The annual Starting Strong event attracts new pastors to the World Ministries Center in Indianapolis each year, but a format change this year attracted a larger group of emerging leaders who embraced the opportunity to learn from and interact with their bishops and other Free Methodists from across the United States.
“I appreciated the structure and the format that we had time to get to know the bishops and some of the key leadership in the denomination,” said Erik Anderson, the lead pastor of the Richland Center (Wisconsin) Free Methodist Church. “That was necessary for new pastors and for those new to the denomination.”
Bishops Matthew Thomas, David Kendall and David Roller were among the featured speakers during the Sept. 9–11 event along with Ministerial Development & Credentialing Director Jason Morriss, Chief Operating Officer Larry Roberts and Communications Director Jay Cordova. Each presentation was followed by a time of questions for each presenter.
“I think it’s a really good format,” said Jason Marsh, the senior pastor of New Horizon Free Methodist Church in Gladstone, Michigan. “I’ve really enjoyed the speakers. … I really so enjoyed when Jason broke down in the small group the new ordination credentialing process.”
The Rev. Dr. Stephanie Jordan of the Michigan City (Indiana) Free Methodist Church appreciated hearing Morriss talk about another characteristic of the denomination.
“That was so inspiring for me to hear him talk about women in ministry, because I’ve been under so many other pastors who did not respect women,” said Jordan, who recently became Free Methodist after decades of ministry outside the denomination. “That information was good for me, and it was encouraging.”
Additional speakers included International Child Care Ministries Director Linda
Adams, Missions Resource Team Leader Deb Miller, Human Resources Director Willadean Duncan, Free Methodist Foundation Vice President Tim Burkhart, SEED Livelihood Co-Director Rose Brewer, Marston Memorial Historical Center Director Cathy Robling and Women’s Ministries International General President LaWanda Bullock.
Nathan Struble, the senior pastor of Pleasant Valley Free Methodist Church in Hillman, Michigan, said he appreciated “being able to interact” with the bishops and “pick their brain as well as just see how the bigger picture of the denomination works here at headquarters. It helps us minister in the local church when we have a bigger, broader understanding of how everything works.”
The bishops discussed their nine strategies. Other speakers shared practical information on topics that included how to run a church, social media and the new Ministerial Development & Credentialing process. The 53 Starting Strong participants represented 17 conferences.
“I really enjoyed it,” said Memphis (Michigan) Free Methodist Church Pastor James Perry, who added that he appreciated “connecting with the other pastors” and “being able to get practical ideas.”
The event included a Communion service led by Morriss and Southeast Region Superintendent Darrel Riley. Riley noted that he and Morriss are not lifelong Free Methodists.
“Neither of us comes from the Free Methodist tribe,” Riley said. “As newer members of the family, one of the things that we appreciate so much is the diversity and openness of the Free Methodist Church. While we have a common theology, the methods can vary a great deal. One of the places that’s often demonstrated is at the Communion table.”
Morriss said that Free Methodist Communion services range from liturgical to informal, but “we gather under the mystery that is this invitation that is both earthly and divine simultaneously.”