by Rev. Dan Morley, North District Superintendent
Church Conferences — the Methodist Way
The annual church conference is one part of a larger vision and practice of Methodism. We can approach the annual meeting as simply perfunctory or obligatory. Or, we can instill it with the intended purpose and meaning. Let us choose to spend our time on purpose.
There are three words I think focus the potential of our annual church conferences — Accountable, Transparent, and Covenant. These are three key expressions of our polity and practice. Threaded through all three is trust — in each other and in what the Spirit is doing in and through us, the church.
Our Methodist polity is shaped in accountability. Each part of our organization, and each one of us, has a role to fulfill and one part depends upon the next — that is the method part of Methodist. However, let us distinguish between our Methodist meaning of accountability and how the world around us often understands and practices it. A common practice of accountability is calling-out someone who fouls up — blame naming.
However, in our church, accountability empowers because we affirm:
- we are all in this together,
- each one takes personal responsibility for the mission and vision, and
- each one seeks to support and encourage all others in their role of our mutual ministry.
In his book, Change the Culture, Change the Game, Roger Connors teaches that to be an effective organization, each person must ask the question — What else can I do to further our mission and vision? As each of us considers the “What else can I do?” question, we first ask, “How can I be more effective in my part?” Then, each one goes on to ask, “How can I support and encourage others as they fulfill their ministry role?”
This is why we have transparency in our conferencing. We want to let all others know the successes and challenges, as well as what we would name as failures, so that others can see how to respond to give support from their perspective and role. Accountability and transparency go hand-in-hand as they are held together by the thread of trust. A thread which is strongest when woven with the many other threads of trust from others in our common ministry. And that speaks of our covenant.
Accountability, at its best, creates increasing transparency and openness as the community lives into its trust-filled covenant as a team or body working in unity to fulfill the God-given mission. Greater accountability, infused with transparency and upheld in covenant, builds effective ministry which leads to better results as we live into our vision.
When you participate in your Church Conference, look for the ways each agenda item, each report, and each decision is an expression of being accountable, transparent, and in covenant. Pray your way through your annual Church Conference — not to simply survive it, but rather that the thread of trust is woven in the strength of the Spirit and your ministry is increasingly vital and effective.