Archives For General Conference

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 rebekah@rebekahsimonpeter.com 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 rebekah@rebekahsimonpeter.com 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.

“We’re always on to the next thing,” one pastor friend confided to me. “At least that’s how the people in my Annual Conference see it. We’re ever on to the latest, greatest solution for church growth.”

“Do you ever pause and celebrate what you have accomplished?” I asked.resting on laurels

“No.”

That got me thinking.  These initiatives may seem like passing fads which Annual Conferences mindlessly chase after.  But I doubt that’s what’s actually happening.  In my experience, denominational executives are working on several fronts at the same time. After all, different kinds of congregations and leaders need different kinds of approaches. Congregational renewal is not one size fits all. My work with emotional intelligence demonstrates that.

I have often wondered, though, if people would respond more favorably to the myriad processes their Annual Conferences offer, if only they were aware of how much had actually been accomplished with each one.

There’s no way of knowing what’s been accomplished if we don’t pause, communicate, and celebrate. That’s why I’m defending the oft neglected practice of resting on your laurels.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with savoring our successes.   When the Romans borrowed the Greek idea of presenting a wreath of laurel leaves to victorious military commanders, there was no implication that “resting” on them was bad. That negative connotation didn’t come for another 10 centuries.

Getting back to my friend’s Annual Conference–I wonder how many new ministries they have launched since focusing on processes for renewal? Harder to measure but equally important—how many fights have been avoided, how many members and volunteers have been re-energized? How many callings to the ministry have been reclaimed?

We can’t know these things unless we make space for collecting and telling these stories. That means taking time to rest on our laurels. Not forever. Not even for a long time. But long enough to actually soak up and celebrate all that has been gained.

As the semi-frenetic pastor of an active congregation, I had habitually pushed on to the next thing. And the next. And the next. Driven by both the joy of accomplishment and the fear of boredom.

“Rev. Rebekah,” my active lay leader sheepishly confessed to me one day, “we’re tired. We need a rest. Can’t we just stop for a bit and see how far we have actually come?”

When Jesus went into the wilderness to pray, we have no idea what he prayed. But we do know this: he paused.   Surely something good and life-giving happened during that time.

Year End Reports are a statistical attempt to pause and to reflect on what has been done.  But we have to look beyond our own particular congregations to get the big picture. Sure, worship attendance or membership may be down in your setting. But other numbers may be trending upward. In one Annual Conference I work with, church attendance is down, but baptisms are up! Not bad. In another, average worship attendance itself is actually up.

There’s no way of knowing this stuff unless we, as a body, actually stop and reflect. Then take it one step farther: celebrate.

What could you celebrate in your Annual Conference? Look for what you are doing doing well, and then emphasize it. Perspectives shift when we focus on what is going well.

Recently, I listened to a panel of General Conference delegates report on what happened in Portland last month. I expected a reprisal of the tougher issues that emerged at GC including painful disagreements over how to address human sexuality. I was not disappointed.

What most captured my attention, though, was the report of a first-time laywoman delegate.   “This was my first time at General Conference,” she smiled. “I didn’t even begin to think about it until about a week or two before I went. I arrived with an open mind.”

She went on to relate her delight about the milestones celebrated: the 250th anniversary of John Street Church in New York City, the 200th anniversary of Bishop Francis Asbury’s death, the 60th anniversary of full clergy rights for women, the 30th anniversary of Disciple Bible Study, the upcoming 25th anniversary of Africa University and 150th anniversary of the United Methodist Women. She was amazed at all the Church had accomplished in such a short period of time.

Now I’m the last person to whitewash history. Much of my work has been about empowering the church to embrace a truly Jewish Jesus, unlearn anti-Semitism, deal with what our Scriptures say about environmental stewardship, and creatively address the reality of church decline.

But still! What a breath of fresh air to listen to her celebrate our accomplishments. For a moment, we all rested on our laurels.

I wonder what would happen if we insisted on these breaths of fresh air more often? If we purposefully paused and savored our successes more than once every four years?

No, it wouldn’t resolve all our challenges or erase our differences. But it might just energize us to carry on creatively—conscious of the positive impact we are having on the world around us, and proud of the gains we are making.

General Conference is a quadrennial gathering of the global United Methodist Church. But by definition, this global gathering is intensely local. Local dialects, languages, costumes, greetings, and worship practices take center general conferencestage. This convocation begs the question: What, if anything, does a global UMC mean for a local congregation? I posed that question to a handful of young United Methodist clergy with whom I recently met.

“I bring in different worship styles from other countries to our local church,” Sara Rettig, a pastor from Appalachia serving in the Rocky Mountain conference explained. “I make sure they are incorporated in my congregation. We talk about how our way of worshipping isn’t the only way.”

Other young clergy shook their heads. “A lot of time we don’t think of ourselves as a global church. We’re just busy trying to make things happen in our own setting. How can we focus on bringing in more global aspects to our local church instead of just catering to our own needs?”

Many churches find a way to highlight the global church on World Communion Sunday. Greetings and prayers drawn from other languages are a good way to highlight our unity in diversity. But is a once a year shift in perspective enough to create a true sense of community?

Other churches engage in annual or bi-annual mission trips to connect with sister churches across international borders. Always enlightening and uplifting, these opportunities, however, can reinforce a sense of “us” and “them.” We have the resources; they have the needs. We have the answers; they have the deficits. Is that what we envisioned when we set out to create a global denomination?

Sara’s next thought pressed the group: “What does it mean to have different theologies, and be an open church where all of us can be who we are and still be part of a connection?”

Good question. It made me wonder if that’s even allowed in the UMC. We have it, of course, but do we actually acknowledge it or welcome it?

As one young clergy leader pointed out, “The UMC tends to prize uniformity over unity.” That would seem to undermine Sara’s point of inherent diversity in a global church. But maybe the pressure for uniformity boils down to just a few select issues.

“We have one Book of Discipline that assumes we all look at issues in the same way,” said Sara’s husband, Major, also serving in the Rocky Mountain Conference. “For instance, take human sexuality. In some parts of Africa, the primary concern is over polygamy. In the US and Europe, we’re up in arms over homosexuality. If we’re really a global church, how come our Book of Discipline doesn’t reflect that?”

“True,” noted Dustin Burrow, serving in the New Mexico Annual Conference. “How can one Book of Discipline even cover places as disparate as Eastern Europe, the American Southwest, and the African continent?”

The dance between unity and uniformity, the global and the local isn’t new for Peoples of the Book. Think of it: we have four different gospels that give four fairly different accounts of the life of Jesus. Two of them don’t even recount a birth story. The two that do supply radically different details. That same pattern continues all the way through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus. Not to mention the Hebrew Bible or Old Testament. It contains two different creation stories, two exoduses from Egypt and a plethora of names of God. Even so, throughout the testaments, you can still detect unifying themes of creation, covenant, sin, forgiveness, and redemption. Then there’s the matter of the Trinity itself—God in three persons.

If the Bible itself conveys unity without requiring uniformity, maybe there’s hope for us!

Especially if we were to take a page from Jesus and his tribe. Judaism, from ancient to modern-day times, intentionally cultivates a diversity of voices and viewpoints by which to understand God and God’s will. Books like the Mishnah and Talmud even record these voices in conversation and are studied to this day.

My point is that enforced uniformity across a global denomination like the UMC is actually a disservice. It erases the very things we can learn from each other—the varying ways we read scripture, do mission, understand the world and even our own selves.

Unity in the midst of diversity is not only Biblical, it’s Wesleyan. John Wesley famously wrote, “If your heart is as my heart, if you love God and all mankind, I ask no more; give me your hand.”

Our unity as a global denomination can become a source of inspiration, curiosity, and growth. Not a condemnation of differences. Or a striving to be exactly the same. But rather an expression of God’s own unity in diversity. Let’s see what that would mean for local churches scattered across the globe!

Thanks to Ministry Matters where you can see this and other blogs by Rebekah Simon-Peter.