2. Call Forth Covenant Leadership

Making disciples requires lay and clergy servant leaders who come together with one another and God in covenant to use their gifts as they prepare local churches and the whole church for God's mission in the world. Developing a servant leadership will require that The United Methodist Church move away from being a clergy-dependent church to one where ministry is shared among clergy and laity. Some United Methodist churches today are too dependent on the leadership of appointed clergy and staff. In the Wesleyan spiritual formation model, laity and clergy alike are ministers and share in the calling to make disciples of Christ. A transforming church will enable us to truly live out our belief in the ministry of all Christians. An emphasis on building spiritual leadership will engage the talents and energies of leaders throughout the church. It will energize and nurture local congregations and faith communities and build a sense of shared spiritual accountability.

Some men and women among us have special gifts as spiritual leaders, including the capacity to hold before the community of faith God's vision for the church. Spiritual leaders are disciples among us who practice the disciplines, point to God's saving grace, gather persons for the study of scripture, teach and model the teachings of Jesus Christ, help persons discover their potential to serve in the name of Jesus Christ, and walk with others on their journeys.

A transforming United Methodist Church needs spiritual leaders who will come together in covenant with God and with one another to hear the call of Christ, discern the will of God for our ministry in the world, nourish each other spiritually, and support each other in carrying Christ's message into the world. This spirituality is not just an inward spirituality that provides answers to personal problems but it is an outward spirituality that is expressed in work with the poor, the refugees, the prisoners, the dispossessed, and the broken-hearted. It is a spirituality for the healing of all people and of our nations.

Whether these leaders are leaders in local churches, annual conferences, central conferences, or the general church, they will be accountable to one another in covenant relationships, seeking God's direction and purpose rather than their own. Covenant undergirds how they organize, meet, conference, connect, and minister to the needs of the world as followers of Jesus Christ.

In order to call forth spiritual leaders who are grounded in covenant relationships, we recommend the following:

  • Develop lay servant leaders in local churches

A spiritual servant leader, through God's love, brings the hope of transformation to people's lives and then walks with them on their journey. Spiritual leaders reach out to persons in the servant spirit of Jesus whose love knows no barrier of race, culture, gender, class, or other human circumstance. These covenant leaders are open and listening to God and to all with whom they connect, calling upon us to see God's direction and purpose rather than our own.

The local church is the beginning point for covenant leaders. Every local church has members with the capacity for covenant leadership who must be identified and invited to share fully in the ministry of the church. They must also be empowered to discern new missions and ministries and be supported as these new visions are carried out. Some will teach; some will visit the sick; some will preach; some will do works of compassion and justice; some will prophesy the vision of God's reign; all will be sharing in ministry.

  • Appoint clergy as servant leaders to various ministries

Visionary pastoral leadership is essential to the transformation of The United Methodist Church. The covenant relationship between clergy and the annual conference is the foundation for that kind of leadership. The appointment of clergy to local churches and mission outposts should always be done for the purpose of carrying out the vision, mission, and ministry of God. Effective appointment-making is one of the most important responsibilities of the resident bishop and the process shall include prayerful consultation with both the clergy person and the local church through its staff-parish relations committee. District superintendents have a special role in ensuring that this collaboration occurs and that all parties are meaningfully involved.

The ongoing effectiveness of clergy requires a commitment to lifelong learning and continual transformation on the part of the clergy, and it requires support and nurture from the local church as part of the covenant relationship. This includes adequate compensation and housing, opportunities for rest and renewal, and resources and time for ongoing education and retooling.

Occasionally circumstances require that a clergy person be relieved of responsibilities for a period of time. In such cases, the bishop must have both flexibility and alternative choices in making appointments. The pastoral role of the bishop and district superintendent is an important part of their spiritual leadership in such situations. Opportunities for counseling and personal leave give the bishop and the clergy person important options in difficult circumstances.

In order to deal effectively and compassionately with clergy who need to move on to other vocational calls, careful attention must be given to the procedures, conditions, and requirements established to accomplish this. The covenant related to annual appointments must be lived out in ways that support the appointment of effective spiritual leaders.

  • Enable the district superintendent to be a spiritual servant leader

The district will be a key place for connecting clergy and lay leaders in communities of covenant relationships, in relatively small geographical areas within districts (see Covenant Communities, p.4). These communities will be concerned primarily with Christian formation and mutual accountability and will connect people from several United Methodist churches. The district superintendent will bear the central responsibility for the development of these Covenant Communities.

This transformed role of the district superintendent will require relief from a substantial portion of the administrative and programmatic responsibilities that the superintendent carries today. If the principle duty is to be an active spiritual leader with local churches and Covenant Communities, the superintendent will need to reprioritize time, energy, and resources. Programmatic efforts and other missional tasks should be generated or continued by local churches around areas of mutual interest. The district will not normally be the source of programming, except to the extent that it nourishes Covenant Communities, facilitates local programming, and serves as a channel for bringing the resources of the general church to support local initiatives.

The district superintendent will encourage conversations among local churches as they are linked in a rich variety of groups that sustain and nurture the growth and discipleship of all. He/she will have a pivotal role in working with pastors and laity in discerning and training new leadership.

  • Elect spiritual servant leaders as bishops for the church

Since the institutionalization of the office of bishop in American Methodism, bishops have carried responsibility for guarding the faith, order, liturgy, doctrine, and discipline of the church. They have provided prophetic spiritual leadership, gathered the community of faith for worship and the sacraments, and led the church to seek Christian unity and justice for all people. They bear special responsibility for preparing leaders for the church, particularly ordained clergy.

Episcopal leaders for the church, whose vision and discipleship equips them to serve, will be elected by central and jurisdictional conferences. In a transformed church, this election process should foster open, thoughtful deliberation, a broad sense of participation, and the creation of a shared vision. Each annual conference will be encouraged to nominate candidates who may become important spiritual leaders in the church. Persons elected to the episcopacy are elected to serve as bishops of the whole church. As a visible sign of this affirmation we recommend that bishops be consecrated at the Global Conference.

Bishops will model shared servant ministry by focusing their time and energy on spiritual and prophetic leadership within their annual conferences and in the world. Spiritual leadership is supported by the disciplines of prayer, scripture study, private and public worship, fasting, and Christian conferencing. Prophetic leadership includes listening to the world, to human suffering and sin, and raising the voice of justice and hope.

Bishops strive to provide this kind of visionary leadership, but we are concerned that this is made more difficult by increased administrative workloads, lack of support for the individual offices and for the Colleges and Council of Bishops, and the time and energy needed to deal with legal issues. We recommend that bishops reduce the responsibilities they have assumed in general agencies and other connectional bodies and that the annual conferences and the general church provide more support for the work of the bishops.

  • Educate servant leaders

United Methodist educational institutions will play a special role in the development of spiritual servant leaders. These institutions are important repositories of our doctrinal, theological, and Wesleyan roots, and they help people expand their knowledge of Christian faith. We affirm the ministry of many institutions of higher learning that have maintained a close and complementary relationship with The United Methodist Church. They stress piety and learning in their mission/vision statements and in their curricula. This has been their distinctive feature in the communities where they serve.

We call upon the seminaries to emphasize Christ-centered preaching and dynamic worship and upon the institutions of higher education to emphasize a broad educational foundation with a high level of moral and ethical values. Seminaries could be particularly helpful in assisting the church in the development of theological thought and language effective for the mission of the church in the twenty-first century.

Pastors trained through the Course of Study are very valuable to The United Methodist Church. This program is a vital source of educational opportunity for aspiring leaders, especially for those whose life circumstances or country of origin does not permit a seminary education. Seminaries and the church must work closely together to assure that the Course of Study includes the vital educational opportunities and challenges that will prepare effective spiritual leaders.

  • Create Covenant Councils

Covenant is a biblical word describing the relationship initiated by God's love for creation and all persons. Undeservedly, all persons are called by God into a community of transformation where persons are continually challenged to respond and grow into and serve the coming fullness of God's love being manifest in the world.

This covenant is made firm through baptism in Christ. The Holy Spirit leads and reforms the life of this covenanted people. Their grateful response to God's unmerited love and mighty acts in history is one of praise and thanksgiving to God and the full dedication of one's life in service to God's ongoing transformation of persons and the world.

A Covenant Council is a table of spiritual and prophetic lay and clergy leaders who will gather for discernment, discussion, decision-making, and disciple-making. Together these leaders will seek to know God's vision for the church, set priorities for the ministry that support the vision, and allocate resources. The Covenant Council will consider all of ministry through a holistic interactive process where everyone's participation is encouraged and valued. As visionaries for the church, stewards of its resources, and transformational leaders, Covenant Council members will work in mutual trust and respect, the style of which will be collegial, Spirit-driven, and responsive to the common purpose of making disciples and serving God's world.

Covenant Councils will model relational community, and practice the spiritual disciplines and Christian conferencing. Members of Covenant Councils will seek to grow in Christian faith and discipleship and enable and support the Christian formation and discipleship of others.

We recommend that a Covenant Council be established in each local church, annual conference, central conference, and the United Methodist Global Conference. These councils will be the main forums of Christian conferencing in each part of the church. They will provide a networked order for our relationship and life together as a "connectional" people.

Each Covenant Council will be made up of clergy and laity. It is recommended that the membership of the Annual Conference Covenant Council include 1/3 clergy, 1/3 lay men, and 1/3 lay women. In a local church, a lay person elected by the body will chair the council. In other parts of the church, the council will elect the chair from its membership. The chair may be lay or clergy. The membership of all Covenant Councils will be inclusive of all persons, without regard to race, color, national origin, status, economic condition, age, gender, or disability and yet not so large as to make Christian conferencing and covenant relationships difficult. (It will be inclusive in the spirit of 117 of The Book of Discipline.)The Covenant Council will be responsible for assuring that the church's ministries of nurture, outreach, witness, administration, finance, leadership, and the elimination of racism and sexism are adequately cared for.

Local Church Covenant Council: The Covenant Council may replace all of the committees and other entities that are currently responsible for the life of the local church. All members of the council will share in discerning God's will and will be accountable to one another. Our current model of specialized committees with discrete responsibilities may be efficient, but it is not an effective arena for listening for the call of Christ, discerning the will of God, and nourishing each other spiritually. The council may delegate work to smaller groups whenever appropriate without losing sight of the overall mission and ministry of the church.

Annual Conference Covenant Council: The primary function of the Annual Conference Covenant Council will be to facilitate and coordinate the mission and ministry of the annual conference. It will lead the conference in its ministries of nurture, outreach, witness, leadership development, fiscal management, the elimination of racism and sexism, and the administration of its organizational and temporal life; this may replace the various boards, councils, and committees that currently oversee the work of the annual conference. The Covenant Council will be composed of spiritual and prophetic leaders drawn from the local churches and faith communities of the annual conference. The resident bishop will be a member. The actual number of members is to be determined by the ministry and mission needs of the conference. The Covenant Council will be collegial and will work at building consensus. The duties of discerning, prioritizing, articulating, providing resources, and implementing the full array of conference responsibilities will be entrusted to the council. It will have decision-making authority, determine staffing needs, and oversee the unified annual conference budget. It will be accountable to the annual conference.

Central Conference Covenant Councils: Central conferences, with the exception of the U.S. Central Conference, will be encouraged, but not required, to establish Covenant Councils to oversee their ministry and mission. The U.S. Central Conference will organize a Covenant Council. Like other Covenant Councils, it will guide the U.S. Central Conference in discerning God's vision for its ministry and mission. It will help the U.S. Central Conference focus on five functional areas: nurture, outreach, and witness ministries; leadership development; congregational development; administration and finances; and communication and interpretation. This will enable the annual conferences to work together in fulfilling their mission. The energy of the Covenant Council will call us to work together in the new way to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It will help us see the church as a whole, call us to respond to God's Spirit in shaping the ministries of the church, and lead us into deeper relationships as a Christ-centered community. The Central Conference Covenant Councils would be implemented in 2004.

Covenant Council for Global Ministry and Mission: In a transformed church, Covenant Councils at the local church, the annual conference, the central conference, and the Global Conference will guide the denomination in discerning God's will for mission and ministry. The Global Conference no less than the local church must model a new way of being the church. A Covenant Council for Global Ministry and Mission will guide the church in its global work of nurture, outreach, witness, and leadership development. It will also be responsible for administrative and fiscal matters that undergird the church's global work and for continued work on the elimination of racism and sexism. The Covenant Council for Global Ministry and Mission will serve as a forum for theological discourse that promotes the ongoing spiritual formation and discipleship of all members of the church. The Covenant Council for Global Ministry and Mission would be implemented in 2004.

Report Index

Center on Christian Formation

Call Forth Covenant Leadership

Empower the Connection for Ministry

Strengthen Our Global Connection and Ecumenical Relationships

Encourage Doctrinal and Theological Discourse



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