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New resources address church’s spiritual leadership need

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The Rev. Vance Ross
Jan. 13, 2006

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 come.”

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 lead.”

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The Rev. Craig Miller
“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 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.

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Betsey Heavner
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 people leave.

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 congregations.

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 said.

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Jill Ridenour
“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 spiritual leaders.

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 Discipleship.

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 and More information is available by contacting Betsey Heavner, project coordinator, toll-free at (877) 899-2780, Ext. 7295, or by e-mail at

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