Leadership in the Wesleyan Spirit

By Jessica Connor

What does it mean to lead in the Wesleyan Way? Three South Carolina pastors devoted teaching time to three components of Wesley-style leadership during Annual Conference.

The teaching times were based on concepts in the book “Leadership in the Wesleyan Spirit,” by Dr. Lovett Weems: the principles, passions and practices of Wesleyan leadership.

The Rev. Bob Howell, senior pastor at Bethany United Methodist Church in Summerville, taught June 8 on the principles of leadership; Anderson District Superintendent the Rev. Susan Leonard-Ray taught June 9 on the passions of leadership; and the Rev. Jerry Temple, senior pastor of Buncombe Street UMC in Greenville, taught June 10 on the practices of leadership.

Read on for highlights of their teaching times.

Howell: Principles of leadership

Leadership models are constantly changing, and if the United Methodist Church is to stay relevant, we need to change with the times.

That was the word from the Rev. Bob Howell, senior pastor at Bethany UMC in Summerville, who taught June 8 on the principles of leadership in the Wesleyan Way.

“Times have changed, ladies and gentleman, and leaders have changed, and Methodism has not,” Howell said.

He said the church often operates from a 1950s social construct in a 21st century world. Before, the bishop would appoint a pastor to a church, and the church would instantly accept the new leadership with enthusiastic welcome.

“We don’t live in that world anymore,” he said. “Today the authority to lead is earned, not granted. You earn it after you get there.”

To wild applause, Howell reminded the crowd that the church is about people, not about keeping every dot and tittle in line.

Authenticity is key, he said.

“Leadership is about modeling, about being a person who reflects in something of themselves what they say they want you to be,” Howell said. “One thing is for sure: They ain’t gonna believe you if you ain’t for real. People in the pew can read you like a book. They see you for who you are even when you don’t think they do.”

Good Wesleyan leadership is also about sacrifice, he said. After all, early Methodist preachers lived sacrificially, giving themselves away for a cause that was greater and more important than they were.

“But when I go to meetings and I hear us spend more time on insurance and pension packages and benefits than on evangelism and missions, then I know this church has crested and is on the way down,” Howell said. “We’ve lost our focus. We no longer remember who we are and whose we are. We think we belong to ourselves.”

He noted that Paul admonished early Christians not to think highly of themselves; humility is a hallmark of a leader.

But even good leaders are not perfect. In fact, mistakes can spur life-changing epiphanies.

Howell reminded the crowd that John Wesley spent a miserable time in Savannah, Ga., yet he was honored with a statue in that city not because of what he did for the people there in his two-year failed stint, but because of what he did after.

“God’s always calling us to step up again,” Howell said. “A failure is not fatal. It won’t kill you. It really won’t. You can move ahead.”

Finally, never deny the power of listening. Howell’s father always told him God gave people two ears and one mouth for a reason: listening is far more important than talking.

“If you really want to hear what God is saying, listen to the people,” Howell said. “The holiest people I know don’t wear vestments.

“And the spirit of God is at least as alive in many of them as it is in you.”

Leonard-Ray: Passions of leadership

Rev. Susan Leonard-RayWhen it comes to passion, you can’t fake it. It comes from within, borne of a driving conviction that captures our hearts and compels our lives. It brings focus and direction, creates a can-do spirit, generates a commitment to excellence.

And best of all, said Anderson District Superintendent Susan Leonard-Ray, it’s contagious.

Leonard-Ray spent an hour June 9 reminding members of Annual Conference that it’s not enough to go through the motions if we’re going to be a church that makes disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

“We’re not talking about the Hollywood version or the Washington version, but the true Christian passion we feel for God and Christ,” Leonard-Ray told the packed arena to fervent applause and, at close, a standing ovation.

God calls us all, she said, and it is our job to open ourselves to that call and respond with vigor and excitement for what He wants us to do in the world.

The starting point for passionate Christian leadership is that we have experienced the transforming love of God, Leonard-Ray said; it begins with a warmed heart.

“When you know that you are loved, you can do amazing things,” she said. “You can be bold, act with courage. You can take risks.”

The second quality that fuels passionate leadership is being clear about the mission. After all, she said, Jesus didn’t hide his purpose. “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand,” He said. “Come, follow me” was His invitation everywhere He went.

“He was very clear and concise,” Leonard-Ray said: “‘I have come so that you might have life and have it abundantly.’”

It is the “so that” in His statement that is the crux, and it appears in much of his directives: John 3:16, Matthew 5:16, 1 Peter 2:9, etc. “So that” helps us be clear about the mission. But in the church, we often do things “because” and not “so that,” Leonard-Ray said.

For instance, we do vacation Bible school because we love our children, because we always do it. Why not “so that?” she asked: Do vacation Bible school so that the next generation of children will know the love of God.

Same thing with apportionments, she said: Why do we pay? Because it’s our responsibility.

“But why not so that?” she asked. “Why not, ‘We pay apportionments so that people in 167 countries might experience the tangible love and care of God through our giving? So that the world might experience the tangible care of the Christian?’”

Every church has three gifts, Leonard-Ray reminded the crowd: its place in time, its point on the map and the good news of the Gospel. And she said all living things repeatedly face this choice: adaptation or extinction.

That is why igniting passionate leadership is critical to our future as a denomination.

“We are in the midst of cultural change,” Leonard-Ray said – we often think we need to forget the past or forget what is being held out to us. “But if the church is to thrive in 21st century, then tradition and innovation are to hold hands.”

With two choices – change and grow, or die – Leonard-Ray said the UMC’s plan of action must include giving our best energy to four
things: meaningful worship, empowered lay leadership, small groups of belonging, and a spirituality that leads to action.

She cited a recent survey of young people in the U.S. that shows most feel American Christianity is too plastic. They crave authentic faith, worship that values mystery and honors complexity, lives devotes to love and giving to the least, the last and the lost.

These words give her hope, she said, for that is precisely what the UMC represents.

And like a virus, if we can better tap into our passion for Christian leadership, that contagion for passionate Christianity can only spread faster.

Temple: Practices of leadership

Rev. Jerry TempleForget putting the blame elsewhere, said the Rev. Jerry Temple. If we want to grow as a United Methodist Church, we need to be thinking about solving the problem, not making excuses.

In his one-hour lesson Friday at Annual Conference, the senior pastor of Buncombe Street UMC, Greenville, spoke about the practices of Wesleyan leadership that can bring about a thriving, successful church.

After all, “We’re keenly aware of the membership decline in the U.S.,” Temple told the crowd of 2,000 Annual Conference attendees.

Temple said the UMC has lost 30 percent of its membership in this nation. Citing Adam Hamilton, who pastors the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., if the denomination continues to decline at this rate, there will be no UMCs in the U.S. in 44 years.

But to solve the problem, we shouldn’t focus on why we’re not growing. Temple said this denomination must look hard at the UMCs that are growing and flourishing so that we can learn something from them.

“Let’s learn from them – not be cynical of them, critical of them, jealous of them, but learn and discover what it is that is allowing these churches to experience growth,” Temple said.

Temple said churches are moving in one direction or the other – growing or declining – and we need first to make the decision about which direction we wish to go.

He said growing churches have one key thing in common: strong leadership, regardless of race, gender or age. These leaders are not only doing a great job taking care of their people but also being true visionaries for what they want to do in the church.

These leaders do three things particularly well:

Communicate their vision to their congregation with simplicity and clarity so the congregation understands it;

Have the ability to gain the confidence and trust of their congregation so they will embrace that vision; and

Put together a logical plan that will bring the vision to reality.

But it’s not just on the leader’s shoulders, Temple said. The churches these clergy leaders serve also must give them the freedom to lead and trust them to lead. And in turn, the effective clergy leader needs to truly respect the laity of the church.

This brings about passionate lay leadership, Temple said. And in the right circumstance, this relationship between clergy and laity becomes a potent force; they feed off each other, inspire each other and empower each other.

And ultimately, the church blossoms in this environment.

Temple said growing churches have critical practices that drive them onward and upward. They are practicing the practical things, namely:

• Humility (Understanding that we cannot accomplish anything significant on our own. We don’t have the resources or power to cause anything to grow, not even ourselves)

• Being an engaging church (We need to be more proactive and less reactive, going to the people, not waiting for them to come to us.)

• Having inspiring worship (Have worship that is alive, engaging, appealing and life-changing)

• Strong faith development

• Serving like Jesus (There are no untouchables, no one too hopeless, too “out there,” no matter what they look like, act like or have done in their life)

• Practicing our purpose (Making disciples who make disciples)

At the end of the day, Temple said, citing Acts 2:41-47, there is nothing wrong with numerical growth.

And if we can focus on honing those leadership practices that bring about growth, then we’ll soon be on the path to fruitfulness rather than decline.

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