9/24/2003 News media contact: Linda Green · (615) 742-5470 · Nashville, Tenn
NOTE: This report may be used as a sidebar to UMNS #453. A photograph of the Rev. Dennis Blackwell is available.
By Linda Green*
Rev. Jackye Waiters-Lee and Marilyn Magee share a laugh following
Magee's address at the Great Event, the Sept. 18-20 national training
event of the Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century
initiative. Magee, a former member of the initiative's coordinating
committee, led a Bible study on healing. Waiters-Lee is director of
education ministries at Munger Place United Methodist Church in Dallas. A
UMNS photo by Larry Hygh. Photo number 03-301, Accompanies UMNS #454,
No Long Caption Available for this Story
ATLANTA (UMNS) - Transforming a church from a
struggling congregation into a dynamic one can be as simple as focusing
on a fundamental Christian practice: Bible study.
The Rev. Dennis
Blackwell cites Bible study as a factor in his church's growth from 40
people to 300 in the 15 years since he became pastor. In the process,
Asbury United Methodist Church in Pennsauken, N.J., became a
congregational resource center of the United Methodist Church's
Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century initiative,
providing mentoring help for other African-American congregations trying
"Bible study is important for Asbury as it should be at
every church because it is the way we encounter God on a daily basis,
and it reveals to us the character and purpose of God," Blackwell says.
"Bible study is one of the foundational tools the Holy Spirit uses to
transform our lives and to build Christian character."
led a training class on Bible study and faith formation at the Sept.
18-20 "Great Event," the black church initiative's national training
meeting. He described how Bible study is required for all Asbury
Lay members lead the church's Bible study, and the daily
classes cover a range of topics. "People like variety," he says.
"People go to Baskin & Robbins because there are 32 flavors, and
they have all types of hours to be convenient for people. We have a
variety of Bible studies at different times during the week to be
convenient for people to come and take it."
When Blackwell went
to Asbury 15 years ago, the church had no programs or money. "But by
God's grace and the spirit leading ... we began biblical study and
started to grow," he says. The church began weekend studies and a
four-day Bible institute with the members.
"When they grew in
the faith, their church work ethic radically changed. We've seen
people's lives be transformed because of the daily intake of the
Scriptures," he says.
"Systematic study and a daily intake of
Scripture are vitally important, essential, paramount and necessary for
faith development, faith formation and for you to become who God
ordained you to be," he notes.
During his class at the Great
Event, Blackwell offered curriculum ideas and strategies for doing Bible
studies in local churches. Marlene Pollard, with Union-Wesley United
Methodist Church in Chester, Md., says she felt enriched.
"I'm going to carry what I learned about Bible study back to help inspire my church," she said.
"Bible study is important because it is very vital to not only live the word but to encourage others to do so also," she says.
study classes have strengthened Asbury's congregation during a time
when the members are without a church home. The congregation meets in a
high school and elsewhere because of structural damages to the church
building three years ago.
"Bible study is one of the things that
kept people close, on fire and faithful to the church during this
transition," Blackwell says.
During the training session, he
provided participants with seven spiritual life principles that drive
the Asbury church. Those principles involve teaching quiet devotion,
walking daily with God, praying, witnessing, ministering to others,
building fellowship and teaching people how to make disciples for
Of the seven, none is more important than another,
Blackwell says. "They intertwine and are interconnected, but
foundational to them all is daily devotional time." # # # *Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer.