Grace and peace to you in the name and spirit of Jesus Christ!
Many organizations are experiencing the challenges of the changing social environment in which we live. Shifting dynamics of demographics and economics create distinctly different challenges for us in the United Methodist Church and the Desert Southwest Conference as well.
These societal changes are evident as we look at the patterns of worship attendance, church mission participation (in committees, UMW, UMM, youth groups, Bible studies, and other small groups), congregation finances, maintenance of buildings and other property, and many other areas of church life. Clearly, we are seeing that we cannot continue doing things the way we have been. Change is in the air.
In order to help us navigate through some of the dynamic changes that are taking place in our Desert Southwest Conference, I have invited a small group of persons to meet with me to discuss prayerfully some of the ways in which our Conference might best meet the challenges of the present. This small group is the Missional Stewardship Task Group. My hope is that this group will reflect prayerfully on the challenges that our congregations face and will consider ways that we might change that is focused on fulfilling our mission.
Members of the Task Group are: Anthony Tang, Barbara Davis Hines, Dave McPherson, Jerry McGuire, Jonathan Arnpriester, Kathie Barnes, Mary Bullis, Randy Bowman and Sharon Ragland. They offer a wide range of expertise and gifts, but they all possess a love for Jesus Christ, a strong commitment to the church, and a willingness to dedicate time and energy to the task to which I have invited them.
These persons have been invited “to engage in honest reflection in order to steer our annual conference toward increased growth and vitality while maintaining a sharpened focus on our ministry as we align our resources with our mission and our strategic direction.” Let me share some of what I am expecting:
To engage in honest reflection. Our honesty is a gift to each other, to the church, and to God. This Task Group has been asked to prayerfully reflect and to come to the table with open minds, but with a willingness to be honest about our thoughts and feelings about very critical matters related to our Conference and its future.
To steer our annual conference toward increased growth and vitality. We will be learning what our current reality is as a Conference. What does it mean to live in a geographic area where the economy is slowly rebounding, and where the communities we live in are changing dramatically while the populations in our pews are aging? Does our Conference support and encourage growth? Or are we willing to simply wait for decline to take us over until the last person “turns off the lights” in our beautiful sanctuaries?
To maintain a sharpened focus on our ministry. In our conversations, we want to discuss the way we order ourselves as a Conference. Do the structures that are in place best utilize our laity and clergy for mission and ministry? Or are we simply putting names on a slate of officers and committee members without real attention to the passion and the interests and the talents of the individuals or the purpose of the committees and task groups?
To align our resources with our mission and strategic direction. We want to ask ourselves how to best insure that decisions about resources are directly connected to the mission of The United Methodist Church and the Strategic Direction of our Conference. How, for example, might we best utilize our financial resources to promote the making of disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world? And how would we best use our resources to empower leaders who create vital congregation? We need to create a culture where decisions related to the use of resources are foundationally about MISSION and about GOD, more than about institutional preservation.
We will be discussing a wide range of topics, and we are guided by a book written by Bishop Robert Schnase, entitled “Remember the Future.” The Task Group is not called to make any decisions for the Conference, but rather, to serve as a guiding, advisory group for me. Out of the synergy of our conversations may come some recommendations that may be shared with the Conference for possible implementation through channels of decision making that are already in place.
I ask that you please hold this group in prayer, with the hope that God’s guidance will lead us. As always, I invite you to share your thoughts, your questions, your concerns, your prayers with me.