Discerning Our Passion and Mission through Holy ConversationsEmail This Share This Tweet This
by Rev. Cheryl Murphy, Senior Pastor of Waples Memorial United Methodist Church, as told to TMF
Located in rural North Texas in the Red River Valley on the border with Oklahoma, Waples Memorial United Methodist Church (UMC) in Denison, Texas, has a long history of gathering in faith, love, and service in the name of Jesus Christ. We have a range of ministries, including preschool education and outreach to the homeless. However, the next generation is not as connected to the church as it used to be. That’s why we decided to begin the Holy Conversations process with TMF in December 2017, to imagine what our faith community will look like in 20 years and discern how we will get there. I’m sharing this part of our journey to encourage others who may be facing similar crossroads.
Holy Conversations is a strategic discernment process for congregations and is led by one of TMF's area staff. We have been fortunate to work with Rev. Carol Montgomery, who is TMF’s area representative to churches in the North Texas Conference. Our meetings allow us to refocus and ask hard questions, such as:
- What is this church really about, and what are our core principles?
- Do the ministries that we have in place (or that we dream of) work and make sense?
- Are our ministries helpful to the community?
- Who has the passion for our ministries and why?
- Are the pastor and the congregation aligned?
As Methodists, we also ask ourselves if we are being faithful to our mission statement: are we "creating disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world"? Holy Conversations let us ask and seek answers to open-ended questions, such as “Where is God’s heart breaking in the community, and are we serving that?”
At our Holy Conversations meetings, eight people come together with Carol Montgomery and me. This diverse group of people includes younger adults
with school-age children and older adults who are young in spirit and open to change and transformation. The process also involves honest conversations with people outside of the church, such as guidance counselors from local schools. The crux of what we want from this committee is hearts that are open to something different.
During these meetings, I try not to talk.The nice thing about TMF leading these conversations is that they are passionate but also bring an objective perspective. They can ask questions that I can’t always ask. Carol can guide the dialogue with curiosity and gently ask “why?” when we need to examine issues more deeply. That is one of the major benefits of her being an outside voice. Carol does this wonderful weaving together of others’ comments and observations. And if we haven’t heard from someone, she gives them an opportunity to speak.
We also have interviewed town folks, businesses, school administrators and police officers. As we discover the intersections of who we are in this moment and in this place and what our community needs of us, we can begin to develop a missional strategy. It has taken nearly a year of conversation, prayer, research and collaboration to listen for where God’s heart is for our ministry. For example, we have a history of being called to serve youth while an emerging community issue is homelessness. Understanding how to meet different community needs is a part of our process.
I share what we learn with our congregation along the way. TMF Holy Conversations has helped me to better articulate to the congregation that our call is not to be internally focused. We don’t want to greet Jesus at the end of our days and have him ask us: “Did you come alone?” Receiving feedback from the outside community, including the good and what is hard to hear, can help us see the opportunities that await us. Holy Conversations has helped me think of this dilemma in a different way and think more about how we can build deeper relationships in our community that align with our congregation’s passions and talents.
While we are not yet at the end of our Holy Conversations process and have not determined exactly how our plan for moving forward will look, it is coming into focus that how we reach out to and build connections and relationships with our community’s children and their families will be part of our new mission. Exploring the needs and sitting with the hard questions takes patience, prayer and thoughtful dialogue, but is essential for how we move forward to grow and amplify our impact in Denison.
Editor’s note: Our TMF blog shares stories and essays inspired by our purpose: to help individuals, families, congregations and like-minded organizations achieve their God-inspired potential. Rev. Cheryl Murphy is the senior pastor of Waples Memorial United Methodist Church in Denison, Texas. Their church contracted with TMF to facilitate Holy Conversations, a strategic discernment process to help a church discover where their passion and God’s plan intersect.
Contact your Area Representative for your conference or V.P. of Area Staff John Thornburg at to find out more about how Holy Conversations can lead your congregation to faithful, purposeful discernment and change.