Extended Cabinet met in Jacksonville November 2-4

November 7, 2016

by Randy Harry gathering-smUnited Methodist bishops, district superintendents, and conference directors of connectional ministries from across the nation and some from other countries gathered in Jacksonville, Florida November 2-4, 2016, for the quadrennial Council of Bishops Extended Cabinet Summit.  This three-day conference was filled with inspiring and informative sermons and presentations especially by various bishops, stirring worship experiences, and opportunities for sharing among the participants, all focused on how to cultivate vital congregations in our denomination. The summit was opened by Bishop Bruce Ough of the Dakotas Annual Conference and President of the Council of Bishops, who said that United Methodism is presently experiencing a confluence of “urgencies”:  the urgency of institutional decline, the urgency to reclaim our evangelical task, and the urgency to resolve our longstanding impasse regarding human sexuality.  Urgency isn’t necessarily negative, he pointed out, but it does cause us to take action. Borrowing from author Simon Sinek and others, Bishop Ough said that the one thing to which we’re all called is to Know our Why, our reason for being the Church.  That self-understanding leads us to knowing better our What, our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, and gives it greater impact. ken-carter-smBishop Ken Carter of the Florida Conference and President-Elect of the Council of Bishops (and formerly a member of our conference) spoke of how the Church needs to regain its memory of being a movement rather than an institution, so that we’ll exhibit increased vital spirituality, deeper connections, and more visible fruitfulness among our churches.  He suggested that this take a deliberate effort to lean into the pain, in a similar way that patients recovering from surgery need to lean into the pain for the purpose of greater healing. A common theme of many of the presentations was the need for United Methodist leaders to align their decision-making regarding clergy appointments, the status of local churches, and the use of conference resources with the mission of the Church at a time when the culture around us has changed.  The attractional model of evangelism used by the Church decades ago, when the surrounding culture encouraged church and other organizational attendance, no longer applies, so new ideas and new actions are required today if we are to fulfill Christ’s Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20).  It means utilizing all tools at our disposal, such as data, and doing so creatively to maximize our effectiveness in discerning how best to reach others for Christ and develop disciples in our churches. Since the 2008 General Conference, The United Methodist Church has committed to four major Areas of Focus: developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world; creating new places for new people and renewing existing congregations; engaging in ministry with the poor; and stamping out the killer diseases of poverty by improving health globally.  A great deal of time was spent during the Extended Cabinet Summit discussing and sharing ideas of how well our annual conferences are in alignment with these four foci and what else we should do going forward.  Such alignment, it was suggested, would include prioritizing God, then the mission field, next local church laity, then clergy, and finally the Conference leadership (Bishop, Cabinet, and other leaders).  Members of the Western North Carolina Conference were encouraged by the various ways we are already seeing fruit in these four areas of focus. The extended cabinet summit allowed our conference cabinet to leave with a renewed commitment to align our work within the conference around the Four Areas of Focus; to continue using a common language related to our mission and vision; the desire to tell the stories of how we are already living into these areas of ministry; a commitment to look anew at the latest data that reflects the nature of our annual conference; and the development of a task force that will balance “counting” as one important aspect of data with “measurement” that points us toward the next best step for our churches and conference. Rev. Randy Harry is the superintendent of the Smoky Mountain District