Thursday, December 23, 2010

Holy Conferencing Starts At Home (Error Corrected)

With thanks to Matthew Johnson for the head's up, I would like to respond to this editorial at the United Methodist Reporter's website with some thoughts of my own.

Rather than looking to either individuals or a group at the top in the elusive quest after leadership, the United Methodist structure already has its own grassroots structure, waiting to be rethought, practiced with eyes toward real change, offering opportunities for real engagement. The Charge/Church Conference, the meeting of the local congregation that is held, minimally, annually, to address matters before the entire congregation, is far too often overshadowed by the Annual Conference as the place where we place our hopes. Yet, it is precisely here that local congregations/charges define themselves; where leaders find and even exercise their voices; where the vital interchange between clergy under appointment and laity exercise authority.

Far too long has the charge conference been seen as an autumn ritual to be gotten past. Far too long has its sole purpose been understood to be setting the pastor's salary, arguing over apportionments, and making the church's feelings clear concerning their appointed clergy to the District Superintendent. Yet it is precisely here, when the clergy and laity are gathered together to sum up their previous year, discuss the upcoming plans - budget! - and set out their vision for who they are as "church" that we have a far-too-untapped resource. We hear far too little of the ways local congregations can use charge conferences as a moment for making clear who they are, what they wish to be, and how they are to achieve their goals.

In my wife's previous appointment, a turning point was being reached. Not only was the church growing, but that growth had changed the self-identity of the whole congregation. A new group of younger leaders was coalescing, yet without any set of defined qualities, goals, or any mission. In this context, Lisa led a group through a year-long exploration that resulted in a Charge Conference that altered the leadership structure of the congregation, offered a vision and mission-statement that invigorated them, and set them on a path toward not just numerical growth - a result of changing local demographics that would have occurred anyway - but vigorous growth in their self-perception. It was a marvelous example of the power of Charge Conference as a vehicle for real change, real leadership, and the promise of what Holy Conferencing can achieve at the local congregational level.

I have a few other examples, but I think the point here is clear. Rather than seek "a leader", perhaps we need to rediscover the real leaders that we already have - our local churches, gathered in Charge Conference, telling the world who they are as the gathered Body of Christ.

Virtual Tin Cup

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