A Short Account of a Continuing Journey – 2

Last week I noted some of the things we have learned about how to grow our church and better to position ourselves for reaching a new generation for Christ. Now I note some of the ways we are doing the work of Christ differently in order to get different results from our labors.

What we are doing differently in order to keep up with Jesus:

  1. Our pastors are learning the skills needed to be transformative leaders. Most of us inculcated those skills needed to maintain the church, to react to crises in the church, to organize the church on the basis of our Discipline, but we had no training in how to change the church, grow the church, or reorganize the church for different results. Our pastors told us that they needed a new skill set to lead in the ways that the church was asking them to lead. NCD, our Healthy Congregations program, the interventions by the Pastoral Care and Counseling Center, and the attention of District Superintendents who now function more effectively as trainers, coaches, and mentors is making our pastors more into transformative leaders than merely care givers.
  2. In A New Connection Andy Langford and I urged every congregation to devise a mission statement in order to mobilize and focus for the work that Jesus demands. Little did I know that soon I would be serving a Conference that had one of the most succinct and empowering mission statements in our Connection. When I came here, I inherited The North Alabama Conference has a vision statement, which I have found very helpful in focusing our ministry. The Cabinet and I have utilized that statement to set our Conference Priorities. The statement and the Priorities, now given quantifiable shape in the Conference Dashboard, are revolutionizing the way that our church is led by its pastors.
  3. We learned how to do community demographics as a way of starting new churches. Methodism is a movement that grew in great part because we obeyed the Great Commission and went where the people were. Having noticed that we had many churches today where the people had left, we became savvy in analyzing where the people were and in finding the resources to move toward them. We moved from being a church that occasionally did good things for marginalized persons to a church that started congregations that are led by and who empower marginalized persons to be the church. Here I’m thinking about new churches like The Church Without Walls in Birmingham, Glen Addie in Anniston, and Genesis in Guntersville.
  4. We realize that our clergy who seek to be transformative leaders place themselves under more stress, and have a more demanding ministry than if they simply tried to maintain the church as they received it from the last generation. We have therefore encouraged clergy sabbaticals, sought grants for clergy renewal leaves, worked with ICE to obtain training for clergy leaders, and sponsored retreats in spiritual formation and spiritual groundedness for clergy. In addition to this, the Cabinet took steps to exit some of our noticeable clergy non-performers, attempting to deal compassionately with those clergy who seemed unable to function well in a new culture of growth and accountability for outreach.
  5. We have transformed our clergy recruitment procedures, revolutionizing the way we make visits to seminaries, making our Conference a magnet for talented new clergy, regardless of their place of birth. We have brought in new personnel to help us in our work (like Thomas Muhumba and Eddie Spencer). Our new, young clergy said that they needed better supervision and mentoring so we created the Residency in Ministry program for probationers and we are continuing to revamp our mentoring process.

I give thanks to God not only for the privilege of serving in a transforming, forward moving Conference but also for being able to be the Episcopal leader at a time when, having debated and studied church growth and decline for the last two decades we at last are doing things differently in order to give as a very different future. The things that we are doing differently, the new ideas that we are embodying are all evidence of the renewing, transforming work of the Holy Spirit among us.

Will Willimon

6 thoughts on “A Short Account of a Continuing Journey – 2

  1. Three of the five have to do with changing clergy. What does it mean to be a transformative pastor? Is this role open to quiet, reflective persons, or is it only geared to the outgoing, entrepreneurial types?I looked up the vision statement and think it’s excellent.Peace to you.


  2. I’ve been approached by a young 18 year old male who has felt a call of God upon his life, and wants to enter the ministry. He asked me what I do as a pastor, and how I’ve been effective in serving Christ. I told him I wasn’t sure he was asking the right person on that one. Yet I gave him the same advice that Dr. Harry Denman gave another young 18 year old starting his journey into ministry some 39 years ago…Dr. Denman said ” Son, to be a good pastor you’ve got to pray, preach, and visit. Do those things faithfully, and if your calling is true, God will grant you a fruitful ministry.”Now Bishop, please advise me so I can further mentor this young man…What new skill sets does he need to enhance his growth and development in ministry? When he chooses a seminary, which ones teach such a set of skills? Of all our UM seminaries, which one would do the job? I need specific answers because I want this bright young man to press on in the upward calling of Christ. I want him to come back from seminary to this annual conference and contribute to the fulfillment of our vision statement.I want the journey to continue past my own time into his future.


  3. Chris,I inherited the vision statement and have been quite pleased with its clarity and effectiveness in our conference. To answer your question, fruitfulness can be achieved by those that are called to faithfully use their gifts. Reflective leaders and entrepreneurial leaders are needed in different situations. Larry,Hope that you are doing well. I also thank you for helping to reach a new generation of clergy!Thanks for encouraging and guiding this young man. Please get his name to Amelia Sims at the Conference office. She tracks all our candidates and she can be very helpful to this young man. I would also urge you to get him in touch with your District Superintendent. He can respond to all your questions and get this young man on the right road through the process. We’ve found that its important to utilize the Dist. Committee on ministry and to get the clock ticking. The question of which seminary can best be answered after getting to know this young mans gifts and situation.You are giving your church a great gift in leading this young man in this way. Thanks to you both,Will


  4. RE: In addition to this, the Cabinet took steps to exit some of our noticeable clergy non-performers, attempting to deal compassionately with those clergy who seemed unable to function well in a new culture of growth and accountability for outreach.It sounds like to me you are trying to “exit” all of your clergy over the age of 35. In this business model you are promoting, this is known as discrimination, something you are well versed in since you and the cabinet have practiced it from the beginning of your tenure. It seems like you have thrown the age-old adage of placing pastors in churches based on their “gifts and graces” and deferred to the new approach of young is the only way to make churches grow. More specifically, if you are under 35, white, and male, you can make a church grow. This would fit in line with the idea female pastors have very little room for advancement in your current system unless they become a token D.S. So keep on transforming Bishop, and you might just get what you asked for.


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