3. Empower the Connection for Ministry

Ministry is the vital work of Christians. Ministries of the church are the things we do individually and together that bring into reality the mission of the church. This work is the fruit of the Holy Spirit and is the inevitable response to Christian experience. Ministries include proclaiming the gospel, worshiping, teaching, studying, and nurturing. Disciples are sent to share the Good News, to be present with the poor and marginalized, to care for the creation, and to work for peace and justice.

Local churches and faith communities are the most significant places for proclaiming the gospel and carrying out the mission of the church. In a transforming United Methodist Church, the local church must play a central role in determining the church's ministry and mission and in assessing and deploying resources, both material and human.

The annual conference continues to be the basic body of the church. It connects local churches with one another and with the global church. Its purpose is to facilitate making disciples of Jesus Christ. Its primary task is to discover, recruit, train, certify, appoint, supervise, sustain, and support accountable spiritual leaders for local churches and unique settings of ministry and to offer resources for the mission of local churches.

In the early Methodist movement, the annual conference session was the place where members of the Wesleyan movement gathered for accountable discipleship, fellowship, and exhortation. Wesley's memorable dictum, "I look upon the world as my parish," served as a reminder that one's discipleship is ultimately lived out in the context of global community.

Local churches and faith communities, expressions of the body of Christ in particular places, are not isolated entities. They undertake connectional and global activities that are consistent with their particular calling to mission and ministry. Together they will identify the larger concerns that require resources and coordination beyond the local church and even worldwide.

The interactive process affirmed by the 1996 General Conference as a new style of work for the church, calls all persons to come together to listen, to discern, and to respond, enabling them to move toward a common decision. When individuals led by the Holy Spirit are working together in this way, they create a community. Such a community lives by the participation of all,

    • learns and grows through diversity,
    • asks for mutual understanding,
    • builds ever-increasing energy and joy through interdependence, and
    • serves as the body of Christ in the world.

Organizationally this new style of work brings all church leaders to the decision-making table known as the Covenant Council. God's vision as discerned by those leaders informs and guides the ministry and the mission of the church and the use of all its resources. How the church's ministry and mission goals are implemented is determined by the church's leaders participating together in the Covenant Council.

In order to empower the connection for ministry, we recommend the following:

  • Communicate the good news and build new faith communities

In a transforming United Methodist Church, local churches will focus on spreading the good news of the gospel message to the people and places around them. The information pathways of cyberspace and the freeways and airways of modern society are analogous to the dusty roads of Galilee where the first disciples carried the gospel to all who would hear it and gather in Christ's name. In our day, local churches are the catalysts for making new disciples and spawning new faith communities. They are to be communities that actively and intentionally invite others. We must replace the image of the local church as a self-contained group of members identified with a physical place with the vision of dynamic twenty-first-century disciples proclaiming good news to all persons and inviting others to follow Jesus.

The annual conference bears responsibility for identifying and providing resources for places that need new congregations and faith communities. It needs to motivate and collaborate with local churches that want to start new communities of faith and then encourage and support the development of spiritual leaders who can give guidance to these new ministries. Leadership may take different forms in developing congregations than it does in well-established ones, and flexibility should be used to accommodate those differences.

  • Affirm central conferences

We affirm the need to retain central conferences to bring together United Methodists in geographic areas for the support of mission and ministry. We further affirm the central conference structure as one that is relevant for the entire United Methodist Church and not just for those annual conferences located outside of the United States. Therefore we recommend that The United Methodist Church in the U.S. be structured as a central conference. In doing so, the church in the United States would be reaffirming that it is not the main channel of God's revelation and mercy to those called United Methodist nor is it self-sufficient. It is only one member of the family equally in need of God's grace and direction and of the witness, the prayers, the exhortations, and the nurture and care of our sisters and brothers from other places in the world.

  • Retain current jurisdictional conferences in the U.S. Central Conference

The U.S. Central Conference will initially retain the current jurisdictional conferences (North Central, Northeastern, South Central, Southeastern, and Western) for the election and assignment of bishops and any related work it so determines. Where necessary for its effective witness in its own geographic area, a jurisdictional conference may engage in promoting evangelistic, educational, missionary, and benevolent interests of the church and providing for other interests and institutions within its boundaries.

  • Redesign and align the work of general agencies

Local churches, districts, and annual conferences work toward witness and service locally and regionally, but we also need a structure that can respond on behalf of the entire church. The general agencies of the church have enabled us to do that. Individually and collectively they have rendered a great service to the church and the world.

As we enter the twenty-first century there is need to examine how the services of the general agencies may be more effectively provided. They were formed at a time when the flow of communication and division of work were understood in an entirely different way. We are now experiencing an explosion of information and technology. Leaders in conferences and churches expect easy and direct access to information, resources, and services. United Methodists do not experience others ministering on their behalf in the same way as they once did; they want to be personally involved in their communities and beyond. Communities are rapidly becoming more globally connected. People increasingly view themselves as global citizens with responsibilities as well as opportunities for discipleship beyond their local communities. Increasingly the ability of our general agencies to provide access to essential information and to network and connect people across local churches and conferences in partnership for ministries and mission will be a measure of their effectiveness.

There are areas of work that extend beyond annual conferences that are essential for our mission to be fulfilled. These areas, because of our structure, have been divided and responsibility for portions of the work resides in various agencies with little connection. It is time to bring focus to these areas and develop means through which the agencies can coalesce and integrate their work through collaboration at the Covenant Council. This process is intended to identify, focus, and align all resources related to these areas: 1. Nurture, Outreach, and Witness Ministries; 2. Leadership Development; 3. Congregational Development; 4. Administration and Finances; 5. Communication and Interpretation. Presently these are located in the several general agencies. The agencies will need to come together cooperatively to serve, empower, and facilitate the ministries of annual conferences, districts, and local churches.

The intention of naming these areas is not to create super agencies or to try to fit present agencies into these categories, but rather to outline the areas in which collaboration and merging of work is necessary. To fulfill the vision this process will require collaboration to identify, focus, and align all resources related to the five areas of ministry located in the several agencies, so that they come together cooperatively to serve, empower, and facilitate ministries of annual conferences, districts, and local congregations and lead the church in what we must do together. As this collaborative work proceeds, an organizational structure for the agencies will emerge based on the work needing to be done in the future rather than past methods of organizing.

1. Nurture, Outreach, and Witness Ministries

Nurture Ministries: These ministries focus on the formation and nurture of all who seek to know God. The biblical foundations of the Christian faith, our Wesleyan/Evangelical heritage, and acts of piety and devotion are central to this area. The nurturing ministries of the church shall give attention to the educational, worship, and stewardship components of ministry.

Outreach Ministries in and to the World: Through combined resources and leadership beyond annual conferences, United Methodists respond to crises, relieve suffering, educate children and adults, provide health services, challenge oppressive systems, and respond in other ways beyond what we can do in our local areas. These efforts powerfully express our connection. Acts of mercy and compassion and social holiness are central to this area and include local and larger community ministries of compassion and advocacy, church and societal issues, global ministries concerns, health and welfare ministries, Christian unity and interreligious concerns, religion and race, and status and role of women.

Witness Ministries: Fully living out our discipleship by embracing the stewardship of all of life, proclaiming the good news of Christ to the world, and providing hospitality to all persons is central to this area. It includes evangelistic outreach to persons, membership care, spiritual formation, communications, lay speaking ministries, and witnessing through the sharing of personal and congregational stories of Christian experience, faith, and service.

2. Leadership Development: Spiritual leaders are essential to fulfill the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The general agencies connect with clergy, district superintendents, bishops, students and staff of seminaries and universities, lay pastors, lay professionals, lay leaders, lay speakers, conference staffs, leaders of UMW and UMM, youth and young adult leaders. Our connectional system will ensure that our church has spiritual leaders in every place to hold the vision and guide the mission.

3. Congregational Development: Growing opportunities and contexts for making new disciples of Jesus Christ present a window of great opportunity for God's people called United Methodist. New communities of diverse persons, cultures, and language groups offer hospitality through intentional processes for new church development. This would embrace comprehensive supportive resources of demographics, planting processes, new creative models, working principles for birthing and leading new congregations, and development of abundant fiscal resources.

4. Administration and Finances: We must explore various ways to combine resources and make decisions together about financial and administrative issues. Systems that insure efficiency and wise use of resources need to be developed and taught across the church. We must energetically seek resources from a variety of places to empower our common ministries and mission.

5. Communication and Interpretation: We recommend that we make efforts to remove the barriers that prevent information from easy access and flow throughout the church. We must recognize and seize new opportunities for networking across geographic boundaries, develop interactive electronic learning systems for different ages and languages, and develop a common data-gathering center for the church. We must find ways to tell the story of our Wesleyan heritage and its shaping power as we share the good news. Local churches and annual conferences need ways to learn from one another and the general agencies need to hear the concerns and hopes of the church and make known opportunities for mission and ministry.

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

Conclusion

Appendix


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