Dallas, Texas, July 27, 2011--With a theme of changing church culture for transformation, the 2011 School of Congregational Development opened to the Munger Place Band singing "Join Together," a classic rock song by The Who. Hundreds of church leaders are gathered at the Sheraton Dallas Hotel for five days of worship, workshops, plenary sessions, networking, and intensive conversations. Much of the conference is focused on creating a ministry plan using a framework of the "Call to Action," a process developed by the Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table to guide our denominational response to the mission of the church.
At the opening worship, The Rev. Paul Rasmussen, Highland Park UMC asked, "What could happen to all of our communities if we decided to become Christ centric instead of model centric?" Highland Park UMC took responsibility for developing Munger Place UMC, a new congregation that is breaking traditional models of ministry, and is drawing 500 people to worship each week. Their first vacation Bible school drew 92 children from the neighborhood. The Munger Place Band is one way that the church is exploring less traditional models. Led by Kate Miner, the band comprises a diverse group of musicians. Among other creative styles, hymns like Charles Wesley's, "Am I Yet Alive" were performed to a bluegrass rhythm.
The Rev. Nora Martinez, who leads Global Ministries' justice and discipleship programs, introduced the opening event's keynote speaker, Bishop W. Earl Bledsoe, of the North Texas Annual Conference (region). Bishop Bledsoe offered a message framed around Matthew 4:1-11 about embracing crisis as a turning point for congregations.
He reminded the group that, "when we keep our eyes on Christ, God will sometimes take us to places we may not want to go...Just as Jesus went through crisis, following Christ means sometimes walking through crisis." Bishop Bledsoe assured the group that if, "you know who you are and whose you are, Jesus will give us the key...and the journey into the wilderness will help us get our priories straight."
Highlighting a number of resources and personal experience, Bishop Bledsoe offered three points on helping congregations move through crisis in a way that will help them become more Christ centered.
- Be who God has created you to be.
The bishop suggested that when congregations understand what God wants for them, they will not be tempted to imitate other churches. Transformation happens with the help of the Spirit only when churches are living out God's purpose.
- Embrace and go through the crisis experience.
As an African-American pastor, Bishop Bledsoe described the feeling as being a "long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs" when he interned at an Anglo church in a Hispanic community. He explained that because God had gone before him, he was able to help free people from their prejudices--and he also experienced liberation. Through the crisis, God prepared him for future challenges. He encouraged churches to stay focused and to trust God in the midst of crisis.
- See God's greater vision beyond the crisis: Get outside the walls of the church and into the greater mission field.
St. Paul is a church in downtown Dallas that was started by freed slaves. Over time the neighborhood changed, and in recent years drew artists and musicians. St. Paul evolved with the community and is now the "soul of the art district." It claims its historic roots as part of its transformation into a church for artists.
Bishop Bledsoe encouraged the group, concluding with, "We're well on our way with clarity in our mission. Do we have the will, perseverance, and tenacity to stay the course, gain traction, and see it through?"
The School of Congregational Development is an annual event sponsored by the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), Path 1, and the General Board of Global Ministries. Parts of the program will be webcast live: gbgm-umc.org/scdlive. Consult the webcast schedule all times Central).
Melissa Hinnen is the information officer of the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries.