What is your educational background? How did that education equip you for ministry and how did it fall short?
TW: My educational background consists of a B.A. from the University of Florda in Political Science, and a Master of Divinity degree from Candler School of Theology, Emory University. I am currently planning on pursuing a D.Min degree from Asbury Seminary in Orlando, Florida, focusing on Creative Transformation. Prior to coming into ministry, I was already a student of the Bible and had begun to take leadership roles in my local church. I took a religion class at the University of Florida, which focused on the literary, religious and poetic themes of the Old and New Testaments, but did little to prepare me for ministry. In seminary, I found an environment that truly focused on expanding a person’s theological thought, mostly in the liberal and progressive direction. I did find that some of the exegetical classes, preaching courses and evangelism courses were very helpful in perceiving the churches mission and direction, but I feel that my seminary experience did fall short of helping me as a pastor develop leadership skills for parish ministry.
What is the mission of the current fellowship you serve? How are they impacting the community they serve?
TW: The fellowship(Rockledge United Methodist Church) that I currently serve has a simple mission, “To make more and stronger disciples of Jesus Christ”, which we discerned is a simple, biblical focus that in enabling us to strengthen our evangelistic witness and discipleship ministries. This mission is relatively new, and through prayer, preaching and teaching, it is slowly becoming a part of the DNA of the congregation. The fellowship is impacting the community currently through events such as our Back to School Bash, which recently attracted approximately 1000 people, and handed out hundreds of backpacks, dozens of free haircuts, food, recycled clothing and other needs for those hurting in our community. Our fellowship is also ministering in the schools through a mentoring program, an elementary Bible club, and interfaith cooperation between other local congregations to address the needs of our community. While we are a medium membership church, with approximately 200 attending on any given Sunday, the church is having a personal impact on the community, and is searching for new ways to show the love and grace of Christ to the world.
How could the UMC better support you in ministry?
TW: The United Methodist Church could better support me in ministry by focusing on the fundamentals of evangelism, discipleship and outreach to the poor. In a world where it seems more and more difficult to help people see the relevance of organized religion, the task is made even harder when the average person only hears negative press about our denomination, especially concerning infighting over social issues that I feel the Bible has spoken of authoritatively long ago. When the bureaucracy becomes so political and issue-oriented, we lose sight of the larger picture, a reality that is clearly being seen in the loss of membership and vitality in European and American UMC Conferences. If the focus were clearly on the fundamentals that helped Methodism grow from an Anglican renewal movement into a world-wide Christian denomination, not only would the world see Methodism as being relevant to their lives, but the resources every local church needs to accomplish the Great Commission would also be more readily available as the larger church and the local church might finally become one again in fulfilling our call from God to offer Christ to the world.
If you could change one thing in the ordination process, what would it be?
TW: The ordination process currently is long, arduous, and questionable as to its effectiveness. Candidates are being asked to not only complete their education, but also to follow a long probationary process, serve in their ministry, fill out huge amounts of paperwork and balance life and family at the same time. Years ago, the process was much shorter and simpler, while today, the process is much more complicated and protracted. I would simply like to see a mechanism put into place whereby the current ordination process could be evaluated for its effectiveness. Is the UMC producing better, more effective pastoral leaders with the current process? Studies and evaluations that follow candidates for a period of 2 – 5 years after their process is complete, along with interviews and consultation from outside sources would surely help to gauge whether the process is accomplishing what it should be accomplishing: producing effective and equipped church leaders for the 21st century.
What congregational expectations of the pastor are unrealistic?
TW: The most unrealistic expectation I have run into in ministry revolves around 2 issues: pastoral care and leadership. I have found that Pastoral care is impossible to accomplish when a congregation grows beyond the “little country church” model, and begins to number in the hundreds of persons . At that point, a pastor will only be able to provide crisis care, but will not be able to devote the time that is needed to disciple persons in faith and provide the kind of spiritual connection and fellowship of which many are hungry. Other forms of pastoral care like small groups, Stephen Ministry, and lay persons who provide visitation then become invaluable to helping congregation members stay connected spiritually. Many times, congregations resist this because they feel that the pastor is a “paid” employee, and therefore should be able to provide them whatever resources they need for spiritual growth, fellowship and pastoral care. This immature view of ministry leads into the second issue, which concerns leadership. Churches are called to reach their communities with the love of Christ, and provide a light to their community which will alter the lives of those who come into contact with that congregation. Churches who feel that it is the pastor’s job to change their community and reach persons for Christ miss the boat in the worst way. No one person, no matter how talented, gifted and blessed of God, can provide all the leadership that is needed in a local congregation. A pastor may discern a vision or direction for his/her congregation, but a team of lay servants is crucial to carrying out that vision in evangelism, discipleship, outreach and administration. Churches who feel they can sit back and watch their pastor change their community and fill up their churches are missing the call of Christ on their lives and setting up their pastor for burnout and discouragement.