The Why of GNJ
North Korea is testing missiles for nuclear war heads to eventually reach the United States. Leaders are using poisonous chemical weapons on their own people. There are rumors of war, talks of border walls, efforts to cut health care, churches are closing, our sons and daughters and grandchildren are addicted to heroin, and racism, xenophobia, classism and sexism are in our communities and congregations. The world needs the grace and teachings of Jesus Christ. The Gospel’s message is as urgent today as at any other time in our history.
While some talk of the end times, which we have heard in every generation, others believe these are the times God has called you for, to be God’s healing and redemptive love.
I rejoice that God’s grace is at work through disciples of Jesus Christ who are stirring up faith, hope and justice in communities and in the church. Through the Holy Spirit, these disciples are transforming lives and making disciples. More often than not, we are finding these disciples in our most vital congregations. That’s why we call and equip spiritual leaders to grow vital congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
We have amazing disciples who are stirring up faith, hope and justice in the community. Suzanne and Keith Dice of the Red Bank UMC started The Backpack Crew whose motto is, “it’s hard to be awesome when you are hungry”. Each Friday, The Backpack Crew delivers to schools 175 back packs filled with food for students who are on the breakfast and lunch program at school and who often do not have enough food on the weekend. They are working with church and community volunteers and they are inviting people to church through the ministry.
Abena Abusa, in addition to chairing the staff pastor relations committee at the New Brunswick Church, collaborates with 15 community organizations to host seminars and programs on immigration, homelessness and healthcare for the poor.
Kristen Skrobanek stirred up hope and justice through Trinity Church in Mullica Hill by starting Your Place at the Table to feed people. She has collaborated with a bank to offer budgeting classes, local farmers to provide fresh food and the Rotary Club to increase food contributions.
What do children walking home with backpacks or the homeless in New Brunswick or people who need a meal in Mullica Hill do when they see our disciples stirring up faith, hope and justice? I think in their own way, they say, REJOICE!
Rejoice! God is not done with us. God has a future with hope for us!
To rejoice is to recognize that God is in the mix, God is the author and creator of the church and every good work we do together. God has, is and will continue to guide our ministry and progress.
Rejoice in the Lord always and again I say rejoice. We choose joy because happiness isn’t enough. Happiness is dependent on an outside stimulus to generate good feelings within. Joy is rooted in a redeeming faith and eschatological hope, a future conviction that no matter how bad things seem, everything works for good for those who love God. –Romans 8:28
Happiness is breaking an attendance barrier on Easter Sunday morning. We feel a sense of accomplishment. Joy is the one family who comes back following Easter Sunday because the Holy Spirit stirred in their heart. They continue to come and go through a complete transformation of their faith, how they parent and how they engage in the world. The family decides to be baptized together. That’s joy.
Joy is sustained by a hope that lives at the edges of faith that is rooted in the conviction that God’s grace prevails, that love wins, that Jesus Christ makes all things new, that we will see the new city, the new Camden, the new Newark, the new Atlantic City, the new Jersey City, the new Trenton and every city, town and community in GNJ renewed, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared for you and for me. Rejoice! –Revelation 21:21
Rejoice in Our Progress through the Strategic Plan
God is doing a new thing through GNJ and we rejoice in the progress we are making. In 2014 we embarked on a bold strategic plan that said we are going to turn things around. We built on our past and moved to the edges of faith where today we are finding hope and joy. Since starting on the strategic ministry plan, just three short years ago, together:
- We developed five new resources to accomplish the plan – Team Vital, Coaching, PaCE groups, the Laity Academy and Communities of Hope.
- We aligned our budget, staffing, ministries and superintending to focus on congregations and moved more energy and resources into the mission field.
- We increased the number of disciples in small groups from 43% to 79% in our congregations.
- We increased the number of disciples engaged in hands-on mission from 8% to 50%.
- We increased mission giving from $349 per worshiper to $356, that’s a quarter more million dollars going to mission. Our churches raised $5,452,346 million to combat malaria, rebuild homes and lives following Superstorm Sandy, and engage in mission through our congregations.
- We started 26 new faith communities.
- We grew vitality from 16% of our congregations being highly vital to 34%. Listen to this, we have also made significant progress in a new area of measurement that tests how well our congregations are doing on moving forward the five markers of vitality. Forty-four percent (44%) of our congregations are moving the markers forward. We have the third highest percentage in the United States. The turnaround is taking shape.
Rejoice for all God is doing in and through us. These numbers represent people, lives changed, disciples engaged and people served. We are about people and God’s healing and redemptive grace for their lives.
Rejoice in our Commitment to Excellence
God’s love is at work in and through us and others are noticing. Our Vital Mission Partner, A Future With Hope received the Innovative Program of the Year award from NJ VOAD. A Future with Hope has now repaired 256 homes, with 11,810 volunteers from 46 states and 3 countries and raised more than $17 million dollars.
Our new MRC, The Mission and Resource Center won the New Good Neighbor Award from NJ Business and Industry Association and NJ Magazine. This award is for development projects that contribute to NJ’s economic growth and are aesthetically beautiful. The MRC is becoming a resource being used by churches, Vital Mission Partners, regional ecumenical gatherings, community organizations, Drew School of Theology and the Northeastern Jurisdiction. More ministry, more service to the community and the MRC is saving us money and it is paid for. Now that’s worth celebrating!
We do not go looking for awards, but we seek to serve God with excellence. Recently the denomination recognized serving God with excellence in our communications team who earned six awards. Our sister Vital Mission Partner, United Methodist Communities, formally United Methodist Homes, won four communications awards. That’s 10 communications awards in GNJ. The most within the denomination.
It hasn’t been easy, but we are experiencing joy in what God is doing through us. One of the places that has been hard is making new disciples or professions of faith. I am happy to report that two of our congregations are receiving The One Award from the General Board of Discipleship because they grew in the numbers of professions of faith.
The first is Emmaus Church led by Don McMahon. The congregation went from zero professions of faith to eight in 2016. The second is Panther Valley Church led by Ninabeth Metcalf. The congregation went from zero professions of faith to six in 2016.
These two churches are connecting more with the community, creating inspiring worship, developing youth and small group ministry, developing a culture of hope and inviting people to receive God’s grace through Jesus Christ.
Please join me in congratulating and thanking Rev. Metcalf, Rev. McMahon and the laity for their leadership and commitment to making new disciples for the transformation of the world.
Rejoice! God is at work through GNJ.
While we rejoice, we are not without our challenges. James said:
“When you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.” –James 2:1-2
While we have much to be joyful about, our congregations, world and denomination are experiencing challenges.
Denominational Fear and GNJ Conviction
As a denomination, we are not of one mind about homosexuality. Some are saying we cannot stay united. We hear that we will divide. I disagree. The church has never fully agreed on anything. In the past we were divided over slavery, ordination of women, and segregation. United Methodists found a way to come back together.
What if this time we said, “We will not let our differences divide us but allow our common mission to guide us. Let’s model what it means to be diverse culturally, ethnically, geographically and theologically and guided by common mission.”
Let it begin with us. Let GNJ lead the way.
To do this we will need to move to the edges of our faith where hope and joy live.
I will be a bishop of the whole church. I will work to ensure people, ministries and congregations are not hurt as we move forward. While some talk of division, I intend to keep GNJ together as one conference. A place where orthodox, progressive and middle viewpoints can thrive and grow. Where liberals and conservatives can draw upon their rich understandings to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. This will be a significant challenge. Let joy be our aim, not happiness, joy in diversity not happiness in uniformity.
If the denomination maintains its present policies, I want all our clergy to be pastoral as they serve their communities and unique contexts. I want all our congregations to live out their calling. Our unity will not be in a theology or polity but in Jesus Christ and the mission of the church – to reach new generations of disciples and engage in transforming lives, communities and the world.
If our denomination changes its polity, I will not make appointments to intentionally disrupt the practices and theologies of a congregation. I will not draw attention to our differences creating division in our congregations or GNJ, but call attention to how Jesus loves us even more because of our differences. Jesus gathered people who were different from one another and united them toward a Gospel vision of God’s reign. We can be diverse and thrive! We can be unique and work together toward a common mission! We can understand the scriptures differently and remain united in Christ Jesus. I rejoice in our diversity.
As I serve as bishop of the whole church, I ask you to serve with me as leaders and disciples for the whole church no matter our theological or political views. After all, when we worked on Sandy homes, no one asked us our view on LGBTQ people. No one asked us when we sent kids home with backpacks full of food our theological view point. Instead they pointed to the love we had for them and one another and thought, this is what companions of Jesus looks like.
Let unity in diversity begin with us. Let GNJ United Methodists lead the way.
I am deeply concerned about the geopolitical shifts in our nation and world and call all of us to a faithful and biblical response by the church. The scriptures have been clear from the beginning, we are called to welcome the stranger, the refugee and the immigrant. In a world where leaders engage in rhetoric that heightens conflict, we are called to stand firm in our values and engage in conversation that glorifies God and witnesses to the life of Jesus. In a world, whose aim is happiness through wealth, pleasure and consumption, we are called to move to the edges of our faith to choose joy, service and sharing.
The congregations that are bold in offering a more Christ-like way, will capture younger generations, deepen the faith of their disciples, and model for the world the first century church.
Let it begin with us. Let GNJ United Methodists lead the way.
While we are witnessing renewed growth and vitality in many congregations, we also saw 301 churches decline in worship attendance and five churches discontinued or merged in 2016. Today we are 18 congregations fewer than five years ago. In 2013 we commissioned a study that said we would be 123 congregations fewer by 2030. Our challenge is the culture has changed and we are not adapting fast enough. We are not connecting with new and younger potential disciples of Jesus Christ.
It does not have to be this way. We do not have to follow the pack, we can change. We can connect with the people in the community. We can continue to create new worship and ministry experiences.
The Greenhouse Church that we launched last year to connect with millennials is now worshiping 90 disciples in two sites. We can connect with new and younger generations to make disciples of Jesus Christ.
Let it begin with us. Let GNJ United Methodists lead the way.
We rejoice with Paul in our challenges, knowing that challenges produce endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us. –Romans 5:3-5
The challenges seem daunting, but the path forward is clear, critical and doable. The path is not hard and it is not elaborate, it focuses on four pillars to support a growing GNJ mission: passionate faith, transformational leaders, vital mission congregations, and money.
Path Forward, Passionate Faith
Deep, passionate faith is the first of the four pillars to grow our mission. Passionate faith is a source of joy and it attracts new generations of believers. Passionate faith is contagious.
Sometimes things get in the way of our deep passionate faith. Emotion, for example can be dependent on outside stimulators – a fiery sermon, an upbeat song, or inspiring reading – then we are manufacturing faith that requires one inspirational moment after another. Think of Jesus’ life or Paul’s life, both exemplified deep faith but we read of only a few emotional experiences in their lives. Instead, their faith welled up from within.
Passionate faith welcomes wisdom and thinking. It harnesses both inspiration and knowledge. It is not reactive but deliberative — based in prayer, study and experience.
Passionate faith is enthusiastically living your faith every day – enthusiastic, faithful, everyday!
Passionate faith is nurtured, shaped and deepened through three key ministries of the church – worship, small groups and hands-on mission in the community. In fact, these three vitality markers increase disciples’ participation in the other two vitality markers, generous giving and making new disciples. Focus on worship, small groups and hands-on mission and the rest will follow.
That’s why we will continue to equip church leaders to lead worship, small groups and mission. Team Vital, Communities of Hope training and lay leadership development will all focus on developing passionate faith through these three markers of vitality.
Passion is also grown through young people. Their enthusiasm and youthfulness inspire faith in others. A group of GNJ leaders developed a comprehensive student ministry plan so that by 2027, GNJ will produce:
- A vibrant youth ministry in 60% of our congregations attracting 12 or more teenagers per church,
- An innovative campus ministry on 10 college campuses reaching more than 1,000 students a year,
- A 21st century premiere camping experience for students and
- An IGNITE experience that attracts 5,000 students annually.
I invite you to come along with us and create a Next Generation Ministry that will attract and make passionate student disciples of Jesus Christ.
Path Forward, Transformational Leadership
Leadership is the second pillar for our path forward. Leaders, both lay and clergy, set the pace, tone and direction for disciples and the congregation. GNJ’s pacesetting leaders exhibit one or more of three types of leadership: fruitful, transformational, and apostolic.
We believe every leader can be fruitful, growing the health and vitality of the congregation. Fruitful lay and clergy leaders increase vitality by growing worship, small groups, hands-on mission, giving to mission and making new disciples.
Sheila Brown of Milton UMC is a fruitful leader. She first led the children’s ministry, where the Sunday School and VBS have experienced growth and is one of the most vibrant children’s ministries in the Skylands District. Sheila is now leading the evangelism ministry. She approaches ministry with a passion for sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, and is a great equipper of others in leadership in her own congregation and throughout the district.
Luana Cook Scott through passion, strategic outreach and engaging laity has led Milford UMC to be highly vital in four years. They grew worship, small groups and community outreach and the congregation moved from 0% Shared Ministry giving to 100% in four years. There is movement from uncertainty to faithful response and engagement.
We believe that lay and clergy leadership can excel to be transformational leaders. Through the Holy Spirit, transformational leaders change lives and change the culture and attitude of the congregation. They lead the congregation to be more welcoming of all people, make new disciples and engage the congregation in ministry and mission with the people in the community.
Three years ago, Roebling UMC was on the verge of closing. That changed with the arrival of McWilliam Colon. Under his leadership, the average worship attendance went from 20 to 35 people, Shared Ministry and billings were paid in full in 2015 and 2016. The congregation began to reflect the diversity of the community. New programs were added that connected the church to the community, such as a food program, a music school, a blood drive and lots more. He is a transformational leader because he has changed how the church thinks about itself, mission and the community.
Haddon Heights UMC led by Ayn Masker, has grown from an average of 38 to 60 worshipers each week. They have explored new worship styles and services, and are connecting with the families of their preschool through the pastor’s music lessons to the children in the school. The church has started a new worship service at a McDonald’s. Ayn is a transformational leader because she is changing how people think about worship.
We believe there is potential for many of our leaders to be apostolic. These are mission driven leaders who find and make a way when others do not see a way forward. They multiply people, gifts and resources.
Peter, Paul, John Wesley, Francis Asbury, Harriett Tubman, Mary McLoud Bethune, Anna Howard Shaw, Henry Appenzeller, Pat Bruger and Wilbert Mitchell are apostolic leaders. When others did not see a way, they found a way. They created movements, organizations, ministries and systems to sustain and grow the mission.
GNJ leadership is committed to come alongside all willing and ready lay and clergy leaders to develop their gifts and potential to be a difference maker in the life of the church and community.
To strengthen lay leadership, we are in the process of creating a laity leadership development initiative that will bring all laity training under one umbrella and create a seamless program for laity development.
For clergy, we are creating a leadership development plan to assist clergy to be fruitful and to increase the number of transformational and apostolic leaders.
We are also committed to further develop local pastors. We are working with Drew School of Theology to develop local pastors training to strengthen and grow present and future local pastors so they do not have to travel 200 or more miles to attend classes.
GNJ leaders will be inter-culturally competent and a 10-year plan for developing intercultural competence among our lay and clergy leadership has been developed to guide us. Fruitful, transformational and apostolic leaders all desire to be better at understanding and connecting with different cultures.
Today I give thanks and rejoice for the leaders of GNJ. I find we have leaders who are highly committed, want to learn, build relationships and seek results. You collaborate and take more risks for the mission. GNJ leaders bring me joy and I am honored to serve with you. I thank God for you.
Path Forward, Vital Missional Congregations and Hope Centers
Vital congregations and mission centers are the third pillar. Vitality, growing the passion and fruitfulness of a congregation or mission center is life giving. Every time one congregation becomes healthier, all congregations become more vital. Let me illustrate:
Six years ago, Calvary Korean UMC was going through a very challenging time. They lost more than 60% of their membership. Today, they are one of the five fastest growing United Methodist Churches within the United States. It was not an easy turnaround. They had conflict. They had significant financial challenges. A newly appointed apostolic leader, Rev. Sang Won Doh got the congregation working together again. They built their small group ministry, refocused their mission in the community and around the world and connected with community. They started a new worship service for young adults and then built upon that and started a second site worshiping community. They have been a significant supporter of the Mission Fund and increased their Shared Ministry commitments, fulfilling 100% or $114,593 in 2017. Calvary Korean UMC is a highly vital congregation that all of us can be proud of.
Vital congregations are the third pillar of our path forward. Through Calvary UMC and many other congregations, the witness and mission of GNJ is being strengthened. As you do your part in and through your congregation, collectively God’s love heals lives and transforms the world through The United Methodist Church of Greater New Jersey.
We are seeing more and more congregations develop their vitality by:
- Making new passionate disciples.
- Creating inspirational worship,
- Forming faith through small groups,
- Engaging the community in mission and
- Giving generously to mission.
In addition to vital congregations we are developing Hope Centers. Hope Centers have robust outreach ministries for children and youth, and provide services to the community. By the end of this year we will have five Hope Centers and 12 by the end of 2018. We are also working with seven congregations to repurpose their property to be a worship center and community center to address the needs of the community. Our urban centers are leading the way in this effort. Jersey City and Atlantic City churches have started conversations about how to transform their property into hope. These preliminary plans create church space, day care, affordable housing, senior housing and retail and offices. For some this may be hard to grasp but for the congregations and community, it is hope for their future.
To grow more vital congregations and Hope Centers, we will continue to offer Team Vital and Communities of Hope training and assist congregations in learning from each other through Bright Spots ministry. Bright Spots are learning from congregations who are excelling in growing the five markers of vitality. Peer to peer or congregation to congregation learning is one of the most effective ways to grow vitality.
I thank God for all our congregations and rejoice in the congregations that are growing their vitality.
Path Forward, Money
Money is critical to our mission. While the church is consolidating, the mission need is growing. This consolidation has affected congregations’ income. This is why the Council of Finance and Administration created a 2018 budget DECREASING the amount we apportion churches by $894,542.
The Council on Finance and Administration changed the budget formula to a fixed percentage instead of a fluctuating amount that we apportion churches. The amount is 16.3% and CFA has also set a goal to decrease the percentage to 15.6% which is below the 2003 apportioned percentage.
I rejoice in the wisdom and leadership of CFA. I also call all of us to be more resilient. As the culture shifts, the church needs to identify how it will change to connect to make new generations of believers and regenerate itself.
While we are reducing the amount we apportion churches, we are developing other streams of income for the mission of GNJ. The increase of the United Methodist Stewardship Foundation of Greater New Jersey from $4 million to $40 million and an anticipated $42 million by the end of June is because more churches are investing through the Foundation. Thank you. This has allowed us to create a staff team that will work with congregations on fundraising and raise funds through foundations and individuals. We have set a goal for the Foundation to be more than $100 million by 2022.
Two of our other nonprofit corporations, A Future With Hope and Next Generation Student Ministries, formally the GNJ Camping and Retreat Board, will raise money for the ministries they oversee. These two organizations and the Foundation will support GNJ administration, building and communications ministry through the use of shared resources and services. While we reduce the amount we apportion to churches for Shared Ministries, we are increasing other giving avenues so that we will not just sustain our mission; we will grow it. I rejoice in the visionary and innovate leadership who are creating the opportunity for a regenerative GNJ.
Rejoice, God will See Us Through
We have great days ahead and we are engaged in a high-risk path that seeks to create a passionate church that is missionally engaged and reaches new generations of believers. It seeks new avenues to sustain the mission financially and to declare God is not finished with us yet!
It will take courage, collaboration and a focused determination to grow leadership, passionate disciples, vital congregations and money. We will choose risk over accepting the status quo, and learn through failure. We cannot tolerate trying to just maintain who we are, but accept that God is doing a new, big thing right here in Greater New Jersey.
Let United Methodists of GNJ lead the way.
I rejoice that God has entrusted us with the future of Christ’s Church, that God has given us the minds, leadership, congregations, resources and rich cultural diversity for the journey. I rejoice that we have made strong progress on what we said we would do four years ago. I rejoice for this is God’s time, this is GNJ’s time, this is the church’s time to be the difference.