A year ago, Cokesbury United Methodist Church created a "leadership academy" that left some people scratching their heads, wondering why a local church staff would want to get involved in pastoral training.
This year, Cokesbury Leadership Academy has 15 graduates to its name and is preparing for a second class of aspiring leaders -- including the conference's own final-year probationary elders and deacons.
The Rev. Steve Sallee, senior pastor at Cokesbury UMC, said that his experience with the first year of students inspired him to open the training to an even larger group.
"This first group confirmed my suspicions -- that most pastors have had little if any exposure to significant leadership training," Sallee said. "When our first class received some training, they jumped on it like crazy ... Most left feeling they had not been the leaders they could be, but now they had the resources to do it."
In July 2007, Sallee and staff announced that they felt moved to share their experiences at Cokesbury with other pastors. With 3,700 members and 2,700 in average worship attendance, the Knoxville District church is one of the denomination's top 20 churches in attendance.
In the upcoming September-to-May session, Cokesbury will divide its training into two parts. About 20 of Holston's final-year "provisional" elders and deacons are required to attend the monthly leadership classes at Cokesbury. (Under the 2008 General Conference, "probationary" elders and deacons are now referred to as "provisional" elders and deacons.)
second part of the Cokesbury Academy will be offered to a maximum of 20
pastors in their second, third, or fourth appointments. Participants
are now being recruited and must apply by Sept. 8. (E-mail Cokesbury
now for more information.)
According to the Rev. Jonathan Jonas, the Board of Ordained Ministry (BOM) was encouraged by the Cabinet to offer Cokesbury's training to the final-year provisional class as an "experiment."
"Bishop [James] Swanson and the Cabinet were eager to make sure they had lots of opportunities to sharpen their leadership skills in their final year," said Jonas, chair of the BOM's Committee on Mentoring and Recruitment. "This is a test run to see if what Cokesbury is doing could be an useful part of the provisional process ... It's an opportunity to work out all the bugs in the system and tap into a resource that's in our own backyard."
The provisional class will meet at Cokesbury on the third Monday of each month, beginning Sept. 15, to "explore basic leadership principles and the issues related to a new pastor getting ready to be ordained," Sallee said.
The second group of pastors in their second, third, or fourth appointments will receive a more advanced course of leadership, meeting on the third Tuesday of every month beginning Sept. 16.
Speakers throughout the course will include Bill Easum and the Rev. Michael Slaughter and possibly the Rev. Leonard Sweet. Speakers will meet with both Monday and Tuesday participants, Sallee said. Students will also share case studies from their current appointments. The course concludes in May 2009.
A fee of $200 per semester ($400 per year) will cover meals, materials, and speakers' fees.
Among the first class of the graduates is the Rev. Wil Cantrell, who said that he recommends Cokesbury Academy to other clergy.
"Most of the training we get in seminaries in the United Methodist system teaches us to be pastoral caregivers, not pastoral leaders, and that's what the church needs us to be," said Cantrell, associate pastor at Middlebrook Pike UMC in Knoxville District. "When I left seminary, I could preach a sermon, lead a Bible study, visit hospitals, but I had no idea how to get a church to claim a vision."
Instead of approaching problems believing that "nothing can be done," the Cokesbury training has helped him to "identify areas where my leadership abilities need to grow," Cantrell said. "One mistake I will not make will be to fail to claim the role of leader and vision-setter as my own."
The Rev. Aaron Pierce, also a recent Cokesbury graduate, said that he attended the first classes "not knowing what I was getting into."
"But being with the group and being exposed to a church with a lot of ministry successes was uplifting," said Pierce, pastor at Ketron Memorial UMC in Kingsport District. "Sallee was not trying to recruit everyone into being like Cokesbury. He tried to get us to do something -- anything -- to grow the Kingdom right where we are."
For more information, e-mail Cokesbury UMC.