New resources address church’s spiritual leadership need
Jan. 13, 2006
The Rev. Vance Ross
By Linda Green*
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (UMNS) — The United Methodist Church’s discipleship agency
has announced two new initiatives aimed at addressing the lack of spiritual
leadership among pastors and within congregations.
The announcement comes as part of a churchwide response to an urgent need
identified by the 2004 General Conference, the top legislative body of the
denomination. The assembly identified leadership and faith development as
critical matters facing the church in the 21st century.
The two new initiatives, designed to help pastors and congregations build
those leadership skills, were introduced Jan. 11 at the Board of Discipleship.
“These two companion resources squarely address the most pressing issue of
the church today,” said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top executive of the agency.
“Both initiatives are dedicated to creating spiritually formed leaders who want
to improve their skills and deepen their congregation’s commitment to
disciple-making. The impact these resources will make will be felt for years to
The L3 Leadership Incubator and the Church Vitality Indicator, more than
three years in the making, use a combination of cutting-edge technology and
prayerful dialogue to strengthen leaders and reshape disciple-making faith
communities, said discipleship agency staff. The L3 stands for “love, learn and
“The denomination of United Methodism has a huge elephant in the room, which
is the decline and deterioration of local churches and therefore annual
conferences,” said the Rev. Vance Ross, an agency staff executive. Referring to
an adage that holds the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time, Ross
said the two initiatives are ways the agency “hope(s) to help local churches and
therefore annual conference have some forks, knives and spoons and a place
setting to begin to eat the elephant.”
The Rev. Craig Miller
The Church Vitality Indicator is a subscription-based online assessment and
discernment tool to identify and build upon a congregation’s strengths. Using
results from a 66-question survey and an influence diagraph, the indicator
provides an impact report that helps lay and clergy leaders understand the state
of their congregation and plan for the future. The online resource provides
leaders with analytical tools and offers up to 96 possible focus areas for
unlocking a congregation’s growth potential, according to agency staff members.
“It is not merely an assessment but a discernment tool that leaders utilize
to ... get at truth. What we are looking for is to be able to get at truth as we
discern what is going on in a congregation and how to begin to move from decline
and deterioration to growth, vitality and health, ” Ross said.
Jill Ridenour, a member of the discipleship agency’s marketing staff, said
the agency took stock of what churches needed in order to grow. Analysis
indicated church leaders want help in understanding their church’s context and
how it can grow.
“The CVI helps people in changing their congregations and helps them to
continue to move forward. It is also a way for them to move beyond the church
walls and see how the community affects who they are as a church and who they
are as a congregation,” she said.
The CVI initiative is grounded in three beliefs: that the heart of a
congregation is a “community of faith,” that congregations are unique and
diverse, and that it takes a team to lead a congregation, said Betsey Heavner,
the agency’s disciplining consultant. Noting that Jesus began with a team of 12
disciples, she said the agency hopes that with the denomination’s itinerant
system, strong teams will be produced to maintain the church’s identity when
The L3 Leadership Incubator was produced in partnership with local
church pastors and denominational leaders after a 2002 pilot project with church
leaders in Kentucky, who wanted to be agents of change in their communities and
The incubator provides opportunities for local church leaders and annual
conference leaders to come together and “be part of connection differently than
we have understood it over the years,” Ross said. More than 40 incubators are
currently in place around the United States.
The initiative creates a small-group environment where spiritual leaders and
ideas are born, nurtured and developed. Meeting over the course of 18 months,
six to 12 leaders focus on their spiritual growth and leadership skills and the
development of an Incubator Ministry Action Plan.
“We have had a system that called itself a connection, but we are trying to
build places and spaces where there can be relationship that is connected,” Ross
“These L3 Incubators allow people an opportunity to share in covenant, in
cooperation, and with sisters and brothers who are leaders — clergy and lay —
God’s dreams, God’s hope and (the) opportunity to build skills to be spiritual
leaders of congregations, not ecclesiastical CEOs,” he said. The incubators will
help congregations “release people into the world to make disciples and be
disciples of Jesus Christ to turn an upside-down world right side up.”
The Rev. Craig Miller, director of the Board of Discipleship’s center for
evangelism through new congregational development, says the L3 Leadership
Incubator is more than a product. “It is really the beginning of a movement ?
designed to bring people together to generate new ideas” and to focus on a
specific area or areas of the congregation.
Ross calls the L3 a “back to the future kind of movement” that helps leaders
return to Christian conversation and become empowered to lead others to become
The word “incubator” is widely used in business and education to describe a
place where people can find resources, work with one another, hold one another
accountable and build an environment where leaders and ideas are nurtured,
Miller said. “This is the simple idea underlying the L3 Incubators.”
Incubators allow United Methodist pastors and leaders who are living in
isolation to come together and talk with one another in an environment of trust,
love and accountability, and to develop strategies for personal and
congregational ministry, Miller said.
The $250 L3 Incubator kit, developed by Discipleship Resources,
contains a DVD with more than 850 slides, 24 songs with lyrics and music, seven
video clips, copies of the Incubator Guidebook and an access code to the
Incubator Website. In addition, the kit includes a year’s subscription to the
Church Vitality Indicator Website, the companion resource from the Board of
CVI may be used with or separately from the L3 Leadership Incubator and, like
the incubator, does not require any outside facilitator or consultant. CVI
subscriptions, available at the Upper Room’s online bookstore, range from $49 to
$400, depending on congregation size. The bookstore can be found at
The L3 Leadership Incubator and the Church Vitality Indicator may be ordered
at www.L3incubator.com and
www.CVIndicator.com. More information is
available by contacting Betsey Heavner, project coordinator, toll-free at (877)
899-2780, Ext. 7295, or by e-mail at