Mission field-based system details becoming clearer


As more details about the Great Plains Conference’s mission-field based system for district superintendent appointments come into focus, Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. and the cabinet have announced another shift for the 2017-18 appointive year, this time involving the Parsons District.

The Rev. Kibum Kim, who has served as the Parsons District superintendent for five years, will be returning to a local church appointment as of July 1. The move provided an opportunity for the expansion of the conference’s mission-field based system into southeast Kansas, with the Rev. Dr. David Watson continuing as the Five Rivers District superintendent and also taking on the duties for the Parsons District.
“The mission field is always shifting, and so must we,” Watson said. “This new and emerging system for collaborative ministry will help us to proclaim the unchanging Gospel in the most effective ways possible.  It will utilize our best resources — clergy and committed laity — to join hearts and hands together in providing a continuing Wesleyan witness for Christ.” 
This new system for witness and service first was introduced in early February. Shifts announced so far include current district superintendents in the Gateway and Elkhorn Valley districts serving the Great West District; district superintendents in the Hutchinson, Salina and Dodge City districts serving the Hays District; and the Wichita East DS serving both Wichita districts. The pending retirements of the Revs. Kay Alnor, Jim Akins and Dr. Linda Louderback, respectively, facilitated the three previous appointments.
The shift in emphasis to the mission field is meant to harness the gifts and graces of congregations in 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. One aspect of the approach is to leverage the connectional strengths of The United Methodist Church within the conference’s geographic boundaries.
“Laity are essential to the work of Christ in the context of the mission field in Kansas and Nebraska,” said Bishop Saenz. “The roots of our church go back to a movement that included laity leading classes and proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ, supported by clergy who rode circuits and could only be with them once every few weeks or even months. This new system maintains our churches’ contact with pastors but shifts the focus from maintaining the institution of the church to fulfilling the mission of the church as a movement. We are living out the great commission!”
Kim said United Methodists in the Great Plains should have courage to embrace these kinds of shifts.
“When the change is about how we do the work of God, we have to know that it is Holy Spirit who is directing us toward the changes,” Kim said. “I trust that the Holy Spirit is leading us in our effort to redesign the way we do our work.”      

The mission field-based system enables district superintendents to function as the chief missional strategist for the entire ministry of their assigned areas, as set out in the Book of Discipline (¶ 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 to employ their spiritual gifts, skills and competencies in efforts that will extend the Wesleyan witness across the Great Plains Conference.

The Rev. April Wegehaupt, pastor of First United Methodist Church in Chanute, Kansas, said the collaborative focus of the mission field-based system provides an emphasis to learn from peers that she thinks will build fellowship among pastors while growing ministries throughout the region.
“I am excited about the closer connection between the clergy and churches,” Wegehaupt said. “With this proposed model I feel that there will be the chance for more togetherness in the peer-to-peer model. Also, I am of the hopes that there will be more sharing between the congregations on their mission strategies.”

She said word of the changes at first concerned her because of the possibility of heavier workloads on pastors who already are stretched thin.

“But then I thought that if all of us follow our calling and share in the work for the Kingdom of God, we will be made stronger through this change, and our workload will be lightened,” Wegehaupt said. “We all must do our part and help strengthen our ministries to the strongest they could be for God's glory, starting in our local churches and spreading forth through our districts and conference.”

Gary Kilgore, Parsons District lay leader, said his initial reaction to news about the Parsons and Five Rivers districts sharing a superintendent included concern for district superintendents tending to large areas. He recounted a story from his professional life as a state extension officer in which he was asked to take on responsibilities in larger geographic areas. He said the added territory prevented him from being able to focus on research, the part of his job for which he had the most passion.

“When we met in Parsons to talk about this, we didn’t have a lot of answers about specific details of how this would work, but I can accept that because we haven’t done this in this way before,” Kilgore said.

He said preparing the laity to fulfill their responsibilities would be important to the success of the mission field-based system.

“You would think every Christian would be equipped to talk about their faith, but that isn’t the case,” Kilgore said. “When we talk to our friends and neighbors, what do we say? The average laity needs to be trained on how to witness, how to spread our faith, how to talk to people and how to bring up The United Methodist Church.”

Bishop Saenz said he and the cabinet are working to bring the specific details of the new system into clearer focus. The conference is using as a starting point the strategies employed by the denomination’s founder, John Wesley, and enhancing the original framework of class meetings and circuit riders by incorporating strategies used in the Great West District in recent years. Such efforts include elders, local pastors, deacons, certified lay ministers and lay leaders being organized into regional networks to uplift each other, share best practices and encourage missional strategies.

“We are moving to building an empowered and participatory culture of discipleship in the Great Plains Conference that is naturally and confidently lived out by laity of all ages,” Bishop Saenz said. “There are people our laity naturally cross paths with daily whose hearts are spiritually open and ready to receive the message of Christ’s beauty, glory, and significance. As maturing disciples, our laity will be prepared and sensitive to these spiritual openings and graciously invite people into the initial stages of discipleship. This is not an evangelism program, it is a lifestyle of mission, service and sharing one’s faith in a respectful and invitational way.”

Bishop Saenz said pastors will continue to provide the ministry of Word, Sacrament, Order and Service in local congregations. But their role will begin to shift and expand as they live into becoming the chief missional strategist for their own communities and region while leading their congregations. This means more and more congregations will 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 and justice.

“Our broken world desperately needs to see the love of Christ,” Bishop Saenz said. “People need to know there is hope in this life and in the life to come. Our Wesleyan roots prepare us to be the light in the world, but as Jesus instructed us in Matthew 28:19-20, we must share that light with our families, friends and neighbors – our entire world.”

Watson said he believes a cooperative ministry with a strong lay-clergy partnership is the most effective way to spread the gospel of Jesus Christ.

“As we live into the network model in the Parsons District, the learnings there will eventually be incorporated in Five Rivers and elsewhere in the Great Plains,” Watson said. “I believe we are piloting an exciting new — yet old — framework for mutual ministry, based on our Wesleyan heritage of empowering and equipping lay folk for living out their calling right alongside the clergy. 

“Everything old is new again, it seems,” he continued. “Vinyl records and the Wesleyan Witness: the future began yesterday!”

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Todd Seifert is communications director for the Great Plains Conference. Contact him at tseifert@greatplainsumc.org.

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