Training Focuses on DS as Chief Missional Strategist
New district superintendents embraced their new role as chief missional strategist, while directors of connectional ministries focused on how they can serve as the steward of vision in the annual conferences. And the two groups looked especially at how those two roles can work together.
The Rev. Schuyler Rhodes, superintendent of the Bridges District in the California-Nevada Conference, said the focus on mission is the reason he’s excited about his new job.
“My sense of our problem is that we’ve become a bunch of managers and given up on risk and adventure, opting for safety,” he said, adding that the church has to start taking some risks. “If 15 percent of the faith communities can become risk takers, it would be a tipping point.”
Seventy-four new district superintendents and 12 directors of connectional ministries attended the New District Superintendents/Directors of Connectional Ministries Training Event, August 23 - 28 at Lake Junaluska, N.C. The event is conducted by the Council of Bishops, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and the General Board of Discipleship.
“I think the big thing is that instead of being the sort of superintendent who is available for troubleshooting, we are going to be more directed toward what can be instead of what is,” said the Rev. Jay Jackson, supervisor of the Southwest District in the Texas Annual Conference.
Nancy Lambert, director of Clergy Excellence for the Great Plains Conference, was attending the training for directors of connectional ministries.
“I think being here has helped me to clarify how I work as a staff leader to direct what happens in the conference. I’m seeing that I have to have a broader vision than just the local church,” Lambert said.
Some discussions focused on how DSes and DCMs can take on new roles when they already have a full plate.
Bishop Gary Mueller, episcopal leader of the Arkansas Conference, said that in Arkansas – which has more than 700 churches in five districts – two significant changes had been made. “We invested in more district administrators to support the DSes, and we have employed circuit elders,” Mueller said.
Many of those attending the training said that Bishop Sandra Steiner Ball, episcopal leader of the West Virginia Annual Conference, set the tone with her sermon at opening worship.
“The word can’t is not in God’s vocabulary. And as leaders we should help people in the church get that word out of their vocabulary,” she said, telling the group they must position themselves to hear God’s voice, like a receiver ready to catch the football.
“Are you ready to get into the receiving position? Because there is no question that God has already launched the ball,” she said.
The Rev. Myron Wingfield, GBHEM’s assistant general secretary of Superintendency, Endorsement, Accountability, and Support, told the district superintendents they must be “the bearers of joy,” to battle the terminal seriousness that has infected the church.
“God has been, and will always be faithful,” Wingfield said in the opening plenary.
The group heard from DSes and DCMs who are changing the way they do their work.
The Rev. Linda Taylor, supervisor of the Sound District in North Carolina, said that when she started as DS, she was advised to get a balcony view of the district.
“I told them I’m going to pray for you and your congregation twice a day,” said Taylor, who for the first year of her appointment lived in a different section of the district each week.
“I had situation with a pastor in which I had to say, ‘If you don’t stop what you are doing, you are going to kill this church.’ Because of the trust we’d built, that pastor listened and said, ‘What can we do?’ ”
Great things are happening as churches in her district partner on projects, she said. On Easter Sunday, all 105 churches passed out 18,000 pocket crosses.
“Five of our ‘petite’ churches –we don’t call them small anymore—
came together to do the first vacation Bible school in the history of their county,” Taylor said. And two larger churches are partnering to build a UM community center to provide a place for youth and children to play while their parents gather in a coffeehouse setting to discuss issues and struggles they face.
The Rev. Cedric Bridgeforth, supervisor of the North District of the California Pacific Annual Conference, urged DSes and DCMs to build relationships with clergy and lay.
And, he noted that DSes must be in places of influence in the larger community, not just the church.
In his district, an associate pastor at an old historic church felt called to theater ministry with children. The district was able to find money to support that, and she ended up starting an after-school theater.
When someone forgot to renew a dollar-a-year lease at a historic downtown church housed in a building owned by the city of Los Angeles, Bridgeforth said he met with city officials every Wednesday for two years to work out how the church could continue to do ministry at that site.
He urged DSes to show up for something other than Sunday worship so they can get to know their churches. He said they should go to Wednesday night fellowship, Thursday Bible study, youth car washes.
Abel Vega, DCM for the Rio Grande Annual Conference, said the DCM serves as a clearinghouse for information.
“I like to tell lay people you are here until Jesus comes back; preachers come and go,” Vega said.
The Rev. Young-Mee Park, supervisor of the DeKalb district of the Northern Illinois Annual Conference, said she hopes to keep in mind the mission role of the DS so she doesn’t get stuck in the “nitty-gritty.”
The Rev. Joel Garrett, supervisor of the Butler District in Western Pennsylvania, said the new role is one that DSes “are going to have to live into.” He is considering what can be delegated to pastors in his district. “And superintendents have to involve laity in the leadership of the district. They are the constant.”
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.