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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.