Changing Central Texas Conference Leadership ©

I find myself slowly and impatiently (see my previous blog!) recovering from knee replacement surgery. I have just begun my second week at home dominated by physical therapy and much needed rest.  As I do so, I hope to take some time to write a couple (or more) blogs that look ahead at leadership and life together in the Central Texas Conference (CTC) of the United Methodist Church.  While the blogs will be directed explicitly at my episcopal area (The Fort Worth Episcopal Area), I hope that readers from other Conferences and Christian denominations might find their thinking stimulated in ways that are applicable to their specific context for ministry. In early September the CTC met again with David Simpson from the Table Group. (The Table Group is an organization set up by Patrick Lencioni which helps organizations – both profit and non-profit – develop leadership health in order to carry out their stated mission.)  This time our focus was on succession planning. Let me explain. In the United Methodist Church (UMC), District Superintendents may serve a maximum of 8 years on the Cabinet.  Likewise, Executive Center Directors may serve a maximum of 8 years in one rotation.  A person can move from being a DS to being a Executive Center Director (or vice versa) but cannot serve more than a total of 14 years combined.  While church law does not bind us, Conference Lay Leaders are elected for a 4 year (one quadrennium) term.  By way of translation, this means that over the next 2 years, 7 out of 10 Cabinet positions will have a new person serving in leadership.  Among current District Superintendents the Central, East, North and West District Superintendents will each be facing a change sometime in the next 2 years.  Two of the three Executive Center Director positions face a possible change.  And, if we continue with our tradition in Conference Lay Leadership assignment, we will have a new Conference Lay Leader in the Fall of 2016. I invite the attentive reader to take the issue of succession planning one step further. We are in the midst of a massive shift in clergy retirements with the slow rolling wave of “baby boomer” retirements peaking somewhere around 2018.  Peering closer, a disproportionate number of those retirements will take place among clergy providing senior pastor leadership for the largest 1/3 of our churches. With worship, prayer and careful spiritual discernment, we wrestled in retreat over the key factors we must have in a new generation of leadership, especially clergy leadership on the Cabinet and in some of our strategic churches and lay leadership positions. Put differently, what are the qualities that should be met even to be considered for such a key leadership role? Non-Negotiables
  1. Deep Spirituality/Walk with Christ
    1. Tell me about your daily devotions/spiritual disciplines
    2. What differences has it made in your relationships?
    3. How do you experience God in Christ through the Holy Spirit in community?
  2. Open to Learning
  3. Emotional Intelligence
  4. Team Player
  5. Integrity
  6. Passion for Disciple making/ministry (Is there evidence of faithfulness and fruitfulness?)
What I like to call the “big 3” will drive the train in selection making.
  1. Christ at the Center
  2. Focused on energizing and equipping local churches to be vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ
  3. Developing Lay and Clergy Leadership
These big 3 core commitments are not up for debate. Together as a Conference we have, in deep faith and prayer, wrestled long and hard to arrive at a strong consensus around this core.  We are not going to engage in wasted time and effort to reinvent the wheel.  If someone is not committed to them, they don’t need to be on the Cabinet in either a lay or clergy leadership position. While only one position faces a Disciplinary mandated change at Conference 2016 (The Central District Superintendent), these key appointments plus other significant lay leadership selections and the filling of positions vacated by the retirement of senior pastors are linked to each other.  Thus, over the next 5 or 6 months, I will be intentionally instigating a series of conversations about the impact of succession planning on the faithfulness and fruitfulness of mission and ministry in the Central Texas Conference.  I’ll be engaged in the standard conversations – with District Superintendency Committees, Leadership Centers’ Core Teams, and through the Cabinet with various Staff/Pastor-Parish Relations Committees.  But I also hope to stir up a large variety of other avenues for seeking advice and input.  This is not a casting call for nominations!  It is an invitation to be a part of a floating conversation and prayer filled discernment. We are not seeking the perfect DS, Lay Leader, or Executive Center Director. No one is perfect.  Christ alone is the sovereign Lord of the church.  We will not be taking “votes” on who should be selected in clergy appointments.  Rather, I call us to engage in transparent holy conversations.  Evidence of faithfulness and fruitfulness based on the core non-negotiables is essential.  Through it all, together, I invite us to be in submitted prayer and open to the Holy Spirit’s guidance.