Local worshippers embrace roles in churches’ leadership


INDIANAPOLIS — The Rev. Dr. Jim Dunn remembers feeling God calling him to be a pastor. He was a 12-year-old, a face in the crowd of 10,000 youth gathered at a convention. He remembers telling his parents.

There were three things young Dunn felt called to do: go into ministry, be involved in the church’s youth movement, and help pastors and churches.

Dunn, former pastor of Brown’s Chapel Wesleyan Church, now works at The Wesleyan Church’s headquarters in Fishers. He is one of several people with Hancock County ties who serve their church at a headquarters, in a role beyond the local congregation.

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‘I’m supposed to help pastors’

Years after receiving that three-pronged call, after serving as a youth pastor and later a pastor in Greenfield, Dunn is in the “third leg of my calling” as vice president of church relations with Wesleyan Investment Foundation.

The foundation is a financial arm of The Wesleyan Church, which has some 500,000 members in 1,650 churches throughout North America, as well as missionaries in 100 countries.

The foundation offers interest-bearing accounts to church members and others who apply for them. It also offers loans to churches, which Dunn says can be done at a lower interest rate than most financial institutions.

“Investors get a good rate of return, churches get a good interest rate, and you know what your money’s going for,” Dunn said. “Win-win-win.”

Dunn began working for Brown’s Chapel Wesleyan Church in Greenfield as a part-time youth pastor in 1989, when he was still in seminary. Two years later, when the church’s pastor moved on, and Dunn was graduating, Dunn was hired as the church’s lead pastor.

During those years, that local church grew and Dunn was active in Wesleyan youth conventions, where he got to know church leaders from around the nation — and they, him. So in 2004, when the church created a youth department post in its leadership structure, someone nominated Dunn from the floor of the church’s convention.

Dunn served in that role for eight years, with more departments coming under his leadership during that time. But in 2016, he turned his attention to a newly created post with the foundation.

Some of the churches coming to the foundation for financing needed a more solid strategic plan. WIF’s financial minds were looking for someone who understood pastors — someone who could call a pastor, even the day after a loan was rejected, and offer visits and mentoring toward a healthier future for that church.

Dunn’s coaching is free to that church, and if it decides to build, it is not required to finance the project through WIF.

Money is part of ministry, he admits, “but that’s a secondary issue compared to the gospel.” Through his encouragement to pastors through leadership training, monthly online webinars and one-on-one conversations, he’s working to help pastors be more effective.

“I’m supposed to help pastors and churches. I know that,” Dunn said. “I work with (them) on church renewal, and I love that.”

‘Leadership was the key’

Ellen Mitchell’s father was a minister for more than 30 years. Today, his photo graces her office at Disciples Center in downtown Indianapolis, where she carries out a different type of ministry.

Mitchell is chief operating officer and corporate secretary for two Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) entities: The Disciples Church Extension Fund, a financial ministry that helps churches plan capital projects and can offer loans to them, and Hope Partnership, which promotes leadership development.

Mitchell has logged 37 years with this department, once known as the Board of Church Extension and located in Irvington. Amid changes of name and location, a goal has remained to help Disciples of Christ congregations flourish.

Mitchell said congregations have their own changes to navigate to continue ministering effectively. She acknowledges that can be challenging, with five to seven generations of people worshiping together.

“It’s often not simple, turning the corner from what they’ve done in the past,” she said. “It’s not 1950, ‘60 or ‘70 anymore.”

Mitchell said a struggling congregation can start to turn inward, go into survivalist mode and lose touch with both its call from God and its community. To prevent that, the Disciples are working to train leaders, both those of existing congregations and new church plants. The church has a goal of starting 1,000 new congregations by 2020 and is at 976 so far.

“We realized there was a need to increase leadership overall,” she said. “We realized leadership was the key.”

‘Be in awe’

As a child, Scott Seibert imagined becoming a priest. With saltine crackers and Kool-Aid, he celebrated Mass with his stuffed animals.

That desire to minister was there, but what shape that ministry would take was not clear for a long time. He wanted to study engineering as a high school student. He met his wife, Casey, while pursuing a degree in theology at the University of Dayton.

Later, he earned a master’s degree in social work and began working for a hospital. But the thought of bringing together his professional training and his faith lingered.

When the opportunity came to work in family ministry for the Catholic Church’s Archdiocese of Indianapolis, “it seemed like the perfect fit,” Seibert said.

The McCordsville resident’s work brings people together. He trains long-married couples to mentor engaged couples. He’s filming a series of parenting videos that parishes can use to offer classes. He blogs about family issues and hopes to launch a podcast.

As a father of four himself, “I understand how … families tend to operate on their own island.” But he’s hoping parents will move beyond that tendency and find a community of support to equip and encourage them.

“I want them to know how important they are and how powerful the mundane of their life is,” he said. “You’re gifted with a mortal soul — an irreplaceable and unique individual. …Be in awe and wonder of that.”

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Another religious leader with ties to Hancock County is Monsignor William F. Stumpf, vicar general of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis and former pastor of St. Michael Catholic Church in Greenfield. Read about his role during the archdiocese’s transition between archbishops in an upcoming Daily Reporter.