As we learn together from the Word of God, encourage one another in faith and life, practice healthy accountabilities and serve together in the cause of Christ, we contribute to the health of each person and help keep them from falling away from love for God and others. These principles and practices will support and nurture healthy order in the church. — “Book of Discipline” on healthy biblical community
Health within the local church is a key determining factor of fruitfulness for the kingdom. Our individual lives alone are not a complete witness; only as we do life well together will that witness reverberate with healing and hope to a fractured world.
Three practitioners of church health, all Free Methodist pastors, are working diligently in preparation for General Conference 2015, which will be held July 13–16 in Orlando. Denny Wayman (Santa Barbara, California), Alma Thompson (Fredonia, New York) and Doug Newton (Greenville, Illinois) have been commissioned by the Free Methodist Church – USA to develop training materials, assessment tools and practical resources for churches to use in their quest for health and wholeness.
In November 2014, the three practitioners were joined online by 45 elected lay and clergy GC15 delegates who are contributing to the dialogue and helping to shape content. The “Cultivate Health” team facilitator, Deb Somerville, who pastors in McPherson, Kansas, serves as coordinator for those conversations and helps keep everyone in the communication loop as they prepare for this historic gathering in Florida.
“I see the Holy Spirit at work already as I correspond online and in person with church leaders across the country who are passionate about wholeness and health,” Somerville said. “As we seek to become by grace what God is by nature, it transforms individuals and communities, and I am excited about what the team is putting together to assist the local church.”
Thompson shares a similar perspective as she looks toward GC15.
“Scripture affirms for us the movement of the Holy Spirit on our behalf, transforming us ‘from glory to glory’ into the likeness of Christ,” Thompson said. “It is this very work that we want to join with — equipping individuals, leaders and church — to continue taking steps toward health and wholeness. It’s all about the direction we’re moving … following the Spirit’s lead.”
Denny Wayman, pastor for 36 years and lead superintendent for the Free Methodist Church in Southern California for the past five years, has made church health a priority throughout his ministry.
“We have worked hard to train our leaders in healthy practices personally, as a community and in our organizational life,” Wayman said. “The result is a congregation that is able to surround unhealthy behaviors or attitudes with trained interventions. Protecting the unity of the church community is the responsibility of every person, not just the pastoral team.”
The practitioners are also addressing both internal and external forces that seek to jeopardize church health.
“There are many layers to church health involving everything from healthy relationships to cultural awareness. For example, some unhealth in the church results from people being unaware of how their thinking and behavior are shaped by our culture,” Newton said. “They may not see how the comfort-orientation of our wealthy, self-focused culture leads them to hold values and make decisions that contradict the values of God’s kingdom.”
Each of the nine strategy teams has been commissioned by the bishops to address four questions as they prepare their teams for General Conference:
1. Why is this issue important to the church?
2. Are there cultural issues blocking the path?
3. Are there institutional issues that need to be addressed?
4. What are the deliverables (i.e., resources, takeaways)?
These questions help shape the process as the “Cultivate Health” team continues to pray fervently and plan creatively for a general conference unlike any in the church’s history.0