Last Spring, in early April, as we, Central United Methodist Church, were beginning our transition in Senior Pastors from Dr. John Robbins to Dr. Jan Davis, I wrote a blog about “First Steps with our New Senior Pastor.” The purpose of that blog was to encourage the congregation to welcome Jan in loving ways, in prayer, and with open arms. I said right away “I have met her, talked with her, and am already inspired by her. We will love her for who she is, a woman of God, sent by God, to do the work of God…We will have faith that God’s will is being done. We will have hope for a bright and powerful future.”
She herself told me “we will walk with Jesus Christ as he guides us to new ministries, step into new friendships, and walk in new joy-filled life-giving relationships.”
In the few short months that Dr. Davis has been at Central a question often asked of her has been “What is your vision for Central?” Before we talk about the process and the vision she has found maybe it would be good to talk about what a church vision can be?
“Visions are about hopes, dreams, and aspirations. They’re about our strong desire to achieve something great. They’re ambitious. They’re expressions of optimism” (Kouzes & Posner, 2002, p.125)…
“When a congregation has found a shared vision through the leadership of a pastor/leader whom they trust, they will make tremendous personal sacrifices to support him/her in making the vision a reality. It is the responsibility of leaders to see the possibilities of the future and to provide a positive climate for members to engage in unfolding, refining, and sharing that vision together. Only then will a distinct and inspiring shared vision emerge .”(Kouzes & Posner,2002, p. 131).
Sounds like a pretty tall order. But in her first ninety days as senior pastor Dr. Jan Davis has discerned, through “countless conversations and time listening and learning,” and in so many other ways, God’s Vision for Central. You can find her entire article about her work in the latest quarterly journal. But what I want to do here is give you a sense of how all encompassing this magnificent vision is. And through these thoughts we will see Jan truly is a gift from God.
With her we are refreshing our memories of who we, as Central United Methodist, really are. First, we remember we are a church of distinctive Evangelical Wesleyan Theology born of and continued through a long history of vital ministry. We are ever striving in making Christ Central to Life. Both laity and staff leadership are gifted and committed. In the last three years we have built on these talents and commitment to create two thriving campuses, U of A Wesley and Genesis. We are faithful in our giving and responsible in our finances.
But we do not and should not, rest on our successes. We also learn from Dr. Davis that we will continue to move forward in strengthening our connections, deepening our discipleship, and planning for the future.
How do we do this? Jan Davis says we will engage in “Holy Conversations” around our unique identify: Who are we? Who is our neighbor? What is God calling us to do at this age and stage? What are God’s dreams for our congregation?
In light of those conversations we will reestablish the priorities of our strategic plan. The United Methodist Church is a “connectional” church whose connectionism is mirrored at Central. We are connecting through attendance systems, communication, worship venues, and welcoming newcomers, openly, transparently. We will deepen our levels of commitment and engagement of our members using their spiritual gifts to serve and lead. In fact, for Central there are a whole bunch of “we wills” with us and ahead of us.
- We will build on our discipleship and strengthen lay leadership.
- We will reinforce our education programing and create two tiers in our worship and education classes so that families can attend both education and worship on Sunday mornings.
- We will continue to enhance our classic music program, upgrade our organ, musical equipment, and venues as needed. We will build children and youth music programs and encourage their presence in classic worship. And, we will keep contemporary contemporary using a creative team for worship and technology and screens. (We won’t leave out the children!)
- We will identify, develop, and train staff and new leaders now and for the future. Does Central have a Leadership Institute in the wings that can assist and train other Methodist Churches in Arkansas and possibly elsewhere who might need some assistance in the future? We can do this and this vision will help develop character and spiritual depth, teach the teacher, and empower and commission leaders.
- We will not forget to invest in our staff so that we can continue to employ those with character, competence, and chemistry. We will continue to pursue an interactive and creative team environment, working toward longevity and investing in key people, valuing and appreciating all. We will meet the challenges and celebrate the successes, our campuses staying connected through prayer, support, and accountability.
- We will enhance our ministries of prayer, healing, faith giving, missions, midweek events, awareness, children, youth, students, and older adult ministry.
As I wrote this blog I also looked back at a previous blog I had written last January called “Note to Self: Crossroads.” It was published shortly before we knew John Robbins was leaving us and moving on to a new church. But much of what I wrote then about Central’s history and how that could influence our future still applies today. I said:
“Each step of your growth presented a kind of crossroads. Each time you decided to move forward. Each time you viewed your growth as a way to reach out and witness for Christ and salvation. You have become the largest United Methodist congregation in Arkansas. Your impact potential is tremendous. The question you will be considering soon is whether what you have done is enough or do you act true to your DNA?
Central, you cannot be surprised that a growing church like you must, as you have always done in the past, face the needs of that growth. Each step of the way you have done so. Each time you have kept your eyes on the future, dedicated most of all to fulfilling your mission, that of “Making Christ central to life for the people of Northwest Arkansas and around the world.” (Based on Matthew 28:19-20).
Finally, Central, never allow yourself to become one of those churches who, when they are old, talk about how they missed their chances.”
The Vision before us under Dr. Jan Davis is challenging but exciting and ready for a tremendous impact on each of us, our neighbors, and around the world.
“Only as high as I reach can I grow, only as far as I seek can I go, only as deep as I look can I see, only as much as I dream can I be.” Karen Raun.
Central United Methodist Church
 Dr. Jan Davis, “God’s Vision for Central, “THE REVIEW, Central UMC (2016).