Hammons Reflects & Gives ThanksConference Lay Leader Brian Hammons reflected on his eight years in office. He expressed his thanks for support and encouragement from family, friends and co-workers. He also gave thanks for all the United Methodist congregations in Missouri and Bishop Schnase’s leadership as well as the work of all district lay leaders and superintendents, Conference staff, and Conference Council and other committee members. Most importantly, he said, he is thankful for the “laity who live lives of faith and service in the church in a variety of ways.”
Hammons believes the witness of the laity is the key to renewal of the church, not action of the General Conference, Annual Conference, or even the local church. He quoted the Book of Discipline: “The witness of the laity, their Christ-like examples of everyday living, as well as the sharing of their own faith experiences of the gospel, is the primary evangelistic ministry through which people will come to know Christ and the United Methodist church will fulfill its mission.” Hammons encouraged the laity to tell their stories every day in every place: workplace, school, community organization, grocery store, etc.
Hammons reminded the Conference of the Lay Leadership Team’s vision during the last four years: a Conference full of “spiritually engaged laity leaders, partnering with pastors, leading congregations to fruitfulness in our mission: making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Strategies for reaching this vision have included connecting laity together in many ways and providing learning opportunities for leaders to help them work with pastors to strengthen local ministries.
After thanking the other members of the Lay Leadership Team, Hammons introduced the new Conference Lay leader, Amy Thompson. Amy shared a little of her personal experience in coming back to the church after falling away as a young adult. She noted the importance of relationships, telling about a friend who personally invited her to church, no strings attached. Because of that invitation, she returned to the church, where she was changed inside. Amy stated, “Our call and the interactions we have in our daily lives is our chance to be an example of Jesus Christ in this world. This call to action takes us higher and deeper into a relationship with our Creator.” She challenged members of the Conference with the question “Where is God calling you and are you willing to follow the lead?” urging members to be open to the promptings of the Holy Spirit through this time of transition, with new appointments, new conference teams, and a new bishop.
Hammons issued a closing challenge to “affirm the positive, solid faith we share and reduce emphasis upon divisive, non-essential issues.” He urged the Conference to not let issues and opinions overshadow our mission and future opportunities.
Laity Refocuses on Making Disciples
Hammons and other members of the Lay Leadership Team called the laity to refocus on developing leadership for making disciples at the Friday afternoon Laity Session. After Hammons recognized Shirley Rundel for attending her 59th Annual Conference, Associate Lay Leader Shannon Meister gave a brief, informative, entertaining overview of the Conference workbook.
Hammons shared the lay ministry team’s vision of creating spiritually engaged laity through the strategies of connecting and learning. Building on that vision, Mitch Ross, the chair of the Core Practices team, offered to send an advisor to local churches, free of charge, to help develop a discipleship process tailored to fit the specific congregation. The Team hopes to reach some of the more than 70% of local churches in Missouri that do not currently have processes for making disciples. Mitch said that number shows that “we’ve forgotten what the main thing is.”
He emphasized how serious the Core Practices Team is about visiting local churches.
Associate Conference Lay Leader Ken Willard offered five practices for becoming (and remaining) spiritually engaged:
- Stay in God’s Word every day
- Submit to the guidance of the Holy Spirit
- Make plans to grow yearly
- Study the wisdom and habits of highly effective godly leaders
- Surround yourself with godly accountability; find someone to challenge you
Jeff Fothergill shared information about the changes coming in curriculum and focus for lay servant and lay leadership training over the next few years. Finally, Amy Thompson shared techniques for self-care for lay leaders.
Hammons closed the session by introducing the persons nominated as the new Lay Ministry Team leaders for the next quadrennium: Conference Lay Leader Amy Thompson and Associate Leaders Jeff Fothergill and Jill Wondel.