As General Conference meets to decide the future organization of the United Methodist Church, anxiety hangs in the air.  Will delegates So What, Who Cares. Unsure Doubtful Dark-skinned Woman With Blacadopt the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan or the Traditionalist Plan?  Or will they defer decision-making altogether, buried in an avalanche of possible amendments and alternate options?  That’s a real possibility.

So what happens if nothing happens at General Conference?

Last week I wrote that no matter what holds together or what falls apart  this General Conference, or any General Conference, life and ministry must go on.   But there’s a caveat.  Leaders cannot go on with ministry as usual.  This is the time to up your game.  Especially if nothing happens at General Conference.  Survival mentality does not bear good fruit.

Here are the 7 leadership abilities that you will need to cultivate especially if nothing happens at General Conference.

Before I lay out the 7 abilities, let’s consider the meaning of the word able.  Able, the source of the word ability, has two primary definitions.  First is having the power, skill, means, or opportunity to do something.  Second is to have considerable skill, proficiency, or intelligence.  As online and face-to-face options proliferate for people to engage in spiritual community and meet like-minded souls, churches need to be able to operate in both senses of the word.

Leaders need to not only take the opportunity to engage in ministry, but to do it skillfully and with considerable emotional intelligence.  Why?  The rising number of the spiritual but not religious, dones and nones, indicate that people won’t put up with mere survival-mode mentality. Click To Tweet

Now on to the 7 leadership abilities you will need to cultivate if nothing happens at General Conference.  I’ll lay them out here, and then revisit them in the coming weeks, giving you tips and tools for how to skillfully cultivate these abilities.

1.  Your way forward.  Even if nothing definitive happens at General Conference, you will need to cultivate the ability to envision an intentional future for your setting.  Don’t hold your breath waiting to see what others do before you act.  As a spiritual leader, it’s your job to sense the movement of the Spirit in your setting, and to proactively respond.

2.  A purpose.  Now is the time to cultivate the ability to articulate why your congregation matters.  Don’t assume your people or your community knows.  Instead of letting the national news narrate the story, step up and frame your congregation’s story.  Locals will appreciate it.

3.  Vibrant ministries.  You will need to cultivate the ability to connect the Gospel and daily life.  Being clear about the connection is what makes ministries vibrant, relevant, and relatable.  It also generates buy-in.

4.  Faith.  Cultivate the ability to move forward with uncertainty.  Predictability sometimes masquerades as faithfulness.  But these days it’s all about living purposefully in the midst of unpredictability.

5.  Vision.  Congregations shrink when leadership is weak.  Weak leadership puts comfort, safety and likeability above vision, mission and values.  Cultivate the ability to lead from the latter, not the former.
6.  Apostleship.  Churches shrink when buy-in is limited.  Cultivate the ability to empower others.  Otherwise, all the work falls back on your shoulders, narrowing ministry to what fits on your to-do list.

7Love and forgiveness.  I was getting ready to get resentful if nothing definitive happens at General Conference.  Then it occurred to me that resentment is a weaker power than forgiveness.  Likewise, fear is a weaker power than love.   You and I will need to cultivate the ability to release resentment and fear, and to move on.  Define what you stand for, not what you stand against.  Then carry on bravely.

Join us for a free online workshop on Friday March 1, 11am-Noon Mountain Time, called “Does Your Church Dream Like Jesus?”  Discover if it’s time to cultivate a Jesus-like dream that allows you to do all of the above.  Email me at to register and reserve your spot.

In the meantime, stay tuned for the prompting of the Spirit, and the guidance you need to cultivate these 7 abilities.  You’ll need them if nothing happens at General Conference.  Truth be told, you’ll also need them no matter what happens at General Conference.  God is with you.  You were called to lead at such a time as this.

On the evening of December 31, 1999, First UMC of Rawlins Wyoming hosted a Y2K gathering at the church.  We prayed, played games, y2kand ate.   We danced like it was 1998, as we waited to see what would happen.  Would computer networks make the big turn to 2000? Or would they falter, forever stuck in 1999, thereby plunging the world into darkness and chaos?

Even in the midst of the Y2K scare, one thing kept me going.  I knew that the sun would rise the next morning even if my computer wouldn’t turn on.  I knew I would continue breathing.  I knew that life would go on.  It’s old news now, but life did indeed go on.  Quite nicely in fact.  It seems anticlimactic to say it now.  But the anxiety was real back then.

In some ways, the special called session of the General Conference reminds me of the eve of Y2K.  No matter what gets decided or what gets postponed, no matter what holds together or what falls apart, life and ministry will go on.  Three things will remain true whether delegates pass the One Church Plan, the Connectional Conference Plan or the Traditionalist Plan.  Or, heaven forbid, whether they pass no plan at all.

Here are the three things that will remain unchanged:

  1. God will still love us—all.  And we will still—all–be called to love our neighbors and our enemies.
  2. We will still have disagreements on human sexuality and on biblical interpretation.
  3. We will still have people who love the church as it is and people who don’t.   We will still have people who leave the church and people who stay.

Don’t get me wrong.  I believe this gathering and its outcomes are important.  They will determine how we will organize ourselves in years to come.

I’m personally in favor of the One Church Plan.  It allows for regional and theological diversity.  It provides a flexible structure that reflects the actual spectrum of commitments of the UMC.  And it allows for people to follow their conscience, without judgment or retribution.

But we don’t have to wait until General Conference is over to decide who and how we are going to be.  If Jesus is our leader, then love is still our foundation.   We would do well to breathe deep, calm our anxieties, and move forward in our practice of love and acceptance.

Are you ready to move forward in your ministry?  Join us for a free webinar:  Does Your Church Dream Like Jesus?  It will be Friday, March 1, 11am-Noon Mountain Time.  Email us at to register and reserve your space in the webinar.

Then, stay tuned.  Next week, I’m going to share with you the seven abilities we need to cultivate no matter how General Conference turns out.

Bible characters are usually portrayed as white and European, all except one of the wise men.  But the spiritual history of Africa is imprintedJesus, Mary and Joseph - African in every book and chapter of the Bible beginning with Genesis.  When God creates Adam out of the dust of the ground it contains the soil of Mesopotamia and the sun-warmed earth of Africa.

But it isn’t just earth and soil that indicates African presence in the Bible. It is the people themselves.

The lands of the Bible span the continents of Africa and Asia—both home to peoples of color.

People of African descent, Asian descent, and of mixed descent–Afro-Asiatics—all lived in ancient Israel.  In general, the people of Ancient Israel were probably more African than Asian and they looked it.

Consider the story of Joseph. Sold into slavery and taken down to Egypt he rises in the ranks of Pharaoh’s government.  While his brothers intend it for evil, God intends it for good; Joseph is able to bring his father and 11 brothers down to Egypt to escape a devastating famine.

This means all 12 tribes of Israel and their descendants live in Africa for over 200 years until Moses leads them to freedom.  They go down as 70 souls and they come back one and half million strong.  Through intermarriage, African blood flows freely through their veins.

Even so, the people are called Hebrews, not Egyptians.  Why?  Not because of race or racism; that construct doesn’t come into existence until the 1600s.

It is because of tribe. Tribal affiliation is what matters in the ancient world.  Nevertheless:  In the Bible, Hebrews and Africans are one and the same people.  The first Hebrews are African and many Africans are Hebrews.

Long before slave ships bring Africans to American shores, many enslaved Africans already worship the God of the Bible.   In fact, I went to seminary with a student from Kenya who told me that the African tribal practices of his people were straight out of the Old Testament.  They’re living now like the Jews did millennia ago.

The African presence in the Bible can be traced even deeper in the Bible.  Moses, “The Prince of Egypt,” is born of Hebrew slaves, but is raised by Egyptians.   Remember how Moses’ mother and sister put him in a basket in the Nile so that Pharaoh won’t find him and kill him?  But Pharaoh’s daughter finds him, keeps him, and raises him in the royal palace right under Pharaoh’s nose.  Now if Pharaoh’s daughter and Moses look all that different, it stands to reason that Pharaoh would take the baby and kill him.   But he doesn’t.  Why?  Probably because Moses fits right in:  an Egyptian among Egyptians.

Moses isn’t the only one who fit right in.  Here’s where it gets really interesting.  Remember how Mary and Joseph take Jesus and flee when King Herod wants to kill him?  Where do they go to hide out? Where do they go to find sanctuary?  Where do they go to blend in?  Egypt.

Now if Joseph, Mary and Jesus look all that different from the native Egyptians, they would never pass.  But they do.   They too had African blood flowing through their veins.   Even Jesus.  Especially Jesus.

As Dr. King so famously said, “…all life is interrelated. We are all caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied to a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.”

Black history is biblical history.  Black history is all our history.

There’s much talk about and evidence for decline in the church. I myself write extensively about it. But what if lack of vision or discipleship systems, or the changing culture aren’t the only explanations for this decline? What if the church is in decline not because it has failed but cancer runprecisely because it has succeeded?

Here’s what I mean. In many ways, the Kingdom message of Jesus has effectively made its way out of the cloistered environs of religious literature, liturgy and institutions to star on the world stage. The Golden Rule is known everywhere. Servant leadership is taught in colleges, universities and business schools. Exercising care for the poor has been taken up by untold numbers of non-profits and NGO’s. Increasing standards of housing, education, healthcare, and equal rights are concerns in countries the world over. And as I wrote about recently, Steven Pinker observes in his quantifiably optimistic volume, Enlightenment Now, equal access to these elements of communal well-being has been increasing over time. Not coincidentally, communal well-being is an important aspect of the biblical definition of salvation.

The bottom line is that loving our neighbor as ourselves, and loving God has made its way into the culture at large. Christian principles permeate the secular world. The light indeed shines brightly in the dark. The church is not the only way that people bring love into the world.

In fact, people are excellent at organizing themselves to do good. There are races and walkathons for every cause. Shelters and food banks are staples in communities of almost every size. The non-profit sector is growing much faster than the for-profit sector. Even the for-profit world has shifted. Social entrepreneurs and B Corporations bring about positive societal change even as people shop. Personal and professional growth organizations such as Landmark Worldwide empower participants to spearhead projects benefiting the communities around them.

Just as John the Baptist had to decrease so that Jesus could increase, perhaps the church’s decline is a sign that at last Jesus’ Kingdom-consciousness has gained a firm footing in the world. If this is the case, the decline of churches is a good and necessary thing. It’s just might be a sign of our success.

Church leaders, as you look to the new year, rejoice that Jesus’ message is alive and well in the world. Take heart that your collective sermons have shifted the consciousness of the planet. Be assured that your work matters, that your efforts count, and that you are indeed co-creating Kingdom miracles with Jesus. At the same time, be of good courage in leading your congregations into their next vision. A new generation awaits.

Learn more about how we empower church leaders and the congregations they serve through our flagship program, Creating a Culture of Renewal.

Finishing Strong

Rebekah Simon-Peter —  December 28, 2018 — Leave a comment

Just as the apostle Paul finished the race strong, I want to encourage you to do likewise. As the year winds to a close, I recommend that Balkan U18 Athletics Championshipsyou hit the pause button and reflect on your growth as an apostle in the last year.

Why bother? Reflecting on and completing the year past clears an open space from which to freely jump into the new year.

At the beginning of this year, I laid out 5 Quantum Leaps of Faith for the New Year. These leaps of faith move you from discipleship to apostleship. Now that we have traveled 12 months together, let’s take stock and celebrate the gains you made. Like a long-jumper, measure even the smallest advances, knowing that incremental growth leads to exponential gains.

I recommend that you document your growth. Creating a visible record of your progress solidifies the gains you made and clarifies gaps you can close in the coming year. Click To Tweet Get creative. Compose a list using expressive fonts or colors, design a collage, pull together digital images, build a PowerPoint or find some other form of creative expression.

Ready? Let’s take a look at the ways that you took leaps of faith in your leadership.   You may also want to acknowledge the ways your people leapt as well.

Leap #1: Be fruitful and multiply like Jesus. There’s more to following Jesus than emulating the spiritual principles he taught.  You are also called to emulate him by multiplying yourself. This comes by passing on your Kingdom vision and values to the people you lead. Consider how you did the following:

  • I/we passed delegated in these ways…
  • I/we involved these new people…
  • I/we shared authority, creative control and/or permission in these ways…

Leap #2: Be empowered like Jesus Christian leaders are not to be hearers of good news only, but doers as well.  Jesus authorized his followers again and again to do the very things he did. What empowered actions did you take?

  • I /we said yes to Jesus this year in the following ways…
  • I/we accepted the freedom and authority he gives …
  • I/we followed the promptings of the Spirit in these situations…

Leap #3: Be accountable like Jesus Jesus was accountable to the one he called Father for fulfilling his call.  He was rewarded mightily. You too are called to live fully into the gifts you have received so that you might bear much fruit!  How did you fulfill your giftedness? In what ways were you accountable for your God-given potential?

  • I/we used what I have been taught…
  • I/we employed my spiritual gifts …
  • I/we maximized the gift of time by saying yes and no to the right things…

Leap #4: Believe like Jesus Jesus’ followers performed miracles just as Jesus did. How?  They not only had faith in Jesus, they developed the faith of Jesus. How did you courageously make the move from simply believing in Jesus to cultivating the faith of Jesus?

  • I/we acted on the belief that there is no separation between us and God, between us and the Holy Spirit, or between us and Jesus…
  • I/we acted on the belief in our ability to co-create miracles with God…
  • I/we acted on the belief that our lives have purpose…

Leap #5: Love like Jesus Jesus practiced the holy trinity of love: love of God, love of neighbor and love of self. The key to loving like Jesus begins with not wasting time or energy indulging in self-hate, self-denigration or self-abasement. How did you grow in self-love this year?

  • I/we noticed negative self-talk when it began…
  • I/we didn’t let it go unchallenged…
  • I/we surrendered negativity to God…

Now that you have documented your growth in apostleship this year, don’t keep this good news to yourself. Do share it with your personnel committee or your supervisor. If you inventoried your congregation’s growth, craft it into a litany of thanksgiving. Or report on it at Church Council. Above all, celebrate with God! Don’t think of this as bragging. Rather, think of it as signs of sanctifying grace—for you and your people.