When Dr. Lovett H. Weems, Jr., transitions into a new role as Senior Consultant for the Lewis Center for Church Leadership, it marks the next step in a continuing relationship with Wesley Theological Seminary that goes back to the 1960s. He looks forward to continuing his work in classrooms as Distinguished Professor of Church Leadership, where he was once a student himself, working toward his Doctor of Ministry. In his new role, he will continue to write resource material while consulting with denominational leaders.
Wesley proved the ideal environment for a teacher who loves to learn. “I am always looking for a new way of looking at things, which has helped me move through different phases of my ministry,” Weems said.
“Lovett has accomplished something new for a seminary,” President David McAllister-Wilson said. “In the 1980s, we read the new leadership books from the corporate world. Weems became a founding author in the genre of church leadership texts with his book Church Leadership: Vision, Team, Culture, Integrity [Cokesbury | Amazon] — taking church leadership beyond the anecdotal and biographical books pastors had been using. He established a business school for the church. In this period of great anxiety, church leaders look to Lovett Weems and the Lewis Center for solid and hopeful research.”
Bishop Robert Schnase, now of the United Methodist Church’s Rio Texas Annual Conference was serving the Missouri Annual Conference when he first met Weems. “I was familiar with his work through writings and workshops,” Schnase said. “So, when we began to make significant structural and missional changes in the conference, I consulted with him numerous times.”
Weems was often the first to read the bishop’s works in progress, including Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations [Cokesbury | Amazon]. “I trusted his feedback and valued his insight,” Schnase said. “During my time in Missouri, we used a number of the resources from the Lewis Center, [and] contracted for several studies of clergy or church trends.”
He added that Weems offers something better than a mere solution. “He walks me through alternatives,” Schnase said. “He helps me ask the right questions. He shares from his own experience and points me toward books and resources that address the issue. He connects me to the people with the expertise to help.”
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, of the Texas Methodist Foundation, has known Weems since they were in seminary at Perkins School of Theology. “Lovett has a theological mind and a pastor’s heart,” she said. “He could engage theologically in deep and profound ways. He could also lay aside the talk about ‘love in action’ and go do the ‘love in action.’”
His leadership was especially apparent during the struggle for integration. “We’re talking about the early ‘70s so we were still figuring out how to be one church and particularly in the South it was hard going,” Huie said. “Lovett was involved in seminary, in the sit-ins in Dallas, and in some of the protests at SMU. He was willing to put his actions where his faith was.”
Calling him a “pioneer of the church,” Huie noted that one of Weems’s greatest accomplishments was recognizing the trend of an aging clergy.
Dr. Ann Michel, associate director of the Lewis Center, said, “When he became the Center’s founding director, he already had a clear sense of the challenges the church was facing with new or young clergy. He made that a signature issue early in his tenure. That has made a tremendous impact.”
Through the work of the Center, Weems determined that fewer than five percent of working clergy were under the age of 35 in 2005. “It really sounded an alarm” Michel said. “It got people to start paying attention. It was the impetus for the whole church to be more deliberate about encouraging young people.”
It was the emphasis on hard data that started a denomination-wide shift in thinking. “One of the lessons I’ve learned from Dr. Weems is the importance of making decisions that are grounded in research and fact,” Michel said. “So many decisions in the church get made on a whim or through personal opinion or personal preference. He taught us the importance of objectivity.”
Carefully gathered data now provide information on the growth and decline of individual congregations, on the pool of clergy leaders, and on general strengths and weaknesses across a conference. Most important, that data lead to action.
Michel points to Strategic Actionable Insights as one of Weems’s great contributions. “There’s so much information out there,” she said. “The goal is to distill and discern what Strategic Actionable Insights leaders can actually apply. We can research and read forever but we want to translate that work and give it practical, pragmatic application.”
For Huie, one of Weems’s greatest gifts is his ability to see what others cannot. “Lovett helps us see the steps along the way,” she said. “He has a remarkable ability to connect the dots. He can see the pattern. And once we all see the pattern, then we can ask, ‘How do we address this?’”
The long range impact is clear. “You can see it already in the growth, slow though it is, in the next generation of clergy,” Huie said. “And now that’s on almost every bishop’s radar screen. That, in and of itself, is a major long term contribution.”
She pointed again to the clarity of Weems’s vision. “He’s helped the church deal with the reality of where we are, and demonstrated to us the realities of how we’re doing,” she said. “Looking in the mirror is hard. Lovett has a nice gift for helping us not turn away.”
In recognition of Dr. Weems’s extraordinary contribution to scholarship in church leadership, Wesley Theological Seminary is establishing the Dr. Lovett Weems Jr. Scholarship to support clergy in leadership development programs through the leadership center. With a generous $250,000 matching gift challenge, we believe we can raise $500,000 that will be invested in emerging leaders. Work is underway to secure support. If you are interested in honoring Dr. Weems with a gift, please contact Laura Norvell at (202) 885-8630 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Watch for further information about our progress. Weems will be honored at an upcoming event Sept. 28-29. We will post more information on our website in the coming months.
This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of e-Calling from Wesley Theological Seminary.