Discipleship Ministries staff visit Great Plains

David Burke


Two members of the Discipleship Ministries team are touring the Great Plains this week, the first of numerous visits to individual conferences by the United Methodist resource agency. 

“Our approach to trying to develop resources is hearing from the end users,” said the Rev. Dr. Evan Young, executive director of stakeholder relationships. “To find out what’s working, what’s not working – what are the gaps that might exist that you would like to see your Discipleship Ministries general agency provide for you?” 

Young and Elza Soares, project manager and evaluation associate, met with the conference’s congregational excellence team on Monday, and on Tuesday were scheduled to visit churches in Florence and Clay Center, Kansas, as well as meeting with the cabinet. Wednesday they will go to the Hub Argentine in Kansas City, Kansas, and Tonganoxie UMC before departing. 

Rev. Dr. Evan Young and Elza Soares from Discipleship Ministries meet with congregational excellence staff members on Feb. 6 at the conference office. Photo by David Burke

“A lot of people aren’t aware of the resources that currently are available in Discipleship Ministries,” Young said. “This is our time to listen, from the annual conference perspective and the church perspective.” 

Young said about half of the annual conferences in the country will be visited by Discipleship Ministries, either in person or online. 

“What we’re doing is an intersection between stakeholder relationships and research and evaluation,” he said. “One of the outcomes of this project is to try to understand the relationships we have with the annual conferences from our perspective and the perspective of the annual conference.” 

Soares added, “We’re defining a taxonomy of that relationship, what it means to have a proactive relationship or a responsive relationship, a real partner-like relationship.” 

Young said he wants to hear where his agency is excelling, as well as lacking, in supporting the local church. 

“Everybody uses Discipleship Ministries differently,” he said. “We’re the agency that has the most intersections with what happens with an annual conference. If our mission is to make disciples, then what are the tools needed in churches and annual conferences pursue that as a goal?” 

A former cabinet member in the Baltimore-Washington Conference, Young was appointed to his position in 2019, asked by Rev. Junius Dotson, the general secretary of Discipleship Ministries and a former pastor at Wichita Saint Mark UMC. 

“That was one of his highest priorities, to say we are end-user driven, and I was brought on board for that specific purpose,” he said. “A lot of this is learning as you go.” 

Dotson died of pancreatic cancer in early 2021. His successor is Rev. Jeff Campbell, associate general secretary under Dotson, who was integral in Discipleship Ministries #SeeAllthePeople drive, Young said. 

“He has tried to build upon what was begun,” Young said. 

“He and Junius worked very closely,” Soares added. “It’s not like getting a new brain, a new person who is rebranding everything.” 

Discipleship Ministries, Young said, is well aware that churches feel bruised after the pandemic and disaffiliations, and is trying to provide support. 

“We need to get past General Conference for people to focus again on our main thing, and our main thing is making disciples,” he said. “People are looking to get back to where we were – start afresh, start anew. We as United Methodists, that has to be central to who we are. But what does that look like?” 

Working through the pandemic, Young said, proved to churches they had to face a new reality. 

“I think the pandemic sent the church to new places, where it felt uncomfortable,” he said. “Churches needed to do things they had never done before. It forced the church to go to areas and to partner with persons that were not necessarily high on the priority.” 

Contact David Burke, content specialist, at dburke@greatplainsumc.org

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