Five Reflections from District Visits
1. At our 2012 Annual Conference, three focus areas were adopted: invest in the young, create transforming lay and clergy leaders, and grow fruitful congregations. At this time, the most energy seems to be centered in investing in the young. In particular, getting involved in local schools is the primary way that churches are choosing to invest. A number of UM congregations are already engaged with a public school. Most congregations include teachers, staff, administrators and students, so bridging the gap between the church and the community is less daunting. The first step that congregations often take is contributing food and/or school supplies. The key challenge is encouraging them to take the next step: moving from charity to relationship or from tuna to tutoring. The important key to investing in the young is to build relationships with the young that can be fostered and sustained for a lifetime.
2. Churches continue to struggle with the “How.” With some churches a leader can say, “Let’s bake a cake,” and people in the congregation will figure out what kind of cake, how to assemble the ingredients, mix, bake and decorate. Other congregations need a recipe while still others need “hands on” coaching. Implementing these strategies is similar. Churches and church leaders can teach and mentor each other in the steps necessary to reach out to their communities.
3. This is my ninth district itineration and I tell you the stories we are hearing are getting better. They are stories not only of mission and service to others but of the powerful impact that work has on congregations. In some cases that is leading to a growth in church attendance but it is also leading to making Disciples of Christ by providing opportunities for our members to act out their faith in their daily lives. The energy is higher with a sense of excitement and possibility.
4. There seems to be more cooperation among congregations, but we still have a long way to go. Our “old” DNA or habit is to be connectional in polity, but congregational in practice. We need to stop just calling ourselves a connectional system and we need to actually connect. Churches and church leaders have a great deal to learn from each other.
5. Historically, many churches have been focused on ministry to the congregation, leading members to grow in their faith and strengthening their relationship with God and each other. The Texas Annual Conference has set a course to focus our ministry outward instead of inward. Many clergy and congregations need help in that refocusing process to see themselves as resources for ministry rather than objects of ministry.