New Church Leadership Academy Makes Impactful Return


By Ansley Brackin
Communications Specialist

Since January, 40 North Georgia Conference clergy and 8 Candler School of Theology students have gathered monthly as participants in the New Church Leadership Academy to deeply explore the practice of starting new churches and new ministries.

New Church Leadership Academy was relaunched in 2014 after encouragement from leaders of PATH-1, the denomination’s new church initiative under the General Board of Discipleship, that it was at one time a great asset in the guidance of potential new church leaders.

The year-long program will wrap up in December, sending out leaders who have expressed gratitude for the extensive look inside the inner workings of thriving UMC churches and ministries.

“NCLA exposes young leaders to the best practices of church planting,” explains the Director of Congregational Development, Phil Schroeder. “It also helps them decide whether or not they are called to plant.”

Nominations for the New Church Leadership Academy’s class of 2014 were gathered from two sources. Many clergy were recommended by their district superintendents to take the year of in-depth sessions. Other participants came from Candler School of Theology to gain both course credits and to experience church successes and struggles.

Emory professor Dr. Tom Elliott elaborated on the partnership between the New Church Leadership Academy and Candler:

“The NCLW (New Church Leadership Workshop) is a partnership between the Office of Congregational Development, North Georgia Conference, United Methodist Church and the Contextual Education Department of the Candler School of Theology, Emory University, where third year Master of Divinity students explore a calling to new church leadership. Through study and reflection, site visits to new churches, presentations by successful church planters, and instruction and group process over two semesters, students develop a portfolio of best practices in congregation leadership and a plan of how they would start a new church.”

The Academy meets for one-day sessions each month to focus on various topics including planning, community targeting, team building, and facility formation and organization. Each session is hosted by a different church. The group tours the buildings and listens to words of wisdom from the host church’s pastors. The host sites are all young churches that have found vibrant success and conquered a variety of hardships.

Rev. Andy Postell, Senior Pastor at The Well UMC, hosted the November session, titled “Growing Pains”, in the church’s worship space in Carterville. He warned the class not to compare their progress to other new churches and ministries. His wife, Claire, later joined the group to discuss the importance of recognizing that starting a ministry is a family commitment.

“It’s hard work, and I think that’s what makes it such a joy,” Claire said of the creation and upkeep that The Well has needed from the husband and wife team.

They are proud to say they manage the church together.

NCLA Is For Husband and Wife Teams

Participants Rev. Mike and Kit Divine took the couple’s words to heart, along with those of Rev. Jim and Jennifer Cowart of Harvest UMC who hosted in October.

“In a perfect world we would want to do this as a team,” says Rev. Divine of Bold Springs UMC, who thought he would best benefit from the Academy by taking the course with his wife.

“There’s a built-in support system here,” Kit says of the NCLA classes.

Visiting churches upheld by both husband and wife empowered the Divines to maintain the strength of their team work.

“Though they are all completely different churches, there’s a commonality of success,” Mike says.

Mosaic UMC motivated the couple during the February session as well. The church successfully reaches out to the community through their recovery ministry, a field that Mike served in for several years before being called to ministry in 2007. The 2010 graduate of Candler School of Theology can see a future in recovery ministry with his wife.

The couple found more inspiration from increased popularity of coffee ministries like Foundry Coffee Pub in Savannah.

With these snapshots of other ministries, Kit hopes they can “do something that looks different and makes people feel safe.”

The Divines feel it would be valuable for spouses to take the year of leadership training together, even if neither have plans of planting a church. They have finished the year feeling capable of building a ministry that reaches the broken and provides the community with an example of Christ’s love.

NCLA Is For Second Career Clergy

Anthony Phillips, a second year Candler student and Associate Pastor of Mt. Bethel UMC and St. Philips UMC, was another observer inspired by the visit to Mosaic UMC.

“You can see the fruit of what they are doing,” he explained.

Phillips was inspired by both the recovery ministry and their “relevance for creating a successful church plant.”

As a man who once worked in global marketing, the future reverend discovered various contingencies and differences between leadership in the church and in the secular world. He found only the basics of his secular experiences to be beneficial when he first began to consider ministry while volunteering to preach at his home church; however, the past year greatly sharpened his vision and improved his ability to look ahead.

“These are things you don’t learn in seminary.” He adds, “This has given me a diverse set of church oriented leadership skills.”

Each academy host exposes both the rugged and beautiful moments they have experienced while planting a church or ministry, exposure that Phillips feels takes years off of deciphering personal leadership styles and struggles. Looking inside each unique structure gives Academy students an extra boost of knowledge and confidence to start something new.

 “I can see more clearly the type of church plant I want,” he said.

NCLA Is For Candler Students

Like Phillips, Allison Sauls sees the combination of her Candler courses and NCLA sessions as a driving force behind her future journey into ministry. She also attributes her spiritual direction to her upbringing in a Louisiana church plant.

“Your own background is a big factor,” Sauls said of where most pastors find the source of their passions. “My passions lie in an urban setting.”

The third year Candler student, who also completed her undergrad in urban studies, enjoyed learning from Eastside UMC, a church planted in East Atlanta that is heavily connected to its inner-city community.

Sauls wants to follow along their path to improve churches’ adaptability in urban settings and “breathe life back into those places.”

She is grateful for NCLA’s marriage of her classes and the real world for giving her the chance to practice in the field and pick up new resources.

Sauls added, “to have Phil’s [Schroeder] wisdom at our finger tips has been really fruitful”.

Others participants may not finish with a certain ministry in mind, but rather a more solid plan of how to build up a new church. Rev. Steve Lewallen of Lula UMC now feels a stronger pull to encourage churches to invite low income families into the heart of the congregation, rather than simply minister to them.

This year of church visits and networking succeeded in bringing a sharper focus to where and how the students of the New Church Leadership Academy are called to serve.

To learn more about New Church Leadership Academy and register for the 2015 class HERE, or contact Phil Schroeder