United Methodists throughout the Baltimore-Washington Conference are making their marks as they pursue vitality and transform the world so that all people might live life to the fullest.
Pursuing Bishop LaTrelle Easterling’s vision of 100 percent of churches becoming 100 percent vital, members explored the four pillars of vitality in an interactive Annual Conference Session on June 3.
The four pillars are: Seeing all the People, Deepening Discipleship, Living and Loving Like Jesus, and Multiplying Impact, said Christie Latona, Director of Connectional Ministries.
These principles represent the best parts of our identity, Latona said. They allow churches to create a new picture of God at action in their congregations and communities.
“It is now ours to draw new scenarios and pathways to make this promise of abundant life a reality for everyone,” Latona said. “Are you ready to make your mark? It's the question before each of us as we make daily choices about what we will do or not do as followers of Christ. “
It is important to note, said Jack Shitama, who oversees the BWC’s Leadership Development ministries, that “vitality can look very different in each situation and context.”
The definition of vitality has changed, he added. It’s not about counting noses and nickels or church size and budgets. It’s about spanning the chasm of where we are as a church and embracing God’s preferred future. There is no one-size-fits-all approach
The Discipleship Ministries presentation shared at Annual Conference and information about the Pillars of Vitality are at www.bwcumc.org/vitality.
Pillar One: See All the People
Seeing all the People “relies not on eyesight but heart-sight, which happens in conversation and is developed through relationships,” said the Rev. Bill Brown, Director of Creative Evangelism. “It requires church leaders and members to experience a transformed mindset, to interrupt their fears and biases, to grow in cultural humility and to build authentic relationships instead of transactional ones. “
“Engaging our community begins with a deep and authentic love for every person created by God,” said the late Rev. Junius Dotson in a video from Discipleship Ministries. “Seeing is a dialogue, an invitation to participate in another’s life … It stems from a desire to be in authentic conversation, a desire to listen deeply to their story, and be in relationship.”
Pillar 2: Deepen Discipleship
Deepening Discipleship is grounded in the United Methodist mission to make disciples for the transformation of the world, said the Rev. Stacey Cole Wilson, Executive Minister of Beloved Community
“Vital churches should have a working definition of what a disciple is,” she said, “a biblically grounded and contextually relevant understanding of who Jesus is, an understanding of what maturing in discipleship looks like, and they will provide simple, obvious and strategic steps for people at various stages of life and spiritual maturity to grow as followers of Jesus Christ.”
This growth is accomplished by practicing the Rule of Discipleship, embracing personal and social holiness and acts of piety and mercy. Members of vital churches live out the Great Commandment and the Great Commission as they seek to grow in "holiness of heart and life." In vital discipleship, “love of God is always linked with love of our neighbor, a passion for justice and renewal in the life of the world,” said Cole Wilson.
Pillar 3: Live and Love Like Jesus
Living and Loving Like Jesus is “not for the faint of heart,” said the Rev. Neal Christie, Executive Minister of Connected Engagement. “It’s dangerous because this love proclaims freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, liberty for the oppressed, and proclaims the year of the Lord's favor. Living and loving like Jesus moves us from the seats to the streets as we take the Gospel beyond the walls of our buildings.”
Those who live and love like Jesus express their faith in the marketplace, Christie added. They consistently practice acts of mindful devotion, wholehearted worship, compassionate service, and persistent justice.
Pillar 4: Multiply Impact
Multiplying Impact aligns a church’s mission to God’s call by listening and discerning with the broader community how they might reshape ministry and repurpose resources for the greatest good. Hilary Golden, the BWC’s Ministerial Services Coordinator, likens the absence of this pillar to people in a canoe all rowing in different directions. When the rowers align themselves and all row together in the same direction, the impact is multiplied, she said. “You can accomplish so much more.”
“Our picture of impact is a multiplication sign that shows that we are a gathered and sent people; gathered for centering in on God’s purpose for us and sent outside the walls of our buildings for participating in God’s harvest,” said Cheryl Cook, the BWC’s Discipleship Ministries Manager. However, she cautioned, “Many churches mistake activity for impact. We don’t need churches to do more things, just more focus on what God is calling forth.”
This presentation on vitality was an interactive one that included participation from laity in local churches and real-time feedback from Annual Conference members. As the presentation was winding up, members were asked how their understanding of vitality has been shaped. Their answers included words like: “affirmed, broadening, peace, expanded, clarified, focus, encouraged, deepened.
When asked about what was coming alive in them that could create more vitality, the answers included words like “hope, willingness to stretch, awareness, partnership, and reinvention.
In closing, Brown stressed that “the four pillars are nonlinear and interactive. The roadway to 100 percent of our church becoming 100 percent vital is formed through our continuous action.”
The conference offers a number of opportunities and trainings to assist local churches in this work including: District Missional Action Planning (dMAP), Congregational Vitality Pathways, the We Rise United Initiative, Training Tuesdays, Next Level Leader events and resourcing around the five foci of Leadership Development, New Faith Expressions, Advocacy and Action, Wellness and Missions, and Young People’s Ministries.