Broadbooks: Welcome to this conversation with ministers from the Church of the Nazarene. These are challenging days in which to minister, and we believe this conversation will help us to be more effective. Our leader today is General Superintendent Jesse Middendorf.
Middendorf: I am grateful to all of you for taking part in this conversation. Bud, I will start with you. I’ve heard pastors say ministry at the local level has changed in the last five to 10 years in dramatic ways. Some talk about a new reality; what defines this new reality?
Reedy: I have been in pastoral ministry for 32 years and have never seen anything like the last five years. George Barna cautioned us years ago in a book called Revolution. He said a growing number of selfprofessed Christ-followers had chosen a path that does not include a local congregation. A second book, Unchristian by David Kinnaman, suggests there are generational implications in all this. Builders are loyal to the local church, but as you follow the generations to young adults, you don’t see that kind of loyalty. Over the last five years, I have discovered that the “new normal” in regular church attendance is something like 1.8 to two Sundays per month. The implications have been profound, not just in attendance, but in giving and volunteerism.
Sharpes: I’m definitely seeing the same thing. One of my great concerns is, “What kind of church am I passing on to those who follow me?” What are the new realities I need to prepare the church for in the days ahead? As I pass that baton, are they going to be prepared to minister to the community around them? Cultural relativism has changed things, which impacts decisions about coming to church.
Middendorf: Are there other aspects of this new reality?
Rodas: Latinos are now the largest minority in the United States. We are not only the largest minority, but are the youngest and fastest growing too. You have a demographic perfect storm in issues of culture, power, and leadership. But, it is also an opportunity, as Wesleyans, for the church to create communities of shalom.
Sunberg: We hear that the church in North America isn’t growing, but I’m not convinced. We are reaching people. For example, many people, when they go to the hospital, will say Grace Point is their home church; they have a parish mentality of the church. The number who identify in this way is probably double our Sunday morning attendance.
Tanner: On Easter Sunday, you get a snapshot of who calls the church their church. On Easter, I look out and wonder, “Who are you?” And they look back at me and say, “Hey, you’re my pastor!”
One thing that has changed family congregational dynamics is Title IX, which required high school athletics to allocate as much funding for girls’ sports as for boys. My families include sons and daughters who are involved in sports. When I was in high school, August 15 was the day football started, and that was for boys only. Today, teenagers are always conditioning, and being in a sport is a year-long commitment. A lot of families are highly involved with athletics.
Another demographic change I see is that traditionally there was one income in the family. Now, both the husband and wife are working. By the time Sunday comes around, they are spent! Sunday is their one, day off. This affects attendance: we have what I call “streak shooters.” They attend six to seven Sundays in a row, and I think these folks have turned a corner and are coming on board. Then, they will miss four to five Sundays in a row. The people that attend week-in and week-out tend to be older people. My younger families are running around like crazy.
Middendorf: How does that affect governance of the local church? Who are your leaders, where do they come from?
Sharpes: I have had to go to the Manual to find creative ways to create a church board that represents the breadth of the congregation: ensuring we have our younger generation represented, and in our community, we have a large Hispanic population that needs representation. It is a challenge.
Tanner: At Valparaiso, our average age is under 40. We are overwhelmingly populated by children and children’s programs. Our adult Sunday school classes are off-campus because there are no rooms for them. But we have a core of young families who are completely dedicated and understand holiness and understand what we are trying to do and have bought into the vision. Without that core, we would be in trouble, because we do have a lot of this streak-shooting going around.
Salsbury: We are seeing a change in the role of gathered worship in the value system of a lot of young people. I’ve got all kinds of twenty-somethings who love New Life, will watch worship services online, and will come if a series is interesting. They are sold out for Jesus, but they don’t see the value of weekly attendance in church, and that is different than just flakiness. I have to recognize that we need to work on discipleship from the standpoint of a broader strategy.
Middendorf: That is a critical question for us and the work we are trying to accomplish with the church. Are these people demonstrating, in your opinion, a lack of commitment to Christ and the kingdom?
Salsbury: No, and if we say, “Come on guys, suck it up, and get real for Jesus,” they are out of there. Why? Because they are committed; it is just that the weekly worship service is optional for them.
Middendorf: Are there other aspects of this new reality we haven’t touched on? For instance, is the economy influencing this? And if so, how?
Rodas: Urban churches struggle more than others in this economy. On the North Central Ohio District, we are developing a mission strategy for Cleveland, asking how we can maximize dollars with a better return on investment. We are looking at a strategy that is broader, more intentional, and able to impact more people, not just in numbers, but in a measurable impact that is distinctively Christian.
Middendorf: Have you been able to do more with less, finding new ways to implement ministry under much less intense financial stresses?
Salsbury: People respond to vision and passion. We probably all agree that the days of giving out of obligation have passed. So, designated giving is big. Middendorf: Have you seen resources coming in from a younger generation?
Sunberg: We have to embrace the younger generation and provide ways for them to give; that is a paradigm shift. Our young people do not come with cash; people don’t carry checkbooks anymore. As the church, how do we facilitate giving for a generation who wants to give differently, and not look at that as something bad, but rather, how do I facilitate that kind of giving?
Middendorf: You can buy your coffee with your iPhone, why can’t you give with your iPhone?
Sunberg: Right. We, as the church, need to embrace that as well.
Sharpes: In Phoenix, we saw a drop in giving. We had all these programs but had to stop and consider, “What is mission critical?” A lot of things fell away. This resulted in increased intentionality and good stewardship. It helped us hone our vision.
Reedy: The financial implications of the new reality have been huge for us. A church that has 100 in attendance has about 160 to 180 regular attenders. These individuals expect certain services to be provided by their local church. We are facing greater demands with fewer resources. This has created a morale situation on our ministry team. This is one of the adjustments we are negotiating right now.
Sharpes: A silver lining of the new reality may be going back to a priesthood of all believers model and empowering more laity to do ministry.
Middendorf: The new realities will not let us just do louder what we did in the 50s. What are we doing now that is different? How do we do church differently?
Salsbury: One change may be the Internet. We tried for years to get small group leaders to come for training. Now, leaders can watch online training videos on their own time, and it has worked well.
Rodas: This is a good opportunity to talk about Nazarene Compassionate Ministries and holistic ministry. Author Steve Sjogren says compassion is the most powerful weapon against spiritual darkness. You can defend against somebody coming at you with a big King James Bible, but you cannot defend against somebody dripping with the love of God. This is consistent with what Nazarenes have known all along.
Sunberg: We went through a period where we embraced holiness as “come out and be separate.” We were this holy Church. Then, we adopted an attractional model that said, “We are out here, separate, and we want you to come to our church.” As Max said, that was not Wesley’s intention. Wesley’s intention was to go out and be a part of this world. Part of this change is actually a healthy change, which says, “How do I get back out, how do I get my hands dirty, how am I a part of this world that is my parish?”
Middendorf: That is an amazing reality that does reflect who we are theologically. We are supposed to be changing the world. You don’t change it from inside the building.
Reedy: A creative tension exists as we stress both holiness of heart and holiness of life. A creative tension exists between works of piety and works of mercy. It is like the pendulum of a clock. For a period of time in the Wesleyan Holiness Movement, our primary focus was the interior life, a change of heart, which was appropriate. You see this pendulum swinging back now towards works of mercy— feeding the hungry, clothing the naked. As Wesleyan Holiness people, these two things must forever remain in creative tension for us. One of the things I adore about the Wesleyan Holiness way of following Jesus is this missional adaptability—this constant conversation about how to keep these two important doctrines in creative tension. The new reality has been an opportunity to re-engage that conversation.
Middendorf: What new models will help our churches and pastors grapple with this new reality?
Sharpes: A catch phrase that captures this change is moving from “come and see” to “go and be.” At New Life, we made a fundamental shift to get out and be more missional. This has caused us to attract more people, especially young people, because they want significance in their lives, everybody does. But we have been all about mission and change in our community, things across the street, and around the world. I used to think our worship center was the epicenter or ground zero of ministry. Now, I see it as a training center. I train people to get out and make a difference in the community.
Middendorf: That does sound rather suspiciously Wesleyan.
Reedy: I need to confess: for 15 years I bought into the attractional church model. I realize now that internal health is extremely important, but that is not the end game. Internal health is a means towards the end. That end is being more missional, more incarnational. It is preparation for taking the church to the streets where people are living and dying.
Tanner: The Nazarene church is getting more and more passionate about our neighborhoods. In Valparaiso, our neighborhood isn’t like Detroit or Minneapolis. We have to do what touches Valparaiso. Out all the changes we’ve made [to reach our community], we’ve never budged on holiness. The church has never come to me and said, “The things you are doing creatively, we would rather you didn’t.” My denomination has never tried to hold me back from meeting Valpo’s needs. I love that. I love the freedom we have.
Sunberg: You asked about new models. The new model is that there is no new model. We should be Christ in our community; we should reflect that to our community— that’s the model. Kingdom business is also a part of the model. I hate to say it, but in this day and age, denominational language does not resonate with our people; kingdom language does. I might partner with the United Way in my city for something that is happening there, or I might partner with a para-church group. It does not mean I’m not denominationally loyal. It is about the kingdom.
Tanner: My parents’ generation, the loyalty generation, is almost gone. To believe we can make a difference based solely on loyalty is a myth. Those were great days, but they are not here anymore. I think we can make a difference by touching our community, knowing their needs, and meeting their needs.
Middendorf: What does that say to us about how we move forward and still retain what is valuable and crucial to who we are? What are the things we hold onto?
Salsbury: It’s important to celebrate our stories. We’ve got a great story in each of our churches, as well as our collective Nazarene story—which we’ve got to get in touch with.
Rodas: I came from Guatemala and have been in the United States a long time. I’m married to a Caucasian Nazarene girl from southern Indiana. But I am still an immigrant. Immigrant issues still resonate with me very strongly, very passionately. There are times I cry about the lack of solidarity my Christian brothers and sisters have with the immigrant.
I know a pastor who says that Nazarenes are good at knowing the content of their faith, but not the context. Being good at context is in knowing how to relate, how to be relevant, and how to culturally adapt to our surroundings. We are all Nazarenes and believe in the message, but we must be aware of what is happening in our context, so we can adapt the message and bring about shalom.
Middendorf: You used an important phrase for us to wrestle with, especially for our pastors across the country. You are not talking about adapting the content, but adapting to the context so it really does have impact.
Reedy: I’m not exactly sure when, but I woke up one morning realizing I am the lead missiologist of the church I pastor. I was helped by Wynkoop’s Theology of Love where she referred to Wesley as having a searching spirit. I love that! Eastern Nazarene College and Nazarene Theological Seminary have taught me how to exegete scripture, but I have had to learn how to exegete my community. I have looked to a variety of missional sources to help me understand our missional strategy. I love the fact that I’m a part of a movement that encourages that kind of searching spirit. Wesley had an exploring mind. All that contributed to this incredible missional strategy he put in place in terms of content and context. That has been an incredible part of our missional story.
Tanner: My executive pastor just finished his MBA at Olivet Nazarene University. In the last session, President John Bowling came and launched into an eloquent retelling of the Olivet story, and my pastor couldn’t figure out why. At the story’s end, Bowling said when he went to Harvard, the one thing he never forgot is that the CEO must know the story and be able to tell the story. My executive pastor said it all came together when he told the Olivet story. Once you know the story, then God might be able to use your unique gifts to keep that story going in a proper way. Pastors ought to have that in their hearts.
Middendorf: One of the things that I have observed is that pastors try to bring their story rather than exegete the story of a local church.
Sunberg: Most of our churches have different types of worship, which may be an expression of contextualization. In our church setting, we dug into the story of the church and said we are going to have Grace Point worship. We have these people, with these gifts, who are a part of this congregation, and this is the context.
Middendorf: Carla, you served for many years as a missionary. Aren’t we talking about missiology?
Sunberg: In America, we are comprised of many different cultures. If we do not look missiologically at how we do our work, we will fail. People need to be studying missiology to pastor effectively.
Middendorf: How many of you have had a course in missiology?
Salsbury: At Fuller Theological Seminary, I was in a class with Paul Hebert, a great cultural anthropologist. He talked about taking the gospel and contextualizing it. Not knowing I was a Nazarene, he said the best group in the world that is taking the gospel, keeping the heart of the gospel true, and contextualizing it in different cultures, is the Church of the Nazarene.
Middendorf: Are we doing that in the United States?
Salsbury: No, we’re not. We are missing ministry to immigrants and ethnic cultures and also sub-cultures. I think many pastors don’t know the sub-cultures in their communities. For some, it may be bikers. For my church, in Pismo Beach, it’s surfers. It’s important to realize that we have people in sub-culture groups like soccer moms, little league coaches, and so on. Those are sub-cultures we should impact with missional response.
Reedy: One sub-culture at Stillmeadow is the builder generation. We honor them by providing a worship opportunity that is meaningful. It meets on Sunday morning and is traditional and liturgical. We have a choir with robes, we have a piano, an organ, we sing from the hymnal, and 100 people attend that worship service. It is our way of honoring them. We are saying to them, “We are here today because you put two mortgages on your home and sacrificed. We are honoring you by recognizing that this is a worship experience that has meaning for you.” I am offended by some of my colleagues who talk about the subject as “choose who you are going to lose.” Are you kidding me? These are the individuals who were the real pilgrims and the real adventurers and the folks who went out on a limb to risk great things for God.
Sharpes: Like Bud’s church, we have two worship styles. I believe what he said, but I also see that those older folks want to see other things happening because they want their children and their grandchildren in church as well.
Middendorf: How many of you have multiple worship styles? What sort of things are you doing?
Sunberg: On one campus, we have two services that are identical, but we have another campus that has a completely different worship style.
Rodas: A typical Latino or ethnic worship service can be three hours long. In the Latino context, when you are coming out of drug addiction, hearing voices, in utter poverty, when you are a disciple of Christ, worship becomes a moment of liberation that God has been so good to us in tough times.
Middendorf: Is this new reality providing us new opportunities to grow the church? How do you minister to many different groups in one church?
Sharpes: We have a goal to be an intergenerational church. Our young people need mentoring relationships with older people. We provide opportunities to tie people together. I have younger people in the traditional service and older people with their hands in the air as the guitars start going.
Salsbury: A few years ago, I was speaking at our senior dinner, and they were singing “Because He Lives.” I looked behind me at a couple of hundred seniors who were into it. I said, “This is not just music appreciation, they are worshipping!” I got a holy hunch to develop a country gospel service that was a cross between Gaither Homecoming and Grand Ole Opry. We did those old songs in a fun style with killer players. The top three radio stations in my area are country. We’ve been doing this for two and a half years. We are honoring the older people by doing these songs, but in a fun style.
Tanner: When a visitor walks into a church, their first thought is not, “Am I going to find Jesus here?” Their first thought is, “Is there anyone here like me?” In my first four years at Valparaiso, we were an extremely traditional church. Nothing negative, but it was strictly choir, piano, and organ. I sat down with the team to design how we were going to transition. Transitioning quickly is not a transition, but a shock. We transitioned over a four-year period, inch by inch. During that time, someone asked a great question, “I think you are beginning to create a target and I am not in that target.” I said he was not wrong. I told him I was not in that target either. I said, “Supposing we are so successful our church is nobody but the target, who mentors them? We can’t go forward without you!” We lost a few seniors, but most of them got on board. I made sure to tell people what wouldn’t change. We are Nazarene, the message won’t change. Pastoral prayer won’t change. We transitioned the church, but it was very respectful to our builders and WWII generation. I think if you leave them behind to go for the future, you’ve just shot yourself in the foot and have no future.
Reedy: One of the things the new realities are forcing us to do is define what we mean by growth. For most of my life, the thing I was asked to report when I came to district assembly was noses and nickels. Basically, is your worship service growing in attendance? Is your Sunday school growing in attendance? Are you growing in giving or facilities? That’s how I came to understand growth, and those were the kinds of things I pursued in terms of being a growing church. The new realities are forcing us to expand our understanding of what we mean by growth. I’m fortunate to be on a district with Superintendent Ken Mills, and he is beginning to ask different questions, such as: tell us about the meaningful, missional contacts you had with your community this year? Let’s talk about and celebrate that. That has been very encouraging to some of my pastor peers who come to district assembly and are not necessarily reporting growth in noses and nickels but have had missional effectiveness and real contact with real people on the streets.
Middendorf: Traditionally, what happened inside the four walls defined church, but we are talking about a different approach than what happens inside the four walls. It sounds to me like you are saying someone other than the people on the inside set the agenda for your church.
Tanner: At Valparaiso, we have a name for our target: Valpo Vinnie. Valpo Vinnie sets the agenda. If Valpo Vinnie changes, we change, and we incorporate different things. If the number one radio station goes country, heaven help us, then banjos come out at Valparaiso Church of the Nazarene.
Middendorf: How is the external environment changing the way you do ministry inside the church?
Rodas: By December 31 of 2011, Nueva Luz Resource Center, which is a Nazarene Compassionate Ministry Center I direct, will have served over 3,500 people in many different ways. We are probably going to raise 1.2 million dollars. It comes from many different sources. I have a district superintendent who is an amazing guy, and he gave me latitude to redefine ministry. There was a moment when I realized that whatever the box was, that box didn’t allow me to do what I wanted to do. I found a movement within our denomination called Compassionate Ministries. I met these people from City of Hope, Bresee Institute, brilliant people who navigate different worlds. I call most churches the operational culture churches, which are churches that are significantly white, significantly homogeneous, significantly middle class who are suburban. I think there is a tremendous opportunity in the future. The next things that are going to happen are: 1) the fastest growing religion will be Islam; 2) the greatest economic power will be China; 3) Latinos will be a significant force in the United States. Coca-Cola and Pepsi get it. I think through the perspective of ministry strategy, we need to be ready for these shifts, especially in the Church of the Nazarene, which is a Wesleyan movement. I think it is an opportunity. We need to look at what the context is giving us. I think we need to look at what Nazarenes have been good at, which is being compassionate, and really blow this thing out of the park. I believe in the multicultural church. Even if we are an African American church or a Latino church, we need to integrate the low income white kids who are left in the neighborhood. I think it is in that cultural competent manner that we can do some significant things, not only for the urban setting, but also for the suburban setting.
Sharpes: I love that. Most of us basically live in a white, suburban, middle-class church. I think the generation coming is going to want to be deeply, directly engaged more than other generations and more than just putting money in the offering plate.
Middendorf: Does our isolation create difficulty for our churches to see the significant issues in immigration?
Sharpes: Immigration is neck-deep for me in Arizona. A guy sent me an email after one Sunday when I preached about our call, and he said, “Well pastor, between my house and the church, it looks like paradise.” Between his house and the church, it did look like paradise. Between where he lived and where he worked, he never had to pass anyone homeless or hurting, when it came to knowing what the needs were, he didn’t see them.
I moved into downtown Chandler. That is an oddity, but I am in the middle of the barrio. The Mexican mafia beheaded a guy six blocks from my house, and there was a shooting two blocks in the other direction. I moved in there to say to our church, “We can’t neglect what is here because of what is five miles in the other direction that we live in most of the time.” Every time I walk out the door in the morning, I see 30 day-workers waiting to see if they are going to get a job that day. There is a homeless guy pushing a cart down the street. If I don’t keep myself immersed in that intentionally, I’m going to be the white suburban pastor who has always been at a homogeneous church collecting big offerings and sending those poor people down the street. That is not the incarnation of the gospel.
Sunberg: We went back to the inner city and restarted a church that we later discovered had originally started our church. Our south campus is in the inner city of Fort Wayne, Indiana, and the services down there are in Spanish and English. There is a school across the street and there was this incredible need for children to be tutored after school. We’ve asked, “How do you measure success?” This, to me, is one of the greatest success stories of our church. They asked for volunteers from our church to tutor children on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons. Do you know who showed up? Our older, traditional Nazarenes. They said, “I will go back to the inner city and tutor those children.” They are changing those kids’ lives. Last year, at the end of the school year, the school’s banner said, “‘Thank you, Grace Point.” When we contextualize and tell the story of the church, it brings the generations together in the community.
Salsbury: I grew up in Los Angeles First Church and served on staff there for nine years. When I came to New Life in Pismo Beach, people would hear I was from L.A. and they’d say, “Oh, I hate L.A.” It really hurt me, so I decided to do something to actively partner with Los Angeles. So, we helped launch the Central City Church of the Nazarene. We didn’t just send money, we sent work crews, ministry teams, and a lot of our youth went down there and served. We also brought them up to lead us in worship. It has been a great partnership. I never hear “I hate L.A.” anymore because we are invested.
Middendorf: How have these new realities changed the way you view yourself as a pastor? As a minister, what impact has this had on you?
Rodas: In 1988, I worked with people dying of HIV and AIDS, people nobody wanted to touch. While doing that, I also pastored an urban congregation, but my non-profit job helped pay my bills. But God turned that around. I’m still a pastor, but now my job is my ministry and the joy of my life. My wife is involved. My kids have moved into the city. As a 56-year-old guy who doesn’t know what’s going to happen in the next decade, I’m pretty happy God has called me to the city of Cleveland.
Sharpes: I have had a return to parish ministry. My parish is my geography where God has called me, and everything in it matters. We know there is a statistical correlation between a child’s literacy levels in fourth grade and what percentage will end up in prison. So, the church said we have got to start working with the elementary school. To keep people out of prison, we have got to help them be literate in their early years.
Tanner: For me, it is almost as if I’ve gone back to what pastors did years ago. I’m not a CEO. We have found that Valpo is a bedroom community of Chicago: upper class, white, white collar. One of their dominant needs is personal touch. Their lives are very fast-paced. They have no interest in a preacher; they have to have a pastor. For instance, I go to every visitor’s home. I go daily to the hospital. My executive pastor runs the daily operations of the church because it frees me to be out among the people. I perform funerals, then I go to the home one week later. I also mark the funeral date to meet with family members a year later and let them know I understand that day hurts. Once we discovered their dominant needs, it turned me loose to say my office is my car. It is a lifetime of calling. Valpo Vinnie not only decides what the church does, Valpo Vinnie decides what I do.
Sunberg: In North America, 60 percent of our churchgoers are women. I began to have women come in my office and say we have never had a woman pastor. We’ve never had a female spiritual leader. There was a part of me that had to really embrace that. I have discovered there is a deep and desperate need in our communities for female spiritual leadership. I also decided that 50 percent of my time was going to be people time, kingdom time. The Lord opened opportunities for me. One woman who is a host on a Christian radio talk show said, “Carla, would you mentor me?” She doesn’t go to my church, but I meet with her on a regular basis. I mentor the youth pastor from the United Methodist Church in the next town; we meet at Starbucks once a month and talk. I felt like God said, “Grab ahold of these women and pour yourself into them!” Again, how do you measure that success? They are not in my church, but they are building the kingdom, and I am making a kingdom difference. They don’t need preachers; they need pastors. My secretary told me that employees at Starbucks think that is my office. I sit there all afternoon and have one appointment after another, and they just come in and visit with me.
Middendorf: I’m wondering if what you are saying is true to this extent—you can preach because you have been in their lives. They will hear you because they know you care.
Reedy: There is the prophetic role and the priestly role— that is the dynamic tension in which we live. In answer to your question about changes at Stillmeadow, I think they have been significant in response to the new reality. One thing we did is we sat down with our pastoral staff and reworded our core values. Our number one core value now is “connect.” We saw that relational connections, especially for the emerging generation, trump everything. We have tried to be more of a connective church.
Middendorf: Let me touch that just a second. In this day of high speed Internet and electronic connectivity, you are talking about personal connections.
Reedy: Yes. I’ve made adjustments in my own life. I sat down and re-wrote my job description, freeing me up to spend more time at the Round the Clock Diner meeting with people and talking about life. I set up appointments for the week creating relational connections. I think the prophetic aspect of our ministry remains critically important. I would not want to diminish that, but I am trying to make more of an adjustment, based upon the new realities, to keep my bubble in the middle, making sure that I am being intentional about keeping plenty of room in my life for authentic relationships.
Middendorf: How many of you would say you are more available to people than you might have intended? Maybe one of the things we need to emphasize right now is ministry is still primarily influencing people.
Sharpes: Think of the number of mega churches planting video venues in cities. We stream our services online. Can you take communion electronically? There are people who have planted churches in an avatar world where people go to church and hear this guy preach a sermon and people send their avatars to sit in the pew and listen. There are all sorts of fascinating challenges for what is coming. I don’t know if it is a good thing, a bad thing, or exactly what is going on with it all, but it is obviously something we need to wrestle with.
Salsbury: I would say I am more available than I was 10 years ago, more intentional with leaders, and in discipleship. Years ago, John Maxwell said, “If you don’t fill your calendar, other people will.” We have got to prioritize to be available for the crises and for people who want to see us. But I want to be intentional in influencing influencers and in discipling others and raising up future leaders.
Reedy: We’ve tried to present Stillmeadow as one church with multiple congregations. The whole idea behind this is keeping the congregations smaller and more intimate. The average size of a congregation at Stillmeadow is under 200. Our largest congregation is 350 people. That allows you to be a lot more relational. There is a lot more time for testimonies, praying together, and the development of community. We have resisted the idea of building the tinsel tabernacle that seats 3,000 people. I think those days are over. Smaller group intimacy is what I believe people are longing for in the new reality.
Sunberg: Drawing from our heritage, what has changed me in the last few years is realizing how much time and energy our church leaders spent in the word and in prayer. Somewhere along the line, we began to streamline that and make it quick and easy. I felt terribly convicted that there was no way I could do effective ministry. If we think we can grab it and figure it out ourselves, we can’t. The most humbling thing for me is to realize I have to get up early enough every morning and spend time in the holy presence of God before I ever step foot in that church. If you go back to Wesley, he would spend an hour or more in prayer in the morning. I think we’ve got to get back to those basics.
Middendorf: What does our theological heritage have to say to us in the face of new realities? What does Wesleyan- Arminian Holiness say to this culture, this world, and our churches as they work in this?
Salsbury: That a heart formed, cleansed, and rocked by God is going to change a community.
Sunberg: A deeper walk with God is so transforming that God can take the most messed up person and change them into something incredible. If we really believe that, then we want to go out and rock the world because we believe it’s true.
Rodas: Not to over-spiritualize the message, but to seek justice, to be committed to the margins, to cry with those who cry, and of course, to laugh with those who laugh.
Reedy: I’m very optimistic about the grace of God. My favorite word in the New Testament is “whosoever.” I love that, and I love to be a part of a movement that recognizes that I am not taking Jesus anywhere—Jesus is already there. God’s prevenient grace is at work in that person’s life. I’m just simply in that moment, partnering with the Holy Spirit in the work of God in that person’s life.
Sharpes: A while back, I went to a cohort in inner city Philadelphia and we were sitting around talking about the changes and all the different things going on. Everything we were talking about was lending itself right back to where we already were as a church. Why did we ever migrate from it? We got caught up in other things. I remember Peter Wagner saying, “Where are the Nazarenes in this room?” A couple of us raised our hands. He said, “You know what, your theology is right. If you hadn’t become a rules church, you would have maintained a passion for the lost and reaching people and transformational lifestyle. Somehow it turned into something it shouldn’t have been.” I think we are recapturing that.
Tanner: What came to my mind was Galatians 3:3: “Why are you trying to do it in your own strength when you started out with me?” We have talked a lot about strategies. Strategy is important since we don’t want our head in the sand, but it is not about strategy. Ultimately, it is about this dynamic relationship with Christ. It just absolutely transforms homes and lives, and I want to be a part of that.
Sunberg: For me, it goes back to listening to the Holy Spirit. When you step into the movement of the Holy Spirit, it is like getting on a wave and just riding the wave. You just see where it goes. You are just faithful along the way with it. That’s what I feel we can experience in all of this. In Russia, things had gotten so bad in the 1990s; for example, we had 300 percent inflation in one week. At the end of it we said, we’ve got “hopeless opportunities.” The hopelessness created opportunities that were beyond anything we could have imagined. We have incredible opportunities because of the climate we are in.
Middendorf: How can we help local, district, and general leaders grapple with these new realities?
Sunberg: We need to honor new successes. Bud, you talked about the way we have measured success in the past. We must be willing to make that shift and make that change. We’ve done it in the past. I think it was in the 1960’s that we added Sunday morning worship attendance to our measures. Until then, all we measured was Sunday School. We changed when the culture changed. We are in a new day and age. We’ve got to help people feel good about the positives. Almost everywhere I go, I’m hearing incredible stories of God’s movement of the Holy Spirit.
Salsbury: I have done a lot of things wrong, but one thing I’ve done right at New Life is to have difficult conversations with people about change, what we are doing, and why.
Reedy: Stephen L. Carter made the observation that civility is one of the pre-democratic virtues that is necessary Panel Discussion Effective Ministry in the New Reality for democracy itself to work. What we are seeing in society around us is an inability to have a civil conversation with one another. It has been very, very hurtful to me as a pastor to see this infiltrate the church. I have been profoundly offended and hurt by Internet blogging conversations between Nazarenes who have differing visions for the Church and their inability to have a civil conversation. It is one of the things I love about this conversation. I’ve not agreed with everything that has been shared here, but I love the fact that we can sit down together and model throughout the Church what civil conversations look like, especially among people who talk about living a life of holiness of heart and life.
I must say this to the Board of General Superintendents: while this kind of thing was swirling around our church, the Board of General Superintendents submitted a letter to our denomination. I thought it was excellent. I immediately published it and gave it to every person in our congregation. I want to say it was the Board of General Superintendents at their best.
So, how can the general Church help us navigate the waters associated with the new reality? There needs to be a lot of listening. I want to encourage those who are in general leadership to have times like this where we can talk because the learning curve is so steep for me as a person who lives this stuff 24/7. I can only imagine how difficult it must be for an individual whose ministry is more global to stay meaningfully connected to what is happening in the local church.
Sunberg: We may not realize how culturally sensitive some conversations may be, especially in a global denomination. Some issues are U.S. issues and not global issues, so we need to be open about having civil discourse.
Rodas: We need to recognize cultural differences and the leadership training that is necessary for laity, pastors, and district superintendents to have the tools and cultural understanding to know what really needs to be contextualized. Perhaps, it should be normative.
Middendorf: The Church ought to be the embodied presence of Jesus, who embodied the love of God in a very tangible way. It seems to me that ought to characterize the conversation.
Salsbury: I want to comment on the use of the phrase “new reality.” I would hate for pastors to read this and say, “I have to find it!” New realities are coming into play, but old realities aren’t disappearing. It is all in flux. Pastors have to realize they are dealing with some new realities, but they are dealing with old realities too. It just makes me nervous to have firm categories.
Middendorf: In a postmodern world, not everybody is postmodern. Nor is every part of the world postmodern. Dr. Broadbooks, it sounds to me like we are embracing the very expression of the five strategies of the USA/ Canada Region.
Broadbooks: Yes, in a beautiful way. This is wonderful!
Middendorf: Thank you all for these incredible contributions.
About the panelists:
BUD REEDY serves as senior pastor of Stillmeadow COTN in York, Pennsylvania.
MAX RODAS is executive director of Nueva Luz Resource Center, a Nazarene compassion ministry center in Cleveland, Ohio.
RON SALSBURY is lead pastor of New Life Community COTN in Pismo Beach, California.
DAVID SHARPES serves as lead pastor of Crossroads COTN in Chandler, Arizona.
CARLA SUNBERG is now co-District Superintendent of East Ohio, but was formerly a pastor with Gracepoint COTN in Ft. Wayne, Indiana, at the time of the panel discussion.
GENE TANNER serves as lead pastor of Valparaiso COTN in Valparaiso, Indiana.