Day of Discernment Good 'Tension'


By Tamica Smith Jeuitt, Senior Communications Specialist, Mississippi Conference

Photo right: Several clergy and laity described the meeting space at Hal and Mal's as fitting and comfortable.
Photo below right: The Rev. Rick Williams, seen far right, led a prayer circle with Rev. Bowen Bridges nearby.
Photo at the very bottom, right: Maudie Benton of Wesley UMC of Kosciusko was one of the few lay persons attending the day of discernment. 

Two days after the Hal and Mal's Restaurant and Brewery hosted a battle of the bartenders, United Methodists from across Mississippi moved into the space for a day of discernment. Having a closed bar in the room, did not bother Karen Geddie, who is a lay member of the Mississippi Annual Conference.

"That doesn't matter. That is not what we are here for. I think it is very exciting to have this many people here that are interested in growing," said Geddie.
Roughly 50 people -- majority clergy -- came out to hear presentations on leadership gifts for revitalizing and planting churches.  The Rev. Dr. Michelle Chaney, director of Phemi Leadership, led the discussion on church revitalization. She said she anticipated there would be some push back from some participants. One person wanted her to provide a number that Chaney considered a vital congregation. Chaney's bottom line response, there is not a number, "What is vital for the kingdom of God?" 

"People want a model. They want a frame work. The challenges we have in terms of pastoral leadership is that we made pastors very comfortable with just-tell me what to do and I will just do it, versus the creative energy that is truly leadership, which says -- here is a challenge and how do I want to attack the challenge. So, that tension, I love because that means people are really thinking," said Chaney.

Rev. Dr. Michelle Chaney 
She also urged clergy to speak up and tell their district superintendents about their vision and what they feel are their gifts to the church. The Rev. Cynthia Cross, superintendent for the Hattiesburg District, was one of several Mississippi Conference district superintendents sitting in the meeting. 

"We are looking for those who want to try the new things. We are eager to receive them. So, we won't be quick to push back because that is what we are looking for and I believe it's not only going to come from our young clergy, but some of our older clergy," said Cross.

Pastor Rick Williams of Lifespring UMC in Southaven, said he's been in church revitalization all of his life -- moving his current church from about five to roughly 80 worshipers on Sunday.

"For the first time I think we are hearing someone in authority say that it (revitalization) is not a program we need, but it is actually identifying people that we need and the situation that they need to be in. The process she (Chaney) describes is very good and right on target. The fact she would not reduce it to steps or to a method is very good. It is context and it is patience."  
Rev. William Chaney Jr. 

Church Planting
The Rev. William Chaney Jr., a Path 1 new church strategist for the Southeastern Jurisdiction of The United Methodist Church (also Michelle Chaney's spouse) lectured on church planting. He asked participants, "What does new church look like?" The consensus of the group was -- new church comes in many forms because church can take place anywhere. 

This belief was the reason the conference's faith community formation committee held the gathering at Hal and Mal's.

Chaney said "our best church planters are not in the church" and advised the group to engage "outsiders." His presentation involved the characteristics of church planters and quotes from some successful planters.

One planter said, "If you are afraid of risk taking strategies, or you don't like asking people for money, you might not be a church planter." Chaney also said youth leaders make good planters. 

He explained, that they have experience gathering, organizing and developing small groups to meet specific needs of the community. new church pastors have to engage people in the community -- in small groups -- to spread the vision, disciple and organize ministries in preparation for a new church launch.
Youth pastors have experience raising funds and developing partners to put on events. They are constantly developing youth leadership and adult leadership. This translates well into developing leadership for a new church.

Also, youth pastors are often self-motivated and work independently without a lot of supervision. New church planters often have to build a team, communicate the vision, and move the team to complete interdependent tasks that are a part of a larger project.

The Rev. Wayne Hill of Crossroads UMC in Senatobia is a former youth leader who agreed with Chaney's comments. Hill also added he was about 10 weeks into a church plant and Chaney's guidance would have been helpful when he started.

"It would have helped me just to get some clarification and some direction so these guys who are here getting into the process, this is tremendous for them," said Hill.

Those sensing a call to planting or revitalizing churches email your name and contact information to Jane Horstman at To receive tips, updates and details on events pertaining to the new church starts and church revitalization, text  "faithcommunity" to the number 95577.

The Mississippi Conference office of faith community formation organized the day of discernment. Visit for more information about its work.  To read additional information about Path 1, visit For facts about Phemi Leadership, click here.