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Leaders say passionate leadership is key to church’s future

Leaders say passionate leadership is key to church’s future

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Leaders say passionate leadership is key to church’s future

By Kitty Carpenter | March 2, 2010 {1145}

WINTER PARK — The quote, “Catch on fire with enthusiasm and people will come from miles to watch you burn,” is one of many attributed to John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement.

The Rev. Mike Briggs (left) talks with Chris Dalstra (center) and Rich Monroe during a break at the conference. Dalstra and Monroe are the trustees chair and lay leader, respectively, at the church Briggs serves. Photo by Kitty Carpenter. Photo #10-1408.

Wesley’s words were spoken often to the more than 250 clergy and laity meeting Jan. 18-19 at First United Methodist Church to regain a sense of passion for leadership in the church.

The gathering was the vision of several Florida Conference clergy, led by the Rev. Dr. Bob Bushong, senior pastor at the Winter Park church, and the Rev. Jeremy Rebman, senior pastor at Deer Lake United Methodist Church in Tallahassee.
“We are passionate about the church,” Rebman said. “And we want to see the dream of the church fulfilled.”
“We pray that this event will lift us up at the same time we are challenged,” Bushong added. “I am excited for us to see what God would have us do,”

Originally planned as a clergy event, pastors soon began asking to bring their key laity. The Rev. Mike Briggs, senior pastor at First United Methodist Church in St. Cloud, brought his church’s trustees chair, Chris Dalstra, and lay leader, Rick Monroe.

“These guys are the real leaders of the church, and I want them to get what I get first-hand,” Briggs said.

Bishop Will Willimon tells conference attendees the church needs to see a shift from pastors as caregivers to pastors as “passionate, transformative leaders.” Photo by Robert Constant. Photo #10-1409.

The conference featured four speakers who shared their life lessons and insights into renewing or gaining a sense of enthusiasm and passion for church leadership. Each acknowledged the challenge leaders face in church that continues to decline in membership nationwide, but they also offered a renewal plan and hope for the future of the church.

“It is not news that people burn out,” said Bishop Will Willimon, episcopal leader of the North Alabama Conference and author of more than 60 books. “The work of the church is tough; people do get dispassionate. The good news is that there are many people who are still energized and still passionate. That is exciting.”

Willimon spoke of a new focus on a “God-on-the-move sort of faith,” urging a change from pastors as caregivers to pastors as passionate, transformative leaders.

“A healthy church is not when I feel good about myself and we are conflict free,” he said. “A healthy church is defined by growth and fruit. We (the church) don’t need someone who will love us; we need someone who will lead us.”

Willimon said passion in ministry comes from Jesus. “Jesus is on the move, and Jesus is determined to get back what belongs to him,” he said. “If we don’t settle down, he will move on without us.” 

The Revs. Debbie McLeod and Jorge Acevedo (second and third from left) help serve communion during the conference. Photo by Kitty Carpenter. Photo #10-1410.

The kind of leaders God wants clergy and laity to be are the kind with “fire in their bellies,” said the Rev. Jorge Acevedo, senior pastor at Grace United Methodist Church in Cape Coral, a rapidly growing, multi-site church in Southwest Florida.

Acevedo said passion works in three directions: up, out and in. He says “up” relates to how much time is dedicated daily to prayer, Bible study and listening to God. “Out” is about managing relationships with people, both the VIPs — very important people — and the EGRs —extra grace required people. “In” deals with how people manage pain and struggles in life.

“I can draw a straight line from my passion for ministry and the faithfulness or lack of faithfulness to my prayer life; from my passion in ministry to my relational world and to how I am doing or not doing managing my pain,” Acevedo said.

A near-death experience gave the Rev. Debbie McLeod a new appreciation for life and gratitude for the privilege of serving. That service includes her current appointment as senior pastor at Mandarin United Methodist Church in Jacksonville and her previous appointment as superintendent of the Florida Conference’s South East District.

“If you don’t wake up every morning excited about ministry, then there is something missing,” said told the group.

She cautioned that ministry is hard, but “it is not about you.” “It is about the transforming power of Jesus Christ and the kingdom,” she said. “We are so privileged to make an eternal difference in people’s lives.”

Echoing McLeod’s comments, the Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell stressed that without passion there is no real leadership and no one to promote God’s vision.

The Rev. Kirbyjon Caldwell speaks to attendees via video. Photo by Robert Constant. Photo #10-1411.

“Without the right people, the vision can perish,” Caldwell said through a videotaped message to the group. The senior pastor at the 14,000-member Windsor Village United Methodist Church in Houston, Texas, advised, “Seek the Lord and ask, ‘What difference do you want our local church to make in this community?’ ” Caldwell then offered guidelines for defining, testing and implementing that vision.

Linda Frano said the conference sparked hours of brainstorming among her group of seven from Glynlea-Grace United Methodist Church. Frano is co-lay leader at the church.

“We gained some clarity by listening to where others are coming from in ministry,” she said.

Dalstra said the gathering was the first non-corporate leadership conference he had ever attended. “Our church has been through some tough times, but the spiritual tone of the conference was very helpful in renewing a passion to serve,” he said.

The speakers’ messages are available at under the Passionate Leadership Conference link.

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

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