Churches in the Missouri Conference will soon have some more help as they look for ways to connect to their communities. Rev. Lia McIntosh has been named the Missional Strategist for the Missouri Conference.
The job is a combination of two centers – the Center for Congregational Excellence and the office of Mission, Service and Justice Ministries. For Congregational Excellence, she will be working with new church plants and church revitalizations, coaching and teaching. For MSJ she will be focused on social justice, churches in areas of poverty and urban issues. It is expected that often both areas will intersect.
"We're very excited to have Lia's coaching and organizing skills in the area of Congregational Excellence," said Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase. "Those gifts, along with her passion for social justice, will help us more strategically and intentionally consider how we serve economically challenged areas in our conference."
McIntosh grew up in North County in St. Louis, not far from Ferguson. She attended the University of Missouri-Columbia for a Bachelor’s degree in business, and then earned her MBA at the University of Missouri St. Louis. She worked for 12 years in marketing with Procter and Gamble, primarily working in the area of pharmaceuticals.
She married Kevin 18 years ago and moved to his home area of south Kansas City. She had grown up in the Lutheran church, and had not been around women in church leadership. That changed when she became part of her husband’s church, St. James UMC. There she became acquainted with and inspired by strong African American women who were pastors, like Rev. Londia Granger Wright and Rev. Yolanda Villa.
“There’s a history of women answering their call to ministry at St. James,” McIntosh said. “I discerned my call in a Disciple Bible study there.”
She attended Saint Paul School of Theology, and was appointed pastor to Meadowbrook UMC in Gladstone while in seminary. While still a seminary student, she heard a presentation from Bob Farr, Missouri Director of Congregational Excellence, in which he talked about the potential of becoming a church planter.
“That really spoke to my desire to reach new people for Christ,” she said.
Her first full-time appointment was planting Renaissance, in an economically challenged area in South Kansas City. There she was involved in social justice issues, including voter registration and payday loans. After a few years the church became part of a two-point charge with St. Luke, and McIntosh was tasked with pastoring a new, younger, African American congregation and a 50-year-old church of older, primarily white people. The churches worked together with regular shared worship services and shared holiday events.
In 2015, McIntosh followed her call to be immersed in social justice, and requested an appointment to extension ministry to be part of Communities Creating Opportunity in Kansas City.
“My role with social justice related to how we bring people together to transform the world,” McIntosh said. With that organization she served as an advocate at the state capitol, working on issues such as minimum wage, early childhood education and the unionization of fast food workers.
“I believe the church is called to be a mediating institution in a community. It should serve as a bridge between where we are today, and where we are called to be,” McIntosh said. “As people of faith we’re comfortable doing charity work, but community organization is about creating a systematic change.”
McIntosh believes that when the government, business and public sector (including churches) come together, the strength of a community is maximized. When she talks about community organizing, she is primarily focused on four areas.
1. Economic justice
2. Healthcare access
3. Racial Inclusion
4. Early Childhood Development
“The kingdom of God is not for the hereafter, but for now. Social Justice is part of our Methodist DNA,” she said. “I hope to awaken a desire to reach new people in the community and start new communities in places outside of the wall of the church. I’m looking forward to creating a movement of faith across Missouri – it will take all of our spiritual practices for that to happen.”
In her first day on the job, McIntosh participated in a Public Theology training with Lovett Weems on what it means to be a pastor to a community, not just a congregation. In terms of helping churches in impoverished areas become sustainable, McIntosh has looked across the country to see what is working. In some areas, the churches are tied directly to an entrepreneurial endeavor, like a coffee shop or fitness center. In other cases, churches are partnering with other churches.
“As a church, we have got to extend ourselves, set the table and invite all parts of the community to come together,” she said.
McIntosh intends to serve as a coach to provide support and encouragement for congregations to create community partnerships across the state.
McIntosh has three children, Isaac, 9; Aaron, 7; and Alexis, 3.
“I want to help create churches where people from my children’s generation will be able to live out their faith,” McIntosh said.
Farr is excited about having McIntosh as part of his team.
“Lia is highly creative, has a proven track record and a desire to address urban issues,” Farr said. “She has a great mix of the skill set that we need in a position like this.”
Previously Dustin Bryson had been working part-time as a coach for new church starts, but he is now working fulltime with Morning Star UMC on their new church starts. Farr said Bryson has done excellent work, and proved that their new model for having coaches on staff is an effective one.
“The first six years I was doing this we hired outside coaches on a contract basis, but that became cost prohibitive,” Farr said. “Having someone on staff to do this has worked well.”
McIntosh will be joining Suzanne Nicholson, who also works as a coach and consultant for the Center of Congregational Excellence. Farr noted that having Nicholson in St. Louis and McIntosh in Kansas City will cut down on travel time and expenses. To contact McIntosh, email email@example.com.