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New staff member help churches with discipleship ministries

New staff member help churches with discipleship ministries

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

New staff member helps churches with discipleship ministries

By Jenna De Marco | July 30, 2009 {1056}

NOTE: A headshot of the Rev. Emily Oliver is available at

For Florida Conference churches seeking to enhance their disciple-making ministries, the Rev. Emily Oliver is poised to help them transform their visions into action.

Rev. Emily Oliver

That task became her primary role July 1 as she became director of discipleship for the conference.

An ordained elder, Oliver was appointed to the newly created position by Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker after serving three years as pastor of discipleship ministries at Christ Church United Methodist in Fort Lauderdale.

The discipleship position falls under the leadership of the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller, director of the conference’s Connectional Ministries office. The post was created to help fulfill the conference mission to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world, Fogle-Miller said.

“We want to help churches have an intentional process to help someone decide to be a disciple, and then to have a way to help people move from beginning disciple to mature disciple,” she said.

The decision to develop the discipleship role stemmed from the Florida Conference’s focus on The Methodist Way and its five practices, which are a framework for discipleship. The Office of Congregational Transformation will continue to provide the overall teaching about the five practices, said its executive director, the Rev. Dr. Jeff Stiggins, but Oliver’s role may overlap with Congregational Transformation’s goal of establishing a working definition for the word “disciple.”

“How do you understand what it is for people to mature in Christ — to really having your life totally centered on Christ?” Stiggins said. “That’s what the church is supposed to be doing, and Emily will be part of this.”

For her part, Oliver will be expanding on the intentional discipling piece of the five practices. The other four are passionate worship, salty service, radical hospitality and extravagant generosity.

“My role is to … come along as a deeper follow-up and to help with implementation of the vision that has been cast by the Office of Congregational Transformation,” Oliver said.

Oliver will begin working with some of the nearly 200 people who attended one of the recent Florida Conference “Simple Church” workshops, led by author Eric Geiger, executive pastor of Christ Fellowship in Miami. Geiger covered principles found in his book “Simple Church: Returning to God’s Process for Making Disciples,” co-written by Thomas S. Ranier. The book tackles the question of church effectiveness in disciple-making.

“Part of what (Emily) will do is start with the folks who attended the intentional discipling workshops in May because of their interest in helping their churches improve their ministries or effectiveness,” Fogle-Miller said.

Oliver said she already envisions using a wide variety of techniques that will meet the diverse needs across the Florida Conference. One example is conducting in-person, one-on-one coaching with pastors and lay members.

At other times she plans to take advantage of technology. She hopes to provide assistance through Web seminars, video phone calls, and online learning communities and discussion boards. One possible use for online communities would be to link churches that have specific ministries in common, Oliver said. Using these kinds of tools makes sense “so that we can be good stewards of our time and resources, but still be connected to each other,” she said. Oliver is also interested in assisting church leaders with the ministry possibilities available through popular, rapidly growing social networking sites.

Oliver is introduced to members of the Florida Conference at the annual business session in June. Photo by Greg Moore. Photo #09-1267.

“One type of training event that I’d love to offer … is to teach pastors how they can use blogging or Facebook and Twitter to communicate with people,” Oliver said.

Although she has no shortage of ideas, Oliver knows some challenges lie ahead. Chief among them is addressing whether an ever-increasing quantity of church programs is the key to making disciples.

“Just one general thing that I’d like to work on is that discipleship isn’t just offering a bunch of programs and hoping that people will attend them. … We are moving people from just coming in the door to becoming deeply committed followers of Christ,” she said.

Results from a research project called “REVEAL” suggest people attending church programs are not always transformed spiritually, Oliver said. The study was sponsored by Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois. Results are available at

“We often struggle to take a step back and ask whether we are really helping people to grow and be more like Christ,” Oliver said. “We have a lot of programs, but they are not necessarily moving people to spiritual depth.”

The Florida Conference and its churches are giving this subject more thought, Fogle-Miller said, because individual needs vary, depending on a person’s faith journey.

“Churches very often have an assortment of good programs, but they may not have something for every step along the way,” she said.

Oliver has already demonstrated the gifts needed to help churches clarify this progression, said the Rev. Deborah McLeod, senior pastor at Mandarin United Methodist Church in Jacksonville and former superintendent of the South East District.

“Emily is a masterful communicator with a love for the word of God and a passion for discipleship,” McLeod said. “She has taught workshops for the (General) Board of Discipleship and has a gift for helping congregations to develop a process and plan for discipleship for persons of all ages.”

Oliver is living in Lakeland with her husband, the Rev. Andy Oliver, and their son Liam, who was born in December 2008. Andy Oliver is associate pastor at First United Methodist Church in Lakeland.

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

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.