Three UMC pastors swap pulpits to share views, strengthen connections


     Long before Mark Zuckerberg began connecting us on the social media website Facebook, United Methodists had been connecting with each other for generations. Connectionalism is the trademark of our denomination; we are part of one cohesive faith family.
      The connectional system allows local churches to work together, through districts and conferences, to support each other. Pastors are team players, working toward the same purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
Three pastors in the North Georgia Conference did more than provide lip service to our understanding of connectionalism. During the month of July, Chris Bryant, pastor of City On A Hill UMC, Eric Lee, pastor of The Bridge, a United Methodist Church, and Jamey Prickett, pastor of Liberty Hill UMC, shared an opportunity to give witness to the unity that exists in the United Methodist Church.
Over a three-week period, each pastor traveled to each other’s congregations and shared a message on “The Future of the Church” from his perspective. Eric Lee spoke from a relational perspective, sharing how “connection in authentic community is our response to the person and work of Jesus.” He also challenged the congregations by saying, “the church is moving back to a relational model of faith, ministry, and evangelism versus program and intuitional model of doing church.”
Jamey Prickett addressed missions, explaining that we have defined ourselves as a “gathered community” and left off the fact that we are also called the “sent-out ones.” He reminded us that we “gather in order to be sent out.” Prickett also pointed out that for the church of the future to have credibility in its mission, we must approach the world as a guest. “The church in the past has defined itself as host instead of guest” and this arrogance has turned off a lot of people. “We are God’s guest in God’s world to live among God’s people sharing love, grace, and justice,” he said.
       Chris Bryant discussed worship. “From a Biblical-historical perspective, worship only has a few primary elements: offering; singing; scripture, (the retelling of God’s salvation story); and for the Christian, the presence and movement of the Holy Spirit.”  He made a big deal to point out that, after nearly 15 minutes into the sermon, he had said nothing about traditional or contemporary, hymns or bands, liturgy or lights.  He used common household products – Coke, Oreos, Heinz Ketchup – to show how companies have kept their product the same but have continued to change and adapt the packaging to expand their reach and versatility.
The pastors came up with the idea to rotate among the churches during one of their weekly accountability gatherings. A lot of discussion during their sessions centers around the future of the Church. After the concept was developed, each pastor prepared his congregation by starting the series in his own church. The experience brought new meaning to being “connectional.” 
All three pastors agree that this experience was a worthwhile endeavor that they want to do again. Lee said, “This experience reminded me that we – pastors and congregations – are partners in ministry and helps pastors and laity keep a bigger view of the Church.”
Prickett agreed. “We speak a lot on being connectional because it is in our DNA, but it is not until we view each other as partners in ministry and share a cohesive message that we get to experience connectionalism in its truest form. We are connected by our tradition, our Doctrinal Standards and General Rules, and by the itinerancy system. However, experiences like sharing ministry demonstrate that our connectedness is richest in the inclusive nature of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that we all share in our baptism and calling.”
For Bryant, “It was just so liberating and wonderful for a couple of weeks to champion the efforts of two other congregations. I was able to do so because I knew them through my strong relationship with their pastors.  It was wonderful to cheer them on, ‘go, go, go, in Jesus name,’ and be genuine in my enthusiasm.  I can’t wait to do it again!”
      There is a lot of discussion about aligning the church around the mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. These days, with declining memberships and resources, the United Methodist denomination must renew its commitment to connectionalism. Developing friendships among clergy in our area and sharing resources among our sister United Methodist churches highlights our commitment to unity. “Make my joy complete: be of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind” (Phil. 2:2).