INDIANAPOLIS – “It’s a great time to bear witness to the Gospel in the Wesleyan tradition,” the Rev. James Harnish told more than 400 pastors and other clergy at the annual Our Life Together retreat Feb. 28 sponsored by the Indiana Conference Board of Ordained Ministry and held at St. Luke’s United Methodist Church in Indianapolis.

He shared four convictions he holds about Christian vitality in the Wesleyan tradition.

First, he said he comes not as an authority on congregational vitality but as a witness to what he has discovered that makes for a vital congregation.

Second, he said he has heard from numerous hurting people throughout his ministry saying, “Where have you folks been all my life?” He said our Wesleyan message of God’s prevenient (constant) grace is a constant discovery of those who view God in a Calvinist way.

“We (in America) are being inundated with hard-edged Calvinism that preaches a rock steady deity that orchestrates everything,” he said. On the other hand, Methodism is more impressed with human will and God’s grace, than with judgmental Calvinism.

Third is his conviction that “church renewal is happening in local congregations where the new church is being called to a new identity, like the places you serve.” Vitality is coming to both large congregations and to small congregations that are not small-minded.

Fourth is his conviction that it’s all about leadership. “It (congregational vitality) begins in the hearts of its leaders. Clergy and laity exhibit the work of the Holy Spirit in their lives. We are the clergy leaders of our congregations…

“On the negative side, he said, “dysfunctions run wide and deep but congregations are just waiting for us to be the ambassadors of Christ.”

He then outlined seven points on how pastors can find strength to carry on effective ministries over the long haul based on Psalm 119:33 – “Teach me, O Lord, the way of your statutes, and I will observe it to the end.” He said:

  1. Remember who you are, a person called by God;
  2. When the going gets rough, go deep;
  3. Share in your suffering;
  4. Do your best work in the worst of times;
  5. Stay connected, take care of your friendships;
  6. Stay healthy and
  7. Believe in the future.