Strategic Assessment Team Studies Methodism's Magnificent Future

Date Posted: 12/12/2011

In the midst of unpredictable, tumultuous and fast-moving times, Dr. Greg Jones, senior consultant to the Strategic Assessment Team, believes Romans 8:18-19 delivers encouraging words mixed with exciting challenges for the Texas Annual Conference.


“J.P. Phillips’ translation focuses on God and the future – a magnificent future that God has planned,” Jones, former Dean of Duke Divinity School, told dozens of leaders at a November CLT/DLT meeting at First UMC Conroe. The verse goes on to describe the whole creation on tip toe to see the wonderful sight of what is to come. Adds Jones, “This is a reminder that others are watching us personally, they are watching our congregations to see if there is a lifegiving witness, and I would submit to you that the Methodist church as a whole is watching the Texas Annual Conference, because Texas is a pivotal conference.”


The opportunity here, add Jones, “is for the conference to provide leadership for other clergy, laity, bishops and conferences standing on tip toe to see: “What would happen if” the renewal of the Wesleyan movement comes to flourish here.” After reading documents and having conversations across the conference in recent months and years, Jones said that, while there is strong affirmation about the progress that has been made over the last five years, additional transformation will only result from keeping an eye on the destination.


Great by Choice, the latest work by Jim Collins, explores what it takes to thrive in uncertainty and even chaos, when others do not. “Collins uses the 20-Mile-March as an illustration of the stick-to-itiveness required over a long period of time. Rather than walk 18 miles on a nice day and none when you don’t feel like it, success requires hitting each specified performance mark in your organization with great consistency over a long period of time.”


Things Will Not Stay the Same…

“Our quickly changing culture, demographics, and technology are creating a window where things could get considerably better or worse for the United Methodist Church,” Jones explains. While data and conversations reveal promising new signs of alignment between the Texas Annual Conference and congregations, Jones candidly admitted that focusing on the various tensions could “cause us to lose sight of our magnificent future.”


Moses experienced something similar when he sent spies into the Promised Land and heard a majority report of too many obstacles and a minority report urging him to proceed and trust God. Similarly, Jones suggested the denomination leaders resist the temptation to stay with what is familiar instead of pressing on to the divine destination. “My dad says every soul and every church has a ‘Back to Egypt Committee’ that wants to fall back into default mode. I hope we will resist that temptation and realize that the time is ripe for the Wesleyan Movement to catch hold within United Methodists in a way that drives people to us. Perhaps they will join us, when they see us engaged in mission and ministry in ways that touch their heart’s yearning for life that really is life.”


If Only I…

“There are always excuses…if only I...was someone or somewhere else, I could be making a difference. Hearing the story of Maggie may help us realize we don’t need money or a strategic plan to make a difference. As a teen, Maggie was forced to watch a massacre in her village, yet allowed to live. She soon found seven orphaned children, hiding in a church, and told them they would work together to rebuild the town.


She made huts to live in, grew food in a garden and eventually started a school and a small village. She had the conviction that God was doing something through her to address human needs. She now describes her motivation as, ‘Love made me an inventor.’” Adds Jones, “Whether you are in a declining city or rural church or a huge city or church with problems beneath the surface, wherever you are – love can help you see the new possibilities. If only I…had a bigger church?


Ironically a rural church invisible on a GPS system manages to send a dozen students to Duke Divinity School, but a huge church often sends no one to seminary.” Jones’ challenge: “How many miles will you go in your 20-Mile-March today? How can you pay attention to the habits of holy living in a better way than ever before? Others are on tip toes, watching the Texas Conference to see the magnificent future.”



Three Strategies to Facilitate Alignment

Just as the military empowers people in the field to be nimble decision makers, leaders in the Texas Annual Conference are discussing how to drive toward a new level of collaboration.


Jones shared these observations of the interrelated strategies that he believes will best position the denomination for growth:

·         1: Cultivate fruitful congregations

“There is no one-sizefits- all for churches. This strategy encourages each congregation to ask what growing looks like. What does fruitful mean to your church? The Conference will provide coaching and guidance, but the hope is that each church will encourage conversations about taking risks and thinking differently about changing lives. Our prayer is that these strategies will generate talk about powerful discipleship that leads to inspirational stories about where God is at work. It’s time to work together to determine any hurdles, seek conference resources and exercise creativity. Given the changing needs of our communities, perhaps churches can look for better models – whether that involves beginning a second campus, a partnership with a larger church, closing two and starting a new church, or something altogether different.”


·         2: Form transformational lay and clergy leaders

“Leadership development for clergy is a lifelong challenge, and we are realizing that there are many who have not been adequately resourced to face their challenges. Ideally, pastors should be able to spend 50% of their time on leader and clergy development. We should learn from the military which sends individuals for new training each time they change ranks. We are realizing that the talent in our denomination is underutilized and the conference wants to develop better systems and resources during this critical window of time. With this new sense of mission ahead of us, future lay leader development will not be directed at preparing them to serve on committees, but in making disciples where they live and work. When lay people have a strong and clear vision, the church flourishes.


Transformational leaders observe and listen. They seek reasons why people don’t come to church and dissolve misperceptions on both sides. What are the yearnings of your lay people that would allow them to integrate spirituality into their lives and those of others? It’s time to try new ideas and search for innovators that can be unleashed into the world to help change others.”


·         3: Invest in the young

“In my research I heard a great deal of energy around the priority of investing in children and youth. An investment implies being sold out to that priority – in time, energy, funding, and programming. For example, I know stories about churches revitalized when their retirees began working with latch key children after school, an initiative that gave both age groups a new sense of life and vitality.


Investing in the young could be costly but there is great missional significance. The Wesleyan Movement embraced achieving the common good -- even if that means supervising 250 energy-draining teens in a hotel on a youth trip.”