When New District Superintendents Go to School

September 1, 2015

by Michael Rich (This is an article that was written for the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry related to their event at Lake Junaluska.  It may show up in other publications in different forms.) New District Superintendents (DS) and Directors of Connectional Ministry (DCM) from across the denomination gathered at Lake Junaluska, August 23-27, for Cultivating Vital Ministries, the new DS/DCM Orientation. This event was sponsored by the Council of Bishops, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), and the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD). There were 67 superintendents and 13 DCM’s registered, representing 35 Annual Conferences. The theme, Cultivating Vital Ministries, has remained the same for this quadrennium, but according to Myron Wingfield, Assistant General Secretary for Clergy Life (GBHEM), “This year’s DS/DCM Training is a more focused and refined process of orientation in developing the Chief Missional Strategist.” [caption id="attachment_3605" align="alignright" width="300"]Bishop Gary Mueller Bishop Gary Mueller[/caption] Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference preached on Monday morning at the first service of worship.  Focusing on Paul’s letter to the Colossians (3:12-17), he challenged the participants to focus on “The Heart of the Matter.” “You are doing something that makes a difference, something huge, something magnificent that can be summed up by only one word: ‘ginormous.’” Mueller preached, “You are involved in a ministry that is global, and intergalactic (in reference to a YouTube video of Pastor John Jay from Great Britain).  I hope you have the same joy six years from now.” He continued, “You are called to an impossible task, one thing that is essential is to go to the ‘heart of the matter’ and the heart of the matter is Jesus Christ.” Following worship on Monday, Gil Rendle from the Texas United Methodist Foundation opened the training with the first plenary session: Chief Missional Strategist & Steward of the Vision: Your Unique Role in Cultivating Vital Ministries. Rendle focused on the changed roles that District Superintendents and Directors of Connectional Ministry are facing in a changing world. “Under the old paradigm, the DS served the congregations and pastors of a district.  In this new paradigm, the churches and clergy are resources for mission, for the making of disciples and transforming the world,” said Rendle. Rendle stated some overwhelming statistics about the scope of the role of the DS, “One of the things we are dealing with is sheer numbers.  Did you realize that the average number of direct reports for a DS is over 80 pastors and churches? That is 10 times that of the average manager in the corporate world. The only way to deal with this in a changing culture is to locate the readiness among your clergy and churches and use them to change the institution.” Rev. Laura Auten, the new DS in the Uwharrie District of the Western North Carolina Conference echoed those thoughts when asked about her reflections on the week.  “This training is helping me to be a ‘detective’ of missional readiness among the congregations and clergy in the district I serve.” [caption id="attachment_3606" align="alignright" width="300"]Gil Rendle Gil Rendle[/caption] Rendle also highlighted that leading in a culture of change requires asking better questions.  “Congregations know more about who they were than who they are.  Good leaders ask the questions that help them name the tensions between their expressed values and their actual behavior.” Rev. Dr. Shirlyn Brown, the new superintendent of the Easton District of the Delwaware-Peninsula Conference recognized the challenge before her.  “I know that I have to balance my time to focus on the things that really matter- the Heart of the Matter. I am learning that questions are important to doing the work of a DS.  I need to be a good listener to do the job effectively.” Rendle closed with his reflections on making missional appointments.  “Your job is to put people with potential into churches with potential, into the part of the mission field with the most potential…Tiredness is a guarantee, but it is not a measure of faithfulness or effectiveness. The orientation was designed similar to past years with a combination of sharing groups of DS’s and DCM’s meeting in smaller groups, a series of workshops covering best practices for the various roles, special information sessions, and worship. Two other plenary sessions for the entire group were included in the program. Your Unique Role in Cultivating Vital Ministries, Part 2, led by Melissa Shortridge and Anthony Tang; and Next Steps led by Myron Wingfield and Ken Sloane. Sloane, the Director of Stewardship & Connectional Ministries for the GBOD, noted that the key to moving forward is “Letting go of past descriptions and focusing on the future. The DCM is to be a steward of the vision, align resources, lead renewal and transformation and maintain the connection.” Wingfield, added “We are trying to recapture the narrative and collect the stories of the connection--what does it mean to be a Chief Missional Strategist? There are no experts here, as you heard Gil Rendle say. We are living in between the old and the new paradigms, and we are trying to focus on the future of serving the mission field.” Rev. Steve Taylor, the new Director of Connectional Ministries in the North Carolina Conference weighed in on the training, “”It was real confirmation that we are making some good changes already in our conference.  These changes are making differences in vitality among our churches.” But he added, “One thing I have learned in the process is that when we think we have arrived, or made it, we know we haven’t.” Michael Rich is the Web & Communications Manager for the Western North Carolina Conference