Starting in 2012, I will focusing the majority of my work life with the Free Methodist Church in Southern California (this mouthful is better known as the FMCSC). Since last fall I moved to 30 hours per week as the Director of Recruiting and Leadership Development, and starting next month (January), this will increase to 40 hours per week. (I will still be doing some writing, side consulting, and teaching a Mayterm course at Westmont, but I am excited to move into this full-time.) This does mean I had to finish up my role at Providence Hall. For the first time since 1984, I am not working directly with teenagers as my paid vocation. I will still be meeting with some students one-on-one, but this is a significant transition for me. It feels right, but it is certainly bittersweet.
When I tell people about this transition into full-time work with the Free Methodist Church, they get sort of a quizzical look on their faces... "What exactly does that mean?" is the gist of their response. My face brightens every time as I say, "Lots of things!" Honestly, it fits me so well that it doesn't even feel like work most of the time.
But to give a little specificity, I talk about the internship program I direct. This involves networking with faculty and administrators at Azusa Pacific and Westmont to get referrals for interns, and then in turn I contact these referrals to see if they are interested in one of our internships. So far I've connected with over 40 students from these 2 schools, and in the space of 3 days, I've had 10 of them already express a desire to be interviewed. (Hey: feel free to donate some year-end funds to this program -- I could spend hours here telling you how excited I am to be working with such gifted young leaders whom we are training to be pastors, church leaders, scholars at our Free Methodist schools like SPU and APU, and serving as Christians in the marketplace. Go to this link to give. THANK YOU.)
As the Director I also am giving shape to a new missional approach we are calling the West Coast Initiative. There are many moving parts to this that I won't describe right now, but it is shaped in great part by what we see God doing in the church in the "Majority World," (formerly known as the Third World), where explosive church growth is worth studying. In these contexts, churches are expanding at a remarkable rate by being led by bi-vocational pastors and starting incarnationally with cell groups in people's homes. I really am excited by all of it, and am making tremendous connections with church leaders in both Southern and Northern California, Oregon and Washington, not to mention leaders at Christian schools all along the West Coast. All of our work will be based out of our existing Free Methodist Center located at Azusa Pacific. We are re-launching this as The Center for Transformational Leadership at APU early in 2012, and I will be co-directing this center. I am currently visiting APU once a month to maintain new relationships with faculty, administration and students that I have been meeting at a steady rate since last August.
Meanwhile, I am still fortunate enough to be coaching some Free Methodist pastors one-on-one in strategic planning, church growth, leadership development, youth ministry and district leadership (where some pastors give leadership regionally with our other pastors).
Finally (not really, but I don't want to bore you!) I am also assisting in shaping our new social media strategy. I've started up a Twitter account for us -- find us at twitter.com/fmcsc. I've also started a Facebook page at www.facebook.com/fmcsc. We are also really close to re-launching an entirely new website for the FMCSC too, and I will be assisting in providing daily content for that.
On a deeper level though, what drives me to head in this new direction? I have been doing some reading in an obscure but really fine little book that Howard Snyder compiled in 2007 called "Soul Searching the Church: Free Methodism at 150 Years." I first read Howard Snyder years ago when we were reading an amazing book of his that delineated the brilliance of John & Charles Wesley in forming small groups to create massive revival across England that is called The Radical Wesley. I have seen small groups ignite remarkable growth during my entire career, and I can only confirm that the Wesleys got it right!
But only in the last 3 years have I connected most directly with the small group ideas of the Wesleys by being in the Free Methodist Church. I continue to find this church an enchanting synthesis of earnest spiritual formation that is then lived out in corporate social action. (In the old days they apparently called this "personal holiness" and "social holiness.") But working with pastors throughout Southern California has shown me time and again that these Free Methodists put their money where their mouth is. They dearly love Jesus, and they show it best by loving the poor. They reach out to the margins and invite everyone to experience the kingdom.
Snyder and others capture so much of the soul of Free Methodism in this Soul Searching book. Here are a few quotes that sum up my experience so far:
Free Methodists believe the best way to keep the world from invading the church is for the church to invade the world with redemptive purpose. (Book of Discipline, preface)
Accessibility and proximity to the poor clearly meant that Free Methodists were to abolish all separation and distinction within their congregations. It was not charity that they were to offer, but fellowship, advocacy, and justice. (Mark Van Valin, FM pastor)
Seek first, in actual practice, the kingdom of God and its justice now in the present world, understanding that that's where heaven and eternal life begin; where they overlap. (Howard Snyder)
The "comparative failure of Christianity to transform the world" is "because women are not permitted to labor according to their ability, for the spread of the Gospel... If women had been given, since the days of the first Apostles, the same rights as men, this would be quite another world." BT Roberts, founder of Free Methodism, written in 1891.I feel called to co-labor with this denomination precisely because it feels more like a movement than an institution, though it has existed (with plenty of highs and lows, like anything where humans are involved!) for 150 years. I am blown away that only 1 in 10 Free Methodists live in the US -- we are part of a world church! I am also excited by the doors that have been opening up as I have pursued internships and our new ideas for missional outreach, and I am humbled by those I am able to work with. Like I said earlier, it doesn't even feel like work most of the time.
In the spirit of the holiday films coming out right now, I have to admit that I feel like I'm embarking on something of a "mission impossible"... but thankfully, I am working in the name and power of the one who makes all things possible. I hew closely to the call I hear in these words:
Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1)May God be glorified in all I am doing. I pray the same for you.
P.S. For a 5-minute video that really captures what I am experiencing with the Free Methodists, go to "Equality: The Free Methodist Church at 150."