Heath, Huffman and Coleman serve as guest speakers for AC2015

June 15, 2015

Enjoy the following video presentations from Dr. Elaine Heath, Rev. Eric Huffman and Rev. Justin Coleman that were given during AC2015: Come & See, held June 7-10 at Centenary College in the Gold Dome.

Below is a summary article of all of the presentations.

“We are going through a massive cultural shift that only happens every few hundred years,” said Rev. Dr. Elaine Heath on June 8 in the Gold Dome during AC2015: Come and See, held on the Centenary College campus in Shreveport. Dr. Heath, McCreless Professor of Evangelism for Perkins School of Theology, said that this cultural shift or “emergence” dramatically affects and changes everything from political to religious institutions.

Heath has witnessed more of her students expressing a desire to take a very different track with their ministry. One young woman said, “I don’t feel called to be the pastor of a First United Methodist Church. I don’t feel that in my heart; (serving in) the traditional kind of ministry I grew up in. I want to work in the margins, where people live in poverty.”

Rev. Justin Coleman has seen this same shift, and has been involved in the planting and leading of the Gethsemane Campus of St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Houston. This satellite campus, located in a multi-national poorer part of the city, offers a food pantry, a mentoring program for youth, and GED and ESL instruction, said Coleman, who is currently serving as the chief ministry officer of the United Methodist Publishing House in Nashville.

"Real grace" happens in an exchange between two people that are very different, added Coleman during his June 9 presentation to the annual conference. Although working with those in the margins can seem daunting, Coleman emphasized that the “Lord will guide you continually and provide for you, even in the hard places.”

“People join gangs because of a lethal absence of the church,” said Coleman. Gangs offer to protect their members, promising to give their lives for them, if necessary. “Does that sound familiar? Greater love has no one than this-- to lay down one's life for one's friends. John 15:13.”

“You know a place in your community, it’s broken. Maybe God is calling you to mend those places. . . Not maybe!,” said Coleman.

Rev. Eric Huffman, lead pastor of The Story Houston said, “People are dying to be seen and heard” during his June 8 presentation in the Gold Dome.

"People will find you interesting if you find them interesting" said Huffman, advising United Methodist pastors to plan and preach sermons that address the questions for which people are seeking answers.

In the church’s constant search for ways to attract millenials, Huffman believes that United Methodist clergy should focus on providing preaching that is compelling for the young adults in our mission field. “Is this sermon biblical? Is it helpful? Is this entertaining? Attention spans have never been shorter than they are today, and there is lots of competition for their attention.”

People who can hold an audience are generally the ones who work the hardest at it, he said. Huffman recommends that preachers practice their sermons in front of a mirror (If you can’t get through your sermon without checking your email, your congregation wont either); use laughter as a preaching tool (Laughter releases endorphens, and has people talking about the laughter the next day); watch TED talks; observe great communicators; get a preaching coach; and go to preaching conferences.

Huffman adds, ask yourself, “Does your sermon tell a true story? Stories like the prodigal son and the good Samaritan point people to something deeper, higher and bigger than themselves. They leave people with a sense of wonder and awe and lead people to reach for God.”

“God can speak to us through anything,” said Dr. Heath during her Monday presentation, focusing on the importance of starting and nurturing missional church communities. Perkins students have participated in such a community, located in a mixed income, racially diverse area in South Garland. “God has escaped the church building!,” said Heath.

Such micro-churches need financial, physical and prayer support. “What if we were free to do this? Free to fail without crucifying each other. Celebrating and learning when we fail,” said Heath, who has collaborated to develop online classes, training retreats, coaching, geographic cohorts and helps with spiritual direction in the establishment of such communities.

A church in Asheville, North Carolina comprised of all elderly members has begun leasing their building to four separate congregations for Sunday worship, coworking space and summer immersions of seminary students. “This congregation is re-engaging community with the church,” said Heath.

Justin Hancock, who has cerebral palsy, and his wife Lisa Hancock has been involved in groundbreaking work in disability theology. The Hancocks live in and are stewards of the Cochran House, which will “serve as a learning place for people who want to be in ministry with and learn from people with disabilities.”

"What is the Spirit saying to the church?," said Heath. “I am convinced we are at the early stages of a third great awakening. When God does a new thing . . .God always does it from the edge. God picks people that nobody thinks will amount to anything. Never starts at the top of the food chain.”

Church needs a revival when it becomes clergy-centric, said Heath. “This new movement is very Eucharistic. We become the bread and wine that is distributed to the world. Here I am Lord, send me.”

When establishing intentional communities, churches must equip one another. Dr. Heath used Common Ground, an outreach of Shreveport’s Grace Community UMC, as an example. “These communities are not there to replace each other; they are there to collaborate. We have to repent of competing with one another’s ministries. The lay people (must be) taught to lead. Take seriously the ministry and gifts of the whole body of Christ.

A pastor’s job is to equip the saints for ministry; serve as chief community organizer; be the provider and teacher of spiritual director; and serve as shepherd to make sure the sheep don’t go off the cliff, said Heath. Her advice for laity?—Our job is more than being content while someone in a robe does everything, while we watch.

For additional news from AC2015: Come and See, visit the Conference Facebook page and view an overview of the Conference here.