“What can we do to help your church?”
That was one of the questions asked in a gathering of United Methodists – a mix of lay persons and pastors. It was asked by a the South District Leadership Team who are actively seeking to find ways to help the local church. This may be a question more particular to the United Methodist Church than other denominations, but it’s a question that goes to the heart of the challenge we face. The local church is where ministry happens, where lives are changed as people find Jesus Christ, and where followers of Jesus grow in faith. The local church, more than the broader agencies and boards, deserve the bulk of our resources.
A quick aside for those not up on United Methodist structure might be helpful:
One of the key terms used in the United Methodist church is the word”connectional”. Ask most Methodist pastors what’s unique or what characterizes United Methodism and most times you will hear two words – grace and connection. I’m not sure we always have a clear idea of what that means, but we use the words. And, while it may not be historically correct, connectional now refers mainly to our structure. We have three main functioning levels – there’s the local church, which is then part of geographically defined district, which is also part of a larger, geographically defined Annual Conference. (there is more beyond this – General Conference and Jurisdictional Conferences, but these are more legislative in nature and only meet every 4 years)
Back to the question I began with. I thought it was a good question and appreciated their willingness to ask it. We gave our responses after a discussion in smaller groups, so we didn’t directly voice our personal response. We did write them down and I do expect someone will read them, but I thought I would give my answers that come after a time to consider the question.
I believe there are three ways the CHURCH can help the church.
COACHING. I have become a firm believer in the benefit of having a leadership coach who can come alongside the key leaders of the local church. Local church leaders are people dealing with other jobs and concerns while also being asked to understand and engage in leading the local church to greater vitality. Those leaders are working with pastors who are tasked with thinking about the church 24/7 and trying to move it forward. That’s not an easy mix. An outside person who knows how to help a leadership team develop a vision and move in unison is one of the greatest ways to interject strength into the local church. Our local church has had a brief taste of that due to the generosity of our friend, John Laster (www.churchcoaching.com).
TECHNOLOGY. The benefit of a connectional system is the ability to use pooled resources in a way that benefits the whole better than the separate funds could benefit the individual pieces. Technology is a key issue for the church in this day and age. Unfortunately, most of our churches have no one who is adept at developing technological resources and tools for the local church. (Tools & resources range from media in worship to the more significant internet-based possibilities.) The umbrella organization of the church can help overcome this deficit by making certain funds are designated for such purposes and training is made available (and not just a workshop which gives a list of ideas, but training in technology that actually trains local church leaders).
CONNECTION. Back to the word that historically defines our denomination. This idea was voiced by one of our lay leaders who was with me in the meeting. They believed the CHURCH (district leadership team in this case) can help in making connections between those who want to take some particular strategic steps and those who have done so. They can identify churches where strong ministry has been developed and help them get connected in a mentoring relationship with those who want to do something similar. Even if it’s not an exact match, the inspiration and encouragement of those who have walked a road of change and innovation can impact a revitalizing-minded church in the early stages of renewal.
Therein ends my take on the way the CHURCH can help the church. I’m grateful to be part of a church that has taken on the challenge of asking the questions in new ways with a renewed commitment to the work of the Gospel. Keep praying for God to move us forward in powerful ways.
Holy high five to you, Mike