By Brian Hammons
“Remember the Future.” This was the theme for a recent gathering of United Methodist conference lay leaders from all over the country, and a couple from Europe and Africa. About 60 lay leaders, along with a few associate lay leaders, gathered in Kansas City in March for the annual meeting of the Association of Annual Conference Lay Leaders (AACLL). Most had prepared by reading Bishop Schnase’s book “Remember the Future” since the bishop would be the featured speaker and leading a workshop all day Friday and Saturday morning. It’s a great book full of insight and encouragement.
But the event became a perfect opportunity for these denomination / conference leaders to hear Bishop Schnase discuss insights from his newest book “Seven Levers – Missional Strategies for Conferences.” And the leaders were not disappointed. Rather, they were engaged and challenged to return home to discuss with their conference leaders ways to apply the “Levers” to strengthen their conferences and congregations to be more effective in the mission of the church.
This is an important time for these leaders to consider Bishop Schnase’s message. Many of our United Methodist conferences have struggled in recent years. Now, many are being distracted from their mission and need leadership to refocus upon “the main thing”. I’m hopeful that the insights these lay leaders gained in Missouri will lead to many more healthy conversations – mission focused and strategic – in conferences across the denomination.
For this 2014 AACLL gathering, we were honored to host the group in Kansas City. As the member from Missouri, I had the opportunity (actually, the job) of helping to organize it. With a lot of help from the other conference lay leaders in our jurisdiction and the AACLL executive committee. Also helping were many in Missouri like Shannon Meister, folks at Platte Woods church and St. James church who provided transportation, and a great event staff at the hotel. I’m very thankful for all the help, that the event worked out well, and that people enjoyed experiencing Kansas City. Even the food was outstanding – especially the local barbecue!
As part of Bishop Schnase’s discussion of one of the “Levers” on starting new churches, the group went to the new downtown KC location of Church of the Resurrection to hear from Scott Chrostek and Lia McIntosh about new ways to reach people who haven’t previously been part of church. That experience was memorable enough, then the next day the group got to go to the main campus of United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, KS. There we toured the facilities, learned about COR’s history and ministries, and heard from their leaders including senior pastor Adam Hamilton. We also participated in an upbeat Saturday evening worship service. The history of COR and its outreach ministries through Rez Downtown, Blue Springs, and other locations including online, show how our denomination’s boundaries of conferences and districts don’t have to be barriers to reaching people. The lay leaders saw how visionary leadership, focus, and cooperation by bishops, pastors, and laity leaders can create new ways of spreading the gospel message effectively.
I’m blessed with the opportunity to serve as your conference lay leader and learn from Bishop Schnase quite often. Most of the lay leaders from other conferences in our jurisdiction (Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, New Mexico) also get to hear from him occasionally. And I’m thrilled that lay leaders from all over the country who haven’t before heard from Bishop Schnase were able to come to Kansas City and hear his insights.
I pray that this event will lead to some positive conversations, and then actions, by conference leaders around Methodism to strengthen their focus upon developing leaders and congregations through using the Seven Lever strategies.
We’ve come a long way in Missouri, and others can perhaps learn from things we’ve tried. But we’ve still got a long way to go. God is still inspiring and forming the “new thing” being done here through the United Methodist Church in Missouri.
Yes, lay leaders from around the country will remember Missouri. Now, our job is to keep working for the Kingdom, to keep our focus and lead our congregations forward in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of – lives, communities, workplaces – our world.