A set of strategic priorities were adopted at the 2013 Annual Conference Session, and they are something that continue to unfold. Rev. Bill Poland, assistant to the bishop for Administration, recently sat down to discuss the priorities.
“As I understand the Strategic Priorities, there really are two priorities,” said Rev. Poland. “And that is creating and equipping world-transforming communities of faith, and also developing leaders in ourselves and others, both clergy and lay, for the sake of the Gospel and the reign of God.”
The third priority is an alignment issue to support the previous two, said Rev. Poland.
“It’s inviting us to look specifically at how we use our Conference resources,” he said. “Both financial, both personnel, and then our vast resource of our laity and clergy throughout the Annual Conference.”
It’s important to look at how the Conference is using those resources to support the leadership development that is so needed in the world today that stands for Christian values especially those that are exemplified in the United Methodist Church, said Rev. Poland.
The question that also needs to be asked, he said, is how the Conference is empowering communities of faith. Further, how is the conference helping people focus on their identity, of who they are in Christ, as people who join Christ in the transformation of the world and inviting people into a life of disciple in Jesus?
The priorities have been a source of significant volumes of discussion. Rev. Poland stressed that they did not come out of vacuum; rather they’ve been part of the Methodist tradition all along they now have greater definition.
“So that we might be able to make choices around what we do and where we invest ourselves,” Rev. Poland said.
It’s provided a framework, he said.
“So that there is a renewed impetus, and hopefully energy,” he said. “Around living out who we really believe God is calling us to be.”
HCI and Small Church Initiative are tools, a process, said Rev. Poland, where the Conference can help local churches rediscover who they and reenergize around their mission.
“That really is helping to bring vitality,” he said.
Over time people and churches can turn in on themselves.
“We get driven by our own preference sometimes, rather than the mission that the Holy Spirit is calling us to,” said Rev. Poland.
It helps bring about the rediscover the fact that Methodist churches exist in communities, for communities, he said. Historically the Methodist Church has been the most vital when in the process of building new communities of faith, Rev. Poland said.
“Those were always opportunities for new people to be a part of the mission,” said Rev. Poland. “I think our new church starts will lead all of us in rediscovering what God has called us to be.”
Rediscover as well, he said, that evangelism is not a bad word.
“At its heart it really is good news,” Rev. Poland said. “And Jesus really does have good news for the world.”
Clergy working together with the laity as part of the overall larger witness to improve lives illustrates the point of the Strategic Priorities.
“Every one of our church communities was launched with idea that they had a transforming presence in the communities where they existed, it’s helping us rediscover that,” he said.
“If it’s not personal it’s not transformation,” said Rev. Poland. “If our own hearts aren’t transformed, if we aren’t in and of ourselves filled with love, it ought to the way we see the world, help us to see it as Jesus does.”
Careful study of the Gospel makes it impossible not to see in Jesus the love for those that have been excluded, he said.
How do we open our hearts in a more inviting way to invest in the lives of others around us? Not just to do things for them, but to form a genuine relationship with them?
“That was the power of the original Methodist movement,” Rev. Poland said.
The Strategic Priorities include realization that we are not just individual parts, but a whole, he said, and so how can we function better as a whole?
The focus is on helping District staff function as a coordinated and collaborative team, said Rev. Poland, strengthening that relationship with Conference staff, and the churches, pastors and laity in the Districts in which they reside and the whole Annual Conference.
There are district ministry plans for each of the ministry teams.
“Our next step in that is connecting those plans, resourcing them with Conference leadership,” said Rev. Poland.
Conflict resolution, ministerial ethics and working together is a focus, as is partnership with the laity.
Review of staffing structure was approved at the Annual Conference Session, and continues with staffing changes that have occurred.
Where are things currently with the initial two priorities?
“I would like to help us remember that our priorities are a way of being, not some goals that we can check off,” said Rev. Poland.
“It’s our way of understanding as an Annual Conference, what are some important aspects of being disciples of Jesus Christ,” he said.
“You can’t look and say in my growth as a disciple I can check off this goal, this goal and this goal,” said Rev. Poland.
While those individual parts of our discipleship are important, he said, they’re not ends in and of themselves.
“The real goal for all of us is, are we following more closely in the footsteps of Jesus?” said Rev. Poland. “That’s a question for us as an Annual Conference.”
Mile markers along the way, is how he described the time-sensitive indicators of the priorities. They can’t be the most important thing, and must be kept in context.
The question to ask each day, Rev. Poland said, is, am I growing in my progress as a disciple of Jesus? And as Wesley questioned, are you going on to perfection?
“With God’s help, he said. “We are.”