During the first Extended Cabinet Meeting of the fall (a day with all the District Superintendents and Directors of the conference), we reviewed some of the learning opportunities for the months to come for our pastors and our churches of the Missouri Conference. By the time the Directors and District Superintendents had all mentioned some of the events they were each working on, the list had grown to surprising proportions.
For instance, interest in the Pastor Leadership Development groups (formed as part of the Healthy Church Initiative and coordinated by the Centers for Congregational Excellence and Pastoral Excellence) has exceeded all expectations. We anticipated 80 clergy signing up for this first full year; instead, more than 140 pastors in 10 groups with 13 leaders have committed to the regular meetings, the readings, and the coaching!
The first Catalyst Event is planned for November, involving a workshop with Paul Nixon, author of I Refuse to Serve a Dying Church, and yours truly as the two main speakers and leaders.
I’m also teaming once again with Sue Nilsen Kibby, author of Ultimately Responsible, to lead an event aimed at helping larger church Staff Parish Relations Committees and lead pastors learn about staffing and professional development for the large congregation. If your church has an attendance of more than 350, I’d strongly encourage the pastor and at least three members of the SPRC plan to attend.
Once again, Spirit Connection is available for pastors desiring mutual accountability in matters of personal spiritual formation and introduction to systems thinking.
The Center for Pastoral Excellence is offering more opportunities for the training and certification of Certified Lay Ministers. We are depending more heavily than ever on these gifted and passionate laypersons to help lead congregations, and the training events are being well-received and well-attended.
Several churches have agreed to participate in a pilot project involving the congregation-wide use of Martha Grace Reese’s Unbinding the Gospel as a way to deepen the spiritual life and extend the outward focus of our congregations.
Paul Borden, the author of Hit the Bull’s Eye, will be working with St. Luke UMC in Kansas City, and offering leadership development in his process for congregational transformation to help other conference leaders and pastors.
The Center for Pastoral Excellence is laying the groundwork for the Small Church Academy, a series of training events in various places across the conference for pastors and laity from smaller membership churches. Details will be available soon.
Doug Anderson, co-author of Race to Reach Out, and one of our speakers at our last Annual Conference will lead workshops in our conference late this year.
The MOVE Conference, under the excellent leadership of the pastors, staff and laity of two of our Missouri congregations, will be held in October, in Sedalia and Joplin, and now with a new location in St. Louis.
Kirkwood UMC in St. Louis will host “This Holy Mystery,” a conversation and teaching event about the new changes in our ecumenical relationships, especially with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
Once again this year, the Center for Congregational Excellence will be sending a large number of pastors to the New Church Leadership Institute. While primarily focused on starting new churches, the Institute offers excellent pastoral leadership training for a range of congregational contexts. Nearly twenty of our pastors will attend the second phase of the training this fall, and we hope as many attend the new first phase that will be offered in February.
The Heartland Central District is planning a Preaching Workshop, and later a workshop on Worship.
Heartland South is inviting Felicia Hopkins, who also spoke to us at Annual Conference, to lead a training event in their district.
Over the next several weeks, our pastors will also attend the Boundaries Workshops that help us fulfill our ministries with greater accountability.
This fall, we’ll also hold the annual gathering of pastors of large congregations for mutual support and learning, and this year we’re also gathering pastors of mid-size congregations. Young pastors will meet with me for continued conversation and mutual support in October.
In January, there’s Ministers School, and throughout the fall there are several high quality educational events for pastors and churches sponsored by Saint Paul School of Theology, especially focusing on poverty and immigration issues and the church’s response.
Just over the state line, Church of the Resurrection will offer its COR Institute that always includes some high quality workshops and is well-attended by Missouri United Methodists. And I’ve heard of many of our pastors availing themselves of learning opportunities far beyond our conference, including the Congress on Evangelism in Nashville (where I’m serving to keynote), the First Time Senior Pastors training in Houston, the Leadership Nexus event for large congregations in Shreveport (where I’m also keynoting), and other high quality events.
At annual conference this past year, we shifted our emphasis more intentionally than ever toward creating a culture of learning among our pastors and among our congregational leaders. The responses to this emphasis were overwhelmingly positive, and together we covenanted with each other to get involved with at least one congregational learning event for the pastor and for the congregation during the year to come. The passion for learning is growing, and the keen interest shown in the events mentioned above reveals a hopeful direction. The challenges we face in our congregations and communities require pastors to learn continually and they require congregations to learn continually in order for us to understand what we must do to remain faithful and fruitful to the mission we have been given in Christ.
The District Superintendents and the Extended Cabinet are themselves committed to the process of continual learning. We’re spending a day with Sue Nilsen Kibby and another with Paul Borden as we try to understand our tasks more clearly.
And during the Charge Conferences this year, don’t be surprised if the DS reminds you of the covenant made at Annual Conference, and asks, “What is your congregation doing to support the learning of your pastor? And what events are leaders of the congregation (musicians, worship leaders, youth leaders, greeters, mission workers, or committee members) planning to attend to learn how better to fulfill their ministries?”
I’m much encouraged by the positive responses of our churches. The primary difference between those churches that are vibrant and fruitful and those that are stagnant and turning inward is their passion for continually learning and improving and expanding the practices of ministry.
From whom are you learning? What events/workshops/settings do you find most helpful for your own spiritual growth and professional enhancement? How does your congregation learn the best? Are there learning events you’d like others to hear about? Feel free to share your thoughts.
Yours in Christ,