Reaching Out in Mission to the Unchurched
by Elliott Wright
Leawood, KS, Nov 20, 2007 -- The Rev. Adam Hamilton sees the New Testament Book of the Acts of the Apostles unfolding in Eurasia today as The United Methodist Church plants congregations in an expanse covering 11 times zones.
The Rev. Hamilton and the Church of the Resurrection, which he pastors, are deeply involved in the Russia Initiative of the General Board of Global Ministries, the international mission agency of the denomination. Rev. Hamilton was host pastor for the 13th Consultation of the Russia Initiative, held at his church on Nov. 15-17.
One common link between the Russia Initiative and the Church of the Resurrection is that both emphasize outreach to unchurched people. Like the young church in Acts, both the Kansas congregation and the church in Russia deal primarily with new Christians; neither is interested in pulling people away from other churches.
The mission statement of the Church of the Resurrection could also serve The United Methodist Church in Russia and all Eurasia: "To build a Christian community where non-religious and nominally religious people are becoming deeply committed Christians."
The Church of the Resurrection began 17 years ago with four people gathered in a funeral home -- hence its name. Today it has 14,000 members. The current United Methodist Church in Russia began 15 years ago with five congregations and today has 106, with six more in the planning stages. While the members of the Church of the Resurrection outnumber the United Methodists in Eurasia, both have a sense of being on the cutting edge of faith.
In his address to the consultation, Bishop Hans Växby of Moscow, who leads the Eurasia Episcopal Area, likened the experience of congregations under his care to that of the early churches to which the Apostle Paul wrote his letters: young churches seeking the path toward maturity (see "United Methodism in Russia Today")
Hamilton and teams from the Church of the Resurrection have been particularly active in providing leadership training for clergy and lay leaders in Russia. The successful ministry in suburban Kansas City is based on a clear understanding of the role and nature of leadership in the church.
A widely read author, Hamilton gave a four-minute mini-course on "The Leadership Challenge" during the 13th Russia Initiative Consultation. The course is usually a three-day event.
Pivotal in his approach is clarity about the tasks of a leader, who, if effective, shares vision, sets goals, develops plans, and motivates and inspires members.
Church leadership, says Hamilton, is based on three principles, the first of which is to "change, innovate, improve, or die" as a congregation or organization.
The second principle involves a discipleship "pyramid" with four levels of church membership participation or commitment. The top two levels are composed of the most committed members. These top levels, said Hamilton, are the ones to which leaders give the most attention, ignoring the two lower levels of the not-so-committed, as well as people who are totally outside the pyramid. "Jesus spent most of his time with those in the bottom categories and reached out beyond the pyramid," he stated.
The pastor reminded the consultation that the average age of United Methodist Church members is 57 and that the number of people in Sunday schools has plummeted over the last three decades. The obvious implication is the need to move outside the familiar territory to reach new generations of United Methodists.
Hamilton believes that The United Methodist Church in both the United States and Eurasia can learn things about how to appeal to people from the large, independent, often Pentecostal congregations growing in both places. "We don't have to accept their theology or give up ours to benefit from their examples," he said.
The third principle of leadership he called "discernment by nausea," meaning that when two possible ministry choices can be made, "you should always take the hardest, the one that makes you sick."
Commitment to Jesus Christ, integrity, love, perseverance, servanthood, and excellence are Hamilton's six characteristics of effective church leaders. Hamilton has no patience with pastors of large churches who become superstars expecting to be pampered and celebrated. "Pastors are servants," he declared.
Vibrant congregations will have these characteristics:
In regard to mission, Hamilton said that a congregation that is focused solely on itself is "unhealthy."
"A heart for unchurched people" is also essential in mission and in effective leadership for a church faithful to Jesus Christ, Hamilton concluded.
*Elliott Wright is information officer of the General Board of Global Ministries.
Date posted: Nov 21, 2007