Q and A with Rev. Michael Precht at Crestview FUMC

September 04, 2015
Rev. Michael Precht is the senior pastor at Crestview FUMC and has served in this appointment since July 1, 2014. In his brief tenure, he has made it a priority to intentionally explore every aspect of ministry at Crestview FUMC. We learn more in a recent Q & A with the Office of Communications (OOC). 

OOC: You’ve been in this appointment just over a year. How has this appointment been different than any of your previous appointments?
Precht: First United Methodist reminds me a great deal of the church I served for my first appointment, when I was an associate pastor at St. Francis United Methodist Church in Cary, NC. Of course, the biggest difference is that I was the associate at St. Francis and now I'm the senior pastor at First United Methodist. As an associate, my primary task was to receive the vision and goals of the church from the leadership and match them with my own particular gifts and sensibility. Now, my primary task is to help set the vision and goals of the church so that others pass those on to others, so that others can carry out that vision according to their gifts and sensibilities. 

OOC: How are you able to use your God-given talents in this appointment?
Precht: Goodness, it's hard to think of an answer to that question that doesn't sound horribly immodest. I think the gift that has made the biggest contribution is my deep sense of that Wesleyan experience we call "assurance." I understand assurance to be an experiential knowledge that God is God and we are not, but we are loved. When I cultivate that assurance, patience and attentiveness and a "non-anxious presence" come more readily to me. When I arrived at FUMC, there was a lot of anxiety about which of our worship services constituted the real "future" of the church. I hope I've been able to convey that what matters is that all three worship services reflect authentic worship of God and attention to Jesus. The future of the church is God's work. I'm more interested in offering God our very best in whatever we do, and paying attention to what God is calling us to do in this place. 

I think I've also been able to use the various training I've received in administration and organizational thinking. I was once reading a biography of John Wesley that described him as a mediocre preacher but an unparalleled organizer. George Whitefield and many others of Wesley's contemporaries could preach circles around him (of course, I'm compelled to note that Wesley's sermons had better theology than Whitefield's. But everyone agreed that Whitefield was more interesting and powerful as a preacher). Wesley's particular genius was for organizing and instructing and encouraging the small groups and societies and lay preachers that made up the Methodist movement. 

I have a conspicuous lack of that genius. I am absent-minded and tangential in nearly all my ways. But, I have tried to shore up that weakness by learning and stealing lots of ideas from others. I don't have a talent for organization; becoming "organized" is a trial-and-error experience for me. But I do have a passion for seeing good administration and a driving focus on constantly making it better. I hope that has blessed this congregation

OOC: In order to have an outside perspective, you’ve enlisted the help of Ministry Architects (MA). Tell us more about the decision to partner with them. 
Precht: See above about my passion for organization. I first contacted Ministry Architects because I had received recommendations of them from several of my colleagues in our conference. Our congregation had seen a lot of change and disruption in the last year and our church's long-range planning committee agreed that we could benefit from an outside voice to help us discern what our unique gifts are and how we could best nurture them. Out of all the consultants we considered, I was most intrigued by Ministry Architects and recommended them to the Long-Range Planning Committee because MA places a particular emphasis on the infrastructure and organization of churches. We felt they could best help us develop the tools and processes that would make it easy for anyone to contribute to the ministries of our church. 

OOC: This timeline is a 28-month process. How did you help your congregation understand that plans like these do not happen in weeks or months?
Precht: Lots and lots of communication. We hold our Church Council Meetings on a Wednesday night every other month after a meal. The whole church is invited to sit in at each meeting. When Ministry Architects revealed their 28-month timeline for renovating our ministry systems, they were presenting their plan to about 120 people. Immediately afterwards, we posted their timeline on our church's website so anyone could view it, and we spent a month drawing people's attention to it through emails, worship announcements, and more. Then, after a month, we met for a called charge conference to answer the question, "Do we want to do this?" The timeline came with the recommendation of our Long-Range Planning committee, which had met to review it, and the church council overwhelmingly approved it. Once approved, we had the timeline printed on an eye-catching sign, framed it, and bolted it to the wall in our office wing. 

OOC: You are already several months into the ministry plan. What positive changes have you already celebrated?
Precht: From my perspective our two biggest wins have been our Communication Plan and our Ministry Planning Worksheet. 

Last week, a church member from our Children's Ministry Team came by because she wanted to launch a new program for Advent - the details are so cool, but I'll spare you a long explanation. This person had never led an event like that before, so she came by and we worked through our Ministry Planning Worksheet that helped her think about who she could contact for snacks, crafts, transportation, publicity and all the other things that make for a successful children's program. When we were done, she had a clear plan of what this event would be, and for how she could make it happen with eight phone calls instead of feeling she had to make every detail happen herself. And after the event is done, all of that will be saved in a notebook that we can pass on for next year so that she doesn't have to feel chained whenever she's ready to serve in some other ministry. 

Our communication plan is a part of that Planning Template. If someone wants to get the word out about a ministry they love, it takes us 20 seconds now to send them a list of all the places they can share that information and the deadlines and guidelines that make for a good worship announcement, or post on our website. These two tools mean that no particular ministry has to be bottle necked by the time and limitations of our staff. Anyone can make church ministry happen!

We also have developed a three-year ministry plan and goals, and those will be incredibly valuable in guiding the work of our staff and committees. But what excites me are the possibilities for new ministries that we haven't imagined. 

OOC: Identifying gifts has been a significant component of this plan. Tell us more about this. 
Precht: To be honest, a lot of that work is still down the road. Our ministry timeline calls for us to have a good plan by next spring for identifying the spiritual gifts of all our church. We haven't gotten to that project yet.  However, we have tried to model a gifts-based ministry in our staff structure, which did undergo some changes after meeting with Ministry Architects. We have organized our staff according to function rather than department. For example, we don't have a youth minister or children's minister right now. Samantha Lewis (our Associate Pastor) and I love to teach so we rotate regularly through the teaching in our youth events and children's church. Sam is the extrovert's extrovert, so she handles most of our visitation - visiting the youth at school lunches, and taking communion to our homebound and members recovering from illness. I focus on team-building and helping our different ministry teams - Trustees, Youth, Children, Missions, etc. - dream and execute great ministries. That extends across our entire staff - everyone is bringing their particular gifts to bear in ways that bless a wide range of ministries. 

OOC: Our conference has made lay leadership a priority? How does the laity fit into the long-term leadership plan at Crestview FUMC? 
Precht: Nothing happens without the laity of the church. Every Sunday evening, I meet with a different leadership team - Finance, Youth, Long-Range Planning, etc. - to review what we've done and think about where we are going.  We've learned from Ministry Architects that every program in the church needs a Coordinator who comes from the laity - as staff we are here to empower and encourage and provide the infrastructure that our laity use to make ministry happen. 

In my mind, this isn't just a matter of growth or mission - it's also a matter of discipleship. My stump speech lately is that we have got to learn from medical education where the old mantra is that the key to learning a medical procedure is "See one. Do one. Teach one." If we are always in receiving and consuming mode as Christians, seeing ministry and theology but never putting it into practice or passing it on, then we haven't really learned what we've seen and heard. 

OOC: Crestview, FL, is a thriving town that is a shell of its former self. How have you adapted ministry for a place that is no longer a quiet, Southern town? 
Precht: I think the biggest adaptation this church has taken on (and this began well before my arrival) is to realize that we don't have any right to expect the curiosity and attention of our community. Even if we worship God with great music, and the best preaching Sam or I can muster, we can't assume that anyone else will hear about it. We have integrated our website with our Facebook page so that we can update both more quickly and regularly. Our timeline calls for us to develop an advertising plan for the church, and we budgeted so that we can fund that plan as soon as its ready. 

With that said, I've learned that much of what we are already doing is already a good fit for this growing town of newcomers. We are an institutional church - we have "First" in our name. Our sanctuary has a grand pipe organ and giant stained glass, and our contemporary service has an ancient-future feel that incorporates the creeds and special rites such as baptismal remembrances and a time for meditative prayer at the altar rail. We don't shy away from that.  We have found that we resonate with a lot of people who have a great deal of transition and disruption in their lives from a recent move to the area, or a change in job or family situation. We try to convey in our worship that God's living presence remains steadfast in the midst of a changing word. My email signature jokingly refers to me as "Senior Pastor/Artisanal Email Crafter" - I think our church has a unique opportunity anytime we can make someone new to this town feel as if they instantly belong to the sort of living community that will remember them long after they've moved on. 

American universities and the American military are two of the most institutional powers in our culture, and both are wildly popular and respected in our culture. The biggest change this church has made is to realize that we have something special to offer, but we have to go out of our way to offer it. Otherwise, folk don't know its here. 

OOC: At the end of the 28-month process, when you reflect on this intentional process, what do you hope to see? 
Precht: Mostly, I hope that everyone can know by experience what we so often say in our words - that they have a place in the mission of God. I hope everyone knows the love of God - and I hope they know it through a community that misses them when they're gone, that celebrates their gifts, and counts on them to fulfill our mission. And I hope that everyone can see not only the results of our actions, but the process. I hope, above all, they see the reason we do what we do and the reason we are who we are. I hope they see that Jesus is Lord, and our church is an embassy of the kingdom he rules.