(Rev. Rudy Heintzelman, Executive Pastor of First UMC of Dothan) - As gas prices continue on the rise, many of the working poor in our community have to make the hard decision to buy food or put fuel in their auto to get to work. If they do not go to work, they get no money. It certainly is a Catch-22 situation for them. Of course, we also know that the price of groceries has gone up dramatically over the last few months.
Because of this there has been a marked increase in the number of people who literally need to supplement the food resources for their families. A lay person in the church came up with an idea to simply put a paper grocery sack with a list of non-perishable items needed to be distributed to our community. Our members could then go out to the grocery store, purchase items that were requested and bring it back to the church the following Sunday and place behind their cars (yes, we did pray for nice weather). A team from our Community Outreach Ministry Team would then collect the groceries.
On Palm Sunday we placed approximately 600 bags on the windshields of our members. On Easter Sunday the parking lot was just lined with bags behind cars filled with groceries to be distributed to those in need in our community. There were approximately 400 bags returned. Those cars that did not have a bag behind it were given another bag to be brought back the following Sunday.
Many families, especially families with small children, shared how appreciative they were for the opportunity to use this as a teaching opportunity for their children to serve those in need.
(Susan Hunt) - I hear a lot of people in churches use these terms – Mission and Ministry – interchangeably. However, after years of Mission work and church work, these have come to be two different things for me. There is not truly a black-and-white distinction between what is “ministry” and what is “Mission;” it’s more on a graduated scale. But the concepts of the two – and how we practice them within the church – are different.
Mission, in my understanding, is really God’s Mission: The redemption of the world. We were created to be in perfect relationship with him, but we do fall short. The Church is to be God’s partners in that Mission by proclaiming the Kingdom of God in both word and deed. We are to follow Jesus’ example of healing, feeding, teaching and preaching, especially to those who are not already within the church.
Ministry, on the other hand, is the work of the church – the activities that keep us going. Ministries provide a very important function within the church, but more for those who are already there or visiting. These are very necessary for the church to function through worship, administration, programming, maintenance, teaching and more.
The fine line between the two comes into play when we think of the people who are not yet followers of Jesus Christ but do visit or attend church. Some of our church ministries can be instrumental for helping people to become disciples. That nuance is not really where I am focusing my thoughts for this piece. Ministries of a church are certainly necessary and good, so please keep doing them.
Where the distinction is important, however, is when churches believe that their ministries (Bible studies, Sunday School, etc) are all that the church needs to be doing. Instead, if we follow both the example of Jesus and John Wesley, we are to be out in the world reaching out to those who do not know the loving presence of Jesus Christ in their lives.
The difference between mission and ministry reflects an internally focused church and an externally focused church. Where does your church focus your time and efforts? For the people who are already there, or on the people who still need to find their place there? If it’s only on the people who are already there, your church is missing out on a huge part of what discipleship means.
When we become disciples, our calling does not end there. Part of being a disciple and follower of Jesus Christ is making new disciples. And making new disciples requires going outside the church. Even John Wesley went to where the people were – he preached in the fields and factories where the masses were, just as Jesus did. Just see the example in Mark 6:30-44, where Jesus fed the 5,000. He had been spending time with just his 12 disciples, but when he saw the masses he had compassion on them and fed them all. Jesus met their physical needs in that miracle; through it he was also able to demonstrate the Glory of God.
I heard of a small church that started off with a ministry inside their church, but through God’s Grace it became a Mission, even if by accident. There were one or two young single mothers in this church, and the women’s group noticed that these young mothers needed help. Not completely with all the right motivations, the women’s group started a ministry in which the older women became “surrogate grandmothers.” The women cooked weekly meals, helped out with fun activities for the children, and held a Sunday school day a week that allowed the young moms to have a few hours away. Essentially, each young mom had a church “grandmother.” The grandmothers would also meet weekly to pray for the families and once a month, all the kids, moms and grandmothers would gather for a meal and Bible study.
Before long, another single mom who lived not far from the church – who had never attended there or any church – heard about what the church was doing for these moms in the church. She became a part of this program, too. It didn’t take too much longer for the ministry to grow and transform to include even more mothers from the neighborhood. It transformed the church and became a Mission because they came to realize that this was an opportunity for the church to share the love and hope of Jesus Christ with many people in their community. It was no longer a ministry within the church for themselves only. Instead, they poured themselves out to others for the sake of the Gospel. This surrogate grandmothers mission brought several new families into the church and, more importantly, into the Kingdom of God.
Take a moment to reflect on your own church’s programming. Who are the main beneficiaries? Your own members? Or those who are not yet members or may never be members? There are always more people who need to know the loving grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What are you doing to reach out to them?
(Debbie Dobbins, LGSW; Executive Director, Nellie Burge Community Center) - Since 1904 the Nellie Burge Community Center has been a ministry of the United Methodist Church. Over the years many programs have been provided from the center and programs have changed as the needs of the community have changed; but the Nellie Burge Community Center has always served under-served women and children.
In 2012 Nellie Burge will open a new ministry, Mary Ellen’s Hearth, a transitional housing program for homeless women and their children. In Montgomery alone there are over 600 homeless people and about half of that number is women. Ten percent of the homeless are children. The staff and Board of Directors of Mary Ellen’s Hearth at Nellie Burge are determined to decrease the number of homeless women with children in Montgomery. The new ministry is being named after Mary Ellen Bullard. Mary Ellen Bullard lived to serve and held every lay position imaginable within the United Methodist Church from Director of Christian Education at the local level to Executive Committee of the World Methodist Council. One of her greatest passions in Montgomery was the Nellie Burge Community Center. The Board of Directors is proud to honor her legacy by naming the new ministry Mary Ellen’s Hearth.
As the Executive Director of Mary Ellen’s Hearth at Nellie Burge, I receive about a call a week referring a homeless mother with children to us. Most of the calls are from agencies that are working with the mothers but recently I received a call from a homeless woman. She had a small child and was pregnant with another one and had nowhere to live. I told her we would like to help but we were not open yet. This woman, in desperation, said “why won’t someone help me?” That statement breaks my heart, not only for this woman but for all the women living on the streets with their children. I have heard stories from other professionals about women living in their cars while they were pregnant because they had nowhere else to live.
Mary Ellen’s Hearth at Nellie Burge is not a handout. It is transitional housing where women can live for up to two years while they receive training in budgeting, housing, safety, parenting, GED, and life skills so they can live self-sufficiently when they leave the center. They will find jobs, go to school, save their money and learn how to live on their own. We feel we are following the example set by Peter and John in Acts 3: 1-10 when they told the lame man they had no money to give him but instead healed him. When they healed him, they were giving him what he needed to earn his own money. That is what the staff at Mary Ellen’s Hearth will do: empower the mothers with the skills to live independently. Mary Ellen's Hearth offers hope, help and healing to homeless women and children throughout the River Region. We offer hope by providing life skills training. We offer help by providing transitional housing. We offer healing through Christian love and support. The goal of MEH is for the families we serve to leave us within two years – their dignity and self-respect restored – prepared for a life of independence.
Please visit our website at www.nellieburge.org and be sure and click on the video tab to watch our video. Also, if you are on Facebook, please “like” us. You can call me at (334) 264-4108 if you would like to talk about Mary Ellen’s Hearth or would like for me to speak to a group about this new ministry.
The Bishop met with his Cabinet on April 3-4 in Montgomery to continue working on this year's appointments. As the flowers and trees bloomed around us, so did our time together. Bishop Leeland began by asking for prayer requests from each district and this was followed by a heartfelt prayer for all dear to us across the conference. Each day began with inspiring devotionals which connected us with Holy Week themes and our core value that our work is of God.
As we continued our appointive work, great attention was given to the mission of the Church... "The making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." Time was spent on seeking how to better align our conference and churches to bear fruit in the future. In addition to the hope of aligning around fruitfulness, the gifts and particular needs of pastors were deeply considered. Also, significant time was given to the appointments and needs of our smaller churches and part-time local pastors. In addressing some of the needs of our conference, both challenges and opportunities became part of our deliberations. On day two, Bishop Leeland again paused for prayer reminding us that our work is of God and that fruitfulness is our hope across the Alabama-West Florida Conference.
Also on day two, the extended cabinet met with the appointive cabinet and many exciting reports were offered and greeted with enthusiasm. First, the cabinet celebrated all the plans for new churches, restarts, and new sites which are beginning to blossom across our conference. As many as ten new communities of faith have been formed or are being planned in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. Second, early indications reveal that giving is up in each district so far in 2012. Third, we continued to plan regarding asking every church in the Alabama-West Florida Conference to participate together in becoming vital congregations by measuring worship attendance, baptisms, small groups, people sent out in mission, and dollars toward mission. One idea that was especially exciting was to create an in-conference narrative option utilizing stories from the Vital Congregations site. The narrative would allow churches to express in their own words "glory sightings" of how how they see Christ at work in their church. An overall plan will be worked on by a sub-team of the cabinet and presented to our churches when completed. Overall, our Bishop and Cabinet are hopeful that we in the Alabama-West Florida Conference are beginning to see some hopeful signs of new life and that we are moving into a new era of fruitfulness. We will meet again in May following General Conference and continue preparations for Annual Conference.
Philip McVay, on behalf of the Cabinet
(Rev. Neil McDavid) - Cultivating fruitful leaders and congregations who make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world is at the heart of our mission in the Alabama-West Florida Conference. One of the ways we are engaging the cultivation of fruitful leaders is through EQUIP LEADER TRAINING, a biblically based, servant leader training resource. The newly formed Academy for Congregational Excellence is leading this effort in partnership with the John Maxwell EQUIP group.
February 17-18 of this year clergy representatives from each district, along with three lay leaders, were led in the EQUIP leader training by Dr. Herb Sadler, Rev. Ron Ball, Rev. John Bonner, Rev. Neil McDavid and Mrs. Kim Bullard. These persons were led through Notebook One in the EQUIP series which focuses on spiritual formation, skill formation, and strategic formation. The twenty persons involved in the training will each lead a group in their local church and/ or district. The focus in these first steps is on leader development in the small membership church. The Equip leader development process is centered on leaders training leaders who train leaders.
We look forward to this leader development process multiplying leaders, thus growing more fruitful leaders and more fruitful congregations who are "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."