With ocean views and sunny skies welcoming them on a Monday afternoon, over thirty pastors and staff from the Conference’s larger churches met at Wrightsville Beach for a time apart in February, 2018. They were there to give thought to discipleship as a means for navigating conflict and denominational challenges facing the Methodist Church. The Rev. Jim Harnish, a (retired) pastor, author, and teacher, led the retreat for the Center for Leadership Excellence. For decades, Harnish’s writings and ministry have focused on discipleship. He has written A Disciple’s Path, Make a Difference: Following Your Passion and Finding Your Place to Serve, and over twenty other books about spirituality and stewardship, as well as devotional studies.
Speaking from a position of hope, Harnish’s message was rooted in several concepts from Tom Bolsinger’s book, Canoeing in the Mountains: Christian Leadership in Uncharted Territory, which states that as Christian leaders we “were trained for a world that is disappearing.” We need to use fresh approaches as we lead the church and navigate our current contexts differently. As one pastor commented, “maybe the chaos keeps us on our toes.” Harnish suggested and encouraged churches to focus their purpose on building and growing more disciples, and to move from educational-based learning to disciple-growing.
Harnish illustrated that we are on a journey of Christian perfection, a lifelong process. As disciples, we are called to engage actively in making other disciples, not for our own good but, of course, for the transformation of the world.
During the time together, Harnish fostered small group sharing by asking leaders to explore who nurtured their faith lives and helped to form them in the Christian faith. Highlighting the spirituality of ministry, Sabbath Living Director Dr. Rev. Guy Brewer and Sabbath Living leaders incorporated centering times of worship, developing space for reflection and prayer. And yes…there was time for a walk on the beach.
Harnish left the group with seven guiding points for succeeding in the long haul of ministry:
1. Remember Your Call
2. Live Deeply
3. Learn to Pray
4. Stay Healthy
5. Go Together—Connection is Relational
6. Keep Laughing
7. Follow Hopefully