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Some very old practices for some very contemporary challenges

Some very old practices for some very contemporary challenges

Rev. David Hindman

David Hindman looks to some very old practices for addressing some very contemporary challenges within The United Methodist Church.

Hindman, an elder from the Virginia Annual Conference, was a popular speaker at this past summer’s Florida Annual Conference event in Tampa. A longtime acquaintance of Florida Conference Bishop Timothy Whitaker, Hindman’s “Shift Happens” presentation examined how the catechetical and faith practices of the early church can speak to today’s “post Christian culture.” The Florida Conference Connection spoke with Hindman to further unpack the ideas he shared in Tampa.

“Across the years, I’ve been intrigued by what I perceive to be the difference between church membership and Christian discipleship,” said Hindman, lead pastor of Duncan Memorial UMC in Ashland, Va., said. “When I went back to school in 1984 to work on my doctorate in education, I already had a real interest in trying to figure out what the church might glean from the practices of the early church—in terms of confirmation, church membership, discipleship making. My sense was that what we were doing wasn’t working, and was quite superficial.”

At Annual Conference, Hindman shared his thought process that has been fine-tuned across the decades: a comprehensive framework of spiritual formation and baptismal preparation for young adults seeking to become part of the Body of Christ and The United Methodist Church. The process involves steps such as discerning the proper age for each confirmation candidate — which Hindman believes is ninth grade — and asking questions such as, “What are you seeking? Why do you want to become a Christ follower? What’s been your journey so far? What needs to die in you so Christ can live in you?” Habits of worship, Eucharist, and reflective Bible study are additional steps along Hindman’s path, along with discerning one’s spiritual gifts and serving the poor.

Based on the feedback he received at Annual Conference, Hindman believed that many felt his ideas were limited to children and youth. The pastor clarified that he is pointing to the full Christian education spectrum for persons of all ages. Churches who are cultivating a cutting edge context for making disciples are very intentional about the “what” and the “why.”

He continued, “There’s a communication at many different levels that discipleship is more than church membership, and that church membership is more than just making a financial pledge or serving on a committee…that it’s also a lifelong journey, that each step along the way hopefully you’re being introduced to some of the same things in a variety of ways. (It’s) understanding that just because you’ve gone through a new member class doesn’t mean you’re finished with this journey.”

Most of the questions Hindman was asked after leaving the stage at Annual Conference related to how a church can move beyond the institutional maintenance piece to the spiritual formation emphasis.

“I’ve got a 700-member church, most of whom came in under the church membership model,” Hindman noted. “What do you do with that? I said my thought is you make this commitment, and understand that people who didn’t buy in are grandfathered in but you continue to say that discipleship is more than just church membership. You provide opportunities and really challenge people to take those additional steps and decide for themselves, ‘What does it really mean for me to follow Jesus?’ Some people were confessing that they were frustrated to be at Annual Conference, because Annual Conference felt like church maintenance stuff instead of discipleship making.”

Russ Graves

Russ Graves, a member of Bishop Whitaker’s Strategic Leadership Team (SLT), heard Hindman speak at Annual Conference and resonated with the pastor’s framework for discipleship formation. Graves gave his own talk that same week, concerning the laity’s “tendency to think more clergy-centric, with a tendency to develop and train clergy and expect that to work through the laity while the laity are laying back, both trying to exhort and inspire laity.” 

He continued, “The laity is called equally of God. We have a tendency to lie back too much, to pay our way through Christianity. Christ died so that we could and would share both the gospel and the saving grace that he offers, grace with truth. We’ve taken the safe jobs, like administrative chairs and trustees. The hard work we’ve stepped too far back from.

“But the ones who do get it, who discover that, are finding a whole new life, whole new opportunities, and a whole new level of grace.”

The ideal concept for the Florida Conference, Graves asserts, is the pastor as coach. “They need to develop coaches within their congregations, in the laity, that feel the passion and that are spiritually mature enough to help bring others along. I’m talking about developing leadership within the congregation, and developing ministry within the congregation. We have spiritually mature laity sitting in the pews wanting to do something. Too often they end up getting some administrative task, those things I call churchy things but don’t get us out into the community and help us help others develop a passion for investing our lives in others.”

On the SLT, Graves said, “The laity are trying to remind the clergy that it’s not just the development of the clergy or a strategy for clergy. We’re struggling. (The late) Bishop Henderson told me years ago that we didn’t get to this place overnight; we’re not going to turn it around overnight. We’re coming at this from several different levels and positions.”

Hindman adds a final challenge for the Conference regarding his suggested framework for lifelong, intentional discipleship. “The real challenge for Florida is to talk to each other about it, and ask, ‘What does that look like in Florida?’”

More information about Hindman can be found at the Duncan Memorial United Methodist Church web site,

video used during Dr. Hindman's presentation.