This year’s Starting Strong attracted new, aspiring and experienced Free Methodist Church – USA pastors and spouses to the World Ministries Center in Indianapolis to connect with their bishops and other church leaders.
“Starting Strong 2019 embraced what is amazing about the FMC,” said Donna Miller, the denomination’s director of ministerial development and credentialing, who organized the Aug. 27–30 gathering. “We love our candidates and will go to any length to assist conferences in the support and resource effort.”
The annual event primarily welcomes conference ministerial candidates, elders and other church leaders who are new or haven’t previously attended the event. Miller said Starting Strong empowers “a better head, heart and hand experience to guide better decision-making; increase resources to better position leaders for effectiveness; and create strong church culture for united and compassionate ministry to communities. This year, we hosted 55 guests representing 39 congregations and 13 conferences to a custom introduction to each World Ministries Center department and 11 different workshops to establish a beachhead for topics and concerns encountered by today’s new leaders.”
Marsha Rivers, the pastor of congregational care and discipleship at Northgate FMC in Batavia, New York, said she has “been a preacher for more than 10 years and a full-time pastor for about two years, but for various reasons, I couldn’t attend Starting Strong until this summer. As always, God’s timing is perfect. Having come through a few ‘dangers, toils and snares’ in ministry by now, I found I had ‘ears to hear’ the specific points of advice, encouragement and inspiration that came together in three very full days at the FMC World Ministries Center. Also, as a history buff who happens to live just one block away from the very first Free Methodist Church in Albion, New York, I really appreciated the renovated Marston Memorial Historical Center. A highlight of the whole event was attending Brett Heintzman’s session on ‘Travailing Prayer’ and praying with all the other Starting Strong pastors in the packed pews of the Zahniser Chapel – powerful!”
Sarah Grice-Rhinehart, the lead pastor of the NOLA FMC church plant in Kenner, Louisiana, attended with her husband, Ed Rhinehart, who is pursuing ordination.
“For me there was an overlap of being brought more deeply into the Free Methodist family, while my own body has been working overtime to develop new life,” said Grice-Rhinehart, who earned her Master of Divinity degree from Northeastern Seminary. “From anticipating the arrival of little Monty to focusing on the ministry in New Orleans, Starting Strong was yet another incredible reminder of the new life that is crafted in and through the body of Christ.”
Her husband said, “Even though we are far from others geographically, Starting Strong made me realize we are not alone. The amount of info and resources that were given to us couldn’t even fit in our complimentary bag. Getting personal attention and sharing dinner with the bishops built a relationship and made me realize my voice is heard, and their support will be there. You could feel God’s support how He brought people together. We got to meet other leaders that shared similar challenges and learned from each other as well as the long list of speakers.”
Another couple in ministry together are Pastors Christopher and Buffy Cole who serve both New Life Fellowship in Scottsville, Kentucky, and Forrest Chapel FMC in Westmoreland, Tennessee. The couple both attended in 2010, and Christopher said he also attended again “in 2016 when they encouraged those who had gone before to attend again because they were revamping it. I have to say I got much out of both the times I had been back.” At this year’s Starting Strong, he “really appreciated hearing from two of the three outgoing bishops, and two of the incoming bishops. I thought it went well with the overall theme of ‘trajectory,’ where the previous bishops could speak to where we’ve been and the new bishops could speak to where we’re going. And hearing from department heads was also beneficial in giving a more rounded perspective. It is something I would definitely encourage pastors and maybe even lay leaders within churches to attend.”
Starting Strong 2019 included workshops on “Why You Must Understand Missions: It’s Not What You Think” by Free Methodist World Missions Director of Global Church Advocacy Gerald Coates, “Travailing Prayer: What Is It and What Does It Matter?” by LIGHT + LIFE Communications Director and National Prayer Ministry Associate Director Brett Heintzman, “Save The World But Don’t Neglect Hiring The Right Staff and Employee Care” by FMCUSA Human Resources Director Willadean Duncan, “How to Be the Church to Those Who Struggle With Disabilities and Mental Challenges” by Wabash Conference Superintendent John Lane, “LGBTQ: The Conversation You Want In A Space To Have It” by Great Plains Conference Superintendent Bruce Cromwell, “How Your Church Ends Human Trafficking” by Set Free Movement Director Kevin Austin, “Systematic Leading: How to Hold on to Your Ministry” by Anderson University MBA Director David Brewer, “OK! Let’s Go Change The World: Growth and Impact Through Community Partnership” by West Morris Church Senior Pastor Kristen Marble, “What Exactly Are You Saying? Finding Your Preaching Voice” by Kimberly Majeski of Preacher Girl School, “Who’s Leading the Leader?” by WiLD Leaders Chief Commercial Officer Daniel Hallak, and “Keep Your Church Out Of Jail” by former FMCUSA Chief Operating Officer Larry Roberts.
New Bishops Linda Adams and Keith Cowart preached and also joined retiring Bishops David Kendall and Matthew Thomas in a question-and-answer session. Adams and Cowart also spoke the morning of Aug. 30 to a joint gathering of the conference participants and World Ministries Center staff, and then the new bishops concluded Starting Strong by serving Communion.
Cowart said as a child he remembered during Communion “that I was a sinner and need to be forgiven, and that’s part of it. … As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to believe that the thing we are most meant to remember is not our sin but His sacrifice.”
Adams shared encouragement from Philippians 2:5–18. While attending Spring Arbor University, Adams recalled, she participated in a Bible study that discussed a different verse of Philippians each night. She said, “I’ll never forget the night I learned it is God who is at work in you to do two things: to give you the desire to obey and then also to enable you to do it.”