Campus Ministers and Retreats Promote Ways for Laity to be ‘UNLEASHED!’

Date Posted: 1/13/2017

Empowering students and adults to be unleashed into ministry will be the focus of the February “All Campus Retreat” for Texas college students as well as a three-retreat-weekend experience this spring for individuals interested in having a more impactful ministry outside of the church.
 
Three years ago, Allison Hicks enjoyed being a “guinea pig” of sorts in the first class of Laity Unleashed. “UNLEASHED!” is an intensive experience for the lay person who yearns to live out God’s call in an extraordinary way. It is designed to facilitate the discovery of that powerful place where spiritual gifts and the needs of the world intersect. “Initially, the model for this experience was a 12-week class where we would gather and discuss what we might could do in a ministry outside of the church,” notes Allison, “and I got a lot out of the sessions and have since joined the planning team to help engage other young adults in this discussion.”
 
Allison, a college student working as an intern with Memorial Drive UMC, has recently redesigned the Unleashed logo for greater visibility on T-shirts and other collateral and social media forums. As a member of the UNLEASHED! Planning Team, Allison believes her ministry opportunity is to use multiple social media platforms and campaigns to get students thinking about these opportunities before, during and after the retreat. “We will tag students and foundations and spark conversation and momentum,” she says.
 
The goal of the training is to move the lay person beyond the structure of the church and encourage each one to take God’s love boldly into the world and participants are doing just that.
 
Former participants in UNLEASHED! classes have gone on to:

  • Attend Asbury Seminary full time in the MA in Spiritual Formation program, focusing on Laity in ministry.
  • Become approved for Texas Annual Conference’s Spiritual Director Program.
  • Spread God's word by getting Bibles into parts of the world where people do not have access to scripture.
  • Become involved in a mission connected with "45 & Hope", feeding the homeless along I-45.
  • Work at a clinic, helping them become part of Methodist Hospital.
  • Begin work on a book of prayers based on the Psalms and to help persons of all ages become aware of the journey toward eternal life.
  • Provide kids development therapy for an underprivileged school.
  • Open a Spiritual Formation Center in the psychiatric hospital where the individual is employed.
 
Class 3 of UNLEASHED! helped former participant Kelly Burd-Huss in discerning that a vocation in corporate tax was not right for her. “This discernment process allowed be to find out exactly where I belong,” shares Kelly, “and it is surprising how well my background fits into the new scenario.” Kelly has since been committed to community development and protecting the historic nature of the Third Ward in Houston. “I met Rev. Hannah Terry and now serve on the board of the Fondren Apartment Ministry and I am using my corporate background to assess sources of funding and obtain preservation credits,” she says. All of this revelation and change transpired while Kelly was pregnant. “I’m the one in the pictures holding a baby, and my daughter Petra is somewhat of a local celebrity in my ministry circles now.”
 
Debbie Moffett has been involved since the inception of the training and has helped pilot a number of ways to deliver the material – from a small group setting to the college arena this February. “This year’s annual all-campus retreat for Wesley Foundations across the state will feature a version of UNLEASHED! sessions and discussions to get students thinking how they might launch into new ministry opportunities,” notes Debbie. “I am particularly thrilled that the Texas Conference is inviting Central and North Texas Conference Wesley Foundation students as well, which probably means 250 students will be reflecting on what God might be calling them to do.”
 
Debbie has been automating some of the steps and content since she’s helping take curriculum designed for a small class setting to a mega-group like the college retreat. Rev. Lance Richards, Watershed UMC, has also been working on modifying a sermon series on “Discover Your Purpose,” into a small group guide encouraging Methodists of all ages to consider what God is doing around them and how they might grab an oar and join in. “We have collected feedback from a group of millennials and a small group of baby boomers to help us constantly modify and improve the classes,” she adds.
 
“We will also be offering this material to Christian educators in local congregations for possible use in a Sunday school class or retreat or small group.” This “sampling” of information will be an on-ramp for those that want to know more by attending the UNLEASHED! Spring Retreats at Trinity Pines.
 
Leah Taylor, who formerly served as the conference Lay Leader, helped make this idea a reality.  She looks back at how the model has evolved over the last few years. “One key learning from the weeknight session model is that it is hard to unplug from work and find the space where we can hear God speaking in our lives,” she explains. “When we reworked the curriculum to make it three weekend retreats, we were concerned about whether the groups would form the strong connections we had seen in the weekday sessions. Fortunately, allowing participants the time and space to step away from their everyday concerns, gave them the opportunity to explore God’s call on their lives. And, they were able to connect with the other participants and become a close knit support group for each other.”  
 
Leah is excited to be able to offer the retreat setting model for a number of reasons. “Additionally, moving to a retreat setting has allowed us to move farther away from the greater Houston area so that UNLEASHED! can be made available to those living in other parts of the Annual Conference. In our last class, we had participants from Lufkin, Lexington and Porter,” she says. “The All Campus Retreat at Sky Ranch in the Tyler area will give us the opportunity to see yet another location much farther north in the Annual Conference. It is our goal that as Unleashed! grows, every lay person who feels called to this experience will find a place to participate within a reasonable distance to their home.”
 
The dates for the spring class (a series of three retreats from mid-day Saturday until mid-day Sunday) of UNLEASHED! are:
 
March 18 - 19
April 22 - 23
May 20 – 21.
 
“In the very near future this material will be offered in a variety of ways,” notes Debbie. “Perhaps we can engage people who are not even associated with church, because it really boils down to a conversation and powerful connections.”
 
To register for a retreat or get more information, contact Linda at lindabill.marr@gmail.com.
 
Additional information on UNLEASHED! will be available at a booth at the Annual Conference.