Bishop Ruben Saenz Jr. announced Wednesday, March 29, that the Rev. Nathan Stanton will be the new director of congregational excellence for the Great Plains Conference.
Stanton, currently the conference’s new church development coordinator, will begin in his new role when the appointive year begins July 1. He will replace the Rev. Evelyn Fisher, who has announced her retirement effective June 30 after nearly 40 years in ministry.
“I’m excited about Nathan’s gifts and graces and how he will take what he has learned during his time with new church development to provide mission field-focused leadership that will help congregations grow by reaching and discipling new people for Jesus Christ across the Great Plains Conference,” said Bishop Saenz. “The lessons Nathan learned planting new churches will provide important insight and strong leadership that fits well with the recently launched mission field emphasis in the Great Plains Conference.”
The mission field-based system has reduced the number of district superintendents in favor of equipping local congregations with effective clergy while empowering the laity for a more active role in ministry. It is meant to harness the gifts 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.
Stanton earned his bachelor’s degree in 1991 from Kansas Wesleyan University in Salina and then earned his master’s of divinity degree from Saint Paul School of Theology in 1995. He served as youth coordinator for First United Methodist Church in El Dorado, Kansas, during seminary. Prior to serving in full-time ministry, he served as coordinator of the North Central Kansas Regional Prevention Center from 1994 to 1997. He earned a second master’s degree from Kansas State University in speech communication and theater. He was ordained a deacon in 1999 and served as executive pastor for Wichita Saint Mark UMC from 1999 to 2002. Prior to becoming an elder in 2004, Stanton served the Plains and Kismet UMCs, after which he served churches in Anthony, Kansas, and in Wichita at Pleasant Valley UMC before being named to his current role in 2013. Stanton also currently serves on the board of trustees for Kansas Wesleyan.
Stanton said the conference’s intentional shift in focus back to the mission field of each local church will not come easily, but he is excited to be part of the solution to help local congregations become more vital in their communities as they share the love and hope that comes through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice, death and resurrection.
“We have to find ways to coach and equip,” Stanton said of local congregations. “Then we must have a sense of discernment of the needs in our communities within our different contexts. What is needed in Omaha is very different from what is needed in Grand Island, and that is different than what is needed in Topeka or Dodge City.
“Ultimately, we have to be willing to unleash the creativity of disciples across the conference in leading people to Christ.”
Bishop Saenz said such an effort to discern and equip will require “tearing down silos” of ministry within the conference.
“Nathan will oversee the entire congregational excellence staff and help shift the team to a more integrated approach,” the bishop said. “He will help cultivate a collaborative approach between our local churches and lay leadership in churches large and small.”
One slight change in conference structure meant to help Stanton in his new role is that the bishop has appointed him to the cabinet.
“He will be there not just to participate in discussions about strategy," Bishop Saenz said, "but he will be there to hear first-hand what needs there are in the districts, and he will be part of developing solutions to help our local churches flourish.”
The bishop said he is confident in Stanton’s abilities to fulfill the important missional tasks in this new role. It is a position very similar to the one held by Bishop Saenz while he served in the Rio Texas Conference prior to his election to the episcopacy.
“I could see the big picture because I worked with all of the district superintendents,” Bishop Saenz said. “I knew the contexts in which the ministries were taking place and could see the biggest picture because I had first-hand knowledge of what was going on throughout the conference.”
Stanton said he values the opportunity to play an active role in shaping the future of the conference by giving local congregations the best chance possible to succeed in their mission fields.
“I’ve learned a lot in my four years with new church development,” Stanton said. “I’ve had the chance to dig more deeply into what makes a congregation vital from the very beginning. One of my core values, if you can call it that, is to unite clergy and lay people in partnerships built on innovation and entrepreneurial ministry with strong, passionate, courageous leaders who are willing to show some creativity in making disciples for Christ.”
He said he values working with teams, particularly those with strong leaders who exude energy and passion for the important work of ministry.
“I value a diversity of views,” Stanton said, “but from people all moving toward the same vision of making disciples for Jesus Christ.”
Contact Todd Seifert, conference communications director, at firstname.lastname@example.org.