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Guest Blog: Schnase's Jurisdictional Address, Part 3b

At the recently concluded South Central Jurisdiction Conference, Bishop Robert Schnase gave the Episcopal Address on behalf of the College of Bishops. At the five Jurisdictional Conferences I have attended (since 1996), I have had the privilege of hearing many outstanding Episcopal addresses.  This address was at the very top of an excellent class!  Parts are reprinted in a series of five blog postings with Bishop Schnase’s permission while I am on vacation. – Bishop Mike Lowry

Episcopal Address

South Central Jurisdictional Conference

July 19, 2012

Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Robert Schnase, Bishop ©

Part IIIb – What Are We Working On? (continued)

We’re learning many things through this era of exploration and experimentation: First, we’re learning the importance of a Culture of Learning. While they go by different names, nearly every conference has initiated some level of high quality self-directed, peer learning for clergy, such as Pastoral Leadership Development Groups, Incubator, Abide, Center for Pastoral Effectiveness, Living, Leading, Developing, Clusters, or Clergy Leadership Initiative. District Superintendents and Bishops from across the Jurisdiction participate in peer learning groups sponsored by Texas Methodist Foundation as well as trainings offered through Duke Divinity School and the Board of Discipleship. Some conferences have initiated Lay Leadership Development groups or other forms of laity-teaching-laity, or laity and pastors learning together. Through these and other programs, conferences have taken up the mantle of practical education focused on leadership rather than merely complaining that this is not being taught elsewhere. A culture of learning is not the only key to a future with hope, but it’s an essential element. It’s impossible to imagine how our churches and leaders can possibly adapt to the changing mission field around us without an active culture of learning at every level of leadership. Second, we’ve learned the importance of focusing on Clergy Excellence and Accountability.  Every conference is re-examining to some degree the methods of supervision and evaluation at every level, and moving toward a greater emphasis on fruitfulness and outcomes and impacts.  We’re moving from credentialing systems that operate with the default of “if you have completed all the requirements and have done nothing egregious, then you will be approved” to a default of “you will likely not be approved unless you demonstrate extraordinary fruitfulness in ministry.” As a College of Bishops, we’ve realized that for accountability to strengthen clergy to greater fruitfulness for the mission of Christ, we also must open ourselves to evaluation, to invite it and to welcome it. We brought all this up, and over the last several years nearly every active Bishop has initiated, with his or her Conference Episcopacy Committee, some plan for evaluation and feedback. Some of these have been extensive and exhaustive. And we’ve invited the Jurisdictional Episcopacy Committee to explore forms of evaluation and feedback. As you know, this is new territory, and as I look at some of the conflict and hurt and confusion of the last few months in our Jurisdiction, I personally feel that we’re experiencing the pain of changing systems and changing expectations. On the one hand, everyone in this room agrees on the need for accountability at all levels of church leadership. On the other hand, the language and construct of accountability is so new to church life that we don’t have all the systems or processes yet that feel trustworthy to everyone, that are consistent, clear, reliable, and widely-agreed upon. These are necessary conversations that our experience has not prepared us for, and that the Book of Discipline never anticipated. To navigate this new terrain with faithfulness and fairness requires extraordinary care, patience, and love so that what we do and how we do it is for the good of the church and in the Spirit of Christ. Third, we’ve learned the importance of Starting New Congregations and Transforming Existing Congregations. Our conferences are starting new congregations at a faster pace and with greater success rates during the last eight years than we have since decades ago. According to the most recent report from Path 1, the South Central Jurisdiction is starting more than all other jurisdictions.5 New congregations reach younger people. They reach more diverse populations. They are better at reaching the unchurched. Starting new congregations are critical to any strategy for our mission in the future. And we’re exploring many new models for starting new congregations. Fifteen years ago, we had two or three models for doing so. Now there are a dozen or more approaches to starting new congregations. For example, we’re encouraging large congregations to help start new congregations using second-site models, starting churches across conference lines and across jurisdictional boundaries. We’re restarting churches in facilities where other churches have closed, using legacy churches and heritage churches that are located in areas we need to reach.   We’re starting churches utilizing remote video and with cooperative arrangements between existing congregations. And our conferences are experimenting with new congregational intervention systems for transforming existing congregations that have reached a plateau, or grown older than the community they serve, or faced decline but who still have the people resources to turn things around. Many conferences have seen positive results through the Healthy Church Initiative, Holy Conversations, I/Thou, or models based on Paul Borden’s work on how judicatories strengthen congregations. Fourth, we’re learning the importance of Outward-Focused Ministry. As soon as an organization begins to exist more for the benefit of the insiders than for the outsiders, it begins to die. Across our jurisdictions, we’re seeing more and more global partnerships forming, congregation to congregation and conference to conference, directly and with little superstructure. In this new “flat world” (as Thomas Friedman would call it), relationships of service and mission form directly, often with minimal support or involvement from conference or general agencies, and this new form of global partnership is redefining the nature of connectionism for the 21st century. Our Jurisdiction provides hundreds of Volunteers in Mission teams each year for service within our area and for work around the world. We continue to help each other rebuild after hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and fires. And local outreach thrives as churches engage their communities with faithfulness and service. Funding for UMCOR from our conferences continues to grow, and most of our conferences have launched campaigns for Imagine No Malaria to eliminate this killer disease in sub-Sahara Africa. Fifth, we’ve learned the importance of developing a Common Language to help lead our conferences and congregations and to direct our attention toward our most essential work. Nearly every conference has worked to identify critical expectations, practices, or values that provide a common language that unifies and emboldens churches, such as Fruitfulness, Excellence, Radical Hospitality, Extravagant Generosity, Spirit-driven, or a host of others. These words provide a powerful means of connecting people in a large complex organization to our common mission in Christ. Sixth, we’re learning the importance of Collaborative Partnerships. Most of our conferences are working more closely with their conference foundations to focus energies and resources toward congregational vitality and leadership development. Our seminaries, St. Paul School of Theology and Perkins School of Theology, as well as many of our United Methodist colleges and universities are working with conferences and congregations through cooperative programs to support the practice of ministry. And our own Lydia Patterson Institute continues to play a pivotal role for leadership development for the future.  (The full text of Bishop Schnase address may be found at gntv.info/live/scj2)