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The Vital Connection episode eight: A balancing act

By: Sheri Meister, executive director of the Dakotas United Methodist Foundation

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Pastor Cory Thrall joins us on this episode of The Vital Connection to discuss the ministry he is doing in the Bismarck area. Thrall is assigned to Bismarck Legacy, and serving the churches of Washburn, Center, Hazen, Turtle Lake, and Beulah in North Dakota. When Kermit Culver and Keith Nelson, former northwest district superintendent, first approached Cory about the idea of serving three churches (Center, Turtle Lake, and Washburn), he was excited for the challenge, but has found some challenges along the way. With five churches under his leadership, Cory had to find a way to balance each individual church to meet their needs. He shares some of his insights with us today:

Meeting their unique needs
Cory compared leading multiple churches to parenting several kids. “For someone who has kids, you know each child is different in their personality and who they are. These churches were just the same – they respond at different times and react differently.” Each church has a unique personality and you have to figure out how to lead the church and interact with the people differently at each location, so you are meeting their needs. Some churches are quick to pick up on new ideas, while others need to take time to “simmer” over the idea before moving forward.

Becoming more missional
Center UMC had a vision to reach out to the community, so they started a children’s night on Wednesday nights. What started out as about 15 kids has grown to hosting 60-65 kids for weekly meals. For churches who are looking to be more missional and to reach beyond the walls of their building, Thrall advises them to “find one thing that you can reach out to the community with and be good at that. Don’t do 500 things and be mediocre. Find one thing and become really, really good.” Become a place where people know they can come and find Christ because of that one thing. 

The bigger picture
All churches are resistant to change – whether it be a new leader, new ideas, or breaking from tradition. In these times it is important to ask “why?” and get the root of why they do or do not do certain things. Why are we doing this, why is it a part of our worship? How is this affecting our ministry and our outreach to the community? Finding a way to get the churches to break out of their traditions and see the overall vision will help them thrive on a deeper level.

Find partners in the Conference and community
As Center began rolling and attendance was up and the kids started coming, they quickly realized that the building needed to be updated. Not only did they need to find a way to fit more people into their sanctuary, but they needed to update the air conditioner, heater, kitchen, and many other things. They decided to apply for and were awarded a Builders Club grant to help with these updates. In addition to partnering with the Builder Club, they church took ownership and found ways to partner with their community. Center UMC partnered with a local nursing home who was getting rid of a bunch of cabinets and countertops, and they were able to use these in their new kitchen.

Take time for yourself
Whether you are leading five churches or one church, it is a big responsibility and sometimes overwhelming to care of everyone. It is important to take time for yourself to recharge and to find a way to stay grounded. Knowing who you are personally is crucial in knowing when and how to take time to de-stress. You have to schedule those times just for you and stick to them. Staying connected to God is key. “Who they [pastors] are in Christ has nothing to do with their ministry, because that is their job. To tear that away and to ask how is my relationship with God right now? That is what helps me stay connected with Christ” says Thrall.