By Jim Nelson
In mid-September, pastors and laity from around the country gathered for three days at the Dunwoody United Methodist Church in Dunwoody, Georgia, for the “IN Conference: A Leadership Nexus Event.” The event centered around five crucial concepts of church health, all of which begin with “IN.” The intent of the Conference was to give attendees a “chance to engage in innovative and integrative ways to empower their churches to Invite, Involve, Inspire, Invest, and be a congregation of Integrity.” The gathering was sponsored by the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church and the Dunwoody UM Church.
According to the Rev. Dr. Bob Pierson, executive director and founder of Leadership Nexus, one of the primary purposes of IN conferences is to help pastors and church leaders “navigate and reach the post-modern culture.” The conference featured seven keynote speakers, each exploring one of the “IN” words, and 30 workshops, plus several panel discussions by a variety of church leaders.
Attendees also enjoyed several entertaining as well as informative presentations. Coach Dan Reeves, former NFL player and coach, gave one of the morning devotionals. He spoke about his faith, and how it helped him as a player and as a coach, steering him through some of the more difficult times in his life.
Bishop Larry Goodpaster, president of the United Methodist Council of Bishops, spoke about the future of the United Methodist Church, the struggles the church is facing, and possible changes to come. This was a highlight for the Rev. Larry Van Camp, a United Methodist pastor from Rockport, Indiana, who attended Bishop Goodpaster’s Q & A. “He was honest and truthful talking about changes that may come,” said Van Camp.
Bishop Mike Watson of the North Georgia Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church delivered the first keynote address. His focus was “Integrity,” which he said people can smell in a pastor. “All preachers only have one sermon,” he stated, “and that is his or her life. It is what the people remember about you when you leave.” He said pastors should not trust themselves. “You better have some help,” he challenged. “We are all sinners and need others to hold us accountable.” Pastors, he said, need to be part of small groups with people they can trust.
The Rev. Tyrone Gordon, pastor of the St. Luke “Community” United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas, shared thoughts to “Inspire.” “We need to do things in new and radical ways; we need to ReThink Church,” he said. Gordon then added that if we are going to be inspirational as a church, “We need to move from a maintenance mentality to a missional mentality. We cannot just be caretakers, and we cannot waste people’s time doing church as usual.”
“Ministry is hard,” Gordon said, “and unless we replenish ourselves we cannot inspire others.” Gordon posited that people do not share with others about their church, “because they are not inspired by their church.” To be inspirational, he said that we need to be risk takers, and we need folks in our congregations who are risk takers as well, and who are willing to “step out of the boat.”
Bishop Goodpaster also spoke on the church’s need to “Inspire.” He talked about the nominal or “almost” Christians who are members but attend only occasionally because they “do not feel included: God and Gospel do not matter in their lives.”
Dr. Jan Love, Dean of the Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta, spoke on the word “Invite.” Dean Love stressed the point that we need to invite those who are different from ourselves to journey with us. “We need to share our faith with one another if we are to continue to grow.”
One of the problems she highlighted was the fact that, “We spend more time fighting with others within the faith, than we do reaching out into the community.” Christians on both sides of the political and theological spectrum have more in common with each other than they do with those who are outside the faith. She urged participants to set their differences aside and work together so that the church can effectively offer Jesus to everyone.
Leadership Nexus’ Bob Pierson also spoke on “Invite.” He stressed that, “Making disciples of Christ needs to be a priority. Jesus is not only our Savior, but our Lord, and we need to do what he commands.”
He went on to say that to be an inviting church, “We must pay attention to cultural shifts and changes in the family structure. And we need to know how to communicate in today’s environment,” because people need to know that God loves them.
The Rev. Dan Kimball, pastor and author of They Like Jesus But Not the Church, highlighted how to “Invest.” “We need to invest in the future of the church by investing in those who are not part of it yet,” he said. “If you care about the future of the church, we must invest in the younger generation.” Pastors and church leaders must have a passion for investing in others.
“Jesus called disciples to go out and get new disciples,” which is what we are all called to do. Kimball added, “We need to train the people of our churches to see themselves as local missionaries every day.” He then challenged those in attendance by saying, “What if we really viewed our local town or city as a ‘mission field’ in the same way we do other countries? What would you do differently?”
The Rev. Wiley Stephens, pastor of Dunwoody UM Church, focused on the last word, “Involve.” Stephens believes that pastors should use administration to involve people in the church, which will help “to create ownership” on the part of our members.
Stephens said, “We must value the potential of every person.” He went on to say the people must feel that it is “our responsibility” to be in ministry to Jesus and to grow the church.
The IN conference primarily focused on the emergent church, understanding the current culture and how we can reach the new generation that for whatever reason has dropped out of church. The workshops offered ideas for designing more creative worship experiences, how to overcome objections from existing congregations, how to use social networking as a part of our overall communication effort, and practical advice on various aspects of church administration.
Jim Nelson is the pastor of the Dawson Street UM Church in Thomasville, Georgia, and was the last editor of the Wesleyan Christian Advocate, the newspaper for United Methodist in both North and South Georgia.