Local Church Conversation about #gc2019

Yesterday afternoon, we had an all-church conversation at Berryton United Methodist Church to process the 2019 special session of the General Conference. I put it on the calendar about a month ago. While it was, of course, impossible to predict how things would go, I did figure that we would need some time and space to process whatever it was that was passed. This was true.

The weather was bitterly cold and it was snowing for the first part of the morning with about 3 inches accumulated before the first worship service ended. It was the second lowest in-person worship attendance in the last two years. In spite of the conditions, we had a great turnout on Sunday afternoon to talk about General Conference.

I shared these documents with those that were gathered:

The first document was a statement that I shared in worship and the second was shared at the meeting in the afternoon. Both were adapted from resources provided by the Great Plains Annual Conference.

I am glad that people gathered and were willing to share their pain, questions, confusion, and hope. It felt inadequate. There needs to be and will continue to be more conversations in local congregations just like ours across the United States and around the world. People are moved to take action.

Reflections on Day 2 of #gc2019

This morning I led worship at Berryton United Methodist Church and preached a sermon about being in connection with one another – Moved to Connect. It is the second in a three part series, The Movement Continues. It is focused on who we are as United Methodist Christians. During our worship service, we lifted up the delegates and work of the General Conference in prayer at both of our worship services. After leaving the church building, I visited one of our congregants who just entered hospice care and then it was time to head home. In between all of these, I was listening and watching the live video stream of General Conference.

Church and Technology

Each time the church gathers with voting devices of any sort, there is some time that is taken making sure that everyone knows how and is able to vote correctly. My first response was, “Why can’t we move through this any faster?” However, I quickly caught myself with the reminder of how important it is that each person is able to understand the tools that are available to them before they are able to use them effectively. Training and practice to prepare will always be helpful in making progress later.

One Legislative Committee

One of the interesting aspects of this General Conference is that there is a legislative body of the entire body. Most often, delegates are divided among a variety of legislative committees which address legislation to be brought back to the entire General Conference. It was surprising to see a non-bishop leading on the livestream, though it seems likely that the Rev. Joe Harris could become a candidate for bishop.

Prioritizing Legislation

I found the voting method to prioritize legislation to be genius. A vote for high or low priority for each piece of legislation with the results being held until the end was a bit mind-numbing on the live video stream, however it was an efficient way of getting of sense of a sense of the body of delegates regarding the entire set of legislation. As a supporter of full inclusion of all people in the life and ministry of the church, it was disheartening to see the One Church Plan ranked as a lower priority than the Traditional Plan.

Early Adjournment

I was puzzled by the vote to adjourn with nearly 45 minutes remaining until the scheduled adjournment for the day. After dealing with the legislation from Wespath, it was suggested that it would be best to wait until the morning to take up the Traditional Plan. On the one hand, probably so. It was nearing the end of the day and there will be a great deal of speaking against and for, amending, substituting, and other legislative maneuvering. On the other hand, probably not. There is less than 18 hours remaining on the schedule for the work to be completed.

In either case, it seemed that it was time for supporters of both the One Church Plan and Traditional Plan to take in the votes of the day and make plans for the best approach to move ahead tomorrow.

Thank You

I am grateful for the time, effort, and dedication of all the delegates.

I continue to pray for wisdom, clarity, peace, and endurance.

Thank you for your service during these days.

Your work makes a difference.

Rest well tonight.

Strategizing for the District

Since being appointed to serve within the Topeka District of the Great Plains Annual Conference, I have had the opportunity to serve as the lead for the Topeka District Strategy Team. I have been learning as I go, seeking to get to know congregations and leaders of the area. Here are some of my current thoughts on how this team can be most effective to create a strategy for the district.

During some years in the past, the Great Plains Annual Conference (and three conferences) has operated with a structure that encouraged local churches to send both people and resources to be part of initiatives and ministry efforts that originated and were executed at the annual conference level. This lead to a measure of success. However, this model is not working as effectively as it once was.

In recent years, there has been efforts made to push the resourcing and leadership “down” from the annual conference toward the mission field of local churches. Some of this is being accomplished with the creation of Networks which connect local churches to more effectively reach their collective mission field. It also is being accomplished through the work of district strategy teams which work alongside the District Superintendent to develop a strategy to reach the mission field within the district.

What does not need to happen is for a district strategy team to come up with a layer of strategy, events and planning which local churches are encouraged to add to their existing ministries and goals. Instead, I believe that a more effective approach will be to look for common goals that exist among many congregations in the district and consider what resources or strategies that district can bring to bear which support those goals.

As part of the charge conference process, goals are developed and turned in annually from every charge in the district. This fall, we are running an experiment by offering local churches goals to consider for 2019 (Experiment_ Topeka District Local Church Goals (PDF)). If churches have an existing process for developing and iterating on goals, great – keep doing it. However, if they do not, they might consider one or more of these goals for the year ahead. The purpose here is to help local churches make progress on goal setting and create the opportunity for local churches to coalesce around similar goals. We’ll see how this goes…

Regardless of whether or not local churches choose from the experimental goals which were offered to them, our next step will be to review the goals from all the churches in the district to see what, if any, similarities there are. Then, create strategies to help support local churches in the goals that they have already set for themselves.

I am hopeful that this approach will support local churches and more effectively coordinate our efforts together as a district.

Making the Network Work

Over the last several years, the Great Plains Annual Conference has introduced Networks into our life in ministry together. These are groups of congregations that share a physically contiguous mission field – all the churches in an area. The church which I serve, Berryton United Methodist Church, is connected in a network with Big Springs UMC, Highland Park UMC, Lecompton UMC, Shawnee Heights UMC, Stull UMC, and Tecumseh UMC.

I have the opportunity to serve as the Network Leader which means convening the pastor and a lay person from each congregation so that we can make progress together and reach our mission field more effectively. I am committed to making our network work. I don’t have time for to add a meeting to my schedule in which we are getting together only to “check the box” that we have completed the task.

We met for the first time as a Network last week. If you are interested in the agenda, click here to download it as a PDF. I believe that our network has the opportunity to be the most innovative in the Great Plains Annual Conference. I am looking forward to building relationships with colleagues and friends and working together to share God’s love with our neighbors and live boldly into God’s dream for southeast Shawnee and northwest Douglas county.

Pilgrimage to Resurrection

I have attended Leadership Institute at The United Methodist Church of the Resurrection every year that I have served under appointment as a United Methodist preacher. I was only able to be present for one day this year, but it was still worth it. Here is what made it good:

  • Connection – It is great to reconnect with both congregants and staff at the church, as well as colleagues from across the conference and around the connection.
  • Remembering – Nicole and I began our life as a married couple serving as associate pastors. They were formative years in discovering how to be a couple and how to be a pastor.
  • Time Away – I am able to rest in the reality that, even for just a few moments, someone else is tending to all the details at church.
  • Inspiration – The speakers and workshops are excellent. They help stretch my mind beyond what is to what might be.
  • Being Present – It is good to be around a big group of people that are committed to making progress in their local church – wherever that may be. There is a tangible sense that we are all about God’s work in the mission field.

I realized this year that it has become a bit of a pilgrimage for me and I am glad for the opportunity to return.

Disney’s Approach to Employee Engagement

I am spending my day in Wichita at a professional development experience – Disney’s Approach to Employee Engagement. It provided by the Disney Institute and hosted by the Wichita Independent Business Association.

The concepts planned for the day, include:

  • Fostering a Workplace Culture
  • Selecting the Right-Fit Talent
  • Training the Culture
  • Communicating to Inform & Inspire
  • Creating a Caring Environment

I am interested to see how these concepts apply to Berryton United Methodist Church and the Great Plains Annual Conference. The engagement level of the current congregation today is evident to people who may visit the congregation for the first time. Engagement also makes a difference in how readily someone is to share with others about their experience with God and the local church. I am looking forward to more today and will be paying attention to how we can make progress in congregational engagement.

National Congregations Study Participation

Early this week, I received a letter informing me that Berryton UMC was a participant int he 3rd wave of the National Congregations Study (NCS) and that I was “one of a small number of religious leaders from across the U.S. chosen randomly to again represent [my] religious community in the 4th wave of the NCS.”

The National Congregations Study (NCS) is an ongoing national survey effort to gather information about the basic characteristics of America’s congregations. It is an effort of the University of Chicago and Duke University.

This is pretty great! I have looked at the key findings of the previous waves of NCS research and have appreciated the research. I participated in the phone interview this week and it was fun to be part of the ongoing research on religious congregations in the United States.

I was asked a number of questions about Berryton United Methodist Church, including around the history of the congregation, staffing, worship services, groups and activities, financials, and my background. I am looking forward to seeing the results of the work when they are published and glad to have been part of the process.

You can find out more about the National Congregations Study here.