The Rev. J.R. Virgin doesn’t have a lot of ego tied up in the discipleship of his people at Ebensburg (Pennsylvania) United Methodist Church.
His ministry philosophy is to train the people who are called to go out and meet the needs of those they are called to serve.
Twice a year Rev. Virgin does a sermon series on service and self-worth.
It is empowering to know that because God loves them, they are important. As they begin to understand this, they realize they are called to be disciples. As they take being disciples seriously, it leads them to a place of service.
“People begin to see and understand their self-worth comes from the fact that they are loved by God,” he said. “It is empowering to know that because God loves them, they are important. As they begin to understand this, they realize they are called to be disciples. As they take being disciples seriously, it leads them to a place of service.”
Rev. Virgin said about 10 people in the congregation have accepted a call into ministry as an elder, deacon or local pastor. That does not surprise him. As people are open to hearing God’s voice, they will be called to serve.
“I train our church lay leaders not through the ‘Let’s have a meeting about talk about discipleship’ philosophy, but by more of a ‘Come along beside me and see how I serve and join me in the work’ school of thought,” he said.
“We grow together as we work together,” he said.
The church has four associate pastors, all of whom have grown up in the church. They witnessed the church’s transformation over the years from a church mainly focused on Sunday morning to a church that uses Sunday morning as a springboard to service throughout the rest of the week.
“When I came,” Rev. Virgin said, “we had three services on Sunday morning. But I began to realize that Sunday morning didn’t work for everyone. I had people telling me that their kids had soccer practice on Sunday morning, and they couldn’t make it to church.”
Some people might say if that’s the case, just take your kids out of soccer, but, honestly that isn’t necessarily realistic, and not everyone is going to do that.
Rev. Virgin saw a rather simple solution to the Sunday morning dilemma.
“I moved the 11:30 Sunday morning service to Saturday night,” he said. “It worked. We now have a thriving service on Saturday night and two healthy services on Sunday morning. It met a need. It didn’t take a genius to realize we can’t change the world if we make everything contingent on our own schedules.”
While church growth is very important to Rev. Virgin, he doesn’t think it has to all be in his church.
Ebensburg UMC did something rather extraordinary. They adopted three declining congregations and are working with them to restore church health.
Our associate pastors witnessed our church grow through education, outreach and healthy relationship building.
“Our associate pastors witnessed our church grow through education, outreach and healthy relationship building,” Rev. Virgin said. “They know it works because they witnessed it.” They are working with these churches to help the members there become disciples who go out, reach their communities, and share the love of God with people who don’t know.
Ebensburg UMC is a good example of discipleship at work. They gather together for education and encouragement, but realize all that does is prepare them for the real opportunities for service. Discipleship grows as they embrace the “each one teach one” model of discipling.
Teach the people from Scripture, show them how to embrace the truth that God loves them and considers them important, allow opportunities to see how discipleship is done, then send them out to serve. It worked in Jesus’s time and still works today.