#UMCLead: The View from Table 9–Part 3

Earlier this week the United Methodist Council of Bishops, the Connectional Table, and the Call to Action Team hosted a Leadership Summit, involving UMC leaders from throughout the world . I participated in that event as a scribe for Table 9 of the Tennessee Annual Conference gathering, and have been sharing insights from Table 9 on the three “Summit Questions.”

Question 3: The annual conference is the basic organizational unit of the United Methodist Church. Given the challenge of fostering congregational vitality in fulfilling our mission of making disciples and transforming the world, what changes in leadership , organization, and practices do you believe will be most important to make in the next few years in your annual conference? What are you prepared to do individually and as a group that will support change and set in place new ways of working and tracking progress?

I confess that my notes from Table 9 are sketchy by the time we got to this point of the meeting, for we were under pressure to turn them in quickly and I didn’t have a chance to copy some of the points made, so if others at the table feel like I am misrepresenting our positions, they I sincerely apologize.

As was true throughout the rest of our conversation, we continued to focus support for clergy and local churches as the primary task for the annual conference. In supporting this need, there was a belief that while broad, annual conference wide program have value,  the degree to which they keep annual conference staff out of local churches must be considered. The group felt that our annual conference staff spends too much time in office, and not enough time in local congregations, evaluating specific contexts and strategizing solutions for congregational problems. Although the group didn’t mention this, I also believe that within the Tennessee Annual Conference we need to direct resources toward having a staff member solely focused on leadership development, working with pastors and congregations to develop the means and vision to lead toward transformation.

Likewise, we believe that the bishop, cabinet, and other annual conference leaders must be more present in local congregations to develop the relational space to support accountability and change. This may require the bishops as a body to rethink their general and global church responsibilities so as to allow for more time in individual congregations. We also believe that the bishop and cabinet should have access to an ongoing congregational profile, which looks not only at the metrics outlined in the CTA report, but also looks at community demographics and trends in community development in the area, congregational identity, including reflections on those crises in the history of the church that undermine relationship s and hinder growth, and other information beyond salary and attendance both to assist in deployment and to evaluate the seriousness of a congregation to address the underlying issues that may be keeping them from vitality.

In conjunction with this, I shared and was affirmed by the group my own belief that one of the great losses in past restructuring was the move from the quarterly conference to the yearly charge conference model. What this has done have been to generally limit input and feedback from the general church to the local congregation (through the witness of the D.S.) to one hour per year, and in most cases pastors and D.S.’s minimize this as a hoop to be jumped through rather than an opportunity for both celebration of what has been done, but also serious engagement regarding the future of the church. The quarterly conference model allowed for more regular ongoing contact with the connection, and allowed a D.S. to engage in more fruitful conversation on the nature of the ministry of the church.

We agreed that D.S.’s have worked to be helpful as local congregations seek transformation, but in fact have few resources to draw on in assisting congregational transformation. While we understand the budgetary limitations we face, we believe that resources must be made available to our leaders to allow them to better meet needs along the way.

In terms of what we are willing to do, the item that stuck out the most for me was an agreement among group members to be honest about our statistics. We recognized that the pressure has always been present to inflate numbers, especially in regards to reporting to the general church and annual conference, and fear that increased accountability on the same metrics we have used in the past may lead some to be less than honest in regards to their reporting. We want to give honest snapshots of where our congregations stand, and likewise (in spite of the opposition of some cabinet members) want to ensure that our membership roles more clearly reflect the active membership of the church, not some snapshot of days gone by that will likely never return.

There were several other suggestions offered along the way, but frankly I can’t remember them. Be watching in the hours and days ahead for some personal thoughts in response to this important event.

5 thoughts on “#UMCLead: The View from Table 9–Part 3

  1. Jay,
    I would be interested in knowing what this staff person would do. I am in the process of developing perhaps a similar proposal for laity education and what you say about leadership training probably fits within that framework.

    Also, what type of courses qualify as leadership courses? There are quite a few books coming out of GBOD for lay speaking that are shifting into the field of lay leadership. I am not sure that I like that shift but if those of us who are involved in lay speaker training are to begin looking at lay leadershp training, what resources do we seek?

    Second question, how do we do this without “reinventing the wheel? or getting caught in a trap of using old ideas with new labels (Sigma 9 for TQM and so forth)?

  2. Tony,
    All great questions, some of which I have some thoughts about, and others which I think need to be fleshed out by the broader community.

    As regards the staff person focused on leadership development understand that I am speaking specifically about the Tennessee Annual Conference. Our conference is small and has a very limited staff, but my concern is that while we have a “ministerial concerns” officer who is basically the registrar and designs licensing school, we don’t have anyone that can offer insight to pastors and other leaders in regards to empowering and training church leaders. This is a crucial need, for we as a denomination are, I believe, suffering from a lack of spiritual leadership within many if not most congregations. Our structure and church language has emphasized administrative leadership and ignored the fact that groups like the church council are only truly effective when they begin to see themselves as charged with the care of souls as much as the care of buildings. In almost every place that I have served, I have found myself doing remedial leadership training for existing leadership bodies simply because the assumption had been that they knew how to be spiritual leaders even though they had been given no training, nor many tools through which to exercise that leadership. Thus, the staff person will be working directly with church councils and pastors to help transform these bodies from being administrative to a greater focus on God’s call for their congregation. Some of this is basic stuff, such as strategies for getting church council members to pray with one another (you will be shocked by how often that DOESN’T happen), while other things might include how to develop a mission strategy based on community demographics. At every point, however, there has to be an emphasis on God’s call and design for the church, rather than “…what WE think we need to do…” for focusing on the latter is what often leads us into the same old pattern of programs and behaviors rather than looking for transformation to something new.

    I have some more to say, but the storms are about to hit and I have to go pick up my daughter from a friends….

  3. Okay, the storms have passed and everyone is in the nest, so I can finish my thoughts.

    As we consider leadership development, I agree that we need to be skeptical of business models such as TQM (which, I think, set the Board of Discipleship back 20 years!!). We need to root our leadership development ensuring that our church leaders are rooted in the scriptures and in regular practices of faith. Frankly, if I were the pope of the UMC, I would mandate that Church Councils function in part as Covenant Discipleship Groups, where the members would develop a common rule of life of agreed practices and then hold one another accountable in love as a part of their regular meetings.

    I also think we need to be teaching on the value and need for Christian Conferencing, understanding meetings not as a thing to be endured (which immediately sets them up to fail) but as “means of grace” by which the Holy Spirit is present and at work in each of our lives and the lives of the community.

    While I often eschew business books and methods in my leadership development, I have found that Patrick Lenconi’s “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team” to be most helpful in helping our leadership teams to overcome the years of dysfunction we’ve had in our systems. The fact is that many churches have issues of trust, which have to be dealt with before vitality can spring forth. Lenconi’s book offers a good way to get to those issues, and offers practical advice as to why trust is so important in group development.

    I think the main reason that having an outside consultant/staff person to help pastors with leadership development is that it sometimes helps to have an outside perspective, and church members are sometimes more likely to listen to that perspective rather than hearing their appointed pastor. Pastor’s quickly become insiders (even thought the best ones try to maintain the balance between being inside the system and outside the system) and it is sometimes easier to hear hard teaching from someone who has less of a vested interest in the success or failure of that system. Also, this person can bring forth best practices in leadership, something that the average pastor struggles to keep up with.

    Maybe it IS time to develop a new leadership course for church leaders. The difficulty is that these can rarely be done in a single day seminar. Frankly, Disciple Bible Study has been the best leadership course I’ve used in the past, and I currently am teaching a discipleship course of my own design titled “Manthano” which over a 36 week period covers scripture, theology, practices, and witness. Maybe what we need to recognize is that leadership development MAY be the pastor’s primary task, demanding long term classes that mentor persons into effective leaders.

    What are your thoughts? What do you think is needed in creating effective lay leaders for the United Methodist Church?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.