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Q&A with the congregational specialists

Q&A with the congregational specialists

Advocate chats with men and women who work hands on to help local churches envision and fulfill their mission

For years, South Carolina United Methodist churches have had a quiet but effective partner in helping them envision and carry out their mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Known as congregational specialists, these six men and women work one-on-one within districts to engage, equip and empower congregations to do God’s work in their communities. Some are pastors and some are laity, but all are there to come alongside churches to help discern the plans that God has for the life and ministry of their congregation.

Congregational specialists are led by Director of Connectional Ministries Rev. Millie Nelson Smith, a former congregational specialist who is also continuing to serve as the specialist for the Columbia and Hartsville districts.

“The congregational specialists help local churches to engage in meaning ministry by equipping them with the necessary tools,” Nelson Smith explained.

“We come alongside the pastor and the church lay leadership team as they seek to discover God’s preferred future for them.”

Nelson Smith noted there is no cookie-cutter model for the work congregational specialists do with local churches.

“We work with the congregation to discern the needs of the particular congregation and community. We are not consultants. We don’t come with a quick fix; the congregation chooses their path after prayer and discernment,” Nelson Smith said.

Also, she said, there is no charge to the church for the work congregational specialists do. Funds to support the work of the congregational specialists come through apportionment dollars back to your church through direct contact, district and conference level ministries and resources designed to meet the needs of the local church.

“All of this comes as a part of the connection that we share as United Methodists,” Nelson Smith said.

Their work is three pronged:

  • Engage: Connect with congregations by listening and building relationships and establishing trust, challenge congregations to be more than they think they can be, and help congregations grow in their relationship with God and in understanding and doing God’s will;
  • Equip: Lead congregations through a process and give them the flexibility to follow the lead of the Holy Spirit, provide them with leadership and training based on their needs, and utilize years of experience by learning and sharing what they’ve learned; and
  • Empower: Inform congregations so as they grow in faith, they grow in competence and confidence, celebrate with congregations as they move toward God’s preferred future, step aside so congregations can be released to do God’s calling, and be on call so that when a congregation needs help again, a specialist will be there.

Other congregational specialists are the Rev. Jim Arant, the Rev. Cathy Joens, Dr. Reggie Lee, Chris Lynch and the Rev. Suzanne Walker.

Here, we talk to each to learn what they most look forward to in their role, what they believe are the most pressing issues within the local churches, what is one thing a year from now they hope to look back on and know was successful, and a few things about their profession, hobbies, family and more.

 

Jim Arant

Greenwood and Orangeburg districts, specializing in leadership development and strategic planning

What are you most looking forward to as a congregational specialist this year?

Being able to get back and work person to person with churches.

What do you think are our most pressing issues within the local churches?

Ministry in the new reality of (hopefully) post-COVID world. How can they make disciples in whatever reality? If we don’t make disciples, we are not church.

What is one thing a year from now you would like to look back and know was successful?

Finishing strong into my retirement.

Share a few things about your profession, hobbies, family, etc.

I like to play golf and do woodworking. My grandchildren are so much fun, and I like spending time with them.

 

Cathy Joens

Anderson and Greenville districts, specializing in age-level ministries and Safe Sanctuaries

What are you most looking forward to as a congregational specialist this year?

One of my favorite parts of this work is when I connect with pastors, local church leaders and members. I am looking forward to more opportunities to talk about and be in conversations about racism, clergy care and how we (the church) move forward faithfully.

What do you think our most pressing issue is within local churches?

Fear of dying is paralyzing our church. The issue is how can we live abundantly. Matthew 10:10.

What is one thing a year from now you would like to look back and know was successful?

I would like to look back on this year and see that we have made movement on communicating the four priorities: leadership, discipleship, evaluation and community outreach. I would hope that we can see positive and encouraging conversation on racism and clergy care.

Share a few things about your profession, hobbies, family, etc.

I am a daughter, daughter in-law (the Rev. Janet Joens and Clifford Joens), sister, twin, friend, wife, mom, mom-in-law, clergy, Christian educator and congregational specialist. I have been married to Greg Joens, love of my life, for 32 years and I have been in ministry for 36 years. My call has always been to help the church live out what she feels called to. My heart is to serve.

Spending time with a few close friends both challenges me and encourages me. I love to read, and I read a lot. I love to talk about books both fun and work-related. I also love to work in the yard. I love being outside; therefore, I love to hike and go on outdoor adventures even when I get lost. For me, it is about relationship and the adventure.

 

Dr. Reggie Lee

Florence and Marion districts, specializing in connecting churches and communities through outreach and worship

What are you most looking forward to as a congregational specialist this year?

Helping churches plan and pray their way into further vital ministry opportunities both during and after the pandemic.

What do you think are our most pressing issues within the local church?

I believe we must regain our missional identity as agents of grace, inviting and training all whom God would send.

What is one thing a year from now you would like to look back and know was successful?

I hope a year from now the Annual Conference will have adopted a common vision for our lives together, a vision that will inspire and guide our work at the local church level.

Share a few things about your profession, hobbies, family, etc.

I am an ordained elder who started ministry in the African Methodist Episcopal Church. I graduated from Morgan State University with a Bachelor of Science in communication. I am a double graduate of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. While at Wesley in the Master of Divinity program, I completed the National Capitol Semester for Seminarians. This was a six-hour course in ethics, theology and public policy. This course, more than any other, has helped to shape my understanding that the church must actively engage the world and seek to bring healing and transformation to it. I love to read, write and travel. I am married to Leticia, and together we have one son and three daughters. We are also the proud grandparents of one grandson and three granddaughters. I’m just a child of God saved by grace!

 

Chris Lynch

Rock Hill and Spartanburg districts, specializing in youth ministries, next-gen discipleship and practical technology

What are you most looking forward to as a congregational specialist this year?

I am most looking forward to helping churches impact their communities in new, creative and out-of-the-box ways as we continue to navigate through and hopefully beyond a global pandemic. A large number of churches had to pivot abruptly in 2020 with the onset of COVID-19. That paradigm shift created plenty of headaches along the way for church leaders, but also created opportunities to reimagine how we can effectively make disciples in a post-Christian world.

What do you think are our most pressing issues within the local churches?

Churches that are most effective have been able to shift away from attractional models of ministry that were successful for many years to a more missional focus. This missional focus requires the church to help people in their community see their need for Jesus, faith and the church by meeting them where they are rather than waiting and hoping that they come to us in the church. In Christ, the church still holds the answer to many of the questions and struggles that plague our culture, but people aren’t looking to the church for answers. We must help our communities see the connection that faith plays in answering the questions they are asking.

What is one thing a year from now you would like to look back and know was successful?

I would love to look back in 2022 and see that more of our churches have created an intentional plan for making disciples that is both unique and effective in their own context. It is one thing to say we exist to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, but it is another thing altogether to have a plan to see that goal come to fruition. Every church is uniquely equipped with strengths, passions and resources (financial, time and people resources) to make disciples in their community, but it won’t happen by accident. It will require a plan that excites disciples within our congregations to become reality.

Share a few things about your profession, hobbies, family, etc.

As congregational specialist and director of South Carolina Ministries with Young People, I have the pleasure to work with congregations and leaders in the Rock Hill and Spartanburg districts as well as with pastors, youth leaders and young people across our state to assist them in reaching their potential. My wife, Michelle, and I will celebrate 25 years of marriage this summer. We have three daughters—Lindy, Cami and Ruthie—and a 4-year-old hound named Charlie. When not investing in churches, I enjoy golf, slow-smoking barbecue, watching sports (especially my beloved Georgia Bulldogs) and hunting.

 

Suzanne Walker

Charleston and Walterboro districts, specializing in revitalizing congregations and worship design

What are you most looking forward to as a congregational specialist this year?

The congregational specialist team has put in a lot of hard work in response to racism. We have worked in coordination with a special task force from the Cabinet. I believe this work is vital and necessary. I look forward to the fruitful conversations that will result from this great work. I’m hopeful that it will have a significant impact on our conference with both laity and clergy.

What do you think are our most pressing issues within the local churches?

With the onset of the pandemic, the most pressing issue is the need to adapt and innovate to reach local communities. We are no longer looking to just get “people in the doors.” We are searching to find new pathways to make meaningful relationships with folks outside the church.

What is one thing a year from now you would like to look back and know was successful?

I hope that the work of congregational specialists will continue to be relevant. Since we are mostly doing remote work, we still want congregations to know that we are still working hard and are there to support them in the mission and ministry of their context.

Share a few things about your profession, hobbies, family, etc.

In the midst of the pandemic, I’ve taken more time for music. I play the piano and guitar and I dedicate time to practice and just center myself with music. I also adopted a cat over the Christmas season named Domino. She’s fun and keeps me on my toes. She loves to perch on my shoulder while I work. Look for her on my Facebook and Instagram page, #dominothechristmaskitty.

 

For more about the congregational specialists, including their contact information, visit xxx.

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