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Thursday, September 4, 2014

DS's Report to District Conference 2014

Some of you were not present at the ENY-NE Annual District Conference, so I thought I would post the report I gave on June 7, 2014 here...

ENY-NE District of the Wesleyan Church
District Superintendent Report
May 2013 – April 2014

Dr. Lyon, District Board of Administration, Delegates, and Friends,

I want to please my boss!  I want Dr. Lyon to be proud of what is happening in the ENY-NE District.  And she does know what is happening for she stays in touch through texts, emails and phone calls.  For those of us fortunate enough to spend time with her, we know what is important to her.  She deeply cares about making more disciples!  Growing the church through outreach and evangelism is her passion.

A few months ago, she spent the night with Susan and me in our home in Ballston Spa.  We sat in front of a roaring fire until close to midnight telling stories of Kingdom work all across the globe.  Those were encouraging hours that Susan and I both treasure.  Little did we know that in just a couple of weeks she would be sitting in the Oval Office sharing her stories with six others, including the President of the United States.

As someone said when speaking of Dr. Lyon, she wears the influence that she has gained so lightly.  She is not impressed with herself – and that is a characteristic that endears her to us.

Even more than pleasing Dr. Lyon, however, I want to please Jesus Christ.  He, too, has let me know what is important to Him.  He wrote it in a book and left it for me to read.  I am to love the LORD with all my heart, all my soul, all my mind and all my strength.  I am also to love my neighbor as myself (Mark 12:30).

He also tells me that I am to go into all the world preaching the Gospel and baptizing converts in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  And He promised to be with me to the end of the age (Matthew 28:19-20). 

Matthew 28:19-20 (NLT) - Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.

Over the past six years, our district has increasingly narrowed its emphasis to making more disciples.  Transformation and revitalization of our churches has been our focus.  The District Transformation Process (DTP) has gained momentum here and has spread to other districts across the nation.  Magazine articles, videos and verbal reports of God’s work in the northeast have humbled and amazed us. 

Recently Dr. Borden, our consultant, and I were speaking regarding the importance of staying the course; of not growing weary or discouraged in the midst of this assault on the gates of hell.  We spent time discussing the temptation of returning to the comfortable and familiar – to default to our old ways and habits.  It has been almost four years since we first met with him in Albany and made the historic decision to launch the DTP experiment.  He and I concurred that this has been a year of consolidating the gains that we have made over he past three years and it is a crucial time as we renew our efforts to see permanent transformation in leaders and churches. 

(Borden Video)

He and I also discussed the passages in Luke, Chapter 15 that clearly show the heartbeat of Jesus.  In the three stories that are told, Jesus amplifies the topic of the lost and found—the lost sheep, the lost coin and the lost son. 

The Heart of Jesus – Story One
Ninety-nine sheep safely lay chewing their supper in the barn but one had wandered away.  He/she was out in the darkness, in the storm, in the danger.  Rather than be satisfied with those in the fold, the shepherd put lots of things at risk to go after the rebel wanderer.

He risked personal dangers.
He risked physical illness.
He risked financial ruin.

All of this risk for just one rascally, confused, wayward sheep.  He could have emphasized “inner focus”.   He could have taken care of the ones that were at home in the dry, warm comfortable setting.  Instead he focused outwardly!  He focused on the broken, the hurting, the lost.

Years ago, a prominent speaker spoke of a particular stretch of coastline that claimed ship after ship and sailor after sailor on its rocks.  When the distress signal would sound, young men would don their storm gear and launch their small battered boats into the waves to rescue the drowning men.  They were so successful that grateful survivors began to send gifts to upgrade their equipment.  Modern boats and the latest in rescue gear soon were available to the small life-saving group.  A lovely building was erected to be home to the squad.  Observers noted that a strange thing happened.  Although better equipped, the rescuers went out less often.  Instead, the time was spent in seminars talking of how one could and should use the upgraded equipment.  Much time was spent in polishing and cleaning and caring for the seldom-used equipment.

Could it be that some of us don’t want the risk and expense and danger and discomfort that comes from focusing on the one lost sheep.  Perhaps we don’t want to change, even if the change brings pleasure to the heart of God.  Instead we stay focused on the ninety-nine and ignore the one that is lost.

In summary…
1)    The shepherd was willing to put the 99 at risk to rescue the one that was lost.
2)    Heaven rejoices more over the lost being found than the found being good!

The Heartbeat of Jesus – Story Two
In Luke 15, the second story was about a lost coin.  The money was important to the lady of the home and it was lost.

To look for the lost demands hard work.  The search did not involve a little walk through the house. This was a move-the-furniture-and-sweep-behind-every-door event.  It involved shining a light in every crevice.  No casual, unconcerned operation here.  The seriousness of the loss brought desperation to the search.  Urgency was in the air!

A couple of weeks ago, Memorial Day weekend, to be exact, I left home before 7:00 a.m., preached at Lisbon at 11:00 a.m., and started for home.  During the seven hours of drive time, I accumulated a small pile of trash, since I snack as I drive rather than stopping for a meal.  At the Stewart’s in North Creek, I stopped to stretch my legs and get rid of the trash.  I stood beside the car and reached into my pocket for my American Express card.  It wasn’t there.  Quickly I checked the other places that I sometimes use for safe keeping.  No luck!  I looked under the seats and beside the seats.  I got into the back seat and looked from that angle.  Still nothing.  Three times I went through the trashcan in front of the store.  Each search was a bit more desperate.  I pawed through the trash.  I took the lid from the trashcan.  This was now very serious and I was in earnest.  Urgency set in.  Where was that card?  It did not matter what people thought.  The looks they gave me did not faze me.  I was on a mission.

Finally, I found the  card.  It was in the car where I usually put it.  It had become stuck and was hidden from view.  I rejoiced over the card that had been found.  If you had been along, we would have had a party.  I would have bought cones for everyone (Butter Pecan).  The lost had been found!! 

It is hard work to look for the lost.  There must be a sense of desperation.  One must have a fire in the belly, a burning desire that keeps one going.  A desire that gets one up early and keeps one up late.  A belief that lost people matter to God.  As Dr. Borden pointed out in his video, the initial energy and change that comes as a result of a consultation weekend is not the end.  It is just the beginning and must be sustained.

Listen to Jesus as he walks along the dusty road with His followers.  He spots a fig tree.  His mouth waters.  He can already taste the fruit.  Closer examination, however, shows that the bush has produced only leaves.  He cursed the fig tree and it died.

In another district in days gone by, discussion centered on churches that failed to report any souls won to Christ during the previous years.  Other stats only re-enforced the fact that these churches were indeed dying, if not already dead.  Many on the Board were in favor of closing this type of church, but as usual, a few wanted to give them one more chance.  One committee member with a twinkle in his eye remarked, “Well, I’m willing to dig around them and dung them one more time.”

What a graphic picture of trying to get a non-productive tree to be productive.  Today, prophetically I say to you that the day of fertilizing unproductive, self-centered, inward-focused congregations is over.  Instead, resources will continue to be invested in places where God is at work.  It is unacceptable to not bear fruit.

Looking for the lost is hard work, but when the lost are found, it produces much joy in Heaven.  I can hear the woman now rejoicing as she pockets that long-lost coin.

The Heartbeat of Jesus – Story Three
The third lesson that we see in Luke 15 has to do with a wayward son.  We know him as the prodigal!  This was the son who wasted his life and his material possessions on partying.  However, payday for his sins finally arrived.  Ruin set in.  Desperation brought him to his knees.  He brought all of his baggage and fears, his hopes and his failures back to the old home place.  “Dad, if you forgive, tie a yellow ribbon around the old oak tree.  I’ve messed up.  Let me be a servant.”

But Dad had no part in the servant scenario.  “Bring a robe,” was heard coming from the sobbing landowner as he clutched his son.  “Put shoes on his feet.  Kill the Thanksgiving calf that has been fattened for weeks.  Get him my credit card.  Have his name added to the account.  My son has come to his senses.  He has sought help.  He has repented of his sins and has been forgiven.  Let’s have a party.  Let’s enroll him in Celebrate Recovery.  We can help as he deals with his hurts, habits and hang-ups.  Come to the baptism down at the pond.  Let’s hear his story—the story of parties and pigs and slop and regret, the story of conviction and humbling and reversal, the story that follows this familiar outline…”

A.    This is what I was…
o   A jerk, lost, insensitive
o   Self-centered, all-about-me
o   A drunk & immoral man
B.    This is how I met Jesus…
o   Sitting in the swine pen
o   Me, the good Jewish boy, feeding the pigs, eating mouthfuls of slop to keep my body and soul together.
o   A broken man at rock bottom.

But Jesus –
The one who loves the unlovely
The one who speaks to the wayward
The one who cares about the fallen

His Spirit met me in the barnyard

A new day dawned
Old things passed away
I was a new creation
Desires changed
I was forgiven

C.     This is what He is making of me…
o   Humility instead of pride
o   Part of the family instead of a loner
o   A giver rather than a taker

But hold on.  Wait a minute.   The drama continues to unfold.  From the back of the barn came the elder brother.  He is unhappy.  Angry even.  Jealousy is on his shoulder.  It appears that he is not interested in grace.

“Father, you are using MY resources to fund this party, MY farm to harbor this ungrateful wretch.  He brings baggage.  He upsets the chain of command.  Some of his friends may join him here.  Let’s not rock the boat.  We are comfortable just as we are.  Why let this renegade change the good thing that we have going?”

Wow.  What a negative barrage.  He had no understanding of what was important to the father.  All of the elder brothers are not dead, my friends.  Jealousy!  Sour grapes!  Bitterness!  Control!  These negative emotions can flourish in the hearts of those who witness God’s blessing and grace and favor at work in other folk and other places.

“Why are they experiencing revival and blessing while we slowly die?”, they ask.
“Why is transformation and renewal taking place while we go backwards?”
“Why is the DTP working faster and better and bigger for them?”

My friend, life is not fair, but God is.  He is at work where He chooses.  He blesses where and whom.  He will.  He is God and we are not!  As Henry Blackaby said years ago, “Our job is to discover where He is at work and join Him in His work.”

Luke 15 clearly shows us the heart of God.  Let’s join Him and His big heart in searching and seeking and finding the lost.

The Three Assumptions
Today, one more time I’d like to remind you of the Three Assumptions that undergird all we do.

1.     If a church is healthy, it grows and reproduces.

In ENY-NE we believe that if churches are not growing, they have dysfunction and disease that needs to be addressed.   For those of you who have become DTP churches, we want to thank you for your willingness to participate in a consultation weekend.  For many of you, this was the beginning of your pathway to health.  All did not immediately become better when you heard and accepted your prescriptions.  However, slowly and steadily and gradually significant change is taking place in the lives of DTP pastors, churches and leaders.  Reports today will show that much seed has been put in the ground.  Research tells us that it takes five to seven years to see true transformation in a church, and perhaps it takes a little longer than this in the northeast.  If this is true, then we are on the verge of amazing renewal throughout our churches in the next three to four years.  If we sow, the scriptures teach, we shall also reap! 

While I could highlight many situations in our district, time will not permit.  However, in the next few pages of this report, I will sprinkle in stories that illustrate where we are headed as a district.

Fusion Community, located in Cobleskill, NY, has been the recipient of the favor of God over the past few years.  Pastor Andrew Fetter and his people are acutely aware that God has not blessed them so that they can keep all this favor to themselves.  Instead, they are looking to leverage this favor by seeding a nearby DTP church with people and by launching a multi-site campus.

Our latest DTP church is Niskayuna.  Located in the heart of the capital region, Niskayuna is also in the center of the most post-Christian area of the United States.  After the consultation, the church voted overwhelmingly to accept the prescription (38 – 1).  They are now in Developing Church status.  An LAC made up of Andrew Fetter and Wes Lawrence of Fusion, Dick Osborne of Hadley-Luzerne, and two local leaders has been appointed by the DBA.  Tomorrow in a service held in this room they will be asking God’s forgiveness for failing to permeate the community and make a real difference in this region.

This month their name will be changed.  The image of the church will be rebranded.  Upgrades, both inside and outside, will say to the thousands who pass here daily that change is in the air.  While this facelift is taking place, the church will go mobile, holding its Sunday services in Central Park of Schenectady, located just a half mile from here, and the Niskayuna Civic Center.  Music and a simple message will be followed by free food and networking with community residents who frequent these locations.  Outreach events through the summer will seek to give this new church a presence in the community.

Relaunching in late September or early October in a modernized building that emphases young families and children, this church will be poised to impact its community.  Fusion is sending several dozen of its folk to join this effort for a season.  The influx of people from Fusion will help create critical mass as well as provide staff for crucial ministries.  Anticipation is running high, high, high.  Other churches in the SU South group will help by sending work teams or contributing monthly missions funds to Niskayuna, one of the neediest areas on the planet.

Fusion also is praying over their first multi-site location.  Electronics are being purchased as we speak.  Campus pastors are being trained.  Amsterdam, Rotterdam, Schenectady and Oneonta are the communities that are presently under consideration.

Speaking of relaunch, three years ago in our very first DTP consultation, it was prescribed that we should close Ridge Road and relaunch under a new name and format.  We are now thirty-six months into that experiment and can report that God’s Spirit is blowing in a new way through Vantage Pointe.  A year of recruiting a launch team and two years of seeding the ministry with prayer and hard work is paying off.  Young families with children are being reached.  Expectancy is in the air.  From the core group of 30, attendance is now approaching 100.  Salvations and baptisms are the norm.  Pastors Dean and Rosalie Brown are to be commended for sticking with this project through the difficult relaunch days.

Pastor Dean says, “These days are the best days for the two year old church that meets on Ridge Road in Queensbury. Vantage Pointe is not a remake of something former but a new and energized community of faith that is answering God's call to be Christ's ambassadors to the spiritually unresolved people of our region.”

There is also a fresh wind of the Spirit in the northwestern part of the district.  Cornerstone, located in Heuvelton, has experienced outstanding growth over the past two years.  A recent move to two services has resulted in 160 – 180 worshippers on a Sunday morning.  Pastor Rusty Bissell and team are watching God orchestrate events that are exceedingly above anything that they could ask or think. 

Recently, Pastor Rusty said, “The District Transformation Process laid the perfect foundation for our church to build on.  Using that consultation as a momentum builder the church is now experiencing true revival.  Lives are being regularly transformed and our community is taking notice and being impacted.”

As I give this report, God is at work relocating assets to the Heuvelton/Potsdam/Canton area that could result in a multi-site or church multiplication project in one of the larger population centers of St. Lawrence County.

While speaking of reproduction, I have asked Dr. Mark Gorveatte, president of Kingswood University, to come alongside us as a church planting/church multiplication consultant.  He has consented.  Mark and his wife, Sherry, are some of the most dedicated and gifted people I know.  During the ten years that he was D.S. in West Michigan, 25 churches were planted.  His expertise, his networks, his vision and his zeal will be a tremendous boost as we move to multiply churches throughout our district.

A press release that will go public shortly after this conference will give details as to where this partnership is headed.

The Buckingham Leadership Institute (BLI), a ministry of Kingswood University, is pleased to partner with the Eastern New York – New England District to develop greater effectiveness in church multiplication.

The Eastern New York – New England District has made remarkable strides in resourcing churches for increased vitality and Great Commission effectiveness.  The evidence is clear that God delights in blessing churches that prioritize His passion for making disciples.  

This essential work of church revitalization must continue until every ENYNE church is effectively making more and better disciples. 

But, even then, there will still be millions of people unreached by our churches because the distance is too great for sustained impact in their community.   This distance need not only be geographical. The distance may be cultural or even generational. The fact that some people are not convenient to reach does not negate our responsibility to evangelize and establish reproducing communities of faith. 

Mark Gorveatte, a lead consultant with BLI, brings insight from his experience supervising and resourcing 25 church planting projects.  The network of churches that he led established strong systems and structures for multiplication.  These efforts continue to bear fruit with more than 4000 people (70% were previously unchurched) attending these new churches.

Commencing with the regional Success University meetings this September, 2014, and continuing through June, 2016, Mark Gorveatte will assist DS Paul James and the pastors of the ENYNE District in developing partnership networks to plant churches.  These efforts will initially create momentum in our areas of greatest strength and build capacity to ultimately reach our communities of greatest need.

The objective will be for at least one of the partnership networks to launch a pilot project in conference year 2015-2016.  The expectation going forward is for each network to launch at least one project every 3 years.  Furthermore, each new church plant will be launched with the DNA of multiplication so that their first daughter church will be budgeted for from day one and planted before their fifth birthday.

The Buckingham Leadership Institute, a ministry of Kingswood University, exists to inspire and equip leaders in the local church to maximize the fullest potential for themselves and the organizations they lead, all for the glory of God.

2.     The second assumption is that the church exists to be outward-, not inward-focused.

Another way of saying this is that the church exists for those lost souls surrounding the church, rather than the found souls already inside.  Sometimes we get push back as we talk about this assumption.  The argument goes like this.  We cannot just ignore the people that are already in the church to go after new people.  There is some truth to that statement.  We must not ignore the hurts, habits and hang-ups of those already worshipping with us.  However, the nature of humans is to gravitate to self-centeredness and to an it’s-all-about-me mentality.  As a result, we end up not practicing the Great Commission and instead cater to the agendas and demands of people who, by rights, should have matured years ago.

After years of preaching, praying and exhorting about reaching the lost, would you believe that we still had five churches that reported zero conversions this year.  Another 14 reported no baptisms.  This is incomprehensible!  We are not asking that you abandon those who are already in your churches but we are asking you to actively use over 50% of your time, energy and money on those that are not yet in your church.  Impacting your community is not an option; it is an imperative!

As one pastor said in SU, “By design we must focus 51% or more of our energy, time and resources on those who have not yet accepted Christ and are outside our walls.  Just one more – whatever the cost is more than a motto.  It is a way of life!”  Watch the inward-focused lifeboat leader in this video clip and note the difference between him and the outward-focused passenger.  Ask yourself which attitude do I and my church come closest to sharing.

(Titanic Video Clip)

“Come back to the ship!” the captain calls.
“No!  We aren’t going to go back.  I’m in charge of this boat,” a sailor replies, “and we will do what is best for us.”

Those words haunt me.  Of the twenty or so lifeboats that night, most partially filled, only a couple ventured back to pick up drowning men and women.

One of the ways in which we must be outward-focused is in reaching the multi-ethnic groups of the northeast.  This year the Greater Hartford Wesleyan Church purchased and refurbished a lovely building.  It is our prayer that from this base many souls will be won. 

Another wonderful opportunity to become more diverse is in Springfield, MA.  Larry and Leona Fair have laid an excellent foundation  for reaching the many ethnic groups of that city.  As the Fairs move into their last year or two of ministry in Springfield, please join us in praying that God will provide the right pastor—one gifted in reaching people from a multitude of backgrounds and nationalities.

3.     The third assumption is that the Gospel never changes, but the methods of sharing the Gospel are always changing.

Often I am thrilled with the creative ways our team is using to reach out to the communities of our district.  Time does not permit me to go from church to church relating the out-of-the-box methods that are paying off in lives transformed.  This report is already long enough.  However, let me suggest that you pay close attention to David Norman when he gives the Statistical Report and to Dick Osborne when he gives the Building  Committee Report.  As they relate what you have accomplished in what has been a tough year in the northeast, please know that I am standing and applauding you.  You truly are the heroes of this grand experiment that we are living.  As we continue to work our way through the ‘muddle in the middle’, I am in the trenches alongside you.  You make my job one of the best on the planet.  As my mother told me over and over, “Paul, if God calls you into His work, don’t stoop to be a king!”

Speaking of my parents, they came for a visit this spring and in the last few minutes that they were in our home, Mom fell and broke her leg.  Following surgery she has spent approximately three weeks in the Saratoga Hospital and Rehab Unit.  Next week she will join us in our home for an extended period of convalescence.  Seldom do I visit her without seeing a sparkle in her eye as she tells of a nurse or an aid that has sat on the edge of her bed and told her their story.  She talks about Jesus to them and often they leave with tears flowing down their cheeks.  “Paul,” she says, “You have a wonderful district.  The people here are so kind and they are so hungry.”  Last week when I went into their bedroom to say good night to Dad and to check on him, I found the lights out and covers drawn up around his chin.  “Everything okay?” I called.  “Yes,” came the reply.  “I was just laying here praying for your district.”  The comments of these two special people reminded me that we are building on the foundation of those who have gone before us.  Millions of prayers have been prayed.  Millions of dollars have been given and I dare say that millions of messages have been preached.  And multitudes of acts of kindness have taken place—those cups of cold water that have been given in the name of Jesus over the past hundred and seventy-two years in the great northeast.  Let’s never lose sight that we stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us and cared greatly about Kingdom building.

Cam is a delight to work with and adds so much to the district through the office administration.

Susan is the love of my life.  In three days we celebrate 42 years of married life together.  I suspect that she will get some type of Summit Award in Heaven for living with me that long.

I am a Hoosier by birth
A South Carolinian by heritage
A Christian by choice and
A Northeasterner by call

It is here, Dr. Lyon, that my heart is being buried.

I am respectfully yours,
Rev. W. Paul James

Now turn your attention to the screen for a celebration of Northeast – 2014.

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