Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve - Sadness and Redemption

Today is Christmas Eve. Through sleet and frozen rain I drove two hours to receive the remains of my dad from the crematorium. It was a sad drive on the bleakest of days. In a cold, gray, wet and freezing parking lot I exchanged my signature for a small box of what remains on earth of Leroy Adams. I wept.

On the way to the destination I listened to the radio. Commercials urged me to spend more money I don’t have on unnecessary junk I don’t need and I felt stress levels increase. Flipping to talk radio, I heard various versions of how rotten the liberals are or how rotten the conservatives are and got the sense that the world is full of rotten people. News stations unveiled all the reasons to despair over issues economic, environmental, political and military. Music stations pounded out tunes about how promiscuity and vacuous partying would certainly bring happiness but each song sounded gratuitously silly.

I began the journey grieving more deeply over the loss of my dad and with each passing mile found myself feeling more acutely sad.
Then I remembered – it’s Christmas Eve!

I rummaged through my little pile of CD’s and dug out a Christmas CD by a Celtic Christian group called the Crossing. As I heard in song deep and melodious truths about God’s love expressed to humankind through the miracle of incarnation my heart was again strangely warmed. Though I continued the drive to receive the ashes of my father, and the task was not one that brought joy, I felt nonetheless a deep sense of hope. Redemption of the moment came through refocus upon Jesus, through whom all things are created, and who emptied himself of everything to give His life and victorious salvation to all who would receive his gift of love.

Contrary to all the messages of despair and false gaiety a broken world leaks into modern consciousness – mine included – Christ does give real hope. Last Sunday in church my wife and I sang an “O Holy Night” with the church’s rock band and one line of great truth leapt from the song – “His law is love his gospel peace.”

I experienced this “law of love and gospel of peace” deeply on this “O Holy Night” – Christmas Eve in a cold parking lot with a box of sad remains.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Tell a Good Christmas Story

Dear Friends of the North Central Conference,

Tell the Christmas story well – it makes a difference.

People need stories today. We live in an era so full of accessible facts and information and lies and misinformation that discerning between true and false is very difficult. Most people make only a halfhearted attempt to do so. Multiple “truths” are held with little sense of discomfort for Americans. Clutching to the so called “truths” of forwarded email factoids, recycled rumors and cultural myths have taken on a level of misapplied importance. The primary topic of casual conversation among Americans are movies and television shows, with the virtual lives of others taking precedence over the real lives we live. Many of us are tied into social networking via the web and cellular technology to the degree that we know more about our friends and family who live states or nations away than we do about the flesh and blood people with whom we eat, sleep, dwell and maybe with whom we pray.

In such a time as this, the power of story and image speaks to the heart and grabs the mind more than a set of propositions or attempts at establishing an historic or scientific fact. Bishop David Roller during the recent Re-Imagine Church Events challenged Free Methodists everywhere to grasp the power of story-telling – especially the story of God. You know the story of Bethlehem well and do not need me to tell you how to tell the story. But let me encourage you to tell the story of the Most High King who so loved the world that he chose empty himself of everything in order to woo his spiritual bride that had been blind to his passion and care. The story of single teen woman who believed an angel told her the most amazing secret, and how she and the man who open-heartedly became her husband overcame tremendous difficulty in following God’s call on their lives to bring a child of salvation and hope to every human being.

Stories matter when people either have no facts or are so inundated by them that they are virtually meaningless. Let me tell the tale of how a story changed our culture.

Once upon a time, in the high middle ages (1000-1300 AD) a real social problem existed. Nobles were ignoble. Noble violence was the rule of the day. War, rape and pillaging were considered the right and normal practice of the “Lords” at the time. Peasants were target practice. Early “knightly” tournaments were money grabs, in which the death of an opponent was not the goal but it was not bad, either. When an opponent was incapacitated or murdered all of the gold, equipment and sometimes people in his possession were taken as loot. The fights were not held in a sport’s field, but fought in the streets of towns, and taken to the farmland and homes of peasants, which were often burned to force confrontation. The collateral damage to food, property, buildings and lives were part of the daily stress of the “dark ages.”

At the urging of bishops, many kings tried to outlaw the practices and contain the violence, but to no avail. The church attempted many times to create ecclesiastic laws that listed the “do nots” for nobles, but these were ignored. The law and church rules could not change the plague of violence. But the plague did change, and it was the church which created the environment for change.

Priests and clerics decided to tell stories that inspired new behavior instead of listing rules and making threats of damnation. Church leaders began to write about a code of honor called Chivalry. They told stories of nobles and knights who used their power and military prowess to defend the weak, to protect the peasant, to honor and love rather than use women. These stories were told, not read, as most nobles and certainly most peasants did not read. Around campfires, in the courts of nobles, in the churches, in the streets, people began to tell tales of noble Christian behavior.

In 1000 AD to be a noble was to be ignoble, a professional murderer and thief who controlled others through fear and force. By 1300 AD the idea of being noble took on a different meaning, with a majority of knights and nobles – still violent people by nature and trade – seeking to help others as a matter of conscience and pride. Tournaments were outlawed or altered so that weapons were blunted and activity occurred in a defined region to prevent damage to peasants and townsfolk. The idea of true devotion by a man to a woman became not a romantic notion but a reality for many.

The culture had changed because the church learned to tell a story. Does our culture need reform? It will not likely occur through new laws or churches who articulate well lists of do and don’t. What if we began to imagine and tell the story, however, of life grabbed by the purpose and overflow of love and dignity that God initiated in a manger 2000 years ago?

Once upon a time in Bethlehem. . .

Sunday, November 29, 2009

North Central Christmas Connections

When the King of Glory incarnated on earth He chose Bethlehem. Angelic pomp mingled with but peasant circumstance to usher in Christmas. The same pomp and circumstance can characterize our celebration today. Free Methodists empowered by the Spirit to proclaim the good news still find modern shepherds to point toward Christ. North Central Conference congregations still identify with the poor and bring the power of presence and presents (gold, frankincense and myrrh?) into their lives. Christian families everywhere might rest in the simple grace of God instead of unaffordable glitz.

Modern shepherds are hard working men and women who barely make a living wage and would tend to believe “the walls of the church would cave in if ever I were to enter.” God cared enough for these people living on the edge that he reserved heavenly pomp for their eyes only that first Christmas. As our churches focus on “Bringing Jesus” to their communities, the Spirit of Christmas would be honored if our best were invested on communicating the hope, peace and joy of Jesus to those outside of the church.

Many NCC congregations do this well. Resolution Church in Naperville, IL (Pastors Mark Davenport, Erick and Bekki Ewaskowitz) has focused its energy on providing high-quality and attractive worship and preaching with modern shepherds in mind and see people coming to Christ for the first time each month. In Austin, Minnesota, intentional invitations to immigrants of many cultures create growth surges for the Bethlehem Free Methodist Church (Pastors David Martin and Mike Cogswell) and the Betel FMC (Pastor Federico Rivera) as people on the edge find a loving, spiritual home. Prisoners are finding freedom in Christ through many Pastors and congregation in our connection who lead and support jail ministries, such as the Heritage FMC in Burlington, IA (Pastors Wayne Ryan and Wendell McCombs), Richland Center FMC, WI (Pastors Jim Berlin and Pedro Gomez), True Worshipers in Madison, WI (Pastor Larry Jackson), St. Charles FMC in IL (Pastor Derin Fowler) and many more.

NCC churches that may desire bring their gold, frankincense and myrrh to Jesus this Christmas can do so in many ways. Jesus said when we do something for the “least of these” we do it to Him. Significant NCC ministries that exist to serve the poor, addicted, elderly and children in need are Olive Branch Mission (Chicago, IL) and Woodstock Christian Life Services (Woodstock, IL). Congregations may want to live in the spirit of Bethlehem through taking an offering for these NCC ministries. You can connect directly with them (or send a contribution to them through the NCC office):

Olive Branch Mission, 773-948-3004,
Woodstock Christian Life Services, 815-334-6200,

Unaffordable glitz – the mainstay of American Christmas celebrations – can be avoided. Worshiping God and spending time with family and friends trumps wrapping paper around yet another unnecessary item. Still, even as we choose to give as a reflection of the gift God bestowed upon us, you may choose to do so with meaning. Several Free Methodist ministries allow you to purchase great gifts for others while benefiting the poor and needy around the world. You can do so by buying from Jinja Jewelry (connected with Emmanuel FMC in Janesville, WI), SEED and Heavenly Treasures. Check them out:

Jinja Jewelry –
Heavenly Treasures –

When the King of Glory incarnated on earth He chose Bethlehem. We live into this divine decision when we choose as churches and individual believers to love and care for those who live on the edge today. How are we going to live in the spirit of Bethlehem?

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Constructing a New Church Building?

Dear North Central Conference Friends,

Church buildings say a lot about the congregation which assembles and serves from that facility. According to Mark Waltz (First Impressions, Creating Wow Experiences in Your Church, Group Publishing, 2004), people will make a decision about your church within the first 10 minutes of arrival. People with a well-cultivated sense of Christian hospitality and intentionally gracious behavior can make up for a lot of wear and tear on a facility. Still, the facility does matter.

The Emmanuel Free Methodist Church (Pastor Dan Grimes) built a new facility in Janesville, Wisconsin. The large church building is well designed with an attractive entrance, a multi-use sanctuary that features excellent media capabilities and family-style seating and bright spaces for ministry to children and youth. Walking into this new church the first impressions are quite good. Thoughts that come to mind are contemporary, family-oriented, quality and relevant.

Several NCC congregations have recently made significant improvements to their facility, or moved to a new facility. LifePointe Church (Tiffin, IA, Pastor Randy Reed), only two years old, has moved from its meeting place in a local movie theater (a pretty cool venue) into a building that is more suited for its ministry goals. The Fillmore FMC (MN, Pastor Mike Hopper) built a new facility a few years ago that provides without question the finest church building within a 20 mile radius. Fairly new construction can be found at the Free Methodist Church in LaFarge, Wisconsin (Pastor Mark Phillips), including a new community skate park for Kickapoo Valley youth. There are many more.

Kevin Costner dreamed, "If we build it they will come." That was fiction. Often they will. Emmanuel and LifePointe both have seen a significant increase in attendance since making their moves. Yet these congregations were growing, healthy churches with clear vision and plans to reach their community with the gospel and built as part of a clear strategy to fulfill God’s vision for the church. A church which is struggling internally, is not experiencing church growth, lacks a healthy vision or strategic plan should not consider building or making significant renovations. Building projects can create extraordinary stress, and if there is not significant unity over why a new building is necessary such a project will likely do more harm than good.

Consider these questions before building. Is the church really short of space? Multiple services are often a better and much more cost effective solution to space issues. Does the church have the property to accommodate new construction and the necessary additional parking? Is there a true ministry need that cannot be met via existing facilities? Are the facilities so worn or in such disrepair that they are no longer functional? How supportive are the leaders and stakeholders (which include your community) of expansion or new construction? How does the financial health of the congregation allow for the project? Have professional planners, denominational leaders, and appropriate specialists been consulted? Above all is God clearly at work in the midst of your church? How have you seen the Holy Spirit preparing the way, leading to growth and expansive vision for ministry that would necessitate a new building?

As a movement with 150 years of history, it is no surprise that many NCC facilities are very old, often surpassing their centennial mark. Some buildings are donated homes tucked into a neighborhood corner and well out of community site. Some have nurseries or restrooms or children’s ministry space that either still have decor from 1960 or are in poor repair or a poor location that say to families, "this church will not care for the safety or well being of my children." Certainly first impressions are compromised and long term ministry opportunities may be hindered. Jesus made it clear that even the very Temple of Jerusalem, construction which God required, was temporary.

If you believe God is leading you to consider building or expanding, there are some good FMC and NCC resources available. Check out the self-select coaching page ( and note the availability of coaches who can assist with thinking through building projects. Call one of the pastors mentioned in this article. While the NCC Loan Fund has presently loaned out funds to capacity, we anticipate that more loan funds will be available mid-2010. The Free Methodist Foundation is a good resource for expansion or construction funding. You may wish to check out such web sites as,,, and Your ministry team considering construction or expansion would benefit from visiting a local congregation that may have recently gone through a building and gaining insight from their perspectives. Visit some of the excellent NCC facilities and learn from the experiences of your peers who have been successful in doing what it takes to make a great first impression.

"You are like livings stones, being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood..." (1Pt.2.5)

Your servant,
Superintendent Mark

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Life Long Learning and the NCC

School is back in session. Many churches are launching major initiatives to reach children through Sunday educational initiatives. Teaching Biblical truths is a core function of the great commission, “... and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you...” (Matthew 28:20).

Learning must be a way of life for all us! All of the time! The best educated pastors and church members must be on a quest for lifelong learning or we grow stagnant, dry up, and cease to be of value as salt and light in the world. Benjamin Titus Roberts said:

Years ago we said to the most solid genius we ever knew, “You ought to study more.” What shall I study?” he replied, like a know-it-all. For many years then the church needed his services the most, when his influence might have extended itself broadly, he hid from people and dried up. The ocean stays full by thousands of rivers flowing into it. The richest soil maintains its productiveness by absorbing fertility from the earth, water and air. The mind, even the one most richly endowed by nature, must take in new supplies of mental food, or it will gradually lose its grasp and power.

Many followers of Christ in the modern era believe they are too busy to read or attend seminars or stretch to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ. Many preachers, whose profession involves helping people understand new and complex truths as they intersect with modern realities and daily life, believe they are too busy to read or attend seminars. Yet, it does not take long, as B.T. Roberts suggests, for even the best and brightest to dry up and lose energy and power if they are not filling up with new truths and deeper understanding on a regular basis.

The North Central Conference and Free Methodist Church works hard to invest in providing training and resourcing for pastors and congregations. The following are resources we provide to enrich, equip and train pastors and congregations. It is the sincere hope of NCC leadership that these opportunities to “study, to show yourself approved to God, a workman that needs not be ashamed” will help congregations grow increasingly healthy and pastors to increasingly become even more so “bold, apostolic leaders.”

Many of these excellent training events are coming up in September and October. Plan now to get re-energized and filled up with equipping that is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent and praiseworthy!

Monthly District LEAD Meetings for pastors.
NCC Coaching for all new pastors. (see
NCC self-select coaching for all pastors who desire growth.
NCC revitalization planning focused upon vision and NCD coaching.
NCC growth resources available on the web at
NCC International Bible Institute
NCC Apollos Model Ordination
NCC superintendent blog includes books worth reading.
NCC annual GROW event in each district (check calendar for yours!).
NCC Annual Conference.
NCC Coach Training.
NCC Quarterly Assistant Superintendent Training.
NCC Pastor’s Retreat
NCC camping always includes great equipping for everyone!
FMC Starting Strong pastor’s orientation.
FMC Church Growth Consulting network.
FMC Quarterly Superintendent Training.
FMC Reimagining Church Event with Bishops
(Spring Arbor, MI – Oct 23,24)
(Lawrence, KS – Oct 30, 31)
FMC Light and Life Magazine.
FMC web site (
. . . and so much more!

Denominational staff, conference staff, district leaders and each church provide a wealth of resources for learning and it is all accessible to you! Just ask. Be sure to check the conference calendar at to stay up-to-date on these and many other excellent events and opportunities. When you support the NCC, you support opportunities to better learn how to “plant and grow healthy congregations advanced by boldly apostolic leaders.” This how we are “working synergistically together!” Together – Christ in us – we are “bringing Jesus to the North Central United States.”

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Worship and Flow

Here are a few thoughts on worship and flow.

God raised Moses up to liberate the Hebrews from slavery so that they might worship the Lord. “So Moses and Aaron went to Pharaoh and said to him, "This is what the LORD, the God of the Hebrews, says: `How long will you refuse to humble yourself before me? Let my people go, so that they may worship me...” (Ex.10.3)

God meets with his people in worship, and we respond to the presence of the Holy, Holy, Holy Lord. Through worship we focus upon God for who God is, are consumed by the presence of the Spirit, place our lives into the hands the Redeemer. We sacrifice to the Lord and develop a singular Christ-centered focus. As the Bride of Christ, we romance our beloved, as the children of God we revere our Father, as the servants of God we fulfill our duty.

Healthy worship requires flow. Rick Warren in Purpose Driven Church states one of the most important aspects of worship flow. Chunky, disconnected, poorly planned, us-rather-than-God-focused worship is likely to be tedious and merely endured by the saints or repulsive to those seeking a relationship with the Living Lord.

I’ve come to think of improving worship flow as removing barriers between the stream of the Spirit that flows between God and His worshipers. A river may flow well in as a slow, steady stream or Category 4 white-water rapids. The same river can provide a thrill and gentle beauty throughout the same waterway. However, a tree fall, boulders or pollution littered along the way clog the flow of water, create stagnation or distraction. Worship leader Paul Baloche provides a good way to think of flow at

Free Methodist worship takes many forms, but there are several components that comprise what we refer to as a “worship service.” Worship gives opportunity for: 1) the praise of God through prayer and congregational singing; 2) worshipers to receive insight into the will of God through Scripture reading and preaching; 3) individuals to commit themselves personally to God’s revealed will through calls to commit to Jesus and the sacraments; and 4) to strengthen the dedicated to do the will of God.

We sometimes hinder flow. When a beautiful and moving series of hymns or worship choruses comes to a grinding halt and the pastor immediately announces this week’s pot luck, a tree has fallen into the river. Better to move from worship songs directed to the Lord into prayer or reading of Scripture still directed to the Lord.

When communion is tacked onto a service like an odd appendage without much thought given to the centrality of the cross or the power of community created as people together receive the body and blood of Christ, a boulder has rolled into the stream. Better to intentionally plan how communion either leads to or acts as a response of faith in the gospel (let me challenge my Methodist friends to offer communion at least monthly). When more time is spent getting prayer requests (this focuses on us, not the Lord’s power to answer prayer) than actually praying, blockages in the stream begin to form.

When little care is taken to plan technology or people flow so that screeching microphones distract or visitors are forced to walk to the front seats in the midst of prayer, it is like litter distracting from the beauty of the moment. This may also embarrass the visitor who braved coming to your church this day. A good sound check and well trained ushers help remove such blockages to flow, as does a good crying room or nursery.

Testimonies can be powerful, when coached and planned they work well. On the other hand, when the same person gives the same testimony frequently or a beloved parishioner rambles on about how God helped find the lost cat, or is “led by the Spirit” to denounce the sins of people – flow is significantly disrupted. A planned interview with the pastor, or video testimony can be much more effective. Of course, the Spirit may well interrupt and lead to a healthy Category 5 white-water (rough at times) experience.

If the sermon is an unbiblical rambling about fishing trips or comments on the latest political or pop-psychology controversy it is unlikely that connections between God and the people of God are being made. Just as an athlete is able to carry out the best moves in response to the needs of the game only if she is well practiced, so the preacher will only be able to respond to the prompting of the Spirit with skill and effectiveness if she has studied and prepared for the
moment of preaching.

Take time after the next several worship services to prayerfully reflect with your team or a few folks you trust. Note those moments that seemed to be pregnant with the Spirit, and gave birth to a healthy response from the people. Note those moments that appeared to be pregnant but in which response did not come. When did you sense God was at work, and when did you feel you were going through motions – and why did you feel that way? What aspects of worship drew you into the presence of God, and what things served to distract from that singular focus? If a visitor dropped by, not knowing your church or heart, what would they say was important to your church based upon what they experienced? Would they be drawn closer to God having been with you?

“It is written; ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve Him only.’” Luke 4:9

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Still Bringing Jesus?

One month after Annual Conference 2009 and we continue to ask, “Are we still bringing Jesus?” The core of the NCC vision is to see all of our Free Methodist congregations working together to “Bring Jesus to the North Central United States.”

Our churches must impact the community God has uniquely situated them to serve. Jesus had significant impact by actually loving his community, the people in it, associating with them, and meeting their temporal needs even as he shared an eternal message. In so doing, he associated with the rich (Mtw.27.57) and poor (Mtw.11.5), the powerful (Jn.3.1; 7.50) and powerless (Jn.4.25-27), but had a preference to minister among those who knew they had the deepest of needs to be healed, accepted, given hope and restored – the poor and disenfranchised (Lk.12.32-34). The Jesus model still works.

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world (Jms.1.27). Jesus welcomes into His Father’s kingdom those who feed the hungry, clothe the naked and love the
imprisoned (Mtw.25:31-46). The double helix of Free Methodist DNA is personal and social holiness. As B.T. Roberts was stirred to action to oppose slavery and bring positive social solutions to address the systematic denial of rights, education and opportunity to women and
people of color, so must we embody that DNA today. Every church – whether an area of wealth or poverty, rural or urban, ethnically diverse or homogenous – must understand that its call is not first to its members but to the lost, lonely, disenfranchised, spiritually and materially poor that populate their neighborhoods, towns and regions.

To win one more soul, to gain a gospel hearing, our churches must reorient toward loving their communities through meeting real needs in the name of Jesus Christ, and boldly declaring the eternal life provided by the Son of God. W e are the “body of Christ!” W e must embody Jesus’
passion to love and minister to the real needs of those in each of our cities, towns and villages. In each of the six districts of the NCC, congregations regularly “Bring Jesus” to their community.

What are some of the ways that you and your church have decided to share the good news both in word and deed?

Friday, June 26, 2009

GROW Events Coming Your Way

GROW events are designed to celebrate and equip congregations as we bring Jesus to the North Central United States & beyond! We aim to GROW: Gather, Retool for ministry, Outwardly focus and Worship the living Lord.

As I have traveled the seven-state region of the North Central Conference I note that too many congregations feel isolated from other churches in the Free Methodist Connection. Training is provided in local District Meetings on a regular basis for pastors, but little is provided by the conference for developing lay leaders. A common criticism of Annual Conference is that there is little time to connect personally and get to know people. Too few Free Methodists have an opportunity to see and hear what God is doing through their peers, often in their own backyard.

“Conferencing” – getting together to pray and discuss important issues, learn from and equip one another for ministry – was viewed by John Wesley as a means of grace, and continues to be so. GROW events are designed to provide conferencing in its truest sense, and within a geography and time frame that allows for greater connection between congregations and leaders within the NCC district structures.

GROW events are designed to address these needs. Once a year following Annual Conference, congregations within each district will Gather, Retool, Outwardly focus and Worship together. These meetings are not meant for pastors and delegates alone, but for all within the district who would benefit from and enjoy GROWing together.

GROW Events will include Worship led by district worship teams, time to gather and simply fellowship, preaching by the Superintendent and Assistant Superintendent, seminars and training led by conference and local leadership, open feedback between conference and congregational participations regarding pressing issues of theology and practice (particularly important during years in which General Conference is held), and opportunities to celebrate significant events and achievements led by the Spirit within each district.

The dates for GROW Events are published as part of the NCC Calendar (see website) and as follows:

Team North: October 3, 2009 Metro Chicago: January 23, 2010
Wisconsin: October 10, 2009 S.MN/SD/N.IA: February 13, 2010
Heartland: December 5, 2009 Upstate IL: February 27, 2010

We look forward to seeing you at the GROW event in your district. GROW Events: Celebrating and equipping congregations as we bring Jesus to the North Central United States & beyond!

Monday, May 25, 2009

150 Years of Bringing Jesus

Dear Friends,

Free Methodists in the North Central United States have celebrated 149 Annual Conferences. In just a few weeks, we are about to celebrate our 150th. For 150 years all of the Free Methodist congregations in the North Central United States gather to celebrate the work of God through the churches, find encouragement and equipping to carry out the mission of the church and to elect leaders for the coming year.

The founder of the Methodist movement, John Wesley, believed that conferencing was a “means of grace” akin to prayer and reading the Scriptures. Our annual conferences have their roots in the first conference between Rev. John Wesley and other Methodist preachers held in London in November 1739 with an agreement to continue meeting annually around Ascension Day (late April or May).

The first “Free Methodist” annual conference of sorts was a Laymen’s Convention held in July 1860 in St. Charles, Illinois. In August, a similar convention would take place in Pekin, NY which marks the official founding of the Free Methodist Church. The conference organized Christians who had either been expelled or willingly withdrew from Methodist Episcopal connections over several key issues. Chief among these concerns were the doctrine of entire sanctification (Free Methodists support this doctrine) and slavery (opposed by the Free Methodists). John Wesley Redfield, a Licensed Preacher from Elgin, Illinois, oversaw the services at this Western Annual Conference, assisted by B.T. Roberts and others. Gathered were churches from what we know today as the North Central Conference – Southern Iowa, Missouri, Wisconsin and Illinois. It would not take long after this for Free Methodist churches to be planted and organized in Minnesota and the Dakotas as well.

The primary action taken at this conference is as follows:

“Resolved, That our attachment to the doctrines, usages, spirit, and discipline of Methodism, is hearty and sincere. It is with the most profound grief that we have witnessed the departure of many of the ministers from the God-honored usages of Methodism. We feel bound to adhere to them, and to labor all we can, and to the best possible advantage, to promote the life and power of godliness. We recommend that those in sympathy with the doctrine of holiness, as taught by Wesley, should labor in harmony with the respective churches to which they belong. But when this cannot be done, without continual strife and contention, we recommend the formation of Free Methodist churches. . .”

I note that the North Central Conference is 150 years old. I am not sure why. That is, the Free Methodist Church was officially founded in 1860 so that it seems not possible for the NCC to celebrate 150 years (but rather 149 at best). However, I suspect this is the result of many of the congregations established by Redfield and friends in the Fox River Region. These churches did meet together in 1859. Congregations from places like St. Louis, MO; Elgin, Marengo, Aurora, Woodstock, Quincy, IL; Appleton and Green Bay, WI formed independently with the intention to form under the Discipline of Methodism, and did so with the formation of the new Free Methodist denomination.

Now, 150 years later, what is the state of ground zero for the Free Methodist movement in the Western United States? Redfield went from town to town organizing new Free Methodist Churches. He was not successful everywhere he went, and often frustrated. His letters reflect frustration at severe losses to congregations that had been formed but then shrank back or fell into disunity. However, just as often a revival would set in, hundreds would be saved, many sanctified, churches formed and communities transformed.

The thrust of the early movement was to “promote the life and power of godliness” and the “formation of Free Methodist Churches.” Proclaim the simple gospel. Call for holiness of heart. Working for a just society setting people free from slavery – literal human bondage and destructive addictions that hinder a holy life. It sounds as if these Free Methodists were “Bringing Jesus to the North Central United States through Planting and Growing Healthy Congregations advanced by Boldly Apostolic Leaders...” The question really is...

Are we? Are we still bringing Jesus? Are we still winning souls? Are we still forming new Free Methodist churches? Are we still advocating for and seeing transformed culture and transformed lives?

Pray for the 150th NCC Annual Conference. Pray for Bishop David Kendall, the ministries of the congregations that comprise the NCC, the social service institutions of the conference, the missions work supported by the NCC and the new churches being planted and those yet to be planted. Celebrate “Still Bringing Jesus” at the 150th Annual Conference.


Mark Adams, Superintendent

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Christ IS Risen!

“With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and much grace was upon them all!” Acts.4.33

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead . . . In this you greatly rejoice though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.” 1Pet.1.3

As we celebrate the event which quaked the cosmos, the resurrection of the Lord of Life, glory in the present reality of Abundant Life! Jesus, crucified and dead, risen for all to see, is not merely an event of history. Resurrection is your present reality!

Christ IS risen.

You are alive in Christ! Resurrection is the reason to wake up each day, a form of resurrection in-and-of-itself, and face your struggles and challenges with overpowering optimism because of the victory of Jesus in your life. You are indestructible. What can anyone do to you that can cause true harm when in Christ you live forever? You are an over-comer! What obstacle can be more difficult to overcome than death itself, and in Christ this last great enemy is defeated.

Pope John Paul said, “We are the Easter people and Hallelujah is our song!”
Sing that chorus with conviction - “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow!”

Allow Christ in you to resurrect your love for God.
Allow Christ in you to resurrect your marriage.
Allow Christ in you to resurrect your relationship with your kids.
Allow Christ in you to resurrect your career.
Allow Christ in you to resurrect your church.
Allow Christ in you to resurrect your community.

Christ IS risen.

Supt. Mark

North Central Conference Collage

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Thursday, March 19, 2009

Numbers Added Daily

“And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).

This verse is a delightful and hopeful reflection from Luke regarding the primal Christian church. “Every day the Lord added to their number those being saved.” Wow.

Sometimes we ask, “Why isn’t that happening today”? What’s wrong with the Free Methodist Churches in the North Central United States? We don’t see the Lord adding daily to our number those being saved. Many of our churches seem to struggle from day to day, month to month, year to year reaching out to share the gospel in deed and word yet seem to find the scattered seed repeatedly falling upon rocky, thorny, bird-infested ground.

But listen to this... The 2008 Annual Reports from the North Central Conference show that IN FACT “the Lord [still adds] to their number daily those who were being saved!”

Nearly 4,000 people worshiped Christ in Free Methodist Churches every Sunday in the NCC.
231 youth gave their lives to Jesus in the NCC. Through the ministry God entrusted to YOU!
627 adults gave their lives to Jesus in the NCC. Through the ministry God entrusted to YOU!

That’s nearly 1,000 souls saved last year. Friends, that’s something to write home about.

Just last month, 43 conversions were reported (and 99 discipleship decisions!). In some important ways, God is allowing you to be “Bringing Jesus” to your community!

Consistently, church plants are on the forefront of soul winning. In February, LifePointe (which leads the NCC in conversions this year to date) saw 5 conversions, Resolution Church saw 4, Clinica de Alma, 2 and Betel, 1. For this reason, the NCC must continue to see church planting as JOB #ONE for Kingdom expansion. But many churches regularly see souls won to the kingdom, and then discipled. Here’s the breakdown for February (which does not include “the Chapel at Olive Branch,” a consistently powerful and life-changing ministry):

Motley FMC (MN) ... 8 more souls.
LifePointe FMC (IA) ... 5 more souls.
Wesley FMC (IL) ... 4 more souls.
Resolution (IL) ... 4 more souls.
New Berlin FMC (WI) ... 3 more souls.
Hillside FMC (IL) ... 3 more souls.
New Life FMC (IA) ... 2 more souls.
Lighthouse Fellowship (IA) ... 2 more souls.
Pine Grove FMC (IL) ... 2 more souls.
LaFarge FMC (WI) ... 2 more souls.
Clinica de Alma (MN) ... 2 more souls.
Toddville FMC (IA) ... 1 more soul.
St. Charles FMC (IL) ... 1 more soul.
Peoria First (IL) ... 1 more soul.
New Hope FMC (IA) ... 1 more soul.
Park Street FMC (IA) ... 1 more soul.
Betel FMC (MN) ... 1 more soul.

This is good news. It’s worth shouting from the mountaintop. The overall picture of the Free Methodist Church in the North Central Conference is that the Lord IS adding to our number daily.

Still, there is so much more God wants to do through YOU. In 2008, 25 churches (of 67) did not see the Lord add any to their number. That can’t continue, can it? And while nearly 1,000 people were led to Christ, most of our churches posted no net growth, which may point to inflated numbers, a poor network of discipleship or unhealthy body life that may sometimes repel or bore rather than nurture and inspire new believers. There’s so much more to do! We must improve upon the continued work of “Bringing Jesus to the North Central United States through planting and growing healthy congregations advanced by boldly apostolic leaders working synergistically together.”

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Church Planters - YOU ROCK!!

I am write this on New Year's Eve 2008 to the North Central Conference Church Planters and leaders of churches sponsoring a church plant and assistant superintendents.

As we look across the horizons of time, forward and backward, we can see an important fact. Everything has a beginning and everything has an end. Kingdoms rise and fall. Religious movements blossom, grow, wither and die. When the callous disregard for a biblical view of Christ and discipleship led a few radical preachers and lay people in the mid 19th century to begin to proclaim the good news of Jesus as not merely a fix for eternity, but for a call to radical love and counter-cultural holiness, to call for an end to human slavery and an unbiblical view of gender inequality, they were thrust from the larger group of Methodists and forced to form the Free Methodist movement.

Most of the Free Methodist churches in the North Central Conference had their genesis in church planting projects that grew out of a passionate desire to live out and invite into a life of truly following Christ. A movement of church planting that seems to have had its largest impact within about 75 years of the birth of the Free Methodist movement. Now, in the NCC, most of those congregations no longer exist, yet most of the churches which stand today (albeit in
different locations and incarnations) were founded within that time period. We would not exist were it not for that old-school church planting movement.

Perhaps God raised Free Methodists for merely the cause of reminding the body of Christ of the need for Scriptural holiness and to join the larger cause that God had wrought to put an end to the villainy of American slavery (as John Wesley called it). And perhaps that was all it was called into being to accomplish. Like the plant which gave shade to Jonah, a quick rise, and a quick demise, all to the glory of God and to lead another prophet to bring about the liberation of a people.

But I don't think so.

I believe the DNA of the FMC is knit too closely to the heart of biblical Christianity to exist as a flash in the historical pan, and the call to radical obedience and the delivery of peoples and
communities and nations out of oppression -- not merely delivery a personal sin which seperates from God, but from the pervasive powers and principalities that keep people in the bondage of poverty, the sex-trade, greed, depression, racism, sexism and every evil that Satan
revels in and too many Christians tolerate. The FMC was called to invite people to truly live eternity NOW!

All our pastors must be leading the charge to re-start the movement. To wake up and understand that if we don't catch the passion for starting new movements, new churches, and new ministry opportunities consistent with the DNA, the life, the core that breathed into our
movement over 150 years ago, we will continue to wither and perish, and simply cherish the days when it meant something radically odd and powerfully confrontational to be a Free Methodist. Then we deserve to be a footnote.

Our church planting efforts are not a new grasping at straws to keep the institutional boat afloat, they are tapping the roots of God's initial call to the apostles and to the early Free Methodists.
Without continued church planting and new works starting then it is a joke to think we can be called an apostolic movement.

Times are financially very difficult. Each of your church planting works are struggling, as are every established congregation of which I am aware. Each of your works are very different -- from hispanic works based on small groups and ESL ministries to house church experiments to large-scale launches (as large as we can afford).

Frankly, we all know that there are no guarantees of success, and that starting a new church plant is risky business. But what else are we going to do with our talents, hide them away in the hopes that the master will be glad we didn't take any risks? If I'm not mistaken, that thinking gets God a bit steamy.

I have such love and respect for your willingness to venture, often unoticed, often unpaid, getting bloodied in the fight, sometimes limping forward and sometimes sitting with your face in your hands and tears streaming wondering what in the world you've gotten yourself into.

Keep on being daring. Keep on being radically different. Keep on listening to the voice of the Spirit and allowing God's call and the needs of a hurting community forge your vision into an steel rod that crashes through the gates of hell. Run, and do not grow weary, and I will be doing all I can to run with you. Regardless of what I can do, we all know that it is Christ who has granted you authority and is with you always.

We are 'bringing Jesus to the north central united states through PLANTING and growing healthy churches advanced by boldly apostolic leaders working synergisticly together." We will plant 50 new churches by 2025. If half of our new churches remain viable (which would bust through all church planting odds) and go on to plant new churches as part of the reinvigoration of the work God began in Paul, Luther, Wesley, Roberts... YOU? then imagine the multiplication of changed lives and growth of the radical counter-culture which is the body of Christ on earth. Understand this, as an NCC church planter, you are not a footnote in an historical journal about the end of a minor denomination but a hero in a story of radical renewal and hope that will bring about a resurgence of God's plan to change the world.

Only, don't give up. Draw upon the strength of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit. Draw upon the strength of one another and your NCC yokefellows. And strive every morning when you wake up, pray, allow the Scripture to grab your heart and mind to move
into your day, and your 2009, with the ability to say with all sincerity to those you are called to lead, "follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ" (1Cor.11.1).

Christus Victor!

Supt. Mark