Preparing for Annual Conference


By Brian Hammons

Annual Conference is coming up soon. Are you looking forward to it? I am. Of course, I look forward to all of our conferences as a great time for seeing Christian friends from all over Missouri, learning new ways the church can reach our communities, and celebrating transitions. We’ve had some memorable conferences, inspiring speakers, and helpful themes for past conferences – remember Practicing Passionate Worship last year?
This year’s theme really gets me excited. Discipleship – Growing in Grace is about Discipleship Process – how we develop and nurture new followers of Jesus Christ. And how we grow ourselves to be more like Jesus. Maybe I just enjoy studying and applying methods, processes, ways to improve. But it does seem like congregations that are growing and fruitful have a very clear process, even a pathway, to discipleship and spiritual growth. In fact, developing a clear discipleship process is one of the most common prescriptions for congregations in HCI consultations. 
Of course, each congregation articulates its process in a way that fits its context. But there are common elements, and I’m excited that we’re going to learn about those and some “best practices” from several dynamic speakers in plenary and workshop sessions. All to help us get better in connecting the dots, moving people from simply coming to church to growing in meaningful, and life-changing faith.
Now, here’s something that’s interesting and was new to me: Discipleship Process is in our United Methodist Book of Discipline! After Bob Farr pointed that out, I checked, and sure enough! There it is, in paragraph 122! 
I should have known that already. It’s right after our well-known Mission is stated in paragraph 120, “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” 
“The Process for Carrying Out Our Mission” in par. 122, says that “we make disciples as we: 
  • Proclaim the gospel, seek, welcome and gather persons into the body of Christ;
  • Lead persons to commit their lives to God;
  • Nurture persons in Christian living;
  • Send persons into the world to live lovingly and justly as servants of Christ; and
  • Continue the mission of seeking, welcoming and gathering persons into the community of the body of Christ.”
That sounds like a lot of words. Much more than the simple “Invite, Form, Send” that many churches embraced a few years ago. But most of our congregations that have a clear Discipleship Process use quick, easy-to-remember bullet points that are then explained more fully. Like my congregation’s “Worship, Grow, Serve”. The main point is that a mission is only as good as the process used to carry it out, which is only as good as its clarity, reinforcement, and regular execution. 
Maybe that’s where we can all get better – in the execution. Having and using a clear, simple process for making disciples as a key part of our church life. I hope and pray that laity and clergy alike will return from this year’s conference with renewed hope, ideas, and commitment for their congregation to develop and follow a clear process for making disciples. Of course, all this has to be empowered by God’s Holy Spirit, for it’s through prayer and the Spirit’s work that hearts and lives are changed.
Our Annual Conference in June should be another great time of fellowship, learning, sharing, worshipping, and discerning God’s call for deeper faithfulness in our leadership of congregations. Of course, we’ll have some business and elections to take care of. But the most important part will be sharing positive ideas for leading our congregations’ discipleship processes that result in more followers of Jesus who make a difference in our communities. After all, our world is in need of disciples who can bring a Christ-centered perspective to the tough issues we face. Let us gather with love for one another, then go out to spread God’s love into our communities and the world.
I look forward to seeing you in Springfield!