Leading into a New Future

As I reflect back over four decades of ordained ministry, I cannot remember a time when it has been more apparent that we are moving into a time of significant changes in our beloved United Methodist Church. Plans are being devised; meetings are being called; blogs are being written; opinions are being widely distributed via social media; groups are studying options; people are fasting and praying; the Lord is being beseeched. All of this with a focus on the likelihood that we will be seeing significant changes within our denomination. And I haven’t even mentioned the context of our polarized politics, societal fears related to racism, guns, climate change, and more.

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The other day I came across a helpful blog by Dr. Lovett Weems, well-known as a long-time professor of church leadership at Wesley Seminary, and his daughter, Dr. Cynthia Weems, who is serving as a district superintendent in the Florida Conference. You can find the full article here: https://www.emergingmethodism.com/new-article/characteristics-of-leadership-needed-for-united-methodisms-future. It is called, “Characteristics of Leadership Needed for United Methodism’s Future.”  I am encouraged to know that the characteristics that they identify are already present and working across our district. The five specific items they name are: (1) the ability to sustain and disrupt at the same time; (2) the patience to learn before doing; (3) the willingness to experiment and learn from failures; (4) a comfort and adeptness with increasing diversity; and (5) a solid and appropriate educational preparation for leadership. Each of the five are elaborated on at length in the article, but for now I will simply stick with the one-sentence summary statements.

Many pastors and laypersons reading this will be familiar with recent initiatives in their congregations as they are practicing several of these characteristics. A couple years ago, when our charge conference theme was about doing a new thing, we heard of more than 1,000 new things that were happening, alongside of existing things in our churches; that means we are both sustaining and disrupting at the same time. We have seen churches participating in various kinds of learning modules (Small Church Check-Up, SHIFT, Next Level Innovations, ministryinsite.com, and more), patiently learning before rushing ahead just to get something done. Much of this comes in the form of experimentation, some of which works and some of which does not. There is both a growing diversity in our churches and in church engagement with more diverse communities; and there is an increasing desire to diversify who we minister with.

Several of this fall’s district initiatives will build even more on these characteristics for strong leadership into the new future. The Neighborhood Seminary initiative is designed to equip laypersons with spiritual leadership training to do new things in their neighborhoods, directly putting into practice numbers 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 above. There is still time to enroll in this exciting two-year process, meeting one Saturday per month for eight months each year. See the Neighborhood Seminary website for more information. The application deadline is September 10.

The keynote topic for next year’s Bi-District training event in January will focus on number 4 above, but will also include elements of  1, 2, 3, and 5. This January 18 event is only the first step in a process that we hope to unfold for helping congregations to become more multi-cultural as we witness to the love of Jesus for all people, breaking down the barriers that would keep us apart. (Learn more about Bi-District Training Day on our BDTD website.)

In addition to the five items highlighted in the Weems’ article, I will be encouraging us to value the big-tent understanding of United Methodism that offers a place for differing views about various topics, all within the wide reach of Jesus’ loving arms that will embrace all who come to Him. Theologically, we want to affirm our identity as the Body of Christ, where every part of the Body is valued and important. The foot cannot tell the hand that we do not need you, nor vice versa. Jesus wants us all to be knit together in His love. That is no small part of leadership for the days ahead as well.

Grace and Peace,