From Frustrated to Fruitful

Grace UMC hosted a cookie decorating class that welcomed several newcomers.
Photo courtesy Grace UMC

By Rev. Dr. Heather Lear, V.P. for Grant Administration

A teacher’s main hope and goal for their students is that they find creative ways to adopt and apply the material taught – long after class is dismissed. For me, I also sincerely hope that the relationship continues, and students see me as a resource in their next stages of ministry. That is what I find so special about the work of the E. Stanley Jones (ESJ) Professors of Evangelism, the Foundation’s longest-running grant program. So many students of ESJ Professors talk about how they apply their evangelism professor’s teaching in their ministry, and some continue the relationship even after graduation! ESJ Professor, Rev. Dr. Mark Teasdale, who was my teacher and advisor during my Doctor of Ministry work, has had such an impact in my life. In fact, he and I still work together training future pastors and church leaders.

When Rev. Mary Beth Eberle signed her church up for the Evangelism for Non-Evangelists webinar series in Spring 2022 that Mark and I were co-leading, she did so because she already knew the instructor. Mary Beth had taken an evangelism class with Mark at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary to fulfill the evangelism requirement for ordination. She was appointed to serve Grace United Methodist Church in Jackson, Tenn., in July 2021 to help lead them through a season of renewal. The webinar series, to her surprise and delight, engaged about two-thirds of the congregation -including the youth and young adults- either directly or through discussion groups based on the webinars and book.

At the conclusion of the webinar series, Mary Beth invited me to come to Grace UMC to observe, reflect, and apply what they had learned in the webinar series. Together that Sunday morning, we worked through how to apply the tools Mark and I introduced during the webinars, and we began brainstorming opportunities and next steps. This will be a major investment and process for Grace UMC’s leadership, but they are ready to do the work! After our session together, Mary Beth said,

“This season has underscored how easily we can slip into autopilot and proceed without being intentional about why we do what we do as a church.  I also really appreciate the tools that our experience has given us to evaluate our efforts.”

Through this process at Mary Beth’s church, several themes have emerged. Before she arrived, the congregation had been told that what they were doing was wrong – they needed to implement the next, newest thing.  Weary of gimmicks that have given no fruit, the new approach used by Mark’s book and webinar is refreshing. Mary Beth reports it is helping the church learn who they are and how to share what they love with other people.

“I love that this approach enables and empowers the whole congregation to share God’s goodness with their neighbors.  From a leadership standpoint, I know which areas to strengthen and emphasize in to help my folks be confident, effective, and respectful.  We need to work on spiritual conversations, on understanding what we believe and how it is good news for our neighbors, and on really owning the foundation of our faith.”

Rev. Mary Beth Eberle

As a teacher, coach, and co-laborer in Kingdom work, this sense of ownership and empowerment is what continues to drive and inspire me, and I am grateful to be in a position and be part of an organization whose mission is to support these gifted leaders, engage and empower laity, and equip local churches to share the love of Jesus in word and deed!

I think Mary Beth’s and her church’s experience really speak to The Foundation for Evangelism’ catalytic impact through the E. Stanley Jones Professors of Evangelism. In her words:

“I have confidence we can plan discipleship and events for the life of the church always with an eye to outreach and transformation, even when the audience may be primarily our own congregation.”

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