DISCIPLING AND THE TEXAS ANNUAL CONFERENCE

A Strategic Direction for the Consideration of District Listening Sessions

September 30 – October 20, 2019

During Texas Annual Conference (TAC) meetings in May 2018, delegates voted to authorize a Strategic Mapping Team (SMT) to determine whether or not our structure is aligned to efficiently support our objectives; to study the financial capacity of local congregations to support our budget; and to make recommendations to the Annual Conference.  In May 2019, delegates voted to continue the work of the SMT until Annual Conference 2020.  The team’s final report is a work in progress.  This proposal offers key elements of a possible direction for consideration and feedback.

To equip congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, this strategic proposal decentralizes mission and ministry throughout the Texas Annual Conference; simplifies and streamlines communication; reduces committees, meetings, and programs; and accomplishes our foci more efficiently and effectively.  Over a three-year period, the proposal reduces spending.

We invite you to carefully read and prayerfully consider this strategic direction, and offer your feedback during one of nine District Listening Sessions scheduled September 30 through October 20, and/or through the online survey you will receive via email on October 21.

And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age."  Matthew 28:18-20   

The Strategic Mapping Team invites you to envision a stronger, more agile, more connected conference prepared to transform our communities over the next 20 years.  We imagine a church focused more completely on God’s power to disciple persons and send them out to transform the world.  We believe God wants us to reach more people, more young people and more diverse people. As Christ followers we want to become more nimble, with stronger relationships, more accountability and a greater impact on our communities. Our foci as the Texas Annual Conference are good, but we need to adapt our ways of pursuing our common mission.

We imagine nine Districts with an increased focus on connecting churches with one another and with the help they need to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world in their unique contexts.  We want to continue empowering District Superintendents to be missional strategists for their districts. They must continue connecting churches, clergy and lay leaders for greater effectiveness in discipling ministries. We want to make the gifts of many lay and clergy specialists available to assist local churches in their ministry.

We imagine a conference with a continuing focus on recruiting, credentialing, forming and deploying clergy to lead our churches and ministries.  We believe it is imperative to reach more diverse people and provide good news to those in need.  To do so, we must increase energy focused on developing lay leadership within our congregations.

Just as Jesus called his first disciples to move into their future in different ways after his commissioning and ascension, so we must prepare to move into the future accomplishing our common mission in different ways.

The Strategic Mapping Team is grateful for Texas Annual Conference leaders who have worked diligently to embody our values to help us accomplish our vision over the last 12 years.  We affirm the vision, mission, key drivers, core values, and strategic foci adopted by the TAC in 2007.

Our Vision

Vibrant, growing congregations, changing lives and reshaping futures for Jesus Christ.

 

Our Mission

Equip congregations to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world to the glory of God.

 

Our Key Drivers

Spirit-led, excellence, fruitfulness, and accountability.

 

Our Core Values

Radical hospitality, passionate worship, faith-forming relationships, risk-taking mission, extravagant generosity, connectional ministry, fervent prayer, and diligent study of scriptures.

 

Our Strategic Foci

Cultivating growing, vibrant, missional congregations; forming transforming lay and clergy leaders; and investing in the young (including “We Love All God’s Children”).

Our strategic foci have not changed.  However, over the last 12 years, the world, our denomination, American Christianity, and our mission field have changed.

Today, we believe people inside and outside the church are less likely to invest their trust and resources in large institutions.  Local churches are more effective when they have the option to invest time and resources in missions and ministries chosen more locally.  During Annual Conference meetings on May 27 and 29, 2019, lay and clergy members were clear.  Many do value our connection, especially the connection with our Districts.

Following Annual Conference meetings, during the summer of 2019, our Strategic Mapping Team members convened conversations with groups of United Methodist Christians across the Texas Annual Conference.  As we listened, we heard people say it’s important to:

  • “Tend to our connection” because “it is all about relationships”
  • Create more simple, direct lines of communication throughout the Conference
  • Create opportunities for churches “to share learnings” with other congregations
  • “Train clergy and lay leaders” and “develop a new generation of lay leaders”
  • “Move more resources down” for contextual ministry in Districts and local churches
  • “Stop spending money on Centers” and focus on “disciple making”
  • “Streamline the Conference staff” which is “too top heavy” and has “too many staff”
  • “Reduce apportionments” and create “a small, more efficient connectional system”

We heard your desire for strong connectional relationships; clear effective communication throughout every level of the connection; more latitude to design and implement missional objectives locally; and more resources to help local churches make disciples in their unique contexts, and to identify and prepare church leaders to lead through this challenging era. 

In response to your feedback, we offer for your consideration a new three-year strategic proposal to:

  • Equip congregations to focus more completely on God’s power to disciple persons and send them out to transform the world;
  • Shift District efforts to strengthen connectional relationships and offer ideas and expertise to local churches; and
  • Focus Conference efforts to form excellent Spirit-led clergy and lay leaders.

To equip congregations, this strategic proposal decentralizes mission and ministry throughout the Texas Annual Conference; simplifies and streamlines communication; reduces committees, meetings, and programs; and seeks to accomplish our foci more efficiently and effectively.  Over a three-year period, the proposal reduces spending.

We invite you to carefully read and prayerfully consider the following fundamental elements of this strategic direction, and offer your feedback during one of nine District Listening Sessions scheduled September 30 through October 20, and/or through the online survey you will receive via email on October 21.

 

  1.   CONFERENCE

In order to focus on the unique contextual needs of its congregations where our foci will be accomplished, in this proposal, Conference-level work is simplified and streamlined to focus on forming clergy and lay leaders to help our local churches reach more people, more young people, and more diverse people.

 

  1. Core Leadership Team

In order to facilitate collaboration between Districts and simplify and streamline communications, the Core Leadership Team (CLT) would be restructured in this proposal.  Instead of Center Directors, one District Superintendent, and District representatives (the current model), the new CLT would include:

  • Bishop (chair, non-voting)
  • All 9 District Superintendents
  • All 9 District Leadership Team Chairpersons 
  • 4 at-large positions to ensure laity, young lay and clergy leaders, and key TAC ethnicities are well represented
  • Conference Lay Leader
  • Center Directors
  • Assistant to the Bishop

The Bishop would still preside, and be responsible for assessments.  The Assistant to the Bishop would help organize and direct the work of the CLT. 

This team would focus on three things:

  • Collaboration

Sharing best practices and discussing how Districts and Conference Centers can learn from one another and work together.

  • Accountability

Assuring this strategic proposal and all strategic foci are accomplished.

  • Innovation

Creating space for imagining and testing new models for making disciples of Jesus Christ.

 

  1. Conference Centers

Conference Centers were crucial for accomplishing our goals over the last 12 years. With the change in how people relate to institutions and to the local church, we believe the next era of ministry requires us to move missions and ministry to districts and local congregations and to focus Conference-level work on forming leaders.The strategic direction reduces the current 5 TAC Centers to 2:

  • Center for Leadership Formation (including all current Center for Clergy Excellence ministries + Hispanic Ministries + African American Church Initiative); and
  • Center for Connectional Resources.
  • Most work currently done by the Center for Congregational Excellence (including We Love All God’s Children), the Center for Missional Excellence, and the Center for New Faith Communities would be accomplished by part-time specialists and funded through annual stipends. 
  • Funding for Campus Ministries would continue through the Conference budget.  District Superintendents would supervise campus ministers in accordance with the Book of Discipline, in cooperation with the Conference Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry.

 

  1. Conference Staff

Moving mission and ministry closer to local congregations means shifting the work that is currently done by Conference Staff and substantially reducing the number of Conference level employees.Their service has been vital to our Districts and congregations, so it is important that most reductions be accomplished through reappointment or retirement.All reductions would be accomplished compassionately, and separated employees would be given opportunities for employment assistance, as needed.

 

  1. Conference Office Space
  • Because of the possible reduction in Conference staff; in order to move Conference offices closer to the geographic and population centers of the Texas Annual Conference; and to be good stewards of our resources, this proposal invites the Core Leadership Team to complete detailed studies to consider the advantages and disadvantages of selling or leasing the current Conference office building. This could enable us to lease or purchase Conference office space on the north side of Houston, near the Houston metro area. 
  • If the Conference office space is relocated, this proposal invites the Core Leadership Team to consider selling the current Episcopal residence (which would no longer be conveniently located near the Conference office) and either purchasing or leasing another Episcopal residence near the new office space, or offering an Episcopal housing allowance.

 

  1. Conference Committees and Boards

The current structure of Committees and Boards requires a large investment of time and resources far from local churches.In order to allow congregations to become , many committees and boards would be reduced in size or work together at fewer, separate meetings in this proposal, always respecting the requirements of The Book of Discipline. With a smaller Conference staff and reduced expenses, the Conference would be more fiscally stable and ready for whatever changes the future brings.

 

  1. DISTRICTS

In order to strengthen connectional relationships and offer ideas and expertise directly to local churches, all nine Districts would remain intact if this direction is adopted.

  1. District Superintendents
  • District Superintendents would re-define their role as missional strategists.  Work with our bishop in making mission field appointments would continue unchanged in this proposal.  However, District Superintendents would work on building strong relationships with local churches and lay and clergy leaders and offering congregations ideas and expertise to design and implement contextually appropriate missions and ministries.  As needed, District Superintendents would call on a team of specialists (subject matter experts) who are willing to share expertise, ideas, knowledge, and/or skills with Districts and local churches.
    1. Specialists

In this proposal, we envision lay and clergy specialists in various areas of ministry bringing their gifts into greater use in more local areas.  The CLT would recruit, assess, and coordinate a team of specialists (subject matter experts) who would share expertise, ideas, knowledge, and/or skills with Districts and local churches. Specialists would receive annual stipends from Conference funds to supplement the salaries from their primary appointments or jobs.   

 

  1. Additional funds for assistants

Because this proposal envisions more mission and ministry at the District level, we imagine that as they live into decentralization, District Superintendents and their staffs may need additional full or part-time staff persons.As part of this proposal, the Conference budget could allocate funds for each District to be used as needed for additional staff assistance.Districts could hire new full or part-time staff members to help as needed, and/or collaborate with other nearby Districts to hire staff persons to help meet common needs.

 

  1. District Leadership Teams (DLTs)

In this proposal, District Leadership Teams (DLTs) would be responsible for carrying the function of the Core Leadership Team (CLT) into the District level.DLTs would be completely re-formed and re-trained under the direction of the CLT to shift their focus and functionality.These key teams of lay and clergy leaders would model connection; accomplish collaboration, accountability, and innovation at the District level; and help District Superintendents equip congregations so they can .

 

  1. APPORTIONMENTS
  • Conference congregations would have the opportunity to fund three benevolent categories in this proposal:
    • General and Jurisdictional Apportionments (Only collected amounts would be remitted.)
    • Conference Apportionments
    • District Apportionments
  • Because this strategic proposal restructures Conference-level and District-level ministries more efficiently, total apportionments would decrease as these concepts are implemented.

 

Thank you so much for taking the time to carefully review the fundamental elements of this strategic direction.  We invite you to continue to prayerfully consider it, and offer your feedback during one of nine District Listening Sessions scheduled September 30 through October 20, and/or through the online survey you will receive via email on October 21.

 

  • Monday, September 30 – West University UMC, Central South, 6 – 7:30 pm
  • Thursday, October 3 – First UMC, Nacogdoches, East, 7 - 8:30 pm
  • Saturday, October 5 – First UMC, Conroe, Central North, 9 - 11:30 am
  • Sunday, October 6 – First UMC, Longview, North, 3:30 – 5 pm
  • Sunday, October 13 – Christ UMC, College Station, West, 4 – 5:30 pm
  • Monday, October 14 – First UMC, Beaumont, Southeast, 6 – 7:30 pm
  • Tuesday, October 15 – Clear Lake UMC, South, 7 – 8:30 pm
  • Thursday, October 17 – Pleasant Retreat, Tyler, Northwest, 6 – 7:30 pm
  • Sunday, October 20 – Holy Covenant UMC, Katy, Southwest, 5 – 6:30 pm

 

 

POSSIBLE TIMELINE FOR IMPLEMENTATION

If this strategic direction is approved in May, 2020, elements of the proposal could be implemented over a three-year period, from 2020 to 2023. This is a possible timeline intended to aid in our conversation about these concepts.  

YEAR 1: July 1, 2020 – June 30, 2021

  • Core Leadership Team (CLT) would be expanded immediately to include new positions, including all District Superintendents and all District Leadership Team chairpersons.
  • CLT would complete detailed studies to consider:
    • Selling or leasing the current Conference office, selling the Episcopal residence, and leasing or purchasing Conference office space in north Houston.
    • Creating a directory of specialists to include subject matter experts in cultural engagement, new faith communities, youth, We Love All God’s Children, and other areas, as needed.
    • Creating a part-time Conference position to coordinate disaster preparedness.
  • Nominations would be received for new elected positions on Conference committees and boards.  New board and committee members would be elected at Annual Conference 2021 and would serve through 2024.
  • Center for New Faith Communities would be discontinued by the end of year 1.
  • Center for Missional Excellence would be discontinued by the end of year 1.

YEAR 2: July 1, 2021 – June 30, 2022

  • Newly elected Core Leadership Team, District Leadership Teams, and other Conference and District Committees and Boards would be trained and begin their work in year 2.
  • New CLT would continue to monitor progress of strategic proposal completion and recommend changes, as needed, to accomplish strategic foci. 
  • New Center for Leadership Formation (to include current Center for Clergy Excellence functions + Hispanic Ministries + African American Church Initiative) would be created by the end of year 2.
  • Center for Congregational Excellence would be discontinued by end of year 2.
  • The CLT’s recommendations to consider selling or leasing the current Conference office and leasing or purchasing Conference office space in north Houston would be completed by the end of year 2.
  • The first Specialists reimbursed with annual stipends would be in place by the end of year 2.
  • The part-time Conference position to coordinate disaster preparedness would be in place by the end of year 2.

YEAR 3: July 1, 2022 – June 30, 2023

  • The CLT’s Conference office space recommendations could be implemented by the end of year 3.

 

F A Q

Frequently Asked Questions

Why do we need to change? 4 Reasons:

1. In our listening sessions, we heard Texas Annual Conference United Methodists are ready to decentralize.

2. We believe our clergy and laity will invest more readily in ministries closer to home which would be at the District level creating stronger connectional ministries.

3. Conference expenses now exceed Conference apportionment revenues.  We need to reduce expenses in order to balance our budget as mandated by the 2019 Annual Conference session.

4.  The direction this proposal recommends simplifies our Conference structure enabling us to be more agile, and ready for the future, no matter what the future brings. This seems prudent given denominational uncertainties.


Has our Conference vision or mission changed?

No.  Our vision, mission, and strategic goals have not changed.  However, over the last 12 years, our mission field has changed.  Therefore, we propose accomplishing the same strategic goals in different ways.


How would the ministries currently accomplished by the Centers for Congregation Excellence, Missional Excellence, and New Faith Communities be accomplished if this proposal is approved?

Some functions will be assumed by the Center for Leadership Formation. Specifically, Hispanic and African-American Ministries would be relocated there. Other functions would be accomplished by part-time Conference-funded specialists, subject matter experts available to Districts and local churches, as needed.   This proposal also envisions Conference funding for a part-time Disaster Preparedness Coordinator and funding to maintain the current Mission Depot. It is possible that budget savings could be reallocated to provide grants for Districts to hire additional staff. 

 

What about commitments already made to churches through the Center for New Faith Communities, and through programs like We Love All God’s Children?

We anticipate that Conference budget funds and/or interest earned on our current Conference reserves will be sufficient to cover funds already promised to local churches.

 

Why does the Center for Clergy Excellence become a Center for Leadership Formation in this proposal?

In addition to recruiting, training, deploying, and nurturing clergy leaders, we believe we need to place additional emphasis on equipping lay persons for leadership and encouraging clergy and lay leaders to lead together to help our local churches reach more people, more young people, and more diverse people.

 

Didn’t we already vote to approve a reduction in Conference staff?

Yes.  During annual conference 2019, delegates agreed to a reduction in Conference staff.

 

If we move in this direction, how could our Conference staff change?

By 2023, the number of Conference-funded full-time employees who work in Conference offices could be reduced significantly.

 

Do we have to sell the current Conference office?  

No.  Such a decision would only be made after a careful study. However, if we choose to sell the current office and lease space in northern Harris County or southern Montgomery County, investment returns on funds from that sale could be used to support a significant portion of the Conference budget each year.

 

If the Conference office is relocated, would we sell the current Episcopal residence?

In consultation with the Bishop, Committee on Episcopacy, Core Leadership Team, and Conference Board of Trustees, the Conference could choose to sell the residence at that time, or could choose to wait until just prior to our next Episcopal appointment.  Funds from that sale could be used to purchase another Episcopal residence closer to new Conference office spaces, or interest earned on those funds could be used to fund an Episcopal housing allowance.

 

How would the Core Leadership Team change if we move in this direction, and why?

In order to increase communication and collaboration between and among Districts, the Core Leadership Team would be re-formed to include all 9 District Superintendents and all 9 District Leadership Team Chairpersons.

 

Didn’t we already vote to approve a reduction in Conference committees and boards?

Yes.  During Annual Conference 2019, delegates voted to reduce Conference committees and boards beginning in 2021.

 
How would the role of the District Superintendent change if this proposal is approved? 

District Superintendents (DSs) would continue to assist the bishop in making mission-field appointments as part the Cabinet.  However, if we move in this strategic direction, DSs would lead, equip, and collaborate with newly re-formed and re-trained District Leadership Teams, and they would have the opportunity to call on specialists (subject matter experts) to share expertise with local churches, as needed.  Budget savings might be able to provide additional funds for each District Superintendent to use as needed, to hire one or more assistants or to fund contextual ministry.

 

What is the role of the “specialist” in this proposal?

Specialists are laypersons or clergypersons with a passion for and expertise in a particular area of ministry.  If this proposal is approved, these subject matter experts would be paid stipends with Conference funds to assist Districts and local churches.  For example, specialists could be engaged to focus on cultural engagement, new faith communities, youth, the Vibrant Church Initiative, We Love All God’s Children, and other specific areas of ministry.  Specialists would be engaged as needed to meet local church needs identified by our Districts.  (In this proposal, Conference funding for specialists would be available in addition to funding made available to each District.)

Would District apportionments need to increase to cover additional expenses?

No.  Although, of course, Districts can vote to increase or reduce funds apportioned to their churches, this proposal does not place any additional financial burden on our Districts.
 

If we move in this direction, how much could Conference expenses be reduced?

Many decisions still to be made will affect the size and shape of the Conference budget.   The goal would be to achieve a reduction of 33% by the end of the third year.
 

If this proposal is approved, will everything mentioned here happen?

Everything mentioned here could happen if the annual conference votes to move in this strategic direction.  However, the Core Leadership Team (CLT) is given primary responsibility for implementing any approved proposals, and could choose to make different or additional recommendations to the Annual Conference.  For example, after carefully studying Conference options in coordination with the Conference Board of Trustees, the CLT could choose to relocate Conference office space, but could recommend leasing the current Conference office building instead of selling it.

 

If this proposal is approved, will everything mentioned here happen immediately?

No.  In order to receive nominations for Conference committees and boards; accomplish staff reductions gracefully; and train the Core Leadership Team, District Superintendents, and District Leadership Teams for their new roles, clear directions recommended here would be implemented over a three-year period, from 2020 through 2023. 

 

What if no strategic proposal is approved by the Annual Conference in 2020?

Because 2019 Annual Conference delegates voted to balance our Conference budget by 2021, our Conference Council on Finance and Administration will be required to cut Conference expenses.  We prefer to meet the challenges we face in a proactive rather than a reactive manner, by moving in a strategic direction we believe would be the right direction even if money was not an issue. 

 

Is all this already “a done deal”?

No. We want your input as we develop a final proposal. That is why we are hosting nine District Listening Sessions and creating an online survey.  Since these strategic directions would affect our entire Conference, we need input from the entire Annual Conference. We need to know if you believe this proposal would lead us to focus more completely on discipling persons and sending them out to transform the world. 

 

Download a PDF of this proposal.