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Pre-conference classes strike chord with conference attendees

Pre-conference classes strike chord with conference attendees

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Pre-conference classes strike chord with conference attendees

June 6, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0683}

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

LAKELAND — They came early, and they were not disappointed.

The 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event officially began June 6, but about 600 people arrived at the Lakeland Center a day early for a series of classes on practices fundamental to church health and vitality.

Dressed in pirate regalia to go with his “Pirates of the Caribbean” theme, the Rev. Scott Smith, pastor of Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Davenport, shares tips and strategies on creating worship services that give worshippers the opportunity to experience God. Smith and Kalon Stiggins, worship director at the church, led a class June 5 on passionate worship, one of the five principles of The Methodist Way,  as part of a series of classes on the five principles. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #07-0583.

The classes focused on the five core principles of “The Methodist Way”: cultivating a congregation of passionate worshippers, engaging the community of faith and the next generation in radical hospitality, forming mature apprentices of Jesus through intentional and deep discipling, sending out “salty” servants into the community and the world, and practicing extravagant generosity.

The practices were used to help spread the Methodist movement across England and the United States in the 18th century. The modern language describing them is credited to Bishop Bruce Ough, of the Ohio West Conference, who explored scripture to define congregational health for his conference. Ough is the author of a yet-to-be published book that focuses on each of the core principles.

The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church is encouraging conferences to embrace the practices, but “The Methodist Way” is intended to be more than a conference initiative. It describes the core processes every congregation must follow in order to fulfill the Great Commission of making disciples of Jesus Christ.

Taking risks, meeting people’s needs

If it’s one thing the Rev. Scott Smith is passionate about, it’s expressing and demonstrating the love of Christ during each of his church’s worship experiences.

Smith, pastor of Community of Faith United Methodist Church in Clermont, and Kalon Stiggins, worship director at the church, led the class on the passionate worship principle.

The nine-year-old church meets in a school close to Walt Disney World. In a nod to the attraction, Scott and Stiggins heavily borrowed from the Disney summer blockbuster “Pirates of the Caribbean” for the class’s theme, tying passionate worship to the lifestyle of a positive, friendly pirate.

Surrounded by tables draped in black cloth, pirate money, beads, miniature treasure chests and eye patches, Smith said having a passionate worship experience is not about style, but substance. He said every week the goal is to create an inviting space where worshippers have a life-changing encounter with God.

Smith’s church has a worship planning team that works weeks, even months ahead, to make each worship experience different and better. Referring to his pirate theme “Yo Ho, Yo Ho!” Scott said the church does this by “stealing” or “borrowing” from other churches and denominations.

“Steal from everyone, and make it your own,” he said, while decked out in beads and a headscarf befitting a pirate. “Fit in good ideas to who you are, as a reflection of who you are.”

Smith did caution against churches searching for a quick fix, trying anything as a gimmick. He also warned churches not to expect the community to change. He said the church must change to meet the needs of its community.

To make his point Smith drew an analogy from his personal experience. He said his three sons don’t like baseball as he does, but gravitate toward soccer. He didn’t force his sons to play baseball, but adapted by learning soccer and quickly became the number-one soccer coach in the area.

“I love what my kids love,” he said. “I had to change some things about me to meet them.”

Stiggins said worship should also be interactive, with God talking to worshippers and people listening and responding. He said for that to happen worship has to be about more than just songs and sermons. It must engage all five senses.

Stiggins said the church recently had a series on sex and the music of Marvin Gaye, with Barry White greeting worshippers before the service. Another series was designed around summer blockbuster movies. Each week Smith greeted worshippers before the service dressed as a character from a movie — Batman, Darth Vader or Willy Wonka. While he talked about themes from each of the movies during the service, the conversation began before worship.

Smith admits these ideas are elaborate and take time to prepare, but said he is a firm believer people make time for things that are important to them and the effort is worth it because worship can change lives.

Surrounded by tables draped in black cloth, pirate money, beads, miniature treasure chests and eye patches, participants of the passionate worship class June 5 share the creative things they have done in worship to make services at their churches more transformation and relevant to visitors. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #07-0584.

In small groups around tables participants shared ideas that have worked for them. One said a member with a hip-hop flare delivers a sermon once a month in a rapping style. Another person said her church kick-starts its service with praise time before worship officially starts. One group member said his church was transformed when he placed a bread machine in the balcony, with the smell of bread wafting over the congregation during communion. He said it “changed hearts” to the possibility of what could be done in worship when it became alive to them and assaulted their sense of smell.

One man asked how these ideas can be possible when churches are battling between contemporary or traditional services or have members resistant to change.

Smith said it can be achieved, but churches have to be willing to take risks. He said his team enjoys catching people off guard. Before one service began they passed out duct tape without explaining why people were getting it. During worship he asked, “If your mouth was duct-taped, would the world know you are a Christian?” He said people today still have the duct tape because it was an analogy that resonated with them.

During another service the team gave cookie cutters to worshippers. Smith said the cookie cutter always produces perfect cookies, but real Christians are not neat and perfect — they’re messy. Smith’s team then gave worshippers homemade cookies, with their uneven edges and varied shapes, to demonstrate that like the cookies, Christians are different and not a perfect “product.”

Smith admitted there are times when a worship experience elicits a barrage of angry telephone calls and e-mails, but he said he uses the pirate technique of “batten down the hatches” to ride the storm out when that happens.

“It’s not your job to make people happy,” he said. “We want people to leave with frustrations and challenges. Our job is for folks to encounter the living God, and sometimes that’s painful.”

People should be chewing on a meaty sermon throughout the week, not just Sunday or Monday, Smith added, and churches must take the right risk for the right reason.

“If you play it safe, your worship will suck,” he said. “You need to take the risk.”

Smith admits risk is not easy when many churches are burdened with a “this is the way we’ve always done it” mentality, but he encouraged class participants to at least try something new to improve their worship experiences, even if an idea backfires.

Closing the workshop with “X Marks the Spot,” Smith and Stiggins said passionate worship is about providing moments or opportunities for people to meet the living God and allow God to do the rest. They added it is also about letting people use their talents and ideas so worship can be a genuine reflection of the congregation’s personality.

Taking ideas to heart

Conference members and guests learn how to make welcoming and hospitality a lifestyle at their churches during The Methodist Way class on radical hospitality June 5. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #07-0585.

Steve Lietz, a member of First United Methodist Church of Orlando, said the workshop inspired him to want to try new ideas at his church.

“I like the idea of stealing everything to make it work in your church,” he said. “A lot of churches want to be Willow Creek, but they can’t be. They can just be who they are.”

The Rev. Deloris Demps, pastor of Mount Moriah United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, said her church became passionate about the elderly in their community and opened an adult day care facility at the church.

“It’s about catching the flame and tapping into it,” she said.

Jo Ann French, a member of Skycrest United Methodist Church in Clearwater, said she thoroughly enjoyed the passionate worship workshop and was greatly anticipating attending the class on intentional discipling during the second session.

“I thought it (passionate worship) was fabulous,” said French, who serves on the worship planning team at her church. “I loved the presenter’s enthusiasm. I want to go home and try some of the ideas, such as the movie theme idea.”

Denvil Farley, youth director at St. Paul United Methodist Church in Jacksonville, said he was inspired by the class on radical hospitality, taught by the Rev. John Legg and Debbie Van Ore, director of congregational development at the Jacksonville church.

Farley said the ideas presented in the class, as well each of “The Methodist Way” principles, are insightful.

“I think the five principles are going to be big for all the churches,” he said. “My church is making progress, but we can do more.”

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of the Office of Congregational Transformation, said the workshops overall appear to have been a success. Each of the five classes were first offered at 2:30 p.m. and then repeated at 4 p.m. During the break between the sessions Stiggins said three classes ran out of materials and had to make more copies.

“I think these classes are scratching an itch,” he said. “People can leave with a clear perspective about what local churches are called to do.”

Additional articles about news and events taking place at the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event will be posted to e-Review during and after the conference. The conference is also being web cast so those not able to attend may view the sessions online from their home computer. Individuals interested in accessing the webcast may go to the Florida Conference Web site at and click on the webcast link.


This article relates to Congregational Transformation and 2007 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.