Call to Laity: Attention Dreamers
What inspired Methodists to start colleges and hospitals in days gone by? What astounding dreams are inside lay leaders today – and how might those passions be activated? Bishop Janice Huie is excited to watch the conversation unfold as former Lay Leader Leah Taylor and a special Lay Leadership Development “think tank” imagines the possibilities.
Bishop Janice Huie believes the Texas Annual Conference is sitting on a powder keg of untapped leadership. She challenged a group of “dream team” volunteers and members of the Lay Leadership Development team this spring with a type of Star Trek vision: to go where no man has gone before. Kicking off a collective-visioning process designed to motivate imagination and impact from laity across the conference, she asked the group a series of thought-provoking questions: “What environments can we create that empower lay leaders to live out their faith in ways we have not done before? What experiments might we try to enrich our lives and the lives of those in the world around us? Where can we engage the world that would make your hearts glad?”
Added Bishop Huie, "I know what it's NOT, but I don't know exactly what it IS, and that is where your team comes in."
During the opening session of the visioning retreat, Diane McGehee, Director of the TAC Center for Missional Excellence, echoed that sentiment. “I don’t think you know how much horsepower you have as lay leaders,” she said. “We are sitting on a gold mine -- in the Methodist church – of people that are possibly waiting for permission to use their skills to make an impact. I honestly believe, if we could unleash the potential within the laity across the conference we could end poverty!”
For Such a Time as This
Following the completion of her term as Conference Lay Leader, Leah Taylor accepted the Bishop’s challenge to create an “incubator” of current lay and clergy leaders called the Lay Leadership Development Team to help define ways to activate that untapped leadership power within the conference.
“For almost a year, this group has been partnering with Leadership Education experts at Duke Divinity, to build the capacity of people to create a Wesleyan imagination amidst our lay leadership across the conference,” Leah explains.
Phase One: Interviews
Adds Leah, “Our team began our exploratory process by interviewing 16 clergy and 45 lay leaders – asking them what they yearn for as a person of faith, whose faithful leadership they admire, what the church could do to strengthen their leadership skills, and what new activities might be helpful in addressing emerging issues in a transformational way.” In the process of conducting the interviews, surprising new friendships were built, and passions were activated.
According to the survey report, the 60+ that answered the questions seemed to yearn for the church to help worship be more relevant, become more of a presence that is affecting change outside of the physical building of the church, and foster deep relationships across economic, social, racial and ethnic lines. North District Lay Leader Sue Sullivan was excited to conduct interviews and get the conversation started about igniting passion in other lay leaders. “I just know that I had a mountain top experience as a camp counselor at Lakeview as a youth and I want to be able to motivate others to feel and share that type of transformation.” Businessman Oscar Garza feels the same way. “As I grew up, I used to be at church five times a week. It was my home away from home, so my prayer is to figure out how we can all take more of the church into our daily lives.”
Leaders from Duke Divinity joined task force members in February to help frame the purpose and work, and cast the vision for the team to envision new ways for lay leaders to live their faith. On Friday, the group shared stories from interviews and enjoyed small group conversations in preparation for Saturday’s training in the “Generative Solutions” model of generating possibilities. The team worked in small groups to take the best ideas from several leadership models to brainstorm a new and better outcome.
“Duke facilitators helped us kick start our ideas, and we have been meeting and talking about next steps ever since,” adds Leah. “We are brainstorming along the lines of some sort of Leadership Academy or other methods to discover other laity who are hungry for the same kind of transformational activity that embodies our Methodist heritage.”
Grassroots Vantage Point
Retreat attendees are energized about the potential outcomes of this discussion. Their feedback includes comments such as:
· I believe there is genuine interest and commitment to the idea of a new and major initiative to enhance lay leadership and the collective wisdom of the retreat group is worthy of serious consideration.
· I have now challenged myself to be a more active lay leader and have used some of these new decision-making techniques in my own church meetings.
· I am on the lookout for laity with high potential who may not have a network to help them grow and put their passions into service.
· I think we need to decide on a few experiments and jump in with enthusiasm.
Current Lay Leader Stephanie Griffin gets excited about finding laity with that sparkle in their eyes. “History is living proof that -- when lay men and women with a passion become involved -- things change,” she says. “I can imagine that united, ignited, and open-minded, we could actually eliminate poverty, help our neighbors find legal ways to live in a free country, become family for children and elderly who are alone and lost, feed the hungry, and help those who are reconnecting with society after prison.” Stephanie is watching with great anticipation as the “dream team” discerns next steps to activate the TAC vision to Develop Transforming Lay and Clergy.
“We want our spectators in the conference to become leaders,” adds Bishop Huie, “and we are working collectively to encourage that freedom to bloom where they are planted. I am excited about the day when more individuals move into leadership with a sense of ownership in the discipleship process.”
Adds Stephanie, “The Transforming Lay Leadership experiment gives laity the opportunity to dream of solutions and then experiment with creative ways to be in ministry to fulfill the call that Christ has on their lives. So, if we focus on developing Lay Leadership that live out their faith, we will produce the next generation of strong Wesleyan Lay Leaders.”
Watch for new developments from this leadership incubator. To join forces in the project, contact Leah Taylor at firstname.lastname@example.org.