Celebrating 25 years on their campus, Dexter United Methodist Church is on the grow for God and Christ. Says Pastor Matt Hook, “to be a disciple means you make disciples.”
Senior Content Editor
Lots of servant leaders with a mind for mission, doing ministry and glorifying God. That’s how Lead Pastor Matt Hook describes Dexter United Methodist Church. “Or as I like to say,” Matt explains, “We’re here, reaching out to new people, and making God famous.”
This 187-year-old congregation – “they were faithful before Michigan was a state” – is currently celebrating their 25th year on the present campus. In 1984 Dexter UMC purchased a Boy Scout Camp on the edge of the Huron River. They have been making it home ever since.
The first addition was an education building attached to the old Boy Scout Lodge that housed worship. A stand-alone sanctuary was erected in 1999, to be joined to the rest of the building with an atrium in 2007. Next, youth ministries moved into newly constructed space named, “The Edge.” In January 2019 members dedicated Newkirk Commons, gymnasium and multi-purpose space. “All but the sanctuary and commons were built by volunteers,” Hook reports. “The church was on fire when I came in 2003,” he continues. “All those building projects had mobilized the men, and everyone was very invested after pouring out blood, sweat, and tears to get it all done.”
As all those structures rose above the ground, the Body of Christ was building up, as well. “These are amazing times,” the pastor says. “My main mantra as a leader is to tend the core and grow the new. It doesn’t take 50 hours to tend the core, so that leaves room to take our passion and reach out to new people or to launch new ministries.”
Hook puts emphasis on helping people, “develop a first language of Scripture.” He reflects, “The majority of our folks don’t have scripture as a first language. That means we are more culturally influenced than influenced by faith.”
So, Bible study is offered in a variety of settings each week. Leigh Hook, Dexter’s coordinator of Adult Discipleship and Women’s Ministry, notes that 111 women participated in Explorer’s Bible Study last year, for a deep dive into Ephesians, Ruth/Esther, or Colossians. Matt says that men prefer a different format with early mornings the best time to gather, sometimes over breakfast.
Tim Broyles, Pastor of Discipleship and Hospitality, reports on the healthy group life at Dexter UMC. “This spring we had 44 groups (400 people) participate in the Alpha Course, to get on the same page of the basics of our faith.” This in addition to the 50-60 small groups that meet regularly for prayer, fellowship, Bible study, and spiritual growth throughout the year.
There’s plenty for young people and families, too. Denise Kasischke, Children and Family Pastor, says, “In Sunday School children learn the Big God Story with the goal to know where they fit in it and tell it to others.” Faith at Home classes equip parents to get involved in the spiritual formation of their children, and Spiritual Grandparenting classes teach how to share faith across the generations. The Edge helps 5th-12th graders take their next steps in faith.
As Bible literacy has increased for men, women, children and young people, “God is free to move in our lives as we free up our lives to be available to God,” Hook says. And as people become more acquainted with God’s story, they find their place within it. Broyles reports, “As a way to honor the work of the Holy Spirit in our midst, nearly every week we show a video testimony from one of our church family — children through seniors — of how God is working in their lives. These, That’s My Story, videos can be found here. “These stories shared in worship,” Hook says, “have transformed our folks as people are hearing from other people just like them.”
Story sharing helps make connections and connections are important. Hook speaks about loneliness and isolation existing in epidemic proportions today. “We can combat loneliness through our unity in Christ,” he asserts. “People seeing others being real in their search for Christ respond to authenticity and want to find a place in that.”
All that happens inside the building prepares God’s people for action outside the building. Elsi Sly, keyboardist for the Traditional Service, observes that worship is the heart of the church. “It starts there.” But she goes on to say, “The biblical Word runs through our veins and propels the many serving opportunities. “The culture is consumed with consumers,” Pastor Hook explains, “but we are called to be servants, and we have the greatest news in the world for people.” He adds, “So, you could describe this campus space as a tool to help someone take the next steps toward Christ or as a place for people to invite their friends.” Hook cites Ecclesiastes 3:11 — “God has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart” – as a dynamic at work at Dexter. “People are looking for something,” he says. “I think that to be able to share that pang that we all feel with others has been a really meaningful aspect of our ministry. We talk about faith sharing a lot at Dexter UMC.”
The Lead Pastor credits both “an amazing staff and wonderful leaders” for helping the community discover salvation in Jesus Christ. “God has grown people while they have been here. We have really put big emphasis on the principle that to be a disciple means you make disciples.” Hook says, “We are toying with the idea of changing our charge from ‘go and make disciples,’ to ‘go and make disciplers.’” And such comprehensive servant ministry has additional benefits. Hook laughs, “This church realizes that if you have enough people rowing the boat, there’s not enough people left to rock it.” Everyone’s ownership in the ministry of Dexter UMC is so highly valued, that every new member receives a key to the building.
Matt admits that he does not take himself too seriously but, “I take the mission of going and making disciples with dead seriousness. Caring for widows and orphans, baby! We want to be all about that! He experiences joy in how the congregation, “jumps into the community.” Children and youth have been hosted when they come to Mott Hospital for treatment through Healing the Children. The church engages in refugee ministry through an agency in Belize and ministers to the homeless in Ann Arbor. “People here are do-ers,” Hook emphasizes. Read about Dexter’s mission outreach from Habitat for Humanity to Haitian Artisans for Peace International and much more.
The Newkirk Commons expansion has presented new opportunities for involvement with neighbors. “We didn’t set out to build a community center,” Pastor Hook explains, “but to be a center for our community.” Kids out of school on Snow Days made their way to events in the gym. A picnic rained out at the local Metro Park came to the table in Newkirk Commons. The Lions Club meets there for dinners. The space will host a county-wide mental health day in July. The recreation ministries held in Newkirk Commons – pickle ball, basketball, martial arts, Christian yoga, nerf clubs — become the first step on campus for many. “Now the question is, ‘How do we help each person take the next step?’” Matt ponders.
What are the next steps for the congregation? Regarding the uncertain future of The United Methodist Church, Matt says, “No one knows what’s going to happen. So, we will bloom where we are planted. What else would we be doing?”
He observes, “Everything that we are doing now is pushing the ball forward down the field. We are authentic. We are messy. We have not arrived. We have room to grow.” His hope is that the congregation deepens in their level of discipleship, “to be faithful to where God has called us, to find unlovable people and to love on them.”
At the same time, Pastor Hook notes that lately he has been rethinking what the gospel says about love. “The gospel message is not, ‘just try harder and love more,’” he explains. “The gospel is the redemption and restoration we find at the foot of the cross that enables us to love beyond our own strength.” He adds, “You can’t just slot Jesus into your life.” Hook believes it is necessary for a person to “unfollow” some things before he or she is able to follow Jesus.
In fact, that’s the basis of his summer worship series focused on the Ten Commandments. Almost 300 people responded to the question, “What would you unfollow?” Top of the list: Resentment, Anger, Unforgiveness, Grudges, Past Regrets, Distractions, Time Wasters, and Habits. “If we can help people unfollow those things that make them miserable by offering freedom, salvation, and God’s love,” Hook concludes, “then we would have to lock the doors in order to keep people out.”