Dr. Tim Fox, founder of both the Rethink Small Conference and Hydrant Church in Goldsboro, North Carolina, has been elected to an initial two-year call as district superintendent (DS) of the South Coastal District.

Staying in close contact with pastors and building close relationships are at the top of his priority list. “It’s about relationships and serving,” says Dr. Fox. “The DS position was designed to serve the pastor, to build relationships and take care of people. We can’t let ourselves be distracted by busywork.”

This is why Dr. Fox has a photo of every lead pastor in his district on the wall in front of his desk where seeing them leads to thinking about, contacting and praying for them. Because to Dr. Fox, effective ministry starts by ensuring a district has healthy leaders who, in turn, create healthy churches.

South Coastal is emerging from about three years of introspection as it studied whether to merge with another district or remain on its own with a different leadership model. The district was led most recently by Interim District Superintendent Jason Berry and part-time Assistant District Superintendents Dan Berry and Paul James. District Administrator Debbie Berry also served through this period and will train a new administrator to take over at the end of December.

Dr. Fox says this period of uncertainty helped prepare the district for a new focus. “We’re looking for ways to channel resources back into churches. Our focus is in developing healthy leaders, in putting resources and support systems and ministries into place that support pastors and leaders” because healthy churches come from healthy pastors.

He understands that a district must be concerned with numbers and stats and the business of the district. But speaking candidly, Dr. Fox said, “I don’t care about stats at this point. What I do care about is your soul, your marriage, who you have on your team. We’ll be holding each other accountable.”

To do this, South Coastal is one of several districts joining with TWC’s Education & Clergy Development to offer pastors the Full Strength Membership Program. Full Strength is a wellbeing program offering coaching, various forms of counseling, respite programs and more. Dr. Fox also intends to lean on what he learned in creating the Rethink Small Conference, offering churches more direct help in consulting, as well as coaching churches to help them become stronger. “This is the bulk of our focus,” he said, referring to strengthening and revitalizing existing churches so they can eventually plant new churches.

Other ways South Coastal intends to better engage pastors is through pastors’ gatherings, regional meetings and peer leadership huddles.

Dr. Fox recognizes what the average pastor has been through in the past two years, which many feel has been the most trying time in leadership that some may ever experience. As he shared at district conference and ordination on July 16, “It’s about guarding our hearts from things like insecurity and emptiness that can take us out of the game. Just like Proverbs 4:23 tells us, ‘Guard your heart’ because ‘everything you do flows from it.’ If we’re empty or bitter, we cannot lead.”

But pastors must do their part as well. Dr. Fox made a plea for pastors to remember their calling. “It starts with us answering God’s call and looking inward, allowing a work in us. I asked them to commit and pray and grow and invest in the district, and to participate. To commit to being who God called us to be.”

As for the district structure going forward, Dr. Fox has started building a team comprised of the incoming administrator, Ashley Henkle; Fox’s wife, Anita, who will handle communications, marketing and social media; an education director position filled by the District Board of Ministerial Development (DBMD) Chair Brantley Hodges; and Debbie Huckaby as clergy care coordinator. He hopes to add a Hispanic team director and a church planting director soon.

The district office in Conyers, Georgia, was sold, and the district superintendent and administrator will work from their respective homes, a further cost-saving measure that fits with his plan to be on the road frequently visiting churches or hosting peer huddles. The district may be considered small by some — about 40 churches — but it is spread over a wide area in Alabama, Georgia and Mississippi.

Dr. Fox and his family attend 12Stone Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia. Although he founded Hydrant Church, he stepped down from that position at the end of February, allowing the church to reopen with new leadership after being closed due to the pandemic.

Speaking about the direction of the denomination as a whole, Dr. Fox says, “We have all kinds of reasons for hope.”

Dr. Fox first started serving as a Wesleyan in 2013; his great grandmother started Nazarene churches, a denomination closely aligned theologically with TWC, in the early 1900s, and his grandfather pastored or led Nazarene churches for 40 years.

“We (TWC) have our challenges, sure. But we are poised with a message of hope and holiness that is valuable and timely. We have room in our denomination for creative leaders to do innovative things and make an impact on our communities.”

Dr. Fox says that is not always the case. “What I am finding here is a desire to do what God wants us to do … to reach the next generation. People my age (41) and younger need to stop complaining about the church. You are worshiping in a building you didn’t have to pay for … Go create something. As lay and clergy and districts, we’re not stuck in one model and one mindset.”

Dr. Fox is proud of TWC’s history of leading the way for women in ministry, for supporting multiethnic and multigenerational churches. “We are leading the way in empowering leaders of different languages to lead.”

Finally, asked about his own leadership style, Dr. Fox summed it up this way, “I want more for you than from you. And the district has to adopt that posture, too. The district exists for the churches. We’re here to serve the churches and the pastors.” 

Jennifer Jones is the district administrator for the South Carolina District of The Wesleyan Church.