When the Rev. Jacob Fields went to Blue Mound UMC in Denton, Texas in 2017, he was ready to hit the ground running. But upon arrival he came to, if not a halt, a definite slow down.
The congregation was made up of about 40 people: mostly white, a few more women than men. They were mostly farming families. Blue Mound had been a rural area for more than 150 years, but was quickly losing its rural flavor and becoming more suburban. Change was coming.
Fields had big plans when he arrived at Blue Mound, but he discovered he needed to start with basics. Serious basics.
“The first thing I discovered was that I needed to help them learn how to pay attention during worship,” he said.
I had to ask myself if they really understood they were invited into a relationship with Christ. ... Too often we assume that the people sitting in our pews are already on that pathway into a relationship, on their way toward growing discipleship.
“I had to ask myself if they really understood they were invited into a relationship with Christ,” he said. “Too often we assume that the people sitting in our pews are already on that pathway into a relationship, on their way toward growing discipleship.”
To his surprise, one man in the church even told him, “You know I don’t really believe all this stuff.” Fields knew he had work to do.
He did a sermon on the means of grace. “I asked them to think about ‘what is grace?’ Afterward one woman told me she had never understood grace. I was again surprised.”
Fields has started a process to lead his people into a discipleship pathway. His first step is to get people to attend the worship service.
“At first, you just want someone who comes to worship to come again,” he said. “It’s where we come into contact with God. I think that is where the beginning of discipleship happens. Someone who doesn’t have a relationship with Christ won’t come just because you want to do a story in Romans.”
The worship time structure at Blue Mound is traditional: a call to worship, a children’s time, a prayer, an Old Testament passage, a New Testament passage, an offering, a closing prayer and a benediction.
One thing Fields did was eliminate the greeting time in order to give a little more time to preaching and worship.
“A Pew Research study I read said most United Methodist churches do 20 minutes of preaching and 40 of singing,” he said. “We turn this upside down. We need more teaching time.”
Most of Fields’ sermons start with a description of a human condition, painting a picture of something the people already recognize. Then he points to an accompanying scripture that illustrates a life question.”
Fields said he makes it a point to let his people know he is available to them.
“I try to do as much ‘office-ing’ outside of the church building as I can,” he said, showing what happens outside the building is just as important as what happens inside.