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Conference ministries put face on discipleship

Conference ministries put face on discipleship

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference ministries put face on discipleship

By J.A. Buchholz | June 24, 2009 {1037}

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The body of Christ should be about making new disciples of Christ. That was the message from conference and ministry leaders during the morning plenary session June 12 at the 2009 Florida Annual Conference Event.

The Rev. Vance Rains shares how the campus ministries at 10 Florida colleges and universities are helping college students feel appreciated, loved and welcomed. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez. Photo #09-1221.

Various conference ministries introduced members to people whose lives have been altered by those ministries, giving them a glimpse of the ways local churches and conference ministries are fulfilling the Great Commission.

The Rev. Vance Rains, executive director of the Florida Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry and pastor of Florida State University’s Wesley Foundation, started the session by reminding members Jesus Christ commanded his followers “to go and make disciples of the world.”

Rains said that mandate and what it means to be a disciple are daunting. He said the word disciple is mentioned 269 times in the New Testament alone.

Creating disciples, Rains said, is not something that can be achieved purely by making converts of friends. While church members often focus on bringing people to church, he said, they must also reach beyond the church’s walls and express God’s love to people who may not necessarily join the church.

Rains said Jesus did not command his followers to make institutions or “mainline Christians who will be faithful tithers and attend service every Sunday at 11 a.m.” The goal of the church, he said, is to make disciples who will transform the world.

Practice, practice, practice

The Rev. Harold Lewis, the conference’s new director of Black Congregational Development, said Christians can make authentic disciples of Jesus Christ only when they first develop and grow into true disciples.

He said that maturation occurs when Christians participate daily in praying, fasting and self-denial. He said Christ’s followers must also be faithful to Jesus Christ and other Christians and make time for fellowship with fellow believers.

The Rev. Harold Lewis tells members Christians are an asset to the Kingdom of God but a threat to the devil. “Does the devil know your name?” he asked. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez. Photo #09-1222.

The three functions of a disciple, Lewis said, are to evangelize by sharing the good news, edify through prayer and worship, and equip Christians to go out and share their stories.

Lewis said no one is interested in watching water freeze, but people will watch a house burn. Christians, he said, must be on fire for Jesus Christ.

Gwendolyn Warton, a member of Good Samaritan United Methodist Church in Tallahassee, felt that fire when she began working for the church and later became a member.

Through a videotaped message to conference attendees, Warton said she had always believed in God, but was able to experience being part of a faith community for the first time at Good Samaritan United Methodist Church.

Warton said she realized it doesn’t matter that she doesn’t have relatives in the area. The church has become her surrogate family.

“I love Jesus,” Warton said. “Now I know I’m never alone.”

Putting faith into action

Stephen and Sandra Hogue are taking their discipleship call seriously through children. The couple has adopted four children and is caring for two as foster parents.

Mike Galloway, president and CEO of the Florida United Methodist Children’s Home, introduced the family to the conference. The couple has been actively working with the Children’s Home to encourage people at their church, Calvary Christian Center in Ormond Beach, to become foster parents.

Stephen is the “kids pastor” at the church, and Sandra is lay coordinator of the church’s All of Children ministry to foster families in the area.

Lay and clergy members meet Stephen and Sharon Hogue and their six children — four of whom are adopted and two who are living with the couple as foster children. Photo by the Rev. Dr. Armando Rodríguez. Photo #09-1223.

The Children’s Home serves children ages 5 to 18 who are unable to live with their parents or other family members because of “sexual abuse, other physical abuse, abandonment or because of family breakdown due to divorce, drug abuse, illness or death of a parent,” according to the home’s Web site. The Children’s Home also provides foster care and adoption services and is an approved provider through Community Partnership for Children and the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Feeling God calling them to encourage others to help children in the foster care system, the Hogues began looking for an organization that would provide classes at their church to help members become foster parents. One nonprofit organization was eager to teach the classes, Sandra said, but was not able to allow the Hogues to share their faith story during the training.

The two continued to search for the right partner and during an initial telephone call with a staff member at the Children’s Home, Sandra said they felt they had found the right place. After that call, the church began offering the classes. To date, she said, 50 of the church’s families have completed the 30-hour required course to become foster families.

“Foster children are today’s orphan,” Sandra said, stressing their need for loving, Christian homes.

The Hogues’ message: children are part of the heart of Christ and ministry to them should not be overlooked.

Providing a place for all God’s children

Creating mature disciples, whether children or adults, is a priority of the conference’s camps and retreat ministries.

The Rev. David Berkey, director of the ministries, introduced several videos of past campers and team members sharing the importance the ministry has played in their lives. 

The women's retreats are a place where women can go and be transparent. They arrive on Friday night with brokenness and strife and leave on Sunday morning ... transformed.”

The Rev. Karen Sutherland

Jad Denmark, a member of Anona United Methodist Church in Largo, said summer camp at the Warren W. Willis United Methodist Youth Camp in Fruitland Park was the driving force behind him becoming a committed Christian. He said the importance camp placed on striving toward perfection has been pivotal in his life.

Molly McEntire, a member of First United Methodist Church in Lakeland, shared a similar experience, saying, “I am who I am because of camp.”

Sissy Moore said walking down the aisle in the camp’s chapel to offer her life to Christ is something she will always remember.

The Rev. Karen Sutherland, a local supply pastor at First United Methodist Church in Lake Butler, said the conference retreat centers provide an important place for Florida United Methodists “to lay down their burdens and sins.”

Sutherland said she has attended the Women’s Retreats at the conference’s Life Enrichment Center in Fruitland Park for years and always felt it was a place for her to find healing and forgiveness. It was also a place that enabled her to let go of a personal burden she had been carrying for many years.

With that burden lifted, Sutherland said she realized it was her turn to serve, and she began helping organize the women’s retreats. Serving on the planning team, she said, also helped her realize her dream of becoming a pastor.

“The women’s retreats are places where women can go and be transparent,” she said. “They arrive on Friday night with brokenness and strife and leave on Sunday morning after they have been transformed.”

Sutherland said the Life Enrichment Center is more than a place where meetings are held. It is a place where her life was transformed.

Talking, walking right

After the personal testimonies, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, executive director of the Florida Conference Office of Congregational Transformation, asked members to refer to a business-sized card they had received from ushers as they entered the session.

The Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins asks members to share with one another how they are living the five practices of The Methodist Way. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1224.

He asked them to turn to their neighbors and share the answers to five questions printed on the card: how do I open myself to God’s presence and offer up all my life as an act of worship; how do I receive God’s welcome through my faith community and offer it to others in the world; how is the Spirit calling me to be more like Jesus; how do I invest my God-given, unique blessings serving others and God’s purpose; and how do I trust God’s sustaining “daily bread” and share generously, as the Spirit prompts?

Each question related to one of the five practices of The Methodist Way, a disciple-making process being embraced by all conferences in the denomination at the urging of the Council of Bishops.

The opposite side of the card included a place where members could sign their name, committing themselves to “being in community with other disciples, becoming more like Jesus and joining Him on mission in the world.”

After the session Stiggins said his goal that morning had been to share personal stories and prompt people to begin sharing their faith stories.

The church often focuses, out of necessity, on the bottom line in terms of dollars, he said, but he wanted to show how important it is for Christians to “be about” making disciples of Jesus Christ.

The Rev. Milford Lewis Griner, pastor at Hall Chapel in Gainesville, said he is excited about that focus. He said he often preaches on the importance of making disciples.

“It’s like building a house,” Griner said. “The foundation is having strong disciples. As you go from there, everything else that is added will be strengthened because of the solid foundation. … We have been spending too much time on politics and mess. I think looking at the process of making disciples is long overdue. This is what the church should really be about.”

Members share with one another the answers to five questions printed on a business-sized card they received when they entered the session. Photo by Caryl Kelley. Photo #09-1225.

Lewis agreed and said in an interview after the session that Christians often talk right and walk left, meaning they don’t always do as they say.

“We must teach people the basic fundamentals of the faith,” he said. “We need to show people that being a disciple is not about shallow robotic prayers. We need to show them how to be holy in the community, on their jobs, with their families. We need to mentor people, show them how it’s done.

“Ninety percent of Christians have not led another person to Christ. We need to teach people how to do that.”

More information about the conference session, including a schedule of activities and reports presented, is available at

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a freelance writer based in Seffner, Fla.