“Kingdom Building,” and definitely not “Church Building,” was the theme of Hopewell UMC’s 13th annual Planting Seeds for Ministry Growth seminar, Oct. 22. Church visionary Reggie McNeal taught a packed sanctuary that the Kingdom is “life as God intended it,” and that the Church should offer not a building but “a relationship with Christ” to help people achieve that life. Like an airport, it should be not a destination but a hub, from where disciples are sent out to save the city and change the world.
“God is calling us to a new chapter” in our story, said McNeal in a presentation full of humor and honesty. About 225 attendees registered for the Downingtown church’s annual leadership training event. Assuring them of his Georgia Baptist upbringing and generations of pastors in his family, McNeal explained, “I come to you from deep in the belly of the beast. I’m not saying Church as an institution has no relevance or value, but I want to emphasize Church as a movement.”
The popular author and keynote speaker cited the growing numbers of people, now 1 in 5, who profess no interest in any religion, while many others aren’t willing to be merely “congregationalized” as members. Young millennials especially are looking for places that are authentically nurturing and outreaching. “To have any hope of connecting with them,” McNeal warned, “we’re going to need a completely different posture than ‘come and get it.’”
Rejecting notions of trying to “just do church better,” he said, “All our efforts to fix the church are doomed to fail. We need to do things differently to connect with a generation that sees ‘Church as Institution’ as irrelevant but sees ‘Church as Movement’ as compelling.”
In his later workshop, McNeal offered examples of that movement—faith communities that are externally “seeking the welfare of the city” to ensure their own relevance and growth in ministry. Among others, he cited the Dream Center in Phoenix, Ariz., where members are rescuing human trafficking victims and offering housing to indigent neighbors.
“All the energy we put into the usual church business and activities is too small an agenda for the people of God,” he asserted, pointing to people who are mobilizing “church” in homes, workplaces and other community venues. “We’re supposed to be the people who go out to bless the city and the world.”
As usual, Planting Seeds offered two other high-interest workshops for attendees, including those training as local church Christ Servant Ministers.
The Rev. David Woolverton, a counselor and pastor of St. Paul’s UMC Elizabethtown, taught on “Forgive and Remember: Discovering Forgiveness within a Perfect-Tense Experience.” Exploring the intimate connection between forgiveness and grief within a Christian context, students learned about expectations of forgiveness, as it affects healing, intimacy, power dynamics, painful memories, and restoration.
Peter Loedel, a PhD faculty member of West Chester University, taught on “Divided Nation,” guiding his class through dialogue about our increasingly divisive politics and implications for our practice of faith in the public square. Loedel is Director of the Center for International Programs at WCU and an expert in international relations and comparative politics.
Hopewell’s young praise band, and the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm closed the program with soul-centering praise music and a message calling for faithful commitment among Christ’s disciples.
The Southeast District superintendent preached on Peter getting out of the boat and walking toward Jesus across the stormy sea (Matthew 14). She urged listeners to “choose service over security,” to leave their familiar church buildings and surroundings and respond fearlessly to God’s call to new places for sharing the gospel.
“You’re the ones God is waiting for, the ones we are waiting for to be in ministry,” she proclaimed. Taylor-Storm challenged the congregation to fill out commitment cards accepting Jesus’ invitation to “step up and out in faith” and provide leadership for Kingdom building. Ninety-two people placed signed cards in the collection basket.
The Rev. Steve Morton, Hopewell’s senior pastor and host for the event, announced that the 2017 Planting Seeds keynoter will be the Rev. Scott Chrostek, pastor of Church of the Resurrection’s downtown campus in Kansas City, Mo. Also scheduled to speak will be the Rev. Wilson Goode, Philadelphia’s first African-American mayor and now a minister, advocate for faith-based community initiatives and director of Amachi, a mentoring program for children of incarcerated parents.