By Woody Woodrick
Having four areas of focus in the United Methodist Church is fine, but how do churches turn these goals into practical ministry?
That’s what Trans4mation is all about. The event precedes this year’s Annual Conference and seeks to offer several workshops that will offer ways for churches to be in ministry centered on the four foci. The foci are:
• Developing principled leaders for the church and the world
• Creating new places for new people by starting congregations and renewing existing ones
• Engaging in ministry with the poor
• Stamping out killer diseases by improving health globally
The event is scheduled for June 11-12 at the Jackson Convention Complex in Jackson. The event is free, but meals are not included. Trans4mation is also open to the community.
To register on-line, visit www.mississippi-umc.org/trans4mation or call the conference office at 601-354-0515 ext. 28 or 866-647-7486.
Among those leading workshops is the Rev. Rudy Rasmus of St. John’s United Methodist Church in downtown Houston, Texas. Rasmus, a local pastor, who not only turned around his own life but that of an urban church. St. John had nine members when he and his wife Juanita, who is co-pastor, arrived. Now it has some 9,000 members.
Despite being a declining area, Rasmus had no doubt St. John was the place for him. “We got to the property and literally had to step over people to get through the door... There were homeless people everywhere,” Rasmus said in a 2008 interview with the Michigan Chronicle. “I said ‘baby, this is the place.’ To know in a moment that your entire life has evolved for this purpose, that’s what I knew. As I looked around initially, I felt that I was there to really work through my redemption process. All of the people there were victims of the same societal ills I promoted through most of my business life.”
The Rasmus family went to work at St. John’s and in the surrounding neighborhood. They rebuilt the church and reached out to the kinds of people most often forgotten by society: the homeless, the addicted and the impoverished. Dealing with many who were mentally ill, had addictions or were afflicted with AIDS, the church offered hot showers.
Before long “Pastor Rudy,” as he is called, and Juanita Rasmus founded Bread of Life, Inc., which feeds 7,000 men and women monthly. They eventually added Daybreak Community Health Facility, which provides rehabilitation for drug addicts and AIDS patients. St. John’s Academy for the inner city’s at-risk children and Touch 1 followed suit.
“The biggest misconception many people have about homeless people is that they’re lazy... There is no way you can be lazy and survive the streets,” said Rasmus (right). “(The streets are) harsh, cold and brutal. Imagine this: You don’t have any money; you don’t have any resources; everything you own is with you and you’re literally moving your apartment every day. That is not a lazy person’s practice. A lazy person is a person who has resources and doesn’t use them.”
“(St. John) has an incredible lay-centered ministry that was transformed from a small church to a mega church because it took seriously the command to make disciples,” said the Rev. Steve Casteel, Mississippi Conference director of connectional ministries. “This is a model we can look at where they are doing what we’re talking about.”
Other speakers include Chris Lahr, Steve Sjogren and others. Workshop leaders include general church, board agency leaders and Mississippi laity and clergy.
Casteel said the goal was to have workshop leaders who are passionate about their ministry. “We wanted people who began with their personal stories,” he said. “When God is transforming you in your life, it’s going to ripple out and effect those living with you in your life.”
Sjogren launched the Vineyard Community Church in Cincinnati, Ohio, in 1985 with 37 people. Under his leadership, the dynamic congregation grew to more than 6000 in average attendance. From the onset VCC had a strong emphasis on servant evangelism, small groups, church planting and caring for the needy. Following a medical accident in 1997 and during his recovery, Sjogren (left) became the launching pastor. Through the years the church planting internship program and Sjogren’s coaching efforts have produced several dozen successful church plants. Sjogren is currently focused on writing, speaking and mentoring church planters. Sjogren’s passion for evangelism, church planting and leadership development is reflected in his writing.
In 2007 Sjogren and his wife, Janie, began the launch of their fifth church planting adventure in the greater Tampa, Fla., area. Sjogren’s first book, Conspiracy of Kindness (Vine Books, 1993), has gained attention across a broad base of church leaders as an effective and creative approach to sharing the love of Christ. 101 Ways to Reach Your Community is a “cookbook” of projects and practical guide to getting started with servant evangelism.
Lahr (right) works as a recruiter and academic director for Mission Year, which is a program that provides people ages 18 and older the opportunity to live in intentional community and serve in an urban center. Lahr graduated from Eastern University and Asbury Theological Seminary. Lahr and his family have lived in Philadelphia since 2000. They moved to Philadelphia, Pa., to join an intentional community called “the simple way.”
He attends church at Iglesia del Barrio (Church of the Neighborhood) in Kensington (a neighborhood in Philadelphia). He preaches frequently there and is involved in their youth program.
Lahr speaks on topics ranging from God’s heart for the poor, Jesus, the kingdom of God, community, hospitality, racism and white identity and embracing the “least of these.” He often shares his faith journey as well as nuggets of wisdom that he has gleaned from Mother Teresa and Tony Campolo, among others.