More than 110 people —including pastors, superintendents, conference administrators, and others involved in ministry —participated Sept. 4–7 in Starting Strong 2.0, a revamped and expanded version of the longtime Starting Strong event that offers equipping and networking from experienced ministry leaders including the Free Methodist Church –USA bishops.
Donna Miller, the denomination’s director of ministry development and credentialing, said this year’s event was the largest Starting Strong ever —nearly twice the size of last year’s then-record attendance of 60 participants. Miller called the participants “to change the world for Jesus in three ways: empower, increase and create.”
This year’s expanded event was divided between two locations, the Free Methodist World Ministries Center and the Indianapolis Regional Center of Olivet Nazarene University.
“It was really good for new pastors and students who are interested in ministry,” said
Kayla Prichard, a Wabash Conference ministerial candidate and an Asbury Theological Seminary student. Prichard said she especially appreciated the conference’s workshops such as WiLD Leaders Chief Executive Officer Rob McKenna’s “Leading Without Authority,” which fit her current place in life as a student, and Davison (Michigan) FMC Connections and Community Outreach Pastor Shane Bengry’s “Engaging Your Community.”
Along with training and resourcing for local church pastors and people pursuing other avenues of ministry, Starting Strong 2.0 continued the tradition of a separate track for new conference superintendents.
“It was really informative. It was also very formative in that people really shared their wisdom and their journey,” said River Conference Superintendent Michael Traylor, who added that the track was “equipping in terms of the things we face on a regular basis.”
Traylor said he appreciated learning from the expertise of Southeast Region Superintendent Darrel Riley and Pacific Northwest Conference Superintendent Matt Whitehead, and he added that “the bishops came in and all shared some pearls of wisdom.”
The Sept. 6 dinner for all Starting Strong 2.0 participants celebrated Riley, who will retire from his superintendent post at the end of the year.
The reboot hasn’t changed one of the most meaningful aspects of Starting Strong — the opportunity to meet the three U.S. bishops, learn from them and ask them questions.
Bishop Matthew Thomas shared about transformational and multiplying churches, and he contrasted those churches with other churches. One area is prayer, and Thomas said churches transform and multiply when people receive prayer in person instead of a promise to pray for them later.
“Only pray for people if you can’t pray with them,” said Thomas who added that transformational, multiplying churches have mostly spontaneous prayer while other churches have mostly planned prayer.
“Churches that are transformational in nature realize that God is at work at times other than Wednesday night and Sunday morning. They’re at work with the Holy Spirit all the week long,” Thomas said. “There’s less time with prayer requests and more time in prayer.”
Bishop David Kendall shared about the importance of multiplication in early Free Methodist history —including the key role of women in spreading the church to other locations.
“They went to dangerous places where there weren’t other people, and the church took root and made disciples. They made quick work of it, because many of them were there for only two or three years, and then they died,” Kendall said. “For the movement not to be a multiplication movement signals an aberration from the original DNA.”
Bishop David Roller warned not to be surprised when church is messy, and he shared about the source of most church conflict — different ecclesiologies.
“By ecclesiology, we mean what we think about the church, like what’s the church for, who is the church for, who’s in charge here, and what are we trying to do,” Roller said. “Those fundamental differences are the drivers of what color we should paint the nursery.”
The bishops took questions from Starting Strong participants. Several pastors asked about the bishops’ recent decision not to seek re-election and about the election of the next bishops at General Conference 2019. The bishops said they have enjoyed working as a team and noted that they will leave the position after having worked together for a dozen years (with Kendall becoming a bishop two years earlier than Roller and Thomas) —tying the record of Bishops B.T. Roberts and E.P. Hart.
“We’re going to be very actively engaged in the ministry of the Free Methodist Church and supporting the next team and doing whatever we can to advance the mission,” Thomas said. “We have great confidence in the potential leadership that’s going to step into this role. We believe that a new team will do some great things.”
Kendall said the bishops discussed their decisions with each other, but each bishop made his own decision to retire.
“It’s the Lord’s church, and the Lord knows how to guide each of us,” Kendall said. “We can trust the Lord to guide His servants, so here we are, and we are trusting the Lord, and we think things are well in hand.”
Roller said it’s healthy to open up space for new leaders, and the bishops believe it “might be healthier to have three coming in at the same time. It seems like there’s less a senior bishop and junior bishop kind of mentality.”
During the main sessions, participants heard from key Free Methodist leaders such as McKenna, who also serves as the executive director of Seattle Pacific University’s Center for Leadership Research and Development; Gerald Coates, the director of global church advocacy for Free Methodist World Missions; Linda Adams, the director of International Child Care Ministries; Willadean Duncan, the director of human resources for the FMCUSA; Jay Cordova, the denomination’s communications director and Light + Life publisher; Kevin Austin, the director of the Set Free Movement; Cathy Robling, the director of the Marston Memorial Historical Center; and Tim Burkhart, the vice president of estate and gift planning for the Free Methodist Foundation and the president and chief executive officer of the GuideStream Charitable Gift Fund.
Wabash Conference Superintendent John Lane and Light + Life Operations Manager Kaylin Sallenback led a session on “Sustaining Your Ministry.” Sallenback shared insights from her background in industrial-organizational psychology, and Lane shared the findings of his doctoral research that included surveying 250 Free Methodist pastors who have been in ministry for more than 25 years.
“To be in ministry is to be wounded at times,” Lane said, “So we must implement ongoing healing for these wounds if we are to last in ministry for the long haul.”
Kristen Marble, the senior pastor of West Morris Church in Indianapolis, and Mindi Grieser Cromwell, an elder and the chair of the Committee on Free Methodist History and Archives, joined Bengry, Cordova, Lane and Miller on a panel discussing experiences and sharing advice about serving in ministry. The panel took questions and comments from other Starting Strong participants about everything from graduate education to pastoral transition. Grieser Cromwell encouraged pastors to be careful about not focusing primarily on past negative times in ministry —especially during conversations in front of pastors’ children.
“It’s very easy in our lives, if we’re not aware of the language that we’re using, to really reshape our pasts in negative ways,” Grieser Cromwell said.
Starting Strong 2.0 featured a record number of breakout sessions led by experts such as Adams; Austin; Bengry; Coates; Cordova; Duncan; Lane; Marble; Bruce Cromwell, Great Plains Conference superintendent; Mark Dowley, the denomination’s chief operating officer; Michael Forney, the Southern Michigan Conference’s assistant superintendent of leadership and multiplication and the chief executive officer of Gravitational Leadership; David McDonald, the editor of the FreeMo Journals; Karen Kinnaman, Light + Life’s content strategist; Brett Heintzman, associate director of the National Prayer Ministry; Tim Speweik, the director of ministry development for Outreach Inc.; Rose Brewer, the director of the SEED Livelihood Network; Jeremy Lefler, the director of FM:Infuse and the lead pastor of Go Church Indy; Eric Gessner, the president of SiteTackle; and Marlene Thomas, Lavone Kendall and Yvonne Roller —the bishops’ wives —who led a workshop for pastors’ spouses.
Starting Strong 2.0 received support from multiple organizations and ministries. Greenville University sponsored the break times, and the university’s Pursuit music team led worship for the evening sessions.
The Light + Life Bookstore, Brotherhood Mutual, Free Methodist Foundation, ICCM, Marston Memorial Historical Center, Outreach, SEED, SiteTackle and WiLD Leaders were among the exhibitors at the event.