St. Luke’s UMC Bryan Helps Make Ministry Memorable

Date Posted: 6/23/2016

From unique painting classes to surprises within the sermon, St. Luke’s UMC, Bryan leaders are discovering the power of creating positive “buzz.”
Imagine showing up for church and the pastor is nowhere to be found. The music begins, followed by prayer and announcements - still no pastor?  As this was happening to members of St. Luke’s UMC in Bryan, their attention turned to a video played on the screens in the church. Surprisingly, they soon saw a close up view of their pastor, Rev. Jeff Dungan snuggled face down in his pillow. As his eyes open, they strain to hear him as he mumbles a “good m’ornin.”  Then he says, sleepily, “I didn’t feel like getting up today.” The video continues as Jeff asks the congregation, “Remember when you were in school and the teachers didn’t seem to have their lesson ready so they announced that the class was going to watch a movie? How would you feel about watching a movie today, hmmm?”
This was one of Terra Plant’s favorite ministry moments. She recalls the awkward moments following this video as the congregation --with puzzled expressions -- attempted to process this shocking news. After what seemed like an eternity, Pastor Jeff took his normal position at the podium. When it comes to memorable moments, shares Terra, “This was one of my favorites and it was from his sermon series on the ‘Seven Deadly Sins.’  This sermon about sloth—aptly started from the comfort of his bed at home via video and was pretty unforgettable.  We laughed, we related, and we're still talking about it.  His message, thanks to the delivery method, really stuck with me.”
“Evidently, this was a striking sermon illustration and people are still talking about it almost two years later,” says Rev. Jeff Dungan. “My illustration goals for the Seven Deadly Sins series was to find humorous ways to overdramatize these very real human conditions so everyone could laugh at the same time they are saying to themselves, “Oh yeah, I remember being angry like that.’"  For anger, he incorporated infamous videos of tennis players banging their rackets and John McEnroe arguing.
More recently he worked Star Wars into a sermon series to further leverage the power of creativity in applying biblical truth to contemporary analogies. “Anything – from a costume to a visual aid or video -- that helps a subject to be engaging is also valuable in making it more memorable,” he adds.
The pastor’s creative ideas come out of a desire to try to connect the topic or theme to the audience in a creative and fun way.  Admits Jeff, “Sometimes this is poking fun at myself, other times it is overdramatizing something of our human condition, and other times it is tapping into popular culture.  Often, I end up trying to connect with people in ways I believe would connect with me if I were in the congregation.”
Planning vs. Spontaneity 
Jeff has learned that “creative illustrations can be done on the fly with a smart phone but often can be time consuming, especially if you don’t have great technology, a/v editing skills, or access to someone who can help you with the technology.  Many of my ideas come as I am writing my sermon throughout the week, which doesn’t leave much time for difficult or involved video projects.”
Tip #1: His best piece of advice: “Good creative illustrations take planning, which means you really need to be thinking several weeks ahead about the specifics of your sermons or sermon series.” 
Tip #2: Not all illustrations will work with every congregation.  “You have to know your audience,” he notes, “but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take risks.  You can’t let the concerns of a few keep you from creatively connecting with the majority of the congregation.  
“The real payoff is if your entire message resonates,” he shares, “since creative illustrations help people to connect to your message. The goal is connection to message, and message that transforms. I have personally witnessed the power of creativity in my congregation as a ministry opportunity for transformation.”
Creativity Impacts Women’s Ministry
St. Luke’s UMC Bryan leaders are working to infuse creativity into the church world to better connect “heads to hearts” and facilitate transformation and life change. In May, the Women’s ministry event consisted of a painting class with a spiritual dimension that appealed to church members as well as coworkers and friends.
Kristin Dungan, wife of Pastor Jeff, is still excited about the turnout and impact. “We had 30 women from inside and outside the church attend,” she shares. Each woman was given a blank canvas and a marker to write down struggles, burdens, worries, sins, fears. Adds Kristin, “Some women chose to sit alone during this very personal time, to better hear what God wanted them to give over to Him.”  Painting the entire canvas then symbolized the blood of Jesus covering all of the written worries and sins.  “As a last step, we covered the board with the promises of Jesus,” she says. “Scripture reminds us that God's love is more powerful than the world around us.”
The uniqueness of this ministry touch point inspired many church members to invite friends and coworkers to participate.  The event was also advertised on a school district swap site, encouraging several attendees from the school district to attend.
Sharon Irwin loved this event and anxiously awaits the next women’s ministry opportunity. Notes Sharon, “As each of us spent time writing on our canvas the regrets, failures, mistakes and unfulfilled hopes in our life, I noticed two things happening. For one, it was a very freeing release to actually see those words in print that so many of us are afraid to admit or say aloud, and to see the fellowship between the ladies be full of compassion and love, not judgment. Then, to be able to paint over all the words was such a visual reminder to me of what Christ's blood has done for us! All our sins are washed away by His grace, and hidden in Him, just as those words we wrote were hidden under the paint! When I look at my painted canvas, it reminds me of who I am in Christ - His daughter!”
“Food, crafts, girlfriends and learning forgiveness made for a great evening!” adds Margot Newcomb.
More ideas
Kristin is pondering new options for a women’s event for August that includes a creative and spiritual dimension. “Maybe we can make a bath scrub or bath salts and keep one and give two away that have church worship times and contact information,” she shares. “Perhaps we should make wall art or a poster to hang near our closet that reminds us who we are in Christ, or reminds us to put on the full armor of God as we get dressed.” Ladies might get to make a light switch cover with a scripture on it such as, I am the light of the world or Thy word is a lamp unto my feet. Adds Kristin, “As individuals and as a church we are being more intentional to remember to invite others to church and church activities to find the hope we have found. Chances are, folks that don’t regularly attend church might be surprised about all the positive experiences and friendships they are missing in their lives.”