In my appointments in ministry thus far, I have found the congregations often suffer from a lack of focus. Unfortunately, in my experience, churches fall into assuming that being busy = being faithful. Churches get caught up in so many “good causes” that I am afraid we end up missing the mark related to following our specific calling. I have heard it said and find it to be true that often the enemy of the best can be the good. At the church I currently serve we have recognized this problem, and have spent much time prayerfully seeking God’s direction related to God’s vision for our church in order to try to align ministries with God’s vision and thus be more focused. We want God’s vision to direct and drive what we do, and we want to be true to who God calls us to be.
Being who we are called to be as a church is especially important related to our church facility’s location. Within a couple of miles of our church building are 4 of the largest churches in Knoxville. We are considerably smaller, but sometimes folks in our congregation feel pressured to try to “keep up” with these other churches. It’s important that we see that we are not in competition with the other churches nor are we called to be those other churches. We must remain focused on our own mission statement and God’s vision for us.
Our mission statement at Middlebrook Pike UMC, drawn from the UM Book of Discipline, reads, “To be and make disciples of Jesus Christ.” At Middlebrook Pike UMC, we emphasize discipleship in terms of forming people to be engaged disciples–engaged in growth through worship, through study/small group involvement, and through service in the church and in the world. Thus, we seek to make spiritual formation at the heart of all we do.
Related to spiritual formation, we are currently undergoing a culture change by seeking to align all areas of ministry with our emphasis on discipleship/forming people in Christlikeness. One key component of this process is our use of The Apprentice Series by Pastor and Professor James Bryan Smith. This series includes three books dealing with theology (narratives–the goal is to replace false narratives we’ve acquired along life’s journey with the narratives of Jesus and when this happens, transformation can happen), spiritual disciplines (the series seeks to encourage participants to implement “soul-training” or spiritual disciplines to their everyday lives to bring transformation), and community (engagement in community is seen as essential to transformation into Christlikeness).
I am very excited to be a part of what God is doing at Middlebrook Pike UMC. It is challenging at times because of pressure focus on worship attendance and membership numbers. Along these lines, we realize that having an increased focus on discipleship could potentially lead to declining numbers. However, thus far we have sensed excitement with people hungering for more depth in terms of discipleship. Just yesterday, in fact, we celebrated 16 new members joining our church! That’s just a glimpse into what is happening at Middlebrook Pike United Methodist Church in Knoxville, Tennessee.
[The Reverend Josh Kilbourne serves as Associate Minister of Middlebrook Pike United Methodist Church in Knoxville, TN. His advanced theology degree is from Duke Divinity School. Josh and his wife, Callie, also hold degrees from Emory & Henry College. ]