Bible study leaders issue call to action: get back to church’s mission, reach out

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Bible study leaders issue call to action: get back to church’s mission, reach out

June 14, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0503}

NOTE: This is one of a series of articles related to news from the “Witness With Power” 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event June 1-3 in Lakeland.

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — One of the things Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker said he was looking forward to during this year’s annual conference event was “hearing our young clergy teach the Bible and share how they reach others for Christ.”

Whitaker had asked the Revs. Scott Smith and Melissa Pisco to talk about the importance of reaching out to non-churched people based on their experience as younger, new-church-start pastors.

Based on responses from clergy and laity attending the annual gathering, the two did not disappoint.

Forgetting the past, getting back to basics

LAKELAND — The Rev. Melissa Pisco urged delegates to "stop, pray, talk to Jesus” during her Bible study message at the Florida Conference's annual gathering. “The church can’t help the addict, the convict, the poor, the sick, the drug dealers without possessing the heart of Jesus," she said. "We have to want more people to come to our churches, not for more money, but because we love them. ... ” Photo by Greg Moore, Photo #06-380.

Pisco led the first study June 2 during the morning session.

Ordained an elder in 2002, Pisco now leads The Studio mission, an intentional outreach to individuals suffering from a variety of addictions that she helped launch. Currently, the mission is trying to reach out to its neighborhood, the Coconut Grove area of Miami, in new ways, including community events and book studies in local taverns.

She began her message by showing a DVD of random, man-on-the-street interviews with people about their views on the current state of the church. The responses were eye opening.

One young adult said the church blends in with everything else. Another said the church had no relevance in his life. One young woman said she thought she probably needed to go to church, that is was something she would probably do when she got her priorities straight.

When the video was done, Pisco, sitting cross-legged on a stool and reading her notes from a music stand, said the DVD often evokes a deep hurt in church people when she shows it to groups.

“What has happened? How did we (the church) get here?” she questioned.

Psico referenced verses in Acts 1 that portrayed the apostles as frozen in the past, longing for how it used to be, instead of fulfilling their mission to further the Kingdom of God on earth. She said every church has had that one leader who has made everything all right, often preventing the church from moving forward to the future.

“People say, ‘Do you remember when?’ instead of saying, ‘I have an idea,’ ” she said. “We get caught up. We look at ourselves, our wants, needs and desires, instead of focusing on Jesus Christ.”

Referring to the video, Pisco said our neighbors are calling the church back to its mission, clearly stated in Acts 1:8. She said that mission can only be realized with two actions. “It requires us to wait and pray. Waiting is not a passive thing. If we’re not going to wait and pray, we might as well pack it up. In verse 12, they (the apostles) were called back to prayer.”

“It’s a huge moment in Acts,” she added. “Each and every one gathered to pray — God showed up.”

Pisco admonished those who pray after a meeting and charged them with praying before the meeting starts. She said prayer should not be used as a first-aid kit when something does not go as planned.

At the Studio, Pisco said prayer sometimes takes half an hour and comes with “an amazing kind of healing.” She said people will often arrive for meetings and say things are fine, but during a time of silent prayer “their hearts are opened” and tears stream down their faces.

Pisco questioned how the church might be different if United Methodists committed to fasting or 24-hour prayer vigils. She said in the two years members of her church have been walking the area around the Studio, visiting businesses and schools and asking how the church might pray for them, they have been asked to leave an establishment only once.

“We need to love as Jesus loved, forgive and wait for the Holy Spirit,” she said. “We need to have the grace of God for our churches to make an impact. We need His spirit in us to do that.”

Pisco said churches are not as productive as they could be because the church is outside the will of God — has lost its focus on the mission, with individual churches too centered on themselves. The result is ineffectiveness in spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

“We must stop, pray, talk to Jesus,” she said. “The church can’t help the addict, the convict, the poor, the sick, the drug dealers without possessing the heart of Jesus. We have to want more people to come to our churches, not for more money, but because we love them. We have to have right hearts.”

Pisco cited Acts 1:15, which says there were 120 Christians in Jerusalem. Out of a city of 4 million people, that means less than 1 percent were followers of Jesus Christ. From that movement there are billions of followers today.

“There is a hurting world out there that God loves,” she said. “The body of Jesus Christ is calling us back to focus — who we are and why we’re here. Step out on faith to the end of the world to makes disciples of Jesus Christ.”

Being in the life-changing business

LAKELAND — During his Bible study message, the Rev. Scott Smith said churches that have not received new members should shut their doors because they have "no witness.” Photo by Caryl Kelley, Photo #06-381.

Smith added getting back to the basics as key to churches fulfilling their mission.

Smith was appointed to start Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport eight years ago. He led the Bible study June 3 in a style he says is reminiscent of the way he preaches at his church — pacing back and forth on the stage in jeans and untucked shirt, holding a Starbucks coffee cup.

“If you’re not into organized religion, you’re going to love us,” he said of his church, adding he was “pretty freaked out” to be on stage addressing the group.

Smith began his time with an admonition to the group. Referencing Acts 2, he focused on the importance of churches offering communion during each worship service.

“The breaking of bread … that’s one aspect that stands out for us (Christians),” he said. “If you are not serving Holy Communion on a weekly basis, shame on you. We are United Methodists, and we believe that is a converting ordinance.”

It was a life-changing event for a family in Smith’s congregation. He said a woman came to him and wanted her son baptized, but acknowledged her husband did not believe in God. Smith began to meet with the man, who confessed that after 32 years he didn’t have a pressing need to discover God’s love. A friendship developed between the two, which included golf outings and frequent lunches.

One Sunday, Smith said something changed within the man. During a normal worship service the man stepped forward to receive communion, something he had never done.

Smith said he was flabbergasted and didn’t know how to respond. With his friend waiting to be served Smith recalled saying the only thing that came to his mind, “Dude, what are you doing here?”

Smith served the man and 24 hours later found himself sitting before him, eating lunch. He said he was “beyond curious” to know what had prompted his friend to come forward to receive communion. His friend described feeling a light and warmth surrounding him and knowing it was time “to surrender.”

“God meets you where you are and takes you where you need to be,” Smith said of the encounter. “That’s what we’re about; we’re in the life-changing business. God can change lives.”

Another life-changing event took place at Smith’s church two years ago on Good Friday.

Unaware Good Friday is the one time during the year communion is not supposed to served, Smith offered the sacrament. After the service, his wife told him a friend of theirs, a woman in the congregation with Islamic roots, had been too emotional to come forward to receive communion during the service, but wanted to receive it then.

While serving her communion Smith asked if she understood what “this is Christ’s body which was shed for you” meant. She said she did and added, “Allah would never do that.”

“We are in a revolution for the souls of humanity,” Smith said, adding the world needs the church of Christ to witness.

Smith admitted he had initially been somewhat offended by the conference’s theme, “Witness With Power.” “A weak witness is nothing,” he said. “We have to add ‘with power,’ and the truth hurts. Witness has lost power to some degree if you have to add ‘with power’ to it.”

Smith also criticized the 43 percent of churches in the denomination that did not receive a new member through profession of faith, a statistic reported in a recent United Methodist News Service article on church health.

“If you’re a church that doesn’t receive a new member, shut your doors; you have no witness,” he said.

Smith said a lack of courage is holding many churches back from reaching their full potential and United Methodists are afraid of dying, playing it safe, not rocking the boat.

“We are called to be the church of tomorrow,” he said. “We are called to serve a hurt and lost, broken world. We must rise up and be men and women of courage. If we die trying, at least we have pointed others in the right direction.”

Smith ended his message by encouraging members and pastors to reach out to their communities. He said new worship times that are more convenient for people in the community or a new worship style must be considered.

“We need to stop talking about ‘Open doors.’ and open doors, so that the least, the last and the lost can know that you are welcome here because God loves you,” he said.

Returning to the basics of breaking bread every week and preaching the good news to the poor can revolutionize the church, he added.

“Live by faith and watch what God can do,” he said. “We are about life change and how God can bring light to the world.”

Merrill Tunsil, a member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Lake City, said Pisco’s message struck a chord with her.

“They (Pisco’s church) have such a vibrant outreach ministry,” Tunsil said. “They have genuinely accepted people, and I’m impressed with that.”

Barbara Green, a member of New Life Community United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, said she found Smith to be “profound” and his message spirit-filled.

The Rev. Barbara Mitchell, retired diaconal clergy, said both Bible studies spiritually stirred her. She said churches needed to hear and heed the messages.

Nancy Getts, a member of Lakeside United Methodist Church in Lake Worth, said the idea of United Methodists having more courage appealed to her.

“John Wesley had courage,” she said. “We need to have more courage and to act on it.”

Cindy Burke, a member of Village United Methodist Church in North Fort Lauderdale, said she was reminded of one of her favorite scriptures, Joshua 1:9, “which calls us to be bold and courageous. That’s what we need — to be bold.”


This article relates to the 2006 Florida Annual Conference Event.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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