Church shares successes, failures to help other churches

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Church shares successes, failures to help other churches

Oct. 23, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0563}

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

The praise and worship band and choir at Van Dyke United Methodist Church perform during the closing service at the “Real Ideas for Real Churches” seminar Oct. 7 at the church. The two-day seminar was designed to motivate churches, pastors, church staff and volunteers to reach others for the Kingdom of God. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #06-453.

LUTZ — The Rev. Val Hattery is like most people when it comes to junk mail — she receives a lot of it. But she was unexpectedly pleased to find information about a seminar billed as “Real Ideas for Real Churches” hidden in the mail destined for the circular file.

She was even more pleased the event and its tips turned out to be valuable to both her and members or her church.

Offered by and at Van Dyke United Methodist Church Oct. 6-7, the seminar was designed to help church staff, pastors and volunteers make a difference in people’s lives. The workshops revolved around ministry needs and focused on such topics as planning worship, beginning and sustaining small groups, nurturing nursery-aged children, making marketing work, developing a congregational care network, building teams and others.

Among those more mainstream offerings were some unusual titles — “Pew Potato to Sold Out Servant,” “Transition: Real Ideas in a Real Church,” “People Are Really Coming! Now What,” and “Entering the Kingdom with a Full Stomach.”

Empowering others to reach out

The Rev. Matthew Hartsfield, who has served as pastor at Van Dyke United Methodist Church for 14 years, said the idea for the seminar stemmed from the desire of a staff member in charge of the church’s newcomer ministry to create a program that would assimilate new members into the life and ministry of the church. He said other staff members wanted to contribute and eventually the idea blossomed into offering a conference about the nuts and bolts of a church doing all the varying aspects of ministry.

“It’s all been birthed out of the whole prevailing philosophy of giving ourselves away, giving ourselves to the community, giving ourselves away to other churches,” Hartsfield said. “We’re certainly not a perfect church and some of the sharing we’ve been doing has been what not to do and the failures we’ve had.”

“We don’t think about Van Dyke really; we think about the Kingdom,” Hartsfield added. “Our goal is to set up other churches for a win. … When the tide gets up, all boats rise in the Kingdom.”

Harstfield said the seminar will have been successful if those who attended do one thing: “take back a heart for lost people and an empowered mentality that they can do whatever it takes to reach lost people for the cause of Christ.”

Hattery, who serves as pastor of Mulberry United Methodist Church, said the brochure she received touting what was being offered “sounded wonderful” and she encouraged six team leaders from her church to attend with her.

“I love the variety of topics and the opportunity to network,” she said during a break Saturday at the conference. “I love how they included resources, such as CDs, handouts, and all I had to do was come and take notes.”

The praise and worship band and choir at Van Dyke United Methodist Church perform during the closing service at the “Real Ideas for Real Churches” seminar Oct. 7 at the church. The two-day seminar was designed to motivate churches, pastors, church staff and volunteers to reach others for the Kingdom of God. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #06-453. Web photo only.

Becky Beckley, a member of Mulberry United Methodist Church, said she attended because Hattery encouraged her to, but also because she wanted to strengthen her faith. She said she was most impressed with the seminar’s speakers and their knowledge of what other churches are doing and putting into practice.

Doris Jessup, a member of First United Methodist Church, Plant City, said her favorite part of the seminar was not talking about churches implementing programs, but about churches doing something more essential — praying.

“It (prayer workshop) detailed every facet of prayer,” said Jessup, who has been a member of the church for 18 years. “Prayer is a powerful tool that we don’t use as often as we should.”

Lee Browder, a member of First United Methodist Church, Land O’Lakes, agreed. “The whole seminar has been great, but the part on prayer was my favorite,” he said. “It’s super important, and we don’t spend enough time doing it.”

Lee Herbert, minister of music at First United Methodist Church, Land O’Lakes, said he enjoyed most coming away refreshed to do ministry and with an expanded vision of the way things can be.

Taking a step into the promised land

Rob Rose, a staff member at Van Dyke United Methodist Church, led four of the workshops. He is executive director of both the church’s Connect and Cultivate ministries.

He said the first step in bringing change to any church is doing something with the love God gives us. “Praying is a good start. Then we have to move outside the walls of the church,” he said. “Being a Christian is not about the people in the pews. John Wesley started the movement outside with the people. I think sometimes we spend too much time talking with each other. We need to start doing.”

Which can sometimes be a scary step for churches, bringing a halt to progress.

Hartsfield closed the event with a sermon acknowledging that important fact and encouraging participants to be agents and advocates of change even in the face of adversity.

From Genesis to Revelation Hartsfield said there are stories of people being on the verge of moving to the next level in their lives, but lacking the belief and faith in God to take the next step. He cited the experience of the Israelites in Deuteronomy as an example. After making it through the Red Sea they could see the Promised Land, but decided to send 12 spies — each representing the 12 tribes of Israel — to scout out the area instead of plunging ahead.

After 40 days the scouts returned and reported food was abundant, but the area’s inhabitants were large and powerful and the Israelites would look like grasshoppers next to them. They said the women and children would be carried off as slaves and advised the group to return to Egypt.

“How many of you have a back-to-Egypt committee in your church?” Hartsfield asked, eliciting laughter from the group.

Hartsfield said only two of the scouts, Caleb and Joshua, offered anything encouraging, saying the land would be given to the Israelites if God was pleased with them.

“The same thing goes on in every organization, both secular and sacred, and particularly in local churches,” Hartsfield said. “We can see what God is laying before us — touch it, taste it — and as soon as we are anxious to experience God’s blessings, as we begin to move, take steps, scouting reports pop up.”

Hartsfield said Caleb and Joshua acknowledged the obstacles and hurdles, but spent considerably more time talking about what God had promised.

“At the bottom line, it’s a faith issue,” Hartsfield said. “As pastors, staff and lead volunteers, like all of you, we spend our time constantly moving people to the promised land, encouraging them to move forward, helping people to see God’s preferred vision for them and casting those visions. It’s very important for us as leaders to acknowledge the problem, to acknowledge the hurdle to overcome, so we will have credibility.”

Hartsfield said Caleb and Joshua didn’t try to whitewash or hide the facts. Instead, they said their God was bigger than any problem, greater than any hurdle.

“If we give up, if we get discouraged, if we listen to ‘negativities,’ if we buy into the grasshopper mentality, who actually are we rebelling against?” Hartsfield asked. “God.”

The Rev. Matthew Hartsfield preaches during the closing service during the “Real Ideas for Real Churches” seminar at Van Dyke United Methodist Church. The two-day seminar was created to share the success and failures of Van Dyke United Methodist Church as it has increased in membership and ministry. Photo by J.A. Buchholz, Photo #06-455.

“Let me be blunt, direct … ,” he added. “It’s a sin issue. When we don’t believe God’s promises, move the way he’s commanded us to move … when we don’t do that, we’re not just cowards, we’re not just quitters, we’re not just people who shrink in the face of opposition, we’re sinners.”

Hartsfield said that’s easier said than done, but it must be done, and the first thing Christians should do when problems arise is praise God. He said worship is such a focal point at Van Dyke United Methodist Church because it magnifies God and minimizes problems.

“So many of us put the magnifying glass on problems instead of our Lord and we wonder why we never prevail,” he said.

Returning to the scripture passage Harstfield said God finally appeared, just as the people were threatening to stone Caleb and Josuha, and questioned how long the Israelites would reject Him. That generation spent the next 40 years wandering in the desert. It was the next generation that finally made it into the Promised Land.

Despite the story’s relevance on many levels, Hartsfield said he shared it for a very special reason.

“Let me make sure we know what’s at stake here,” he said. “If we don’t believe God, if we don’t answer the call and the challenge He has given us as His people, His disciples, the local church, the Body of Christ, the hope of the world … if we don’t accept the challenge to infect our communities with love, grace and mercy and transformation, it won’t happen. Your plan A is there is no plan B.”

Hartsfield asserted people won’t know Jesus if churches don’t impact their communities and neighborhoods, which breaks God’s heart and should break Christians’ hearts.

“Let me encourage you, as I have stood on the edge of the promised land on several different occasions, just as you have stood, are standing right now … to impact the community around you,” he said. “ … He (God) said you do what’s possible and leave the impossible up to me. You can do it … . There’s no exception, there’s no person, there’s no church in this room, that is beyond God’s grasp and empowerment.”

When Van Dyke United Methodist Church first launched, it didn’t have the large campus or staff it has now, Hartsfield noted. “There were some people who believed … who saw God’s promise. We chose to believe in God more than the problems.”

It’s also not just about Christians spinning their wheels and wandering in the desert, however tragic that may be, Hartsfield added.

“It’s about people who are lost and going to a Christ-less existence called hell. The lost people desperately need you. They desperately need Jesus, and guess what? You are Jesus with skin. … They have names, faces and stories. They need to be welcomed with open arms into the Body of Christ.”

After the event Virdie Allen, a member of In the Name of Jesus World Outreach Church in Odessa, said the seminar had a positive impact on her. “The thing that really stays with me is that even if we mess up, as long as we love those on the outside, we’ve succeeded.”

This article relates to Church Transformation and Christian Discipleship.

*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.

Contact Us

The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church

450 Martin Luther King, Jr. Avenue
Lakeland, FL 33815

(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011