January 01, 2016

For this first month of 2016, we explore three more of the “Ten Words for a Fruitful Lay Ministry.” As you recall, the ten are: Jesus, Mission, Pastor, Field, Connect, Read, Simple, Discipline, Fruit, and Spirit. Previous articles discussed Jesus, Mission, and Pastor. I hope this series is helpful to you in continuing to grow and strengthen basic practices in your ministry leadership.
What does the word Field have to do with lay ministry? Well, maybe the image of an empty field isn’t what we’re after. But perhaps a field crowded with people isn’t far off.
Our Methodist roots are in the field – literally. In 1739 John Wesley found that very few people were in the church building, so he began to preach outside – in a field near Bristol, England. The result? About 3,000 people heard the Gospel message of grace that day! And after that first submission to go  against tradition and “be more vile,” as he wrote, Wesley’s greatest preaching impact was outside where the people were.
In America, the Methodist movement grew largely because leaders also went where the people were. They didn’t stay in the church building waiting for folks to come. They went outside, meeting in homes or public meeting houses, going west as the nation grew. 
Jesus’ Great Commission, and thus our mission, is to “Go” with his authority and presence, and “make disciples of all nations” (Matt. 28:19). He didn’t say to wait for them to come, but to go out – into the streets, the restaurants, the workplaces, the lakeshore, even the field. Wherever the people are. The message of God’s love and grace in Jesus Christ is transformational, able to change the world one person at a time. But we have to get out of our comfortable pews, to “be more vile” as Wesley did, and take the message to them. Wherever they are. Ourselves. Laity and clergy alike.
What is your congregation’s mission “field”? Where is God calling you to “go” with the message of Jesus Christ? Where are the people – maybe younger people and more diverse people – that you can reach? That’s your “field”! And as you venture out, you discover that God is there already with those people, simply needing you to help a little in producing abundant fruit.
Next, we consider Connect. How does your lay ministry connect? Here are 3 primary ways:
First, we connect with God through Jesus Christ by regularly practicing the “means of grace” – worship, prayer, study of scripture, communion, fasting, etc. Being a disciple.
Second, we connect with people outside the church – reaching out to new people. Another way of expressing that is “connecting people with Jesus Christ.” Of course, in order to connect them with Jesus we must connect with them ourselves.
As lay persons, we have multiple places and opportunities to connect with people. Or, to use a common phrase, to “network.” If you think about it, our connections with people are amazing -- we have many more than we might have guessed. Work, family, school, neighborhood, community organizations, kids’ activities – all provide additional connections with people. What a fantastic opportunity for God to reach people with the truth and life of Jesus Christ – through us and our connections! Then to help them connect and grow through worship, small groups, mission projects, and other ministries of the church.
Third, as leaders in ministry, we connect with each other. Our Methodist network of pastors, laity, and congregations is called a “connection.” You see the
word used a lot, at various levels, especially relating to conferences and districts. It reminds us that as United Methodist Christians we are connected in purpose and mission, working together with our unique gifts in our many places and situations. Scripture describes the church as the “body of Christ” with all of us connecting together as individuals using our gifts for the common purpose. (See Romans 12:5-8 and I Corinthians 12:4-28) Our gifts in ministry are most effective when we connect with others who bring their diverse gifts too – both pastors and laity.
The sixth word in the series is READ.
Good leaders realize they don’t know everything. As they lead, they must seek deeper knowledge for new situations – especially as their work becomes more fruitful. They must practice “continual learning.” One basic way to learn is to read – a lot.
Leaders must constantly keep in tune with what’s going on in our church, in our world, and with the people we care for. We must keep seeking new ideas, new insights, new ways of doing things that will energize our work – for the benefit of ourselves, yes, but most importantly for the benefit of the mission of those we lead. To grow. To be more fruitful.
Read what? First, of course, is the Bible. John Wesley was an avid reader of all kinds of literature, with the Bible being most important. While he kept up on contemporary news of the day as well as classical writings, Wesley still considered himself a “man of one book” – the Bible. Today, one of our core beliefs in United Methodist doctrine is that the Bible is “the true rule and guide for faith and practice” (Book of Discipline 2012).
What else? For leaders in today’s church the list goes on and on. I’d suggest reading books that help increase knowledge of Christian belief and practice, the United Methodist Church, leadership, and new ideas for reaching people with the Gospel. The Book of Discipline’s beginning section on our Methodist history, doctrine, and mission are helpful. Of course, Bishop Schnase’s books on Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations and Just Say Yes plus Bob Farr’s books Renovate or Die and the new Necessary Nine (all available at www.cokesbury.com) are essentials for today’s Methodist leaders in Missouri.
Many leaders can point to their favorite books and new ones they’ve discovered. Just ask them. Leadership books, of course, both religious and secular context. But many other things too to stretch the mind and heart with ideas, examples, inspiration, and just entertainment. Bishop Schnase often shares ideas from his reading during his messages and the meetings he leads.
What are YOU reading that enhances your ministry? In this new year of 2016, let’s all consider how we can focus our Reading, our Connecting, and our outreach into the Field to become even more fruitful in the mission God has for us and the Methodist movement through our ministry. May God bless and inspire you in the weeks ahead! Stay connected to laity leadership resources at http://www.moumethodist.org/laityleadership.