I am the senior pastor of Ginghamsburg Church, a United Methodist congregation in Tipp City, Ohio, a small city of 9,300 people just north of Dayton, in the heart of the “rust belt.” When I arrived at Ginghamsburg 31 years ago, I inherited a 104-year-old small country church on a quarter of an acre, with fewer than 100 members and an annual budget of $27,000. The population of the Miami Valley region, in which Ginghamsburg is located, has declined by more than 20,000 people since my arrival because of the region’s dependence on, and the national decline of, the automobile industry. In 2008, Forbes magazine named Dayton as one of the 10 fastest dying and 10 emptiest cities in America. Today, however, roughly 4,500 people worship, attend class, serve, or find community each week on Ginghamsburg’s campus. In July 2008, Fort McKinley United Methodist Church, a fading congregation of only 40 weekly attendees in an economically challenged north Dayton neighborhood, voted to become part of Ginghamsburg Church. Now this vibrant church of more than 300 urban missionaries is bringing new life and hope to its “at risk” community. Ginghamsburg is fully a missional church, composed of people committed to changing the world one life at a time–locally, nationally and globally.
What do you like most about teaching (mentoring) at United?
I appreciate the way United provides contextual experiences for students. Students can go beyond simply hearing lectures and participating in theological debates to actually learning in experiential, “hands-on” settings. A great example is “The Missional Church” intensive I’ve led for the past three years for United on Ginghamsburg’s campus. Students are not just in the classroom but see firsthand what it means to be a missional church as they spend time with “in the trenches” ministry practitioners and both visit and serve at our various outreach ministries. Just like medical students must treat actual patients in “real world” hospitals before they graduate, it’s critical that future pastors spend time learning how to win the lost and set the oppressed free in living laboratories like Ginghamsburg.
Tell us about a significant project you’ve worked on.
In 1999, I was reading the Dayton Daily News when my eye was caught by an ad featuring a new luxury sedan, a BMW, for lease. Being a car fan, I found myself checking out the various features. Then, my eye was drawn to a picture on the opposing page of a clearly emaciated child featured in an article about famine in the Sudan and the tragedies of the civil war between North and South Sudan. I was convicted by that juxtaposition of the sedan, the heart of our culture, versus the Sudan, the heart of God, and the fact that I knew many things about the luxury vehicle and nothing about the conflict in Sudan. Although that experience did not lead me to immediate action, I could not shake the conviction that I was supposed to do something about it.
In the fall of 2004, I was reading one of the very few news stories published in that entire year about the crisis in Darfur that had begun in 2003. Hundreds of thousands in Darfur were at risk of starvation since the violence had prevented crop planting at the start of the growing season. At that time, I clearly felt God’s urging to engage the Ginghamsburg faith community, “no holds barred,” into serving the needs of the vulnerable victims of this senseless war. That Advent season, I reminded Ginghamsburg attendees, “Christmas is not your birthday…it’s Jesus’ birthday!” and challenged everyone to have a simple Christmas that year. All were asked to spend only half as much on their own Christmas as they would normally spend and to give the rest as a Christmas Miracle Offering to serve the people of Darfur. That same challenge has been issued in all subsequent Advent seasons, generating a total of $4.4 million for humanitarian development projects in Darfur from January 2005 to January 2009. Ginghamsburg’s work in Darfur, in partnership with the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), has involved three primary initiatives since early 2005. A sustainable agriculture program has reached 80,000 people. A safe water and sanitation project is currently providing safe wells and water yards for more than 100,000. And a child protection and development program is constructing schools and training teachers, with 22,000 children enrolled since the program’s inception. In 2011, we plan to continue our work in Darfur while also planting a church in the northern part of South Sudan, near the border with Darfur.
Why do you believe in United?
For as long as I have been associated with United, it has been committed to innovation. For example, it was one of the first seminaries in the 1970s and 80s to focus on possibilities for using media to promote and grow ministry. More importantly, although innovative, United has remained committed to biblical faith and to the Wesleyan theology of both personal and social holiness.
Any advice for current and incoming students?
Maximize your time at United. Remember you are not there simply to become a great biblical scholar but to become a successful practitioner of ministry and mission. This is your opportunity to develop a strong base for future success, figuring out not only the “what” of ministry but the critical “how to’s” for building and leading missional movements.