Last updated: May 12, 2023

As a preacher’s kid, JJ Shimko saw the good, the bad and the ugly of ministry and never wanted to be a pastor. Yet, he has preached for decades, including as part of the Free Methodist Recalibrate Initiative with Light and Life Chapel in Williamsport, PA. This initiative was almost like replanting existing churches and helping them enter a new season of fruitfulness.

“This initiative asks the question, ‘Why were you put there as a church in the first place?’” JJ said. “A lot of the emphasis is realizing what your purpose, mission, vision and values are. They were in that place when the church first started, but you can get off track over the years.”

The Free Methodist Church is more than 150 years old and reports that fifty-one percent of its churches are stagnant or in decline. However, 31 churches are currently participating in the Recalibrate Initiative to re-think, re-align and re-launch their church. The goal is to create a church that is not just for the people on the inside, but the people on the outside, too.

As part of the Recalibrate process, the pastor develops a renewed, specific vision for the church. Then the staff and lay-leaders come together to develop strategies to implement the vision, and later, re-launch the church through facility and program changes.

The churches aren’t the only ones who recalibrate. Renewed vision begins in the heart of the leaders. JJ came to Asbury Seminary’s D.Min. program to do just that, as he and his congregation began the recalibration process in January 2017.

“I need to be re-tooled,” JJ said. “This isn’t a matter of me just gaining a degree. You kinda get to a point that you don’t know quite as much as you thought you did. I need to get back to some basic stuff and learn new things, too.”

Part of JJ’s vision for Light and Life Chapel was for it to become an economically viable congregation and equip leaders to preach and pray. While JJ spent two weeks at Asbury Seminary for his summer cohort, he relied on six capable leaders back home.

“I got the preaching thing down, but need to re-think it and really allow the people to become more participatory,” JJ said.

Not only were JJ and his congregation going through the Recalibrate Initiative, but he was also helping with the research to make the process better. As part of his D.Min. research project, JJ analyzed the data collected from the churches participating in the initiative to refine the Recalibrate system.

JJ’s research was pivotal to show the Recalibrate leaders what is and is not working and why.

“Because JJ is doing his D.Min. and because he has been in one of the Recalibrate cohorts, I started talking about the possibility of him helping me as he does his D.Min. by doing some analysis for us,” Bishop David Roller, Free Methodist Bishop of North America and ’80 M.Div. graduate, said.

“In the Free Methodist system, I was appointed to a community,” JJ said. “The church is the home base. I try to demonstrate what it means to be a community and minister to those who are hurting to help them recalibrate their lives.”

JJ graduated with his D.Min. degree from Asbury in 2020 and continues pastoring as well as serving as a chaplain resident.

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