Where We Are Headed

"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy. Your young will see visions. Your elders will dream dreams. Even upon my servants, men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy. I will cause wonders to occur in the heavens above and signs on the earth below. (Acts 2: 17-19)

From the moment I started as pastor here just over 9 months ago, some people began asking me “Pastor, where are we going? What’s the vision?” I’ve been asking God the same thing. I have been praying that God would give me the eyes to see and the ears to hear what God would have us do. I have sought God’s answer in silent prayer. I have sought God’s wisdom in the wisdom of my mentors and friends in ministry. I have sought God’s wisdom by asking you - my brothers and sisters in this church – countless variations of these questions: “What first made you love this church; what are our greatest strengths; what challenge should we tackle next”? I have sought for vision everywhere I know to look.

But I am not seeking my vision; I am seeking for our vision. I am not seeking it alone. The promise that was fulfilled in Acts 2 is that in the church, God’s vision is given to all the people – young and old, men and women.

It seems fitting in this Easter season that after a considerable amount of our listening and seeking, our church is beginning to fix its eyes in the same direction. We are seeing the same things, and we share a vision. As your preacher, it’s not my job to give the vision, or convince you of the vision, but it is my absolute privilege to announce and celebrate and champion the vision once we see it. As we begin to realize our God-given gifts and possibilities, I get to announce “This is Where We’re Headed!”

And so, I am writing this, the first of five statements this week about Where We are Headed. Each message will focus on the future of a different aspect of the church:

1) Where are we headed with Ministry Architects?

2) Where is our church’s staff headed?

3) Where is our church’s leadership headed?

4) Where are our church’s finances headed?

We need five separate messages because we are a vibrant, active church with a lot of moving parts – and I am excited that all of them are headed in the same direction, in pursuit of the same vision. We dream of a church that is united across ages and races and styles of worship. This vision is only visible because of the immense work of many different people. This vision has come by long hours from our Long-Range Planning Committee, Church Council, Finance Committee, Nominations and Leadership Development Committee and Staff-Parish Committee. It has come through hundreds of individual voices – all of you who shared your mind with Ministry Architects, or stopped in to my office to dream for a little bit, or sent me an email to say “what if we…” Above all, this vision has come through prayer and worship, and that is why I am confident that this vision is itself a form of grace. It is “the power of God, freely given, to transform us into God’s image.” We are, after all, an image of the Kingdom of God

And in the kingdom of God:

anyone can find welcome;

everyone has something to offer;

no one is denied the grace of Jesus Christ who saves us.

That is where we are headed, and I look forward to sharing the details of how we can get there.

The God of grace has given us such a vision; Let God give us the grace and power to follow.

Where We’re Headed, Part 2: Ministry Architects

We are looking for 7 people to be our church’s Strategic Design Team. We need 7 “non-anxious, goal-oriented people” who will work with me and our coaches from Ministry Architects over the next two years to lay a new foundation that will support every ministry in our church and unleash the gifts of every person in this church.  

Everyone understands that the buildings and supplies of a church require the occasional touching up and refurbishment, but the ministries of any church also require periodic renovation.  Newcomers find that “everyone knows” about a particular Sunday school or mission opportunity, so no one tells the newcomers. People want to try out new ways of serving the church, but don’t know who to tell, or how to start. Long-time volunteers find themselves burning out, and then they wonder if they have anything left to contribute to the church. Ministry requires maintenance if it is going to last. 

On Sunday, April 12 at a special called meeting our Church Council adopted a 28-month timeline for creating a sustainable plan of ministry that makes all the ministries of our church open to the gifts of all people.  This project will transform our church’s ability to communicate the activity of the church, equip our volunteers, help new visitors get connected, and publicize the worship and ministries of our church to the larger community. You can find this timeline on our church’s website, or at this link. It is being adjusted to reflect the time we have taken to pray and discuss before accepting these recommendations.  

This timeline was created by Ministry Architects when they visited our church in March, and it was presented at the Community Dinner that same week. When it was presented, I asked that we take several weeks to pray and consider this proposal.  Our Long-Range Planning committee gave this plan a particularly close look and recommended the plan by a unanimous vote. 

In order to accomplish these goals, we are forming a 7-person Strategic Design Team. These non-anxious, goal-oriented people will free up our current staff and current ministry teams to continue our day-to-day ministries, while the Strategic Design Team focuses on accomplishing this timeline. We are looking for 7 people who are willing to make this team the primary place they serve and grow in leadership in for the next 28 months. Here are a few of the things the Strategic Design Team will tackle in just the first year: (1) creating a plan for connecting visitors, (2) creating a 12 month calendar of our biggest events and ministry moments and plan for advertising them in the community (3) creating job descriptions for every volunteer position, so that even the newest of newcomers can join right in, (4) planning a ministry training event that equips willing volunteers for whatever ministry piques their interest. 

If you are interested in accomplishing this important work for the church while growing in your own gifts, you won’t be alone. I will be meeting regularly with the Strategic Design Team, and together we will be coached by Dave Sippel and Larry Holland, the two fine gentlemen from Ministry Architects who listened to your thoughts in creating this plan. Our Long-Range Planning Team will also be overseeing this work and making sure we celebrate its accomplishments all along the way. If you are interested in being part of the Strategic Design Team, please email me at Michael.precht@gmail.com.  

I hope all of us will be praying for ministry renovation, and I hope each of us will be ready to help if the Strategic Design Team asks for our thoughts and aid.

Because we believe that grace is the “power of God, freely given, to transform us,” we believe that one of the most graceful things we can do is empower every person to grow in their gifts and leadership in the church.  When we deny people the chance to participate in the mission of God, we are denying them the grace to grow. There will be a day when every person in our church discovers their gifts for ministry, and every ministry is uniquely shaped by the gifts of its people.  

That’s where we’re headed, and I couldn’t be more excited!

Where We’re Headed, Part 3: Staff

After a year of change and turnover, our staff members are settling into new roles to help God write the next chapter in the story of our church through you.  

Every day I thank God for the privilege of working with the office staff here at FUMC.  Last week, after our weekly staff meeting, one visitor in the church office said “I want to be a part of whatever y’all are doing. Y’all are having too much fun!” Apparently, our laughter had reached through several closed doors and all the way down the hall.

Working for the Kingdom is even more fun when you get to work from the basis of your gifts. I feel as if our staff has been like a basketball team learning to receive and magnify each other’s gifts. In the last few months, a few of us have been able to play from slightly different spots on the court – and the results have been beautiful.

And so, after a lot of dreaming conversations with our staff, and a lot of prayerful conversation with our Staff-Parish Committee, I am excited to share our vision for the staff of the church.

I will start with the two staff members whose jobs are changing the most.

For the last two and a half months, Paul Hinton has done a phenomenal job of stepping into the gap left when Mark Clause moved to Texas. Paul has overseen the construction of our accessibility ramps and created the plan for our new parking area (to be installed whenever the rain stops). He has been tireless in tackling some of the lingering needs of our facility, and he has had a lot of fun doing it.  What I’ve enjoyed most is watching Paul’s knack for multiplying this ministry by finding just the right person or group of people who can work alongside him on a project. Paul has a gift for unlocking the handy gifts of other people – he has a knack for finding grace in other people.

I and Paul and our Staff-Paris Committee had already begun talking about whether Paul would be interested in transitioning to a new role in the church before David and Larry from Ministry Architects came to visit our church. While they were here, they saw Paul present our Trustees with revised plans for our new ramps that knocked several thousand dollars off of the cost and looked better as well. After the meeting, Larry told me “This job that Paul is doing for the ‘interim’? He was made for this job.” That was just one more encouragement as we began developing this plan. 

And so, I am delighted to announce that Paul is taking a new title as our Minister of Operations. In this role, he will have oversight of our facilities, grounds, and equipment – including our bus. He will also be the point person for our volunteer support teams: those who hammer, clean, paint, cook, drive, and run our audio/visual systems. He will be working with Devon Stoy, who has taken a part-time role as our Maintenance Tech, and Amy Sticha, who has taken on full-time hours in the cleaning and housekeeping of the church.

We expect that Paul will continue to share his gifts for music and worship with the church, but given the demands of his new position, Paul will be stepping away from his weekly duties as worship leader and band leader.  We do not have a firm timetable, but we expect to hire for a new position of “Contemporary Music Leader” sometime in the next two months. This will be a part-time position, with the primary responsibility of leading our praise band in rehearsal once a week and in Sunday worship.

As of this writing, we are dropping the title of “Christian Education” from the title of Rev. Sam Lewis. She will be our “Associate Pastor,” with no modifier necessary. In this role, her primary responsibilities will be in visitation and worship design. Anyone who spends half a minute with Sam immediately realizes that she thrives in the presence of others. In her role of visitation, Sam will be making regular visits to our homebound and hospitalized (as will our Congregational Care team), but she will also be regularly checking in with new visitors (as will our Evangelism Team), guiding families and individuals through baptism preparation, and helping our bereaved plan funerals.

In her responsibility for worship design, Sam will be working with our musicians, worship coordinators, and with me to help make every worship service a rich experience, centered on God.  Many in our church have come up after worship to tell me how much a particular moment or ritual meant to them – more often than not I find myself saying “that was a great idea Sam had.”

Sam will continue preaching about once a month, and teaching equally often in our Youth group and in Children’s Church.  

As Sam steps into this new role, I am delighted to lead our Children’s and Youth ministry teams. Apart from preaching and teaching, my favorite work in ministry is bringing people together to dream and plan new ways of teaching the story of Jesus and the love of God. Collaborating on vision and action plans are a natural part of my work as head of our staff and our many administrative committees. I am excited to keep doing that work with our new children’s and youth teams and small group leaders.

I will continue with my preaching schedule, I will continue teaching once a month in our youth gatherings and once a month in children’s church. I will continue preparing new members with our monthly Coffee With the Pastor. I will also share in hospital and bereavement visitation with Pastor Sam. Although Pastor Sam will do most of the preparation for baptisms and funerals, I will share with her in presiding over these most holy moments.

 Of course, this change in responsibilities is made possible by the immense gifts of our Pastoral Assistant, Angie Arnold.  Angie will continue scheduling the calendar of the church and scheduling the volunteer rosters of our various ministries, making sure our volunteers have what they need when they need it.  She will handle registrations and other tasks that make these ministries possible.

And Cathrin Owens will be right in the center of it all. She will continue to receive calls and visitors in our office with her irrepressible hospitality. She will be in charge of the print and electronic publications of the church – the newsletter, bulletin, prayer list and announcements. She will also the attendance and other records for worship and group ministries.

As of April 30, Jennifer Precht will finish her tenure as our Interim Youth Coordinator. I am incredibly grateful for all the time, passion, and skill she has brought to this ministry. Even as she is preparing for the arrival of Baby Boy Precht (due May 30, we’re a little shocked by how soon that is!), Jennifer is still laying the foundation of our youth group’s future – raising money for our July mission trip, helping to plan June mission camp, and more.  Starting in May, Jennifer will be devoting her time to preparing for Captain AwesomeFace John (as our 3 year old, Evelyn, has dubbed her brother). Once he arrives and our household settles into its new normal (ha!), Jennifer looks forward to jumping right back in as a volunteer with our youth – and/or wherever God leads her!

We as a staff consider it our highest privilege to be a part of how God unleashes the gifts of this church.  In these new roles, we believe each of us is positioned to help everyone in this church discover their gifts and participate in the grace of God.  That is where we are headed, and I couldn’t ask for better people help us get there!  

Where We're Headed, Part 4: Lay Leadership

On May 3, everyone in the church will have a Covenant Renewal Form so that they can volunteer for the ministries that excite them most. When you sign up to serve, your name will go directly to our ministry leaders, so that they can help you get connected and comfortable in serving the church as soon as possible.  

From its very beginning, the Methodist church has been a church of the people. Our theology of grace says that God gives all of us the power to work forthings that will last eternally in the Kingdom (1 Corinthians 3:12-14). “We are God’s co-workers” (1 Corinthians 3:9). The church exists to make us the partners of God, and what we build with God is built to last. 

One of the ways that we empower our congregation is through our lay leadership teams. There is an old joke that says Methodists need a committee to start a committee. The truth is that we know from experience the truth of the Zambian proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.” 

We want to go far; we are headed toward the things of eternal worth.  And so, we share the leadership of our church with many, many people, and every year we change almost a full third of our lay leadership so that every ministry can receive a fresh perspective and energy.  

Our church website now includes a full listing of the elected leadership who will take on their roles beginning June 1, 2015. These individuals were nominated by our Nominations Committee (that old Methodist joke might have a ring of truth to it) and approved at our Charge Conference in March. 

Some of our ministries have entire teams leading them, others have a single coordinator. When we asked each of our new nominees if they would serve, we told each one that we need them to be “ministry multipliers.” Our leaders cannot do everything – or even most things – in the ministries they lead, but they can invite you to join them so that we all become partners in the work of building new life and new possibilities for God. 

On May 3, everyone in the church will have a commitment card so that they get connected to the ministries that excite them most. When you sign up to serve, your name will go directly to a ministry leader, so that they can help you get connected and comfortable in serving the church as soon as possible. 

For every major event and program of our church, you can expect there will be a lay coordinator. This will be someone in the church who is giving support and vision to that particular event.  For example, our Youth Ministry team has already begun some early meetings, and just this week Kristi Harms and Amy Sticha were at the church to begin planning our Youth Mission Camp that starts June 25. They may be calling you to see if you would pray for this event, or cook a dish for a potluck meal, or drive some of our youth to a mission site here in our community. 

As I look over the more than 70 people who have accepted the call to dream and lead our ministries, I marvel at the giftedness of this church. Then, I consider that they are only the beginning; each one of these will be inviting others to serve and multiply the grace of the ministries of this church.  

Look in your mail next week for your commitment card, and prayerfully consider how you might serve in the coming year.  My mind boggles to imagine where we are headed when where every leader is a ministry multiplier, and every member is a co-worker of God. The only thing I know for sure is that each of us can build something that will last into eternity.  That’s where we are headed.   

Where We're Headed: Finances

The church is the most powerful gift God has given the world. Given that, the most powerful gift you can make to the church is a gift that funds our general budget. If everyone who has given in the last year increases their giving by just 10% - if the person who gave $10 chooses to give $11, and the person who gives $10,000 chooses to give $11,000, and so on - we can fund a year's worth of life-changing and church-changing ministry. Before you return your covenant renewal form in worship on May 3, I hope you will pray and discern how God can use your generosity to empower the ministry of the whole church.

Last week, Kristi Harms was talking to the director of Children in Crisis,a residential style foster care neighborhood in Okaloosa County that gives a loving home to up to 58 kids at a time. Kristi was calling to see if our youth could serve at CIC during our Youth Mission Camp in June. The director listed a few routine tasks our youth could do. "Could we throw the children a party? Could we bring a bounce house and play games with the kids?" asked Kristi. "Oh. Wow. Absolutely. No one does anything like that for these kids," was the reply. No one else does it, so we will. 

About once every two weeks, I get an email from Pastor Kris, a United Methodist minister in Ilawa, Poland. He tells me of the prayers that his church offers for us. He tells me about his ongoing battle with a severe shoulder injury, and his daughter's recovery from a devastating car accident. He tells me of the joys and the glory sightings that break through as he offers the gospel in a land that still has not recovered from the spiritual oppression of decades under communism. We support his church indirectly through the United Methodist mission agency, but we also send a little extra directly to Pastor Kris' church every month to help them bring light in the darkness.

Last November, a man walked into my office on an uneventful Thursday afternoon. "I haven't been to church in 50 years or more," he said. "Would it be ok if I came to worship on Sunday?" Of course I said yes. He was there that Sunday, and has been for almost every single Sunday since. When I began teaching a lunchtime study group, there he was. Two weeks ago, he started attending a Sunday School for the first time, and last week he told me with a big grin that he was headed back to class again. On Sunday, at Coffee With the Pastor he gave witness of how this church has been an anchor for him since losing his mother last fall. All of that in just 6 months. Who knows what the another 12 months will hold?

Go check our church's calendar - pick any month of the next 12. You will see that on every single day, somebody will be on our church's campus. Every single day, someone will open a door and flip a light switch to welcome people to Mother's Morning Out or our Soup Kitchen, to our Yarn Ministry or our Bible studies. We are a home to Boy Scouts, Cub Scouts, and Girl Scouts. We offer the highest ranked pre-school in the area, and every student in that pre-school worships God in our chapel once a week. I will put the variety and talents of our musical groups against any church in town: whether its our chancel choir, contemporary band, our handbells, or our vocal and instrumental soloists. As I write this, we have new volunteer leaders to start musical groups for our children and youth as well. Every day, someone is doing something amazing at First UMC.

Speaking of amazing... Let me tell you the amazing thing that is going to happen at Christmas this year. On Christmas Eve, there will be a family looking to rediscover that "O Holy Night" when Christ was born. This family won't have a church they call their own, but when they receive a direct-mail invitation that includes a picture of our sanctuary from last Christmas Eve - pews filled with folks standing shoulder to shoulder in candlelight - and they will say "that's what we've been looking for." And when they come and share in that beautiful Christmas Eve service with us, they'll discover the body of Christ is alive and dwelling with us, and they were made to dwell with us as well. All they need is to know they are welcome. 

These stories give only the smallest hint of where the ministries of our church are headed. For the last two months, our Finance Committee has been worked with the leaders in all our ministries to plan for our new budget year that begins in June. We have gathered dreams and plans for missions, and youth, and children, worship, and more. We have counted the costs of offering these ministries, and the costs of getting the word out by every means possible. We have planned in great detail to save every dollar that we can, but also to use every dollar that can change lives and announce that Jesus is Lord.

The upshot of all this is that right now, we expect to have a budget that saves more than 7% compared with our current budget. (Our final budget will be presented for a vote of the church council on May 13). Despite these savings, in order to cover the real cost of our core ministries, we need our general offerings to grow* by 8%, starting in June.

Whenever someone joins the church, I say our goal is to be a church where every member gives at least 10% of their income as an offering to God. That's where we are headed, one day. The good news is we can do amazing things even before we arrive at that day. If everyone who has given in the last year increases giving by just 10% - if the person who gave $10 chooses to give $11, and the person who gives $10,000 chooses to give $11,000 - the daily, life-changing ministries of our church will have all the resources they need to thrive and flourish, and we will have the resources we need to publicize everything God is up to at FUMC. But without these resources, key ministries of the church get put on hold. Rather than acting when the time is right, we wait until the money shows up - and all our preparation and plans are for naught. 

At the end of this week, we will send out itemized giving statements as we do every quarter. With this mailing, we will also include a covenant renewal pledge that invites each of us to consider how we will honor our covenant to offer God our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. Before you return this form in worship on May 3, I hope you will pray and discern how God can use your generosity to empower the ministry of the whole church. I am convinced that the church is the most powerful gift God has given the world. Given that, the most powerful gift you can make to the church is a gift that funds our general budget - such a gift contributes to all the ministries of this church that unites us across all ages, nations, races, and experiences.

Our church has no lack of dreams and plans. But dreams don't change lives until they become actions. Your gifts take our dreams off the paper and into the world that needs to see and hear the gospel. That's where we're headed.