By Fred Koenig
The licensed local pastor is a critical part of the United Methodist Church in the Missouri Conference, and the percent of clergy in this category is growing larger each year. A key step in becoming a licensed local pastor is participation in licensing school, which was conducted this year May 20–26 at Central Methodist University in Fayette. Rev. Karen Taylor and Rev. Kevin Shelton were directors of the school, which had 36 students graduate this year.
Before licensing school, pastors are given a list of required reading and recommended reading. They must choose and complete three books from the required reading list before the school, and write three papers on what was learned from the books that will apply to their ministry.
The classes during the week focus on worship, pastoral aspects of ministry, organization of a parish for nurture and mission, spiritual formation, Christian education, and evangelism. They all prepare sermons during their week and offer each other critiques. Conference staff give instructions on some of the more business like aspects of being a pastor, such as clergy benefits.
During the season of changing appointments, much attention is paid to the lists of pastors’ names and the churches they serve. It is an important time of transition. During his time addressing the pastors, Missouri Bishop Bob Farr made it clear to the pastors attending licensing school that they should have a much wider focus than the people on their church roles.
“I’m not appointing you to a local church – I’m appointing you to a mission field,” he said. “You have a bigger responsibility than the members of your church. You’re being appointed to a territory.”
Bishop Farr encouraged the pastors to consider the local school, the community center ... all aspects of the community to be part of their mission field.
“Too often the difference between the big nondenominational church down the street and the Methodist Church is that one is relevant, and one is not,” he said.
He recalled how he had been in licensing school himself 40 years ago, back when it was only three days long. He said the process has improved. Becoming a licensed pastor didn’t work out too well for a lot of people back then.
He told the soon-to-be licensed pastors that in his first two years as bishop, he has seen more revival in small churches than anywhere else. The first church he served grew from two families up to 70 people. He urged the pastors to encourage their congregation to personally cross the invisible lines of class separating people in their communities when they engage in mission.
“Instead of dropping backpacks off at school, look for opportunities where you can step into the student’s homes and meet the parents,” Bishop Farr said. “Get the people in your church to step out and meet someone new in their community. You’ll think it feels like a little-bitty step, but it will feel like a monster step to them.”
Bishop Farr pointed toward the following opportunities for outreach:
-“Christmas and Easter are the best things in the world. Never complain about Christmas and Easter people. Take those Sundays, and build them up.”
-“Blessing of the pets: At Church of the Shepherd this was the third largest attendance Sunday of the year.”
-“Doing something different: At Lee’s Summit I preached out of a boat in a lake, and we had 300 people show up.”
-“Make a good first impression: There are people in your church willing to work on your building to make it look better.”
-“Make contacts in your community: Hang out at the school, post office, feed store – wherever the people are.
-“Make 10 contacts, and keep track. As a new church planter, I moved marbles from one pocket to another and made 10 contacts a day. Can you do 10 contacts a week?”
-“What are one or two things you can do at this church to make a difference?”
-“Work on your preaching: Record yourself and watch yourself – you’ll learn a lot. Look at it, and make changes.”
-“Follow-up for a year after funerals: Call every six weeks or so, send hand written notes, invite to a special service at the church for people who lost someone in the previous year, send notes on birthdays and the birthday of person they had lost, give grief book for children, and send a note on days that are special, like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day.”
-“There are people out there in every community who need Jesus. That is your call.”
-“If we could add 10 people to all of our local churches we would look like geniuses.”
Bishop Farr encouraged the people present to continue learning their whole lives and not to become someone who has served as pastor for 40 years but only has a few years of experience that keeps getting repeated over and over.
Bishop Farr’s presentation was followed by Rev. Steve Breon, senior pastor of Platte Woods and chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry. Breon shared that he has been on a lifelong quest for holiness, but his view point about humanity’s relationship with God has changed.
“There was a season in my life where I had an idea that God was out to get me on a technicality,” he said. “God has more invested in me than I have in God. God is looking for ways to bring us in, not technical ways to keep us out.”
Breon feels this can often be misinterpreted.
“I remember thinking the message I was getting from the youth director was that the Christian life is about taking the 10 things you enjoy most and never doing those things again. That’s not what it’s about. It’s a more abundant life,” he said. “It’s an absence of sin. Sin does not have power over you. Sin is like weeds in a garden. A holy soul looks like beauty and wonder. It is awe inspiring. There is uniqueness.”
Breon offered his own suggestions for people going into ministry.
1. Prayer – “Learn to discipline yourself to a time and place for prayer. Nurture your prayer life, and you’ll be able to pray with your people.”
2. Scripture reading – “Read the scripture every day. Studying for a sermon doesn’t count. Have a systematic method for reading the Bible. God uses scripture to transform our lives in and out.”
3. Worship – “When I’m not preaching I still go to worship and sit with my wife. I take part in Holy Communion – a means of grace.”
4. Fasting – “Over next several months, I’ll be engaged in the Wesley Fast. In the Christian life there is an element of sacrifice. Don’t think you can go into ministry without sacrifice.”
5. Christian Conferencing – “It’s where we get together with others. You’ll find your way, but find it. This stuff is not easy.”
6. Lifelong learning – “Read stuff. I developed a love for church history.”
7. Finances – “During Ordination candidates are asked ‘Are you in debt as to embarrass yourself?’ Bishop Handy would stop and say, ‘Some of you aren’t easily embarrassed.’”
8. Family – “I was always home when they left for school and when they came home from school. I pray for my kids to love Christ more than I do. If you’re a man and married, thank God that he lets you be a husband. You honor God, and you honor your wife.”
A piece of parting advice Breon left with the candidates was on the value of forgiveness.
“I believe the greatest contribution the Christian makes to the world of religion is forgiveness,” he said.