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Small churches get introduction to ‘Methodist Way’

Small churches get introduction to ‘Methodist Way’

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Small churches get introduction to ‘Methodist Way’

Sept. 24, 2007  News media contact: Tita Parham*
800-282-8011  Orlando {0744}

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

FRUITLAND PARK — The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins told members of small churches attending a recent retreat that he wasn’t going to tell them anything they didn’t already know.

Given that, they may have wondered why they were there. They soon had their answer: learning about a whole new approach to fulfilling the mission of the church.

Willie Bailey (right) talks with the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins during a break on the practices of “The Methodist Way” at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #07-0675. Web photo only.

The Sept. 7-8 retreat at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park was sponsored by the Florida Conference Small Church Advocacy Team and designed specifically for churches with an average weekly attendance of 125 members or less. Stiggins was the presenter, introducing participants to “The Methodist Way.”

The Methodist Way refers to a five-piece disciple-making process to which every congregation is called. The five pieces, or practices, are passionate worship, radical hospitality, intentional discipling, “salty” service and extravagant generosity. They were used to help spread the Methodist movement across England and the United States in the 18th century.

Each practice has its roots both in the church’s Wesleyan heritage and in the example of Jesus Christ. Each practice is also essential in making disciples of Jesus Christ — just doing one, two or three is not enough.

The Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church is encouraging conferences to embrace the practices as more than a conference initiative — as the core processes every congregation must follow in order to fulfill the Great Commission.

In Florida, The Methodist Way was introduced to laity and clergy attending the 2007 Florida Annual Conference Event last June and will be rolled out in a series of five events, one for each practice, over a span of 30 months.

Stiggins told the retreat’s 160 participants churches must first ask themselves two transformational questions: are the church’s leaders in agreement about their mission for Christ in their community and when the church’s leaders think about their congregation’s “success” do they consider the congregation’s missional relationship to their community?

Stiggins admitted he had spent many years of his ministry doing certain things, all with very good intentions — building up the body of Christ, increasing membership so larger buildings were required, steadily making more money for the church.

He said he began to realize the work of the church involves much more. “It’s about the Kingdom. This is why we pray ‘thy Kingdom come,’ ” he said. “I knew these things (The Methodist Way), but it really took me the last six or seven years to really get it. Now, I want to shorten the process for people, to help them get it sooner.”

The Methodist Way is derived from scripture and describes any congregation in mission when it is faithful and fruitful, Stiggins said. He said The Methodist Way is not techniques for success and one size will not fit all because how the practices are lived out is specific to a congregation and its ministry context.

Taking a closer look

After Stiggins’ introduction, participants broke into small groups to discuss each practice. They started with passionate worship, focusing on its scriptural reference, John 4:23, and what they thought were the important ingredients of passionate worship. The groups then offered Stiggins their feedback, with Stiggins giving his own explanation.

The Rev. Gloria Brown (left) a member of Greater Bell United Methodist Church, talks with Kay Dahlstrom, a member of Skycrest United Methodist Church, during a break-out session on the practices of “The Methodist Way” at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park. Photo by J.A. Buchholz. Photo #07-0676. Web photo only.

“People have to feel the Holy Spirit,” he said. “You can prepare for passionate worship, but you can’t control it if the Holy Spirit moves. There’s a mystery about it.”

The most important component in passionate worship, Stiggins said, is people encountering Christ and knowing they have connected with God — discovered what he has to say and the need to respond.

Stiggins also said certain factors can encourage or divert from passionate worship. Openness to Christ, expectation, commitment to obedience and the “love quotient” are a few. Others are preparation — what is done, how it’s done and who does it — and how the physical surroundings related to aesthetics, lighting, seating, sound and temperature play a role in the worship service. He said worship services of the future will engage all senses — hearing, feeling, seeing, smelling — and create an intrinsic feeling among those attending.

“God is not glorified by mediocrity,” Stiggins said. “If the sound system is bad, do something about it. If not, it becomes a distraction.”

For churches that aren’t sure what to do or how to start, Stiggins suggested having members visit area churches that are achieving the passionate worship practice.

When asked about traditional versus contemporary worship services, Stiggins said what is done depends on the demographic the church is attempting to reach.

“You’ve got to be in the world,” he said. “ … The goal is helping people come to Christ. If it’s playing kazoo, it doesn’t matter.”

After a brief break the group tackled the radical hospitality practice and its corresponding scriptural references, Matthew 11:28-9, 18:5 and 28:18 and Hebrews 13:2.

Stiggins said the first 11 minutes of contact a visitor has with a church are the most crucial because that’s when most people decide whether or not they will return. Given that small window of opportunity, Stiggins stressed the importance of making people feel welcome and wanted, noting first impressions can’t be recreated.

Beyond welcoming people who walk through the doors, Stiggins said there is a second, more difficult component to consider: meeting people “where they are.” 

He said one pastor has started “theology in the tavern,” with open dialogue in one room of a bar.

“It’s a risky thing,” he said. “I have a feeling Jesus would have done that. John Wesley did it. We have to reach out and connect with people.”

Participants also noted in many churches the demographics of members have not kept pace with drastically changing communities. Stiggins said these churches are “stuck in a time warp” and with such diversity in the country and local communities churches need to reflect that diversity.

“The question is, do people in your community feel welcome in your congregation and want to become a part of it,” he said. “There must be recognition that we’ve got work to do.”

After the session, Donald Fleming said he couldn’t wait to return to his church, White City United Methodist Church in Fort Pierce, and share what he had learned with members there.

“These practices are very sound,” he said. “I’ve heard some of it before, but he (Stiggins) said it in a way that’s easy to understand. I am enjoying it.”

The Rev. Earl Powell, pastor of Debose Chapel United Methodist Church in Ocala, said the workshop was both interesting and useful. He said he was especially in tune with the practice of radical hospitality.

“It starts at the door,” he said. “People must feel welcome.”

Individuals interested in purchasing The Methodist Way T-shirts may do so by contacting Cokesbury Bookstore at the Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park at 352-365-0775. The T-shirts are $12 (medium to extra large) and $14 (extra-extra large) each.


This article relates to 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.