By Jessica Connor
CHAPIN—Are we going to go the path of the status quo, or take some Kingdom-sized risks to help our church be better?
A free daylong church leadership conference—aptly titled Better—tackled that and more as a hundred United Methodist leaders gathered Sept. 26 at Chapin United Methodist Church, Chapin.
"It's about taking the next step beyond what we ve ever known and trusting God will lead us in the right way to go," Chapin senior pastor the Rev. Jody Flowers told the crowd to a roar of applause.
Flowers was joined by Better headliners S.C. UMC Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston, national church author/speaker Dr. John Ed Mathison and former Gamecock quarterback-turned-coach Steve Taneyhill, each of whom shared wisdom, tips, humor and inspiration from many years of successful experience in the field.
The conference was a gift from Chapin UMC to the conference. Flowers said Chapin UMC invested more than $20,000 in this conference because they have a strong desire to see what God is doing in Chapin be done across the state ”and across the denomination.
You gotta have faith
Flowers kicked off the day with a fired-up message about living by leading with faith. Drawing from Hebrews 11:6, Flowers reminded the crowd that faith is that one thing we need more than anything else to be better for God.
We want to be sure the churches we lead are churches that please God, Flowers said, noting it takes faith to do that.
He said faith requires four key things: believing even before we can see it, obeying even when we don t understand, persisting even when we don t feel like it and thanking God even before we receive it.
You ve got to be willing to be a prophet for God and less of a prostitute to the people, Flowers said, urging people to rise above the deluge of criticism and negative voices and keep their eyes on Jesus. The stakes are eternity, and there s nothing higher than that.
Trust is everything
Church leaders got the chance to engage in a question-answer session with Taneyhill, who answered questions both from Flowers and the crowd on his career-wide strategies to excel on and off the field. Taneyhill, now a leading high school football coach, said that after losing a game, he will spend a little time criticizing himself for not doing better or playing the I should have done this or that game, but come practice on Monday morning, the old is forgotten and the focus is only on the new.
Taneyhill said his number one gift as a coach is making the kids believe in him, for trust is everything.
The people you are leading must believe wholeheartedly in you, Taneyhill said.
He noted that the things that happen off the field are more important than what happens on the field ”that s what makes them trust you wholeheartedly.
Making a difference
Holston took the stage after lunch in the first time he had walked without a cane since his knee surgery some weeks prior.
He said the name of the day s conference signifies something crucial ”it s not about being good anymore. It s about being the best we can be.
The enemy of great is good, he told the crowd, for when you get good enough you stop dreaming and stop challenging yourself. God calls us to something great, something better.
When he was a kid, his father used to say, Never let it rest til your good becomes better and your better becomes best.
These are words Holston has tried to live by, and when it comes to doing God s business in making disciples, it s even more important to remember.
My friends, every one of us can make a difference for the sake of Jesus Christ, Holston said. What are you going to do to make a difference ¦ to be better ¦ to go into the world and make disciples for Jesus Christ?
He noted we need to stop being an institution and start being a movement.
We serve a God who is greater than all, Holston said. We need to stop looking where things are and start looking where things can be.
˜We all want to be better
Attendees said they got a lot out of the conference and appreciate that Chapin hosted it.
The Rev. Nick Lyerly, pastor of Mount Vernon UMC, Greeleyville, said he came away challenged to get back to what we ve been called to do.
Sometimes we get so programmed with other things we lose sight of where we re supposed to be, he said, noting he has new insight to bring back to his flock.
The Rev. Farrell Cox, retired pastor, said the world is badly in need of evangelism; the UMC has lost a third of its members since the 1960s.
Every year there s a loss, Cox said. Evangelism has been put on the b
He said Better is stirring in him and others a renewed passion for evangelism and greater awareness of the need to share the Good News, whether through preaching, visitation, prayer or example.
Rounding it out
The day ended with wisdom from Mathison, now a national speaker after spending 36 years pastoring Frazer Memorial UMC in Montgomery, Ala. Under his leadership, Frazer grew from 400 members to more than 8,000, and Mathison lifted up the crowd with inspiration and tips.
In addition to the speaker lineup, church leaders had the chance to learn more focused ways to be better at doing anything church-related, from how to develop a dynamic children s ministry, to worship planning, to how to recruit and empower volunteers, to shifting from an inward to an outward focus.
Better also included lunch, snacks, giveaways and more, all free to attendees as a gift from Chapin to the conference. Giveaways range from a flat screen TV, iPad mini, Kindle Fire, $50 gas cards to the first 50 churches to register at least four people, etc.