Bishop Fairley’s message at the fall regional meetings: ‘We are called to make disciples’

October 12, 2018
By Alan Wild
Bishop Leonard Fairley’s central message during seven regional meetings held around the Kentucky Annual Conference was simple: Whatever distractions we may face as individuals or as a church, the work of developing passionate spiritual disciples can and must go on as part of the “family business.”

“We are called to make disciples. Not just any disciples, but passionate disciples of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Fairley said during a meeting in mid-September at St. Matthews UMC, hosted by the Heartland District.

“I know you’re anxious, but your job, the family business, is to make passionate disciples of Jesus,” said the bishop during his address, titled “Passionate Spiritual Disciples: Growing in the Spirit.”

About 150 clergy and laity attended the meeting at St. Matthews, and the bishop and others said they were pleased with the turnout at all the meetings, which were held in September and early October.

The others were held in Maysville (Washington UMC, Northern Kentucky District), Science Hill (Science Hill UMC, South East District), Lexington (Trinity Hill UMC, Lexington District), Pikeville (Pikeville First UMC, Kentucky East District), Henderson (Chapel Hill UMC, Owensboro District), and Bowling Green (Broadway UMC, South Central District).

“I think they all went well,” Bishop Fairley said in an interview after the series of meetings concluded. In part, he said, they were designed to remind KAC clergy and laity that despite the current debate over how the church deals with LGBTQ matters – and the upcoming special General Conference in February 2019 when votes will be taken – the work of the church continues.

Its vital mission is to make passionate disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, the bishop said at St. Matthews, and in the shadow of the current debate, “sometimes we forget that.”

Before each meeting, the bishop met over dinner with District Operational Teams. “I wanted to make sure all of us are leading and have the right focus,” he said during the interview.

The bishop said his sense is that United Methodists in Kentucky “genuinely want to make disciples” and are serious about it. There were some questions and concerns raised outside the meetings, but the sessions themselves were worship-focused.

It was refreshing to focus on something besides the debate over human sexuality, the bishop said. “I just love being out on the floor talking with people.”

At St. Matthews, the bishop stressed that whatever happens to the church, Jesus remains Lord. Starting with our baptism, both clergy and laity become disciples of Christ. The question is whether we will embrace that discipleship with passion, Bishop Fairley said.

The ministry is not ours – bishops, clergy, and laity will come and go, but we must develop new disciples to continue the work, he said.
Furthermore, we are called to do this work together, not on our own. Positional leadership doesn’t always work well because it creates a tendency for people to operate as “heroic silo leaders,” reluctant to collaborate, engaging in unhealthy competition, and reluctant to deal with conflict or engage in other relational accountability.

“We have enough heroic silo leaders – and I used to be chief among them,” the bishop confessed.

Using a PowerPoint, the bishop listed 12 leadership principles Jesus used to shape passionate spiritual disciples. They include investing in people, self-development, holding followers to high expectations, caring more about people than rules and regulations, celebrating success in ministry, and finishing well.

Three other clergy spoke after the bishop:

Rev. William Moore
Rev. Moore, superintendent of the Pennyrile District, oversaw a team that asked churches and committees around the Conference what characterizes passionate spiritual disciples. Three general characteristics emerged: those who know the love of Jesus, those who grow in his love, and those who show that love.

The information will be used to help churches identify the most effective methods to develop passionate spiritual disciples.

Rev. Matthew Kimmons
Rev. Kimmons, senior pastor at London First UMC, discussed the importance of “emotional intelligence” for clergy and other key church leaders. There is a strong connectional relationship between a healthy emotional intelligence level and how we build healthy, redemptive relationships, he said.

To that end, he is overseeing the testing of KAC clergy and lay leaders to gauge their emotional intelligence. The results will be used to help make them more effective at leading their churches or teams.

Rev. Kimmons stressed that emotional intelligence is something that can be developed by identifying personal growth areas and developing a strategy to develop those areas.

Rev. Kevin Burney
Rev. Burney, assistant to the bishop, talked about the “gandy dancer,” a slang term used for early railroad section line workers who laid and maintained tracks before the process became automated.

The workers, who used a long metal pole known as a “gandy,” needed to work uniformly to do their jobs effectively. It’s much like today’s church, when ‘’we need each other to pull together,” Rev. Burney said, concluding:

“Go transform the world. It takes us all putting our backs into pulling together. I now call that the ‘Gospel of the Gandy Dancer.’”

The seven regional meetings of building passionate spiritual disciples were a first step. Bishop Leonard Fairley said the next step is to give individual churches the resources to help it happen. The Conference is providing three resources for churches to consider:  
  • Developing a Discipleship System: A Guide for Congregations: This is a practical guide for congregations that find themselves stuck researching demographics, pouring over worship attendance metrics, and fixing their aging structures – yet lack a system for creating relationships with those who surround their church. Rather than trying to program our way back to vitality, it requires a movement toward discipleship-making. This resource comes from Discipleship Ministries:
  • Discipleship Retreats: The 2019 retreats are scheduled for Feb. 1-2, May 17-18 and Sept. 6-7 and will be held at the Conference Center in Crestwood. To find out more, contact Rev. Tami Coleman, associate director of Connectional Ministries, at
To view the PowerPoint presentation from the regional meetings, or to view a video of the meeting hosted by the Owensboro District, go to:

So far, Rev. Coleman has been working with three districts and three individual churches.  “At various levels, we are already implementing this, which is exciting.”

She said one church has about 30 people who attend Sunday worship – and of those, 20 have signed up for a discipleship Bible study.
“The more we talk about this,” she said, “the more churches are willing to do the hard work of discipleship intentionality.”