Bill Woods is a Certified Public Accountant who describes himself as “a country boy.” He grew up attending Purley UMC, the church he now represents as a Lay Leadership Fellow with his clergy partner, Rev. Howard James.
When I asked Bill to reflect on the impact of the Fellows program, Bill shared about his own personal development as a leader: “You learn so much about yourself in the first year, and that makes you so much more comfortable as a leader in your church.” In particular, Bill shared that he gained an appreciation for different people with different personalities: “Once you know who you are and why you do some of the things you do, it’s really so much easier when you are dealing with other people to understand where they are coming from. That reduces a lot of the conflict you may have at church.”
Purley UMC is a small church near Yanceyville, North Carolina, just south of the Virginia border. It is a small-town community in what was once known as tobacco country, where everyone knows you and you can count on the church to pull together and offer support when times are tough. When describing his church, Bill comments that, though Purley is small, “that doesn’t mean we don’t do a lot of things.”
And yet, when Bill reflects on some of the ways the Leadership Fellows program has impacted his church, the story he tells is not one of starting a new ministry, but instead of finding the wisdom to know when to take a break.
For the past several years, Purley UMC has hosted a very successful VBS, welcoming over 50 children from the community for an evening program that included dinner for the kids and their parents. For a church with an average worship attendance of 43, this was a huge number of children and families to impact.
The program did not falter or lose popularity. And yet, Bill says, his work with the Fellows program helped them to realize that it was time to take a break. The ministry was a major undertaking and volunteers were getting burned out. Being around other pastors and lay leaders in the Fellows program, and hearing their stories of successes and failures in ministry, helped Bill to see that sometimes even thriving ministries need a Sabbath rest.
It can be so hard to say “no” to a ministry that is, at least on the outside, working well. Yet, Bill’s story reminds me of an important lesson from Donna Sokol and Roger Owens, who led a Day of Learning about church renewal for the Center this past spring. Donna and Roger spoke about “The Pruning Conversation” and how pruning can be one of the most difficult, and yet most important, acts for a church that wants to thrive in an ever-changing context. In short, we prune so that we can grow –– and so that our growth is more intentional.
I, for one, look forward to following Bill and Purley UMC over the coming months and years, to see what new growth will emerge and what new energy will arise as the church re-envisions how best to draw on their strengths to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
~ Josey Bridges Snyder
If you are interested in learning more about the Leadership Fellows program, check out our webpage or reach out to us directly (firstname.lastname@example.org). We’d be happy to answer any questions or put you in touch with one of our many fabulous Fellows or Fellow alums.