Over the last four months, I’ve had the privilege of traveling the Missouri Conference and engaging in 33 listening session across seven of our nine districts. Over 300 clergy and lay persons have come together around five questions that are helping us assess what should we change, what should we stop and something new we should begin as the Missouri Annual Conference.
Let me just say, Missourians are a diverse group of people with many ideas and sometimes completely different visions of what it means to be United Methodist. Yet, that is the Church I know and love. We are a big tent of people who hold to the Wesleyan essentials as we agree to disagree on much of the rest. We are a people who can be at times noisy about our opinions and disagreements. Yet, we are a people who deeply love our churches, communities and God.
As a leader and as your Bishop, offering direction in the midst of differing values and vision can be tough. However, a few common themes have emerged that we can act on immediately:
First, I’ve heard increasingly about the need to equip local churches and leaders for social justice and local missional needs and to increase our advocacy work and offer hands-on help for local congregations struggling to deal with the rampant poverty in both the urban and rural communities. Safety and violence are high areas of tension in our cities and many of our rural towns. Disparity of quality in education is widening and inequalities are deepening. As your Bishop, I have pledged to walk, pray, visit and engage once a month in one of the distressed communities to learn what’s happening on the streets of our cities and towns. It’s been heartbreaking hearing these stories. I intend to appoint Tina Harris as Director of Mission, Service and Justice.
Tina has experience and a heart for social justice, advocacy and missions and will help our congregations become more engaged in their communities and move outside their walls.
Second, there is a desire for more emphasis on children, youth and college-age ministries.
As Bishop, I asked the Cabinet and Mission Council to add a sixth Director for Next Generation Ministries. This new director will be responsible for children, youth and young adult discipleship, including campus and college-age ministries. It is my intent to appoint Jeff Baker to this role.
Third, I’ve heard, “Let’s not slow up on our new church starts, our church renewal efforts and evangelism. Show us how to reach and disciple people.” I intend to appoint Roger Ross as Director of the Center for Congregational Development and Lia McIntosh as Associate Director of the Center. I believe Roger will bring excellent leadership to keep our Missouri Conference at the leading edge of church planting and multiplying with strong support from Lia and Suzanne Nicholson as Missional Strategist.
As Bishop, I’m excited to put these three actions in place with the help of our Cabinet and Mission Council without an apportionment increase. Each of these persons will bring great deal of energy and passion to their new roles. With the right team in place, I believe we are positioned to be more adaptive and fruitful in the future.
I have 20 listening sessions to go and much to hear and learn. I’m also discerning about the other two themes I’ve heard repeatedly, “help for small churches” and “laity leadership development.” Stay tuned!