Missouri Bishop Robert Schnase once again welcomed all to the 2014 Annual Conference. He lifted up this year’s count of 850 congregations, 1,000 active and retired clergy 170,000 members and 80,000 in attendance on any given Sunday.
“This is my 10th annual conference with you,” Bishop Schnase said. “I celebrate what an extraordinary year it has been in what we’ve been learning and doing.”
Since the 2013 annual conference there has been an emphasis on finding new ways to create and strengthen congregations and clergy. The Missouri Conference has a very distinct focus on a well-defined mission: Leading congregations to lead people to actively follow Jesus Christ. This is the purpose of the annual conference, to lead the congregations.
A part of acting on that mission is the Five Expectations:
- Christ-Centered: Our work begins and ends in Christ and we are to treat each other in a Christ like manner.
- Fruitful: Focused more on the outcomes and results than what we put into something.
- Excellence: never accept or allow mediocrity.
- Accountability: We are willing to evaluate and correct each other in all our ministries.
- Collaboration: We do not work in silos, we work together, church to church, district to district in creating ministry that works.
A focus on Congregational Excellence and Pastoral Excellence developed in the restructuring process. These, said Bishop Schnase, are two are fundamentals in insuring our mission as a Conference will
“This year, I will spend time teaching the Seven Levers book in other conferences,” said Bishop Schnase. It tells the story of the Missouri conference and its transformation over the past 10 years. There has been seven strategies essential to a conference to fulfill its mission.
“They have been hammered out here by all of us on a day by day basis.” Those strategies include a strategy for:
- Starting New Congregations: They reach younger, unchurched people better and have multiple impacts on every level. All congregations were new once and were supported by others.
- Clergy Peer Learning: Clergy are more likely to be shaped by peer learning more than any other way.
- For Congregational Intervention: HCI is one way of dealing with the 85 percent of churches growing older and smaller.
- Cultivating Clergy Excellence: Review and continually improve the whole system. What works, what doesn’t, what needs to change, and what are the obstacles.
- Aligning Budgets and Resources: Being intentional about returning resources to the local church; putting clergy and congregational excellence first.
- Creating Technically Elegant Governance systems: Reducing the number of committees and members to be more streamlined; doing actually ministry, not just going to meetings.
- Reconfiguring Annual Conference Sessions: Less time on business and more worship, reconnecting, learning, reinforcing who we are and what we do.
The Bishop continued by lifting up the ministries that have been hallmarks of the Conference. Imagine No Malaria , led by Jill Wondel and Jennifer Long, had raised $934,029 prior to Annual Conference Session. This was been done through the efforts of youth groups, UMW and UMM, and whole congregations. Palmyra UMC inspired the Missouri campaign by pledging $10,000 last year, and the church paid off that pledge in April. It has been a cause passionately embraced by the whole Conference. An offering taken later in Annual Conference Session pushed the total to more than $1.2 million (see page 23).
In the Mozambique Initiative, 200 pastors are receiving support from Missouri congregational partners. The ministry highlight this year has been the opening of Gondola Training Center.
Another development in the Conference is the announcement that an addition will be built onto the Conference Center in Columbia so that the office of Mission, Service and Justice ministries can move from its current space it is renting into the Conference Center. The Missouri United Methodist Foundation also intends to move its office to the Conference Center.
“Our merger (of the Missouri East and Missouri West Conferences)
was still new when I came,” said Bishop Schnase. “This year the conference trustees broke ground on the conference building’s new expansion. This feels like the final step in the merger.”
Another change this past year was the launch of The Missouri Methodists magazine. It was initiated by Fred Koenig, Conference publications editor, when the regular Conference newspaper partner UMR Communications ceased publication. “We have really stepped up in
quality with this magazine,” said Bishop Schnase.
Roger Drake has begun his tenure as the new president of Central Methodist University. He is looking forward to expanding spiritual direction and formation for the CMU student body. Saint Paul School of Theology has sold its campus, moved in with Church of the Resurrection and reoriented its curriculum more toward the practice of ministry.
Converge, the annual gathering of clergy for learning and renewal, will be September 8-10. SERVE had over 300 congregations participate last year, impacting over 90,000 lives. Other ministries congregations have participated in include things like Haiti Water Project and Ludianna Christian Medical College and Hospital.
“Practicing Passionate Worship is our focus of this year’s Annual Conference,” said Bishop Schnase. “To worship speaks of devotion to God and passionate speaks of an emotional connection beyond the intellect, to offer the best. Whether 15 or 1,500, people are anxious to come and be a part of the service.”
Bishop Schnase spoke of his own impressions of congregations when he visits. He learns a great deal about the pastor and church, and their standard of excellence. He wonders, however, if these are all the preparations for his visit, what is it like on a regular Sunday? Things stand out for Bishop Schnase as signs of lack of passion for worship: a cluttered altar, hymns no one knows or likes, hissing or inoperable sound system, ushers milling around, worship leaders not speaking to each other, choir members doing crossword puzzles, pastors telling self-congratulatory stories, etc. In worship, congregations should offer their best, utmost and highest. It should be clear that very intentional preparation has gone on to create a space for worship people can’t wait to attend and come willing to be shaped by the Holy Spirit. It takes careful preparation and cooperation with all the leaders involved. It is the most important ministry a congregation can offer to a community.
“The people of this room should act as if worship is the most important hour of the week,” said Bishop Schnase. “If they don’t, no one attending will believe worship is important at all.”
Clergy and laity should always working to be the best. That includes learning together through reading and conferences, evaluating each other, and being willing to be held accountable. Worship should be a part of every activity. Men and women together, should plan and pray. Laity should be trained and anxious to be a part of taking part in worship, and taking it out into the world. “People should be changed by worship, and there should be evidence of the Holy Spirit working in their lives.”
The challenge of strengthening worship should be an ongoing effort in every congregation. That should extend to the surroundings where people worship: the hallways, the coffee fellowship area, the parking lot and the class rooms. The whole church should be immersed in prayer for the sake of worship excellence. As Rev. Cody Collier said earlier, there should be a practice of pre-worship as a regular practice in the church, with everyone praying for the service and its participants. Passionate worship begins with our love of God and willingness to set ourselves aside to let God in, said Bishop Schnase.