Next Things – TUMC 2019

This was originally given as a presentation by pastor Zac Langer at the Next Things Lunch on December 9, 2018.

6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 
7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. 
8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things.

Philippians 4:6-8

A Year in Review

2018 has been a good year. I can honestly say that the past six months have been a blessing, and I am thankful for the opportunity to serve as the pastor of Taylorville United Methodist Church. Enduring a pastoral change can be difficult, because — much like life or a box of chocolates — you never know what you’re going to get, so the enthusiasm and hospitality shown by this church is a testament to its character.

Throughout the past year, our church has confirmed and baptized youth, giving them an opportunity to profess their faith and become full members of the church; we had another great Vacation Bible School that welcomed in members of our community to learn about Jesus in a fun and exciting environment; a “Whole Church Worship” service gave us the chance to worship with 160 people in our gym, led by all our amazing musical groups; a few hundred children and their families came to play games and get candy at our Trunk-or-Treat, and then a few days later 35 vendors set up booths in our gym for our annual Craft Bazaar; we raised the funds for a chair lift that goes up to the sanctuary, making it more accessible to those with limited mobility; even as the year comes to a close, we’ve gone caroling in Northport with Dickens Downtown, we have two special musical performances in worship, a progressive dinner for our children’s ministry, a Carol Christmas party, and a candlelight service on Christmas Eve.

We’ve been busy, Taylorville!

I hope that we can continue building enthusiasm and momentum together as we move into the next year. I’ve said it many times before, but I fully believe that the Holy Spirit is moving within our church, and that God has great plans for our future. In order to grow faithfully as a church as we pursue the work God has prepared for us, I want to invite us to spend 2019 thinking and serving together with the courage and strength of Jesus Christ. Spiritually, that means trusting in the good news that we are being renewed day-by-day and drawn closer to God even through times of anxiety, stress, or uncertainty. It also means having an openness to be surprised by how the Spirit calls us to serve, and so being willing to try new ideas and be creative in our mission.

Pursuing Holiness

As we approach the new year, I want each of us to reflect on our spiritual practices and disciplines and honestly evaluate how you can continue growing in faith. By that, I mean that we should individually consider incorporating these things into our routines:

  1. Prayer, both active (talking to God) and receptive (listening to God).
  2. Bible study — making a point to read Scripture as well as to study it, because it is the best way for us to come and know how God has worked through the ages.
  3. Regular fasting, whether weekly, monthly, or otherwise.
  4. Working as servants within the community.
  5. Worship, within our church, outside our church, and among our families.

When we talk about being a faithful church, we must begin with a conversation about how to be faithful individuals, because there is no church without the people who make it up. With that in mind, the first thing we have to do is pursue personal holiness so that, as each of us grows individually, we can also grow together. There is no prescription for “faithful living;” we can’t make a list of practices that will make us righteous, because our righteousness comes from Christ alone. With that said, however, we can make ourselves more open to the work that God is doing within us, and we can live faithful lives that reveal and confirm our beliefs. Only then, when we commit to faithfulness in our own lives, can we commit to faithfulness as a church.

A Practical Mission

The official mission of the United Methodist Church is, “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Within that, there are two specific goals: first, to make disciples of Jesus Christ; second, to participate in the transformation of the world. Our practices as a church, then, should always tie back to these goals and the overall mission of the UMC. But I’ll say again, there is no prescribed path to faithful living — we have to consider carefully what it means to be a faithful church here, at Taylorville UMC, in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. 

As we consider the “Next Things” for TUMC, we will be searching for practical ways to fulfill that mission, as well as to follow the basic sending commandment that Jesus gave us in the great commission.

16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Matthew 28:16-20

Throughout the rest of this page, we will walk through some of the ideas we’ve had over the past several months for how we can be a faithful church that goes out with the intention of making disciples and building a community fully dedicated to the Lord. This is not meant to be comprehensive, nor to be the end of this conversation — instead, it is meant to be a springboard into planning and implementing good programs, practices, and ministries that will be sustainable and will generate real change in people’s lives.

Evangelism and Outreach

The first part of the Great Commission, and the starting place for the next steps in our church, is the necessity of going. The light of Christ is meant to be shared, not kept in private, and we are called as Christians to carry the Gospel message out to those beyond our community and then to welcome them in. In order to make this a priority within our church, we have put together an “Evangelism and Outreach” team specifically focused on finding ways to engage with those around us. As a new group, they have a lot of flexibility to determine how they operate, but they will largely be organizing and coordinating events for our church and our community and helping with the advertising side of outreach.

Events

The first type of event that we will be planning will be the outreach event. These will be larger, publicly marketed events intended to bring in people who are not members of our church. It’s true that these might be an entry point for people to become involved with us in an ongoing way, but it’s also good for us as a church to be known as a place of community, dedicated to the people and neighborhoods around us.

Outreach events will happen at least quarterly, though sometimes more frequently if we have the opportunity. Our “Whole Church Worship” on September 30 is a good example of what this might look like, as well as Trunk-or-Treating on Halloween or our Caroling night on December 21. 

The second type of event will be the fellowship event. These are smaller events meant to strengthen the community that we have as a church. Most likely, these will be planned primarily by smaller groups within the church, such as Sunday School classes or our children’s ministry, but the Evangelism and Outreach team will be available to provide help.

Advertising

Few things sound less church-y than “advertising,” which calls to mind product marketing plans and convincing people that they need to buy what you’re selling, but ensuring that people know that we are active, that they are invited, and that we have something worthwhile to offer is the only way we will reach new people. I am doing everything I can to find grants and financial assistance for these efforts — we received 500 postcards, eight yard signs, and a 4×8′ banner to advertise our Advent and Christmas events, and we didn’t have to pay anything thanks to a deal between United Methodist Communications and outreach.com. We will, however, be looking to put some of our finances toward this, not simply for the sake of growing, but for the sake of spreading the Gospel.

14 How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15 And how can anyone preach unless they are sent? As it is written: “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

Romans 10:14-15

Discipleship and Service

The next part of the Great Commission can be broken down into making disciples and building community, which heavily involves service and charitable work. In truth, though, being a disciple necessitates serving because Christ, our model of perfection, was the ultimate servant. As part of our discipleship work, we must serve and encourage others to serve — discipleship and service are inseparable. Even though Missions don’t get a section until later, keep in mind that all of these groups and programs that are part of our discipleship ministry will also incorporate service and mission work.

Equipping Servant Leaders

One of my personal projects during the next year will be to host a quarterly cycle of three short classes, no more than an hour each, that are meant to empower and lead interested individuals to serve. There will be one class offered per month, as often as people sign up for them, and will repeat every three months. The three classes will be:

  1. Join – Essentially a membership class for anyone who wants to join the church, but also open to anyone who just wants a refresher course on what we believe as United Methodists and what church membership means.
  2. Discern – We will look at spiritual gifts and talk about what faithful service can look like. This will involve taking a spiritual gifts inventory as a way to think about your own gifts and how you may be able to use them in service to God.
  3. Serve – A very practical, down-to-earth look at what opportunities there are to serve within our church as well as in our community. 

When someone expresses interest in joining the church, they will be asked to come to one of the “Join” meetings if possible. Current members are invited as well, of course! The second class would be a great opportunity for people who are interested in volunteering more to reflect on how exactly they might do that, as well as thinking together about how we are being called to serve. The last class is meant to help people understand what opportunities are available here and, importantly, to receive any necessary training (Safe Sanctuary, etc.) to do the work.

United Methodist Men

This is a big one! We are blessed to have an active United Methodist Women’s group, but we do not currently have any opportunity for the men of our church to come together in a similar way. As we come together initially, we will be figuring out what the most meaningful way to spend our time will be, but we will begin with a simple approach to meetings.

One Saturday per month, we will meet at 9:00 AM for a breakfast, business, and devotional meeting. We will have to determine whether we want to meet at a restaurant or prepare food at the church, but rest assured, we will eat. These meetings should be a starting point for group formation rather than the full emphasis — it’s an intentionally set aside time, but the goal is to build relationships so that we can build one another up in faith and faithfulness. With that in mind, I would also like to cultivate a sense of intergenerational mentorship in the group, with men of different ages helping one another to see things they might not otherwise. Remember, Paul was a mentor to the younger Timothy, but Timothy was a guide to Christians much older than himself as well.

I will also encourage the men’s group to organize service projects throughout the year, both as a way of fulfilling their Christian call to do good works and as a way of growing closer to God and one another.

Organize Everything

Beyond the formation of a men’s group, we will also spend 2019 organizing our church both physically and structurally. What I mean by that is that there are many rooms in the church that need to be cleaned, walls that need to be scrubbed, and scuffed floors that need to be buffed, but we should also work on organizing things like our Sunday School classes — by making a pamphlet that lists them along with what they’re studying — and our youth program — by finding good curriculum and encouraging volunteers.

Simply stated, a disorganized church doesn’t encourage visitors to return. We have amazing facilities here, and we have programs that people would like to know about — let’s spruce them up and get polished!

Mission Work

If we want to be a healthy, faithful church, we need to adopt a missional outlook. There are opportunities all around us, ways that we can use our facilities to help others and ways that we can use our time and talents to make a difference in the community, and we are going to make an effort in 2019 to be actively engaged in mission work. 

There are plenty of local places to serve in an ongoing way, volunteering regularly and building relationships. There are also projects that we can be involved with occasionally, like Habitat for Humanity. We will also be looking for short-term projects that we can do once or twice a year, possibly taking a trip somewhere in Alabama or one of our neighboring states to work with an established organization in a different setting, and for projects that are farther away, possibly international, to participate in once every few years. 

Stewardship and Financial Responsibility

As you know, the vast majority of our income comes from your offerings, though we do have a few other income streams that help us meet our needs, so it wouldn’t seem right of us to expect you to give without letting you know how we are using our resources. Speaking for myself and the finance committee, we are committed to be good stewards of your money and to ensuring that our budget reflects the goals and values of our church. So let me give you a few numbers about our budget.

We are hoping for a 5% increase in giving for 2019.

This year, we’re expecting our total income from offerings to be approximately $250,000. Next year, our goal is to bring that to around $262,500. We are also hoping to implement a few new ideas that might serve as alternative income streams, especially to cover the cost of maintenance for our buildings.

11.29% goes to the Conference.

23.76% goes to the senior minister’s salary, insurance, and other costs.

23.79% goes to other staff.

36.30% goes to the church’s operating costs.

This includes all our utilities and recurring bills, maintenance for the building, insurance, and other monthly expenses. This has been trimmed from 44.74% of 2018’s actual expenditures.

4.87% goes directly to ministries.

This is where things get interesting, because all of our ministries also operate off of special funds which, when included, more than double the allocated funds available to them. So $11,600 out of our 2019 budget is allocated to these programs, but they have another $12,863.09 available through their special funds. 

However, even this is not the end of the story. If you look at the budget, you’ll notice that there appears to be a net income of $39,179.52 after all is accounted for. The reason for this is that we budgeted our expenses for 2019 extremely conservatively, because we are seeking to be fiscally responsible. The expenses listed currently are only our fixed operating costs, which will not go up, and the money it would take to keep our programs at the current level of funding. Essentially, they represent what it would take to maintain our current level of operations. If we do receive the full income listed in the budget, however, the money will be divided between the mortgage, which is still our largest recurring expense, and the ministries, with the vast majority going to the ministries — because our operating costs will not increase, any increase in giving will go directly to programs and ministries.

If we succeed in increasing our giving by 5%, our ministries will account for 15-18% of our budget.

As I said at the beginning of all this, I want this to be the start of a conversation, not the end. Our budget shows us both what is — the basic income we need to keep the lights on and the A/C running — and what could be — well-funded and flexible ministries and programs. I asked last week what we could do if we followed in the footsteps of the Israelites who brought more than enough to build the tabernacle, and this is a way for us to think about that. If we increase our giving by 5%, which is an incredibly modest goal, our budget makes it possible to quadruple the funding for our ministry programs. How amazing would that be? Think about what we could do for our children’s ministry, for our youth, for our worship services, our mission program, and our outreach — there are so many possibilities!

So I thank you again for giving your time to learn about what we’re hoping for and dreaming of in 2019. Come talk to me anytime, please, and let’s think together about how to help our church be faithful. 

Many blessings to each of you,

Rev. Zachary Langer

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