Meet the Rev. Dirk Elliott, Michigan Conference’s new Director of Congregational Vibrancy.
Dirk’s previous appointments include: East Ohio Conference: Director of Congregational Development and Redevelopment, 2001-2011; West Ohio Conference, Delaware: Bellpoint UMC, 1997-2001; North Lewisburg UMC, 1991-1997; Thurman-Vega Charge, 1983-1991.Dirk has served on the National Strategy Team for Congregational Development, Path 1 Strategy Team, West Ohio Conference Board of Church and Society, Central Ohio Emmaus Community, and West Ohio Jurisdictional Conference Delegation. He has provided training in many venues throughout the country, including the School of Congregational Development, the North Central Jurisdiction Church Planters Boot Camp, Rueben Job Center for Leadership Development, the Center for Congregational Health, and the New Church Leadership Institute.
Dirk and his wife, Tricia, have been married 42 years. Tricia serves as a spiritual director for women clergy and as a caregiver for her mother. She has also served as a local pastor. Dirk and Tricia have one son, Josh, who is a pastor near Cleveland in the East Ohio Conference. They enjoy kayaking, hiking, painting, fly-fishing, and most of all their three grandchildren, Selena, Sara, and Eli.
Meet Dirk Elliott, in his own words …
Please share a little personal background:
I grew up in a large extended family in Ohio. My grandparents were from a Welsh community near Rio Grande, Ohio, where the Welsh language and culture of Eisteddofod (festival of literature and music performance) and Gamanfa Ganu (festival of hymns) continue to be taught and preserved. My grandfather Elliott, who came from a mining family and worked hard to put himself through college and pharmacy school, modeled the values of good education, community development, and Christian discipleship. When I was eight, my father, who struggled between owning a farm and pursuing a call to ministry, moved our family to Castroville, Texas, a community rich in both Alsatian and Mexican heritage. Although my mother came from a Catholic background and my father from Disciples of Christ, we became active in the Lutheran Church there where I completed confirmation. I grew up on a ranch where I worked cattle on horseback and helped my dad develop our own herd of Simmental. While growing up, I was active in Boy Scouts, FFA, Farm Bureau, high school drama club, and speech.
Halfway through my senior year in high school, my dad purchased a farm in Ohio. I moved there in December that year with my mother and younger siblings to operate the farm until my dad closed his business in Texas and moved the cattle to Ohio. It was on that farm one day that I knelt in prayer and gave my heart and life to Christ. In Ohio, our family joined the United Methodist Church. My young adult years were spent in agribusiness where I am grateful for the mentoring of Dave Davis (now a member of First UMC in St. Louis, Michigan) who encouraged and helped me grow in confidence and professional skills. Several years later, on the day my dad graduated from seminary, I said yes to a call to ordained ministry in the United Methodist Church.
Texas would continue to factor into my life in important ways. I married my high school sweetheart, Tricia, a native Texan. I completed my candidacy process in Houston and had my first experience of a new church start there as Lay Leader at Mission Bend UMC under the mentorship of Dr. Bob Long, who now serves St. Luke’s UMC in Oklahoma City.
When I returned to Ohio, I was surprised to learn my first appointment was in Thurman where my ancestors had opened their home to a Methodist circuit rider to start the church there in 1820. Those same ancestors helped birth several new churches in that area. So, I guess you could say new-church ministry is in my blood. It has certainly been part of my call to ministry as I have personally participated in the starting of two new churches, and as a congregational developer have been excited to help with the start of many new churches in Ohio and Michigan.
Please describe the role of the Director of Congregational Vibrancy.
As much as new-church ministry is in my blood, church vibrancy and renewal are in my heart. It is central to my call. My vision and the “why I do what I do” has always focused on renewal—to be a church with passionate spirituality and missional focus, a church of people who love God and neighbor. As Director of Congregational Vibrancy, I look forward to working with a gifted staff as we, under the leadership of Bishop Bard and in collaboration with local churches, district superintendents, and other staff, start new churches and new faith communities as well as work alongside local churches that seek to be healthy with relevant and vital ministries. We cannot rest on what we are already doing. We need to continue hearing what the Spirit is saying to us while cultivating our awareness and understanding of the diversity of cultures and communities in which we serve, so we can reach more people, younger people, and more diverse people.
What kind of leadership style is needed as the Conference shifts to the Director Model?
As I have watched the 2018 Winter Olympics, I am reminded of the hours of training and practice athletes need to sharpen their gifts and skills. Although they spend many hours focusing on their own discipline, they also rely on cross-training to enhance their overall performance. The Director Model provides “cross-training” opportunities among the leadership areas of this new conference. I believe we can learn a lot from each other and from both clergy and laity throughout our conference. Instead of focusing exclusively on our own area of ministry, we will all work collaboratively to accomplish the vision to equip and connect through Christ Centered Mission and Ministry, Bold and Effective Leaders, and Vibrant Congregations. I believe in collaborative leadership and prefer a team approach to equip both clergy and laity to do the work of ministry.
What goals do you have for yourself and those whom you direct as the new Michigan Conference takes shape?
The 2016 General Conference has challenged us to make one million new disciples by the end of 2020. To reach that goal, the Connectional Table set a number of strategic goals. As these relate to the Michigan Conference in the area of Congregational Vibrancy, our challenge is to start 13 new churches using a variety of models, 130 new faith communities (new worship services or new venues for worship), and 1,300 new small groups. The work area of Congregational Vibrancy will focus on reaching these goals through starting new places for new faces, developing lay leadership, and helping existing churches grow in effective ministry.
What is it that nurtures, sustains, and guides you in your work?
I am always excited and inspired by all the ways churches are in ministry. The mutual sharing of best practices with congregational developers throughout the connection and learning from leaders of effective, innovative ministries around the world nurture and guide my work in congregational vibrancy. In both my ministry and personal life, I believe the Spirit really does “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.” (Eph. 3:20) Prayer is central to my life and ministry. Prayer with regular Bible reading and other spiritual reading sustains me. I also try to spend one day a month in quiet retreat and honor Sabbath time each week. Time with Tricia and family also brings balance to my life. Three key verses of scripture guide my life and work in both personal piety and social holiness: “Go, therefore, and make disciples . . . .” (Matt. 28:19); “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind . . . Love your neighbor as yourself.” (Matt. 22:37); “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (James 1:27)
What excites you the most about the future of the Michigan Conference?
New beginnings! The words of hope in Isaiah 43:19 resonate for this time in our church and world: “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the wilderness and streams in the wasteland.” God is doing something new, and we get to be part of this new thing! We have a new vision and a new structure helping us live that vision. We can dream, start new ministries, and make new friends. As our world faces grave difficulties, the church has a message of hope and the capacity to share that message in both word and deed. The challenge will be to love God and neighbor by letting go of some old, comfortable habits while allowing our trust and hope in God to inspire in us the courage to live into God’s vision for us together.