Renewed emphasis on mission field moves forward

2/20/2017

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.”

Bishop Saenz said pastors will continue to provide the ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order and Service in local congregations as before. But their role will begin to shift and expand as they live into becoming the chief missional strategist for their own community and region while leading their congregations to accomplish their mission. This means more and more congregations will naturally begin shifting from a focus on institutional maintenance to becoming more of a missional movement in the Wesleyan way of leading people into a deeper love of God, proclaiming Christ, serving others, especially the poor, and seeking social holiness.

“Now is the time,” Bishop Saenz said. “Christ calls us to move forward with urgency, with purpose and, most of all, with love.”

The Rev. Gary Brooks, lead pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Wichita and a member of both the Wichita West District Committee on Ordained Ministry and the Great Plains Conference Transition Team, said he believes the time is right for the emphasis on a mission field-based approach to ministry.

“The Great Plains transition team envisioned the conference realignment shortly after our unification. The vision was to free up the role of the DS to be more missionally focused, and empowering local churches, lay servants, lay members and lay leaders to lead out of giftedness and service, rather than committees and maintenance,” Brooks said.

Brooks said the peer-to-peer ministry partnerships resemble the kind of teamwork visible in the conference’s “Chabadza” partnership with United Methodists in Zimbabwe. Chabadza is a Shona word that roughly translates to people in relationship working alongside each other for mutual benefit. Chabadza is extended only to people whom you know, those already at work, and it is given because when one person succeeds, both people succeed. The mutual benefit in ministry is one cornerstone of the mission field-based emphasis in the conference.

“Chabadza isn’t just for Zimbabwe anymore!” Brooks said. “And I look forward to the new friends in the faith that I will make and be enriched through these new configurations of ministry.”

Louderback said the new system will be particularly powerful for the laity.

“This will give the opportunity to lay people to offer more of their gifts and graces instead of just expecting the pastor to do things,” she said. “The pastor can’t do everything well when he or she is spread so thin. Both clergy and laity have to be open to new things – to think outside the box. We have to have conversations. And, of course, we have to listen. We can’t be afraid of change. We have to be willing to say ‘It’s not about me.’”

Indeed, Louderback continued, the purpose for the church is not just to care for those who participate in worship but to extend the love of Christ beyond church buildings and to share the message of hope with people of all ages who have yet to hear it.

“It’s like the old crank phones we used to use compared to the phones that now we carry in our pockets,” she said. “The message is the same. The challenge is the same. We still are supposed to be making disciples of Jesus Christ.”
 
Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference. Contact him at tseifert@greatplainsumc.org.
 
 


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