Local Pastors Get Leadership Tips from Lovett Weems
KISSIMMEE, Fla. – For pastors left stinging from comparisons to previous church leaders or feeling frustration at how slowly things change at their assigned church, Dr. Lovett Weems has some words of wisdom:
“Leadership is not about the leader,” he told a group gathered Wednesday for a seminar sponsored by the National Fellowship of Associate Members and Local Pastors (NFAMLP). “Leadership is helping God’s people take the next faithful step.”
Weems, director of the Wesley Theological Seminary’s Lewis Center for Church Leadership and a noted author, led two days of seminars on “Guiding Your Ministry to Be More Fruitful” at the NFAMLP’s annual meeting.
About 25 pastors and associate members from Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, Arizona, Texas, West Virginia, Arkansas, Oklahoma and Louisiana, as well as Florida, attended his first workshop Wednesday.
The Rev. Rena Yocom, the General Board of Education and Ministry’s assistant general secretary for Formation and Theological Education said GBHEM’s Division of Ordained Ministry sets the guidelines for licensing schools as well as the requirements for Course of Study and Advanced Course of Study.
“The General Board of Higher Education and Ministry has a close relationship with local pastors and associate members from the time they enter licensing school and continuing through the Course of Study program. We also work with the Fellowships in the annual conferences,” Yocom said.
Weems told the group that the “next faithful step” for one congregation might be different from the next step for another. He told the group about a Mississippi church he led in 1976, when he invited a mixed-race couple to attend worship with their 5-year-old son. He said he was already preaching one Sunday when he saw the family enter the packed church at the back and start looking for seats.
Weems said he hadn’t been sure of the welcome his church members would offer the couple. But at the end of the service, they greeted the newcomers warmly.
“You find your fulfillment not in fruitfulness that’s biggest or greatest, but in what’s appropriate for where you are,” he said.
Weems also discussed declines in church attendance across the U.S. since the 1990s. He said getting people back to church will require a renewed focus on fruitful ministry rather than settling for faithful ministry. That means evaluating every effort for fruitful results.
“Success is not a biblical concept, but fruitfulness is,” Weems said. “We have separated ourselves … from the Wesleyan tradition of fruitfulness.”
The NFAMLP was formed after the 1968 merger of The Methodist Church and Evangelical United Brethren Church that created The United Methodist Church. Its purpose is to serve a growing number of licensed pastors who lead congregations but are not ordained ministers, said the organization’s president, Mike Mahaffey.
He said about 25 percent of the UMC’s 40,000 preachers are local pastors or associate members. Many choose to pursue church leadership after having successful first careers, Mahaffey said.
Joanne Lockard-Hawkins, who serves three churches near Columbia, S.C., said she had heard Weems speak before, but she always enjoys the “practical applications” of his coaching.
“It’s not lofty theology,” she said. “It is being pastors. That’s what I think we are called to be.”
She said she also likes to attend the annual meeting to enjoy the camaraderie.
“These are my friends,” she said. “I’m on Facebook with them. It’s a way to stay connected.”
Weems said during a break that the seminar is his first for the National Fellowship.
“I just have tremendous admiration for what they do,” he said, predicting that annual conferences will rely more and more on associate members and local pastors because of shrinking membership rolls and the poor economic climate.
“More and more congregations are finding it difficult to find the funding for a full-time pastor,” he said.
“A lot of local pastors are local pastors not because they couldn’t do something else but because this is their calling.”
*Green is editor of the Florida Conference Connection, the Web site of the Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church.