Mar 26, 2024 | John W. Coleman

The Rev. Hun Ju Lee (left) and Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm greet North District Tools for Ministry attendees at Asbury UMC in Allentown March 9. Michelle Cygan photo

“I give thanks for Tools for Ministry events that provide us with learning, encouragement and connections for this journey,” said the Rev. Dawn Taylor-Storm, Assistant to the Bishop for Leadership Development and the Eastern PA Conference’s Director of Connectional Ministries. Indeed, as over 400 local church leaders were reminded over the past month, learning, encouragement and connections are key ingredients in every Tools gathering.

The re-envisioned and newly launched EPA&GNJ Leadership Academy offers all church leaders the value and convenience of online, always available, expert-led foundational courses for learning and growing. But Tools remains EPA’s once-a-year, onsite, half-day academy that packs a virtual lifetime of learning into a busy schedule and still makes time for lively, joyful fellowship among attendees

Several hundred lay and clergy members spent three Saturday mornings in February and March learning timeless information and transformative insights about church ministry and leadership. They benefited from expert teaching, asked probing questions, delved into innovative concepts, shared their own experiences and expertise, and gained helpful resources and connections.

West District Tools for Ministry attendees begin their day with worship in song at Salem United Methodist Church in Manheim. John Coleman photo

The West District began the trio of 2024 Tools sessions February 24 at Salem United Methodist Church in Manheim. The South-East Region followed March 2 at Eastern University’s Palmer Theological Seminary in St. David’s. And the North District ended the tour March 9 at Asbury United Methodist Church in Allentown. District superintendents were the chief hosts of each event.

“This gathering is a testament to our shared commitment to serve, our hunger for spiritual growth and our dedication to the mission God has entrusted to us,” the Rev. Hun Ju Lee, Superintendent, told the North District attendees. Reminding them, as the Apostle Paul told the Ephesians, “we are (God’s) workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works,” Lee challenged them to seek not only learning and growth but also transformation “by the renewing of our minds, that we may discern what is the will of God.…”

‘Equipped to make a difference in the world’

“I hope you leave today not just inspired but equipped to make a difference in the world,” he shared. “Let’s take this opportunity to connect, to learn from each other, and to grow together in our shared mission.”

Palmer Theological Seminary Dean Kimberlee Johnson (center), who hosted the South-East Region’s Tools for Ministry, receives a thank-you gift from EPA district superintendents Andrew Foster III (left) and Evelyn Kent Clark. John Coleman photo

The Rev. Evelyn Kent Clark, South District Superintendent, emphasized the practical value of Tools learning, to “actually use what is shared and put the knowledge gained into practice in the local church context.  This annual event is organized and promoted to build, strengthen and equip disciples for transformational work. Each participant learns and can teach and train others, so the church will be spiritually and strategically vital.

“The workshops help participants to know the how and the why of ministry,” she explained. “They provide tools for the building of the church, so God’s people become lifelong learners on the journey.  We are blessed to have so many gifted people to lead the workshops who have expertise and experience to pass on.”

At the South-East Region’s Tools session, the Rev Alicia Juliá-Stanley (right) teaches “Organizing the Local Church for Mission” in Spanish, along with the Rev Bruny Martinez. John Coleman photo

The Rev. Victor Jimenez, who leads Clifton Heights and Union Memorial United Methodist churches, agreed with his superintendent. He came to Tools to get information and new ideas about community outreach for vital congregations. “I think we should always be learning,” he said. “This has been a great time of just learning, so that we can be better at what we do as churches, and really, for the kingdom of God.”

Judy Ehninger reports on General Conference legislation in a North District Tools session, along with delegate Kristine Adams. Michelle Cygan photo

While Tools sessions may last a half day, their benefits can last a lifetime, said the Rev. Andrew Foster III, East District Superintendent, especially if the participants “take the information they learn back to their churches and share it in small groups and gatherings every week and all year long for developing strategic ministries.”

That seemed to be the goal of many participants at all three Tools sites. They learned and shared useful information across a broad array of topics at various sites, including:

  • Fostering financial stewardship and finding grants and other resources for ministry.  
  • Effective ministries with youth, families and seniors.
  • Cross Cultural/Cross Racial Ministries and holding conversations about race and racism.
  • How to start advocacy for justice ministries,
  • How to grow hospitality that is truly welcoming to church guests.
  • Designing both worship experiences and church websites to be more creative and attractive.
  • Leading Bible study in various settings, and teaching Christian spiritual practices.
  • Using generative AI (mostly Chat GPT) carefully as a tool to enhance sermons and other ministry needs.
  • Ensuring that churches are Safe Sanctuaries by preventing and addressing abuse and misconduct against children and vulnerable adults.

‘Your job is just to gather stones’

The Rev. Jeff Kapp teaches a class on the one-board model at the West District Tools session. John Coleman photo

There were also customary, basic courses to train lay leaders, trustees, finance chairpersons, Staff-Parish Relations Committees, and other church leaders. And many attended classes introducing the popular, streamlined church structure known as the One Board Model.

At each Tools session there was also a primer on legislation and other denominational concerns of the upcoming 2024 General Conference, including global regionalization, a revised Social Principles and pension changes for clergy.

While all Tools academies offer required continuing education for Christ Servant Ministers and Certified Lay Ministers, the South-East Region also tied some of its courses to elements of the Pathways to Congregational Fruitfulness & Health.

The Rev. Jennifer Freymoyer (left) and Sue Grimm Mattox, West District Superintendent and Lay Leader, respectively, update Tools for Ministry attendees on district concerns. John Coleman photo

The Rev. Jennifer Freymoyer, superintendent, during the West District opening plenary, likened the many Tools courses to the stones young David, Israel’s future king, gathered to defeat the giant Philistine Goliath with God’s help. Referring to the many challenges pastors and church leaders face today and the confusion and despair many feel as a result, she urged them to find the stones they would need that day to take on those challenges in their ministries.

“Your job is not to defeat the challenges yourself,” she assured them. “Your job today is just to gather stones. God will help you use what you learn to overcome your challenges and then to claim God’s victory.”

Enjoy more photos from all three Tools for Ministry events: