Principles for discernment

Brian Hammons



For Laity Delegates


A few weeks ago in my Review column, I wrote about the upcoming election for delegates to the 2012 General and Jurisdictional Conferences.  I asked “What IF we did things differently this time?”  Did you think about that? 

Now, as we’ve turned the calendar to 2011, we’ll begin thinking a little more about delegate elections.  Other conferences are too.  As a leader of laity in the Missouri Conference of the United Methodist Church, I’d like to present again the ideas from that “What IF” column – a few key principles for us to consider in positioning the church to be effective in its mission during the coming years.  

Many leaders perceive that God is doing a “New Thing” in and through the United Methodist Church;  something that will involve new ways of doing things, perhaps even a new paradigm for the way our church works.  A renewed movement of Methodism can be God’s Spirit at work, and we can help if we’re open to it.  Likewise, as leaders in the Wesleyan tradition, we should remember God’s grace is for all and embrace both vital piety and works of mercy.  We should advocate our scripturally-based doctrine and spiritual growth within communities of support, as well as actions that reach out beyond the walls—practices that form Disciples of Jesus Christ who transform the world.

Here are five key “Principles for Discernment” that many laity and clergy believe are most important for our General and Jurisdictional Conferences in 2012: 

1.        Focus upon the Mission of the Church.  Primary focus should be upon our Mission:  Making Disciples of Jesus Christ for the Transformation of the World.  We must align the church’s programs, priorities, and resources to strengthen congregations in carrying out this mission;


2.        Emphasize Congregations.  The focus for ministry should be through congregations that are growing, fruitful, and vital in their communities.  Planting new congregations and strengthening existing ones with potential must be a priority at all levels of the church and its boards and agencies;


3.       Develop Leadership.  Effective pastoral leadership is crucial, so we must improve our processes for identifying, developing, supporting, and holding accountable pastoral leaders.  We must also improve our processes for equipping leaders among the laity and promote effective, supportive clergy / lay partnerships in congregation ministry.  All leaders are expected to be Christ-centered, fruitful, seekers of excellence, collaborative, and accountable to one another and to the church;


4.       Reach Younger Generations.  We must seek to reach youth and young adults with the timeless truth of the Gospel in ways that are culturally relevant and life-changing;


5.       Recapture the Movement.  Methodism began as a reform movement within the Church of England.  Now, as then, laity must be at the forefront of a new movement based upon mission and purpose, using the many strengths of our connection while being willing to discard old habits to embrace Jesus Christ – The Way, The Truth, and The Life – for today.

WHAT IF we use these principles as we approach 2012 General and Jurisdictional conferences?  WHAT IF we use them as a guide for discernment as we elect our delegates to those conferences at the upcoming Annual Conference? 

Here is a concern that I’ve heard throughout the church:  General and Jurisdictional Conferences can permit issues to divide us and overshadow our common mission – it has happened in the past.  While the Missouri Conference’s lay delegates may not be able to change this immediately, WHAT IF this time we elect delegates who advocate steps to:   1. Consider issues based upon their alignment with the mission (making disciples of Jesus Christ), keeping the mission primary;  and   2.  Move forward in those crucial areas that will lead our church toward life, growth, and fruitfulness?                                                                                             

May God lead and inspire us all with the discernment we need in these important decisions.  And THANKS for your leadership!