Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. and the cabinet have announced the next phase of a transition to a more mission field-based system for district superintendent appointments in the Great Plains Conference. Effective July 1, the Rev. Dr. Mitch Reece, Wichita East District superintendent, will serve in that same capacity in Wichita East and the Wichita West districts.
“The Wichita East and West districts have a large number of effective, innovative, and fruitful pastors and laity who share a similar ministry context,” Reece said. “Similar ministry settings, coupled with numerous ministry gifts housed in the districts, provide great opportunities for new life to be breathed into our congregations. This new system will facilitate pastors and local church leadership from both districts to partner together to become more innovative and effective while being better equipped and supported to be the church in the 21st century.”
This new system for witness and service first was introduced in early February with the announcement that the Great West and Hays districts would be served by teams of district superintendents upon the retirements of the Rev. Kay Alnor and the Rev. Jim Akins, respectively. The Rev. Dr. Linda Louderback, the current Wichita West District superintendent, also is retiring effective June 30 after serving churches in California, Nebraska, and Kansas since 1986. She served as conference coordinator of leadership development and director of connectional ministries before her appointment as a district superintendent.
The shift in emphasis to the mission field is meant to harness and direct the more than 1,000 Great Plains Conference churches to focus outward on the mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world by leveraging the connectional strengths of The United Methodist Church within our geographic boundaries.
Louderback is confident that the new system will bring about more purposeful collaboration between pastors with colleagues and between churches, with laity heavily involved in both development and implementation of ministries to reach new people in their communities.
“In some ways, this is back to the future,” Louderback said. “We used to have elders who only showed up every three months, and the rest of the time they were on a circuit. We had lay people leading communities of people in between.”
The mission field-based system enables district superintendents to function as the chief missional strategist for the whole ministry of their assigned areas (¶ 419.1), said Bishop Saenz. In addition to all other disciplinary responsibilities, as chief missional strategists, district superintendents will serve as connectors, coaches and encouragers that will harness the gifts, graces and potential of leaders and churches to ensure faithful and effective ministries throughout their districts. Pastors and churches will collaborate in peer groups to launch new ministries, share best practices and share knowledge to increase the number of vital congregations. Laity will be called upon and set free to employ their spiritual gifts, skills and competencies in efforts that will extend the Wesleyan witness across the Great Plains Conference.
“Our early Wesleyan roots were focused on going out to reach those who had not yet met Jesus Christ,” Reece said. “This passion resulted in the formation of all of our local churches. Today many of our congregations find themselves doing good ministry but struggling to reach new people with the living water of Jesus Christ. This system provides a means for pastors and congregations to partner together to pray, discern, explore and become better empowered to reach their local mission field.”
Bishop Saenz said this next phase of the missional shift of the conference affirms the Wesleyan way of equipping and empowering the laity for witness and ministry.
“This would not be possible without the enormous and largely untapped potential of more than 100,000 active laypersons in our Great Plains Conference,” Bishop Saenz said. "Our laity has a beautiful Christian experience and witness to share that will bring life, light, hope, healing and peace to a dark and broken world.”