U.S. since the 1990s. He said getting people back to church will require a renewed focus on fruitful ministry rather than settling for faithful ministry. That means evaluating every effort for fruitful results.

“Success is not a biblical concept, but fruitfulness is,” Weems said. “We have separated ourselves … from the Wesleyan tradition of fruitfulness.”

The NFAMLP was formed after the 1968 merger of The Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church that created The United Methodist Church. Its purpose is to serve a growing number of licensed pastors who lead congregations but are not ordained ministers, said the organization’s president, Mike Mahaffey. 

He said about 25 percent of the UMC’s 40,000 preachers are local pastors or associate members. Many choose to pursue church leadership after having successful first careers, Mahaffey said.

Weems predicted during an interview that annual conferences will rely more and more on associate members and local pastors because of shrinking membership rolls and the poor economic climate.

“More and more congregations are finding it difficult to find the funding for a full-time pastor,” he said.

“A lot of local pastors are local pastors, not because they couldn’t do something else, but because this is their calling,” he said. “I just have tremendous admiration for what they do.”
Weems will touch on some of the same themes Nov. 3, when he makes a presentation on “Reaching Others through Worship” at a half-day conference hosted by the Lewis Center for Church Leadership in Washington, D.C. The materials and presentations will be available on DVD/CD in December.

An early bird registration price for the conference is available through Oct. 8 and .5 CEU credit is available. For information, visit click here.   

A discount price for the DVD/CD will be available through Nov. 3. For information, click here.

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