Annual Conference: A Time of Learning


Missouri’s Annual Conference Session has intentionally shifted from a time of reports and business session to a time of learning, with workshops and seminars now occupying more time on the schedule than plenary sessions. This year, in addition to the learning time’s each morning, there were 16 different workshops to choose from in two Sunday afternoon time slots. The following stories are some highlights from a few of them.

Overcome Bias to Achieve Unity

Before we can overcome our bias, we must first recognize it, says Rev. Shelia Bouie Sledge, associate pastor of Salem in Ladue United Methodist Church. Sledge presented a workshop on Growing in Unity Through Diversity and Inclusion on Sunday afternoon. If we want to relate to another person, we must look at the whole person, not the color of skin, or gender or hair or style of dress.

“We are all biased,” she said simply. “Black people are as biased as white people. Women are as biased as men. Hispanics and Asians, poor and rich. Get over your bias!”

In our culture, diversity is all about skin color, she said. “The minute you see somebody, you don’t see the color of your hair, or the glasses you wear or the clothes you wear… you see skin color. Our culture has been culturizing us this way.”

The Great Commission that is found in Matthew 28 does not mention color as one of the requirements of making disciples. But people tend to invite people to church who are like themselves. Our bias is that we want people in our church to look like ourselves. “If you brought people to Christ, I challenge you to think about who you brought to Christ. Are they like you? We don’t get it right because it’s about me,” Sledge said.

Unity is hard work. She pointed out that all people are different, but once you find out a little about them, they are all human.

“How do I not say the reason we keep going back to this conversation is based on race? When we talk about unity we must value our diversity. All of the parts make us whole,” she said.

Bias allows a person to categorize a person without thinking deeply about the assumptions that contribute to that view. “When we see bias, many times it is a way to move through life without stopping and re-evaluating each detail,” said Sledge. Social conditioning and belief contribute to the biases we have been taught and we believe to be true.

In order to make disciples, we must be the ones to turn off our biases and invite people in, even those who are different. We need to invite people in, and make them feel welcome, she said. “Look at the good things in each other. We are humans. ‘Don’t belong’ can no longer be our bias,” she said.


Rev. Clayton Smith opened his workshop by thanking people for coming, because he wasn’t sure that anyone would. “Money and ministry is a tough topic,” he said.

For the past decade Smith has been Executive Pastor of Generosity at the United Methodist mega church, Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kansas. But he had no trouble relating to the diverse range of Missouri Conference Methodists in his workshop. Smith grew up in Chillicothe, attended Central Methodist University, was campus ministry pastor at the University of Missouri Rolla, and served Schweitzer (Springfield), Manchester (St. Louis) and Centenary (Cape Girardeau) as senior pastor.

While at Manchester, Smith had a major building program that he said “drove him to his knees.” When he went to pursue his doctorate of ministry degree, his advisor asked him what part of ministry was most difficult for him. When he replied “preaching stewardship,” his advisor knew they had narrowed down his topic for research.

Smith has learned that it is very important for every congregation, regardless of size, to have people in the congregation (members, not staff), who are champions for stewardship.

“You need someone who will step up and give leadership in the area of stewardship and generosity,” he said.

“At Schweitzer it was my finance chair. At Manchester we had some valiant, focused people on the finance committee. Centenary had the best memorial committee I had ever seen. I learned a lot from those experiences.”

In the past few years, teaching about financial management has become an important part of stewardship within the church. When Smith learned that on average, Americans were spending about two percent more than they make, he shared the news with senior pastor Adam Hamilton. He was troubled, and wanted to do something about it.

“We decided to teach how to establish and live by a value based budget,” Smith said. “People weren’t managing their money, their money was managing them.”

Since 2005, Church of the Resurrection has had more than 3,000 members or visitors take a financial class, like Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

They are now developing retirement classes to help people manage their wealth. “This generation is giving a lot of legacy gifts. If the church doesn’t ask, it won’t receive,” Smith said.

One couple at Church of the Resurrection stepped up and gave $1 million to provide tuition and a living stipend for a seminary student.

“Think of the change that will result from that gift,” he said.

Smith said giving is an important part of being a disciple, as is mission, and the two should not be separated. “If the church is going to grow in ministry, mission and witness, people must give, and go.”

Two years ago, Hamilton asked Smith to take a sabbatical to write a book, so his ideas about stewardship could be shared beyond Church of the Resurrection. That book is named Propel: Good Stewardship, Greater Generosity, and is currently available at

Successful Small Churches Focus on the Needs of the Community by Pam Ekey

Small, rural churches struggle because they don’t have the ability to pay for a full-time ordained elder, but you can have church and you can be in mission, and you can be the hands and feet of Christ in your community, says Margie Briggs, Certified Lay Minister serving Calhoun and Drakes Chapel United Methodist Churches, two small, rural churches that have flourished under her leadership.

In the nine years Briggs has lead these two congregations, Calhoun has grown from an average of three in worship to 30 and Drakes Chapel has grown from seven to 60. She presented a workshop on “Growing BIG in Small Churches” during the Sunday afternoon workshops.

“I tell my churches you can do anything that Church of the Resurrection does, just on a smaller scale,” she said, “Don’t think of what you cannot do, think of what you can do for Jesus Christ.”

She added, “One thing every church can do is bathe their pastor and church in prayer.”

Another key to making disciples is connecting to the community and finding out what that community needs. She offered as examples many of the outreach activities that her two congregations have done. They ranged from offering free meals to running a food pantry to operating a Christmas shop and a one-day Bible camp. Most important is outreach to youth. “You can do no better for your church than to do things for the youth of your community,” she said.

A church can make disciples if it is outwardly focused and mission minded, she said. A sign purchased with a grant has activities posted so the whole community knows what is coming up. Small communities often do not have newspaper or radio stations to advertise church activities, but there are other ways to get the word out.

“You can do what Adam Hamilton does, but in a small place. The thing that is most important for you to do is not to give up,” she said. When outreach efforts are less than successful, learn from the experience and try again.

“Our first Easter egg hunt had only a handful of children. We had gobs and gobs of presents and we kept letting the children go back and pick more presents. One child said, ‘This has been the best day of my whole life.’ Even small results can be successful,” she said.

“You can’t be afraid to try something new,” she said.

Intentional Faith Development: Revs. Mike Schreiner and Jim Peich; Morning Star UMC/Gateway Regional

Despite attending church for years, people often are not advancing in their relationship with Jesus. Their faith has become just “religion”. The workshop focused on setting up a process to intentionally move people from one level of faith development to another to another. The church must develop a detailed and intentional path starting with where a person is and moving from there. The process is well publicized, and creates a path necessary for meaningful membership in a church.

Celebrate Recovery: Rev. Keith Langland, Care & Recovery pastor; Morning Star UMC/Gateway Regional

Celebrate Recovery is a nation-wide program for creating a ministry for persons seeking recovery from a variety of addiction, including eating disorders and anger management. Meetings and activities are provided for adults, children with family members in recovery and teens in recovery. It is an intensive but effective ministry that puts not any higher power at the center, but Christ.