OCALA — Florida Conference Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker said elders of
the United Methodist Church are ordained for “delivering the word,
sacrament and order,” and as such they are prepared to assist the church
as it moves in the direction of cooperative parish ministry.
Whitaker spoke at the most recent gathering of the Conference Table
at St. Mark’s United Methodist Church in Ocala Nov. 12. The featured
topic was cooperative parish ministry and the impact it could have in
the Florida Conference.
The Conference Table, created in 2002, is a venue for clergy and
laity to discuss the connectional life and the current context of the
United Methodist Church in Florida.
Cooperative parish ministry involves two or more churches working
together in a formal arrangement, strengthening the ministry of the
Whitaker said the model is good for financially struggling churches
and pastors, and it might enable some churches to take on a new way of
meeting the needs of their communities.
“The church is no longer the center of the culture,” Whitaker said.
“This is a time when the church is being pushed out of the center. We’re
asking, ‘What is the role of the church?’ It’s time for the church to
re-image itself. The church has forgotten what it is.”
Whitaker said elders can help churches enter this model because they
are trained in the task of order.
“Some elders get in a rut, become bored and depressed,” he said.
“This is an opportunity to get them out of isolation, to work with other
pastors and challenge one another. This way they are stimulated,
motivated, have an outlet and accountability. They fulfill their mission
and do what the spirit of God has called them to do.”
The cooperative ministry task force presented more than 13 scenarios
in which cooperative parish ministry might be employed, but repeatedly
told attendees it is not a quick fix for dying or troubled churches.
One way churches can begin to participate is through cooperative
resources teams that assist churches with a specific area of need.
Churches express a need, and then a team of five to six people within
the district who have the gifts to meet that need are nominated by their
pastor and recruited by a resource team coordinator to serve on the
The team would include primarily laity who have specific skills in
such areas as hospitality, finances, fund raising, or children or youth
ministry. Members could meet for one meeting or a year of informal
The goal of cooperative parish ministry is to enhance the function of
the churches involved, according to the conference’s cooperative
ministry task force, which presented a document highlighting the
benefits of such a ministry.
The reported said churches working together in a formal arrangement
and sharing at least one staff member would strengthen the ministry of
all participating churches. It also cited data showing participating
churches experienced enhanced stewardship and more ministry per dollar
of investment. And potentially utilizing fewer clergy could reduce
expenses and enable specialized ministry to be brought onto the team. A
smaller investment in ministry staff could also lead to lower
apportionments for the local church and the annual conference, according
to task force members.
While it appears the advantages of the cooperative parish ministry
are endless, the Rev. Bill Knight, pastor of First United Methodist
Church of Wauchula, said he doesn’t view the model as something for
churches to do to keep their doors open.
“There are few opportunities for growth in rural areas,” he said
after the meeting. “No one church is strong enough to do everything.”
Knight said his church has worked with United Methodist Churches four
miles to the north and south of his church to provide Christmas cantatas
and looks forward to moving into the area of ministry outreach with
That’s the best way for churches to embrace the model according to
the Rev. Charles Weaver, Tallahassee District superintendent and a
member of the cooperative ministry task force. He said parish ministry
cannot be forced on churches or pastors. They must arrive at the idea
that the model is a good one for them.
Julie Bullerdick, a member of the Sarasota District, said it’s an
exciting time for churches to give cooperative parish ministry a chance.
“I’m very excited about the ways churches are looking for ways to
come together to reach people for Jesus Christ,” she said.
It’s for that reason alone that the Rev. Dr. Don Nations, secretary
of the task force and director of the South Sarasota Teaching Parish,
said he is not against cooperative parish ministry being imposed on
“The mission [making disciples for Jesus Christ] is larger than any
one of us,” he said. “Churches need to be realistic as they struggle.
There are options and opportunities for them.”