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.

100 Conversations in 100 Days

Today is my 32nd day as the preacher assigned to Berryton United Methodist Church. It has been a wonderful journey of learning, sharing, and welcome. I am so grateful for the warm welcome that we have received from the congregation and community. One of the ways that I have been learning about the congregation is something that I am calling 100 Conversations in 100 Days.

I hope to share a one-on-one conversation with 100 people so that I can hear their thoughts, feelings, and opinions about the church and community. My hope is to get this accomplished in my first 100 days, which gives me until October 8. As of today, I have four down and ninety-six to go. If you live in the Berryton area, would you be willing to share a conversation with me about the church? Visit www.calendly.com/AndrewConard and click on “100 Conversations” to set up a time to meet.

I have been updating and adapting questions from Eleven Questions for Getting to Know a New Congregation. Here is the original list:

  • Tell me about a time when you felt especially proud of some members or leaders of your congregation, when you felt they were really following Christ. What makes this incident stand out in your mind?
  • Whom do you especially respect as leaders? Why do you hold them in high regard?
  • Tell me why you’re glad you are a member of this congregation. Why did you join this congregation instead of another one?
  • How has being part of this congregation helped you and members of your family grow in faith? Please give me some examples of experiences or classes that made a difference. How did you change?
  • Tell me a story about when congregation members resolved a conflict or difference effectively. What do you think the congregation learned from this experience? How effectively do leaders and members handle differences now?
  • What have you especially valued about your pastors and other congregational staff? (Be specific.) Do any sermons, initiatives, or attributes of your previous pastors come to mind?
  • Tell me about a time when you were disappointed with members or leaders. What happened?
  • Complete this sentence: “God is calling this congregation to be …”
  • What do you think God wants your congregation to emphasize in the next three to five years?
  • What else do I need to know in order to thrive in this congregation and community?
  • Do you have any other concerns or suggestions?

What strategies or techniques have you used to learn about the congregation and community in a new appointment?

18 for 20 for the Great Plains Annual Conference

There will be less than 16 months between the special session of General Conference in 2019 and the regular session of General Conference in 2020. I believe that continuity between the two General Conferences will be essential, given that any action taken in 2019 will directly influence legislation proposed in 2020, and delegates in 2020 will need to be as informed and well-versed as possible about the decisions made in 2019. There will be need for a consistent base of knowledge, confidence, and trust within the crucial one-year time between General Conferences. Any number of observers may attend General Conference without voice or vote, yet may fellowship and consult with the delegates from their Annual Conference outside business sessions.

After considering the Connecting Council recommendation to affirm the 2016 delegation a the delegation for 2019, I plan to make this motion from the floor:

I move that the election of the Great Plains Annual Conference delegation to the General and Jurisdictional Conferences of 2020 be held during the Great Plains Conference session of 2018 and that the 2020 delegation attend the special session of General Conference in 2019 as observers in fellowship with the Great Plains Annual Conference delegation for mutual advising and sharing crucial knowledge with the cost to be covered by the General Conference expense reserve fund.

I believe the Great Plains Annual Conference is in a position to help lead the decision-making at General Conference. I hope that this motion will empower both the 2019 and 2020 delegations to take on a greater leadership role at General Conference to help influence the future of our denomination.

Will you please share your thoughts, feelings, responses, and opinions?You can email me at aconard@greatplainsumc.org and I will update this story as needed.


Questions and Responses

Does this mean we should consider electing a new delegation for 2019?

No. The Connecting Council is recommending that we affirm 2016 delegation as the delegation for 2019. I support this recommendation.

How will we cover the cost for the 2020 delegation to attend?

In conversation with our conference staff and CFA, there are sufficient funds remaining from the 2016 delegation expense to cover the expenses for both the 2019 delegation and the 2020 delegation to be present at the special session of General Conference in 2019.

With the special session in St. Louis and only lasting three days, it is likely that there will be no flights (mileage instead) and not much in hotel and meal expense due to the short timeframe of the special session. The actual General Conference delegates are paid by the General Church and the annual conference only pays for Jurisdictional and reserves (and if this petition passes some additional persons not on the current delegation but added to the 2020 delegation.

How will we cover the cost for the voting machines in 2018?

The annual conference has budgeted money annually to build up what we need for voting equipment every four years. This motion will simply move that expense from 2019 to 2018.

Will the voting machines be available in 2018?

The annual conference will work with a vendor to ensure that voting machines will be available for the annual conference session of 2018.

Last time we used the voting machines in Wichita, we had trouble getting them to work. Won’t we have the same problem again?

The wireless environment in cities and convention centers changes regularly and it is very difficult to forecast the exact technical environment in which we will use the wireless voting devices. While there are both user-generated and technical issues with using electronic voting devices, I am confident that they will be able to be adequately addressed and will work with a vendor to ensure the best possible experience. Electronic voting devices are much preferable to a manual voting process.

The United Methodist Church in April 2017

One Preacher’s Congregational Guide

Several of you have mentioned the recent articles (hereand here) in The Wichita Eagle about the United Methodist Church. You can find the most up to date denominational news here. In this article, I hope to share some background information, explanation of current events, and what might be next for our denomination and congregation.

Division in The United Methodist Church

For decades, there has been division in our denomination about how to interpret the passages in the Bible related to same-gender relationships. Our official position both recognizes God’s grace and the sacred worth of all people, and also considers the practice of homosexuality to be incompatible with Christian teaching. The denomination does not currently allow for the ordination of lesbian and gay persons or for United Methodist clergy to officiate at same-gender marriages. However, there are a number of clergy, annual conferences, and jurisdictions which in practice, statement, or resolution have deteremined to ignore the portions of the Discipline which cause harm to LGBTQ persons.

As a global denomination, there are faithful United Methodists around the world that find themselves with different understandings of what it means to be faithful in these matters. Within the United States, there are congregations which find themselves in different places, as well as individuals within particular congregations who would find themselves to disagree.

An Episcopal Election and the Judicial Council

The current news is connected the election of a bishop last year. In June, Karen Oliveto, who was the pastor at Glide Memorial United Methodist Church at the time, was elected bishop by the Western Jurisdiction. She became the first married lesbian bishop in our denomination and assigned as Bishop of the Rocky Mountain and Yellowstone Conferences.

In the closing moments of the South Central Jurisdiction, there was a petition to the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church which made their April 2017 docket:

IN RE: Petition for Declaratory Decision from the South Central Jurisdictional Conference concerning the application, meaning, and effect of ¶¶ 304.3, 310.2d, 341.6, 2702.1a), b), and d) of The Book of Discipline 2012 in regard to the nomination, election, consecration, and/or assignment as bishop of a person who claims to be a “self-avowed practicing homosexual” or is a spouse in a same-sex marriage or civil union.

You can find the official document here (PDF) or their entire April 2017 docket here.

A Ruling and Next Steps

The Judicial Council is expected to issue a ruling on this question on Friday, April 28. My understanding is that after the ruling Karen Oliveto will either beBishop or not be Bishop. No matter what ruling the Judicial Council issues, there will continue to be pain, division and disagreement in our denomination.

On April 24, the Council of Bishops called a Special Session of the General Conference of The United Methodist Church (UMC) to be held February 23–26, 2019 in St. Louis, Missouri. The purpose of the 2019 Special Session of the General Conference will be “limited to receiving and acting on a report from the Council of Bishops based on the recommendations of the Commission on a Way Forward — a 32 member team appointed to lead the church forward amid the impasse related to homosexuality and examine paragraphs in The Book of Discipline concerning human sexuality and explore options to strengthen the unity of the church. You can find the full press release here.

In 2019, the official position of the denomination will stay the same, become more accepting or something else entirely. There may continue to be a United Methodist Church, the denomination may dissolve or two or more denominations will form consisting of congregations of the current United Methodist Church. There are likely even more options.

Next Steps for First UMC El Dorado

There are faithful people within our congregation who disagree about these matters. This is similar, perhaps, to many United Methodist congregations across Kansas and Nebraska. So, what does this all mean for our life together as First United Methodist Church in El Dorado?

What it means is that we will continue to welcome all people to live as disciples of Jesus Christ as we worship grow, give, serve, and share.

We will continue to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

We will not create barriers for those who seek to live a faithful life as children of God and followers of Jesus Christ.

It is an interesting time to be a United Methodist.

A Response to the Charleston Church Shootings

Over the past few days, I have continued in prayer for Charleston. I want to share a portion of my response to the Charleston Church Shootings which I preached this morning at First United Methodist Church. I believe it is important and inadequate. You can find the entire sermon and manuscript online here.


Let me be clear:
God never intends us to choose evil.
The Charleston Church Shootings were not part of God’s plan.
Racism, murder and tragedy will never be God’s will.
Evil is never, ever God’s plan.

Each one of us has choices to make every day.
We choose between good and evil.
We choose between forgiveness and resentment.
We choose between light and darkness.
The choices that we make – both big and small lead us closer to God or further away from God.

Choose good.
Choose forgiveness.
Choose light and life.
Choose to follow Jesus Christ, Emmanuel – God is with us.

Excellence in Ministry #umbom14 – Reflections and Next Steps

This week I was part of the BOM Mid Quad Training Event in Denver. After some reflection, I want to share some possible next steps for me and for our Board of Ordained Ministry. Here goes…

Next Steps for the Board of Ordained Ministry

  • Have God’s eyes for big possibilities
  • Consider process changes to encourage and identify highly motivated, self-starting, creative and entrepreneurial leaders.
  • Be steady in purpose, but flexible in strategy. -Gil Rendle
  • Continue commitment to change and diversify
  • Be intentional in language used around the candidacy process – What do we do? Why do we do it?
  • Focus on telling the story of the Great Plains Board of Ordained Ministry – not the stories of the Board from our former conferences.
  • Explore ways to recruit before self-selection as a candidate
  • Identify the small changes which would make the biggest difference in changing the dynamics of the Board.

Next Steps for Me

  • Have God’s eyes for big possibilities
  • Actively engage as a lifelong learner, i.e. D. Min, conferences, reading, etc.
  • Be part of addressing the challenges and capitalizing on the opportunities of being a global denomination with a democratic polity.
  • Consider additional opportunities to serve at the annual, jurisdictional and general conferences
  • Look for ways to further develop my:
    • emotional intelligence
    • understanding of systems theory
  • Continuously look for the gifts in others, name and cultivate those gifts, and unleash these gifts and people into the ministry and community.
  • Seek out those who would mentor me and those who could be mentored by me.
  • Recognize that deep change means surrendering control.
  • Identify the small changes which would make the biggest difference in my leadership in the local church
  • Seek both mastery and originality

Will you please share your thoughts, feelings and opinions about these lists? What changes could be most helpful for the Great Plains Board of Ordained Ministry? How might I best improve my work as an Elder in the United Methodist Church?

Excellence in Ministry #umbom14 – Reflections from Day 1

This week I am Denver for the BOM Mid Quad Training Event. The event is designed around the theme of Excellence in Ministry and is designed to help annual conferences make progress on the systems contribute to recruiting, supporting, nurturing, and holding clergy accountable. I am here in my role as Treasurer and member of the Call team of the Great Plains Board of Ordained Ministry.

I had to put my seminary brain back on to catch up with Randy Maddox as he began his talk yesterday. I appreciated the depth of his presentation about the historical and theological underpinning for excellence in ministry in the United Methodist Church. It is pretty incredible to be in the same room with Bishops, cabinets and BOM teams from across the nation.  I am looking forward to the rest of the event and bringing back new possibilities for sustaining and expanding excellence in ministry in the Great Plains.