Doing ministry  from  the ground up

Doing ministry  from  the  ground up

February 27, 2020

“We’re living in times different than ever before. Some would call it unprecedented times,” says Rev. Dr. Barrie Tritle, “And because of that, we need to think differently and strategically.” 

Rev. Tritle, who serves as lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in Iowa City, is also the convener of the Bishop’s Operational Team, which was formerly known as the Healthy Conference Initiative. “We’re serving the bishop as an advisory council group that helps to think about ways to help this conference be healthier, and strive to do three key things: spiritual development of leaders, environments that foster transformation, and also bearing fruit and finding processes that will help do that.” 

Adapting to change 

As Rev. Tritle explains, “We as a conference have adopted a mission statement and a vision statement, which are guiding principles for us as we think about how to reshape the conference for the future, based on redefining our resources and taking a look at how we can build from the ground up the systems that will work to create change and create disciples and create a new way that the conference can flourish.”  

The Bishop’s Operational Team is helping to lead the Iowa Annual Conference through a process of adaptive change, but adaptive change can be tricky. “You begin to look at issues of how do we approach a new way of being, a new way of doing, so that the churches can thrive and the ministries of the conference can thrive—and we have to figure out new ways to do it,” he adds. “There’s no handbook for it.” 

This can require some experimentation. One strategy the team has learned is called RAD (Reflect, Adjust, Do), where they take a look at what is currently being done, adjust it, try some things that may or may not work, and come up with solutions. 

The three L’s 

From early on, the Bishop’s Operational Team was working on how to approach the conference’s strategic priorities with a relational—rather than hierarchical—outlook. The team turned to Spiritual Leadership Incorporated (SLI) for guidance and have found a great deal of wisdom in SLI’s emphasis on a “loving, learning, and leading” model, which helps nurture a covenant community.  

“One of the key elements is an emphasis on developing spiritual leaders who model that kind of community of loving, learning, and leading,” shares Rev. Tritle. “As we develop that sense of community ourselves, and we use it to propel ourselves into the future, it gives us a grounding, and it gives us a foundation for all the decisions and all the work we have to do. We are walking together with God, seeking God’s will and wisdom as we seek to move the conference forward to be healthier and adaptive for the future.” 

Into the future 

In recent months, the team has been focused more on a vision for the future. A guiding principle for them has been Psalms 71:14: ‘But as for me, I will always have hope.’  

“We want to make hope real in the world,” says Rev. Tritle. “If you begin there, and you begin to see the context of what’s going on in the general church, the context of what’s going on in the Annual Conference, you see we need to rethink how we’re organized, in order to provide the support for local churches and the mission of making disciples for Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  
Focusing on a framework in which the conference is supporting local churches, not the other way around, is key. Part of this is due to a financial reality in which many congregations have been shrinking, and local disasters like flooding have meant funds have not been as plentiful.  
“We’re still trying to figure out how to really live into that newer understanding,” he acknowledges. “Because I think we’ve gone on for 40 years as a conference understanding that the resources were there, we could do anything we wanted to do, and we were really empowered by the churches to be bold and move forward in a lot of programming areas. Now we have to rethink and say ‘How do we best utilize the resources we have to make the greatest amount of impact. How do we support the only place where discipleship really occurs, the local church? How do we help churches thrive, and how does the conference serve that, rather than being served by it?'” 

Cooperating in ministry 

As an active pastor, Rev. Tritle is taking everything he is learning on the Bishop’s Operational Team to heart and bringing it to his own church, where they are spending a lot of time considering how they can make an impact in the world as a local congregation.  

“The themes that we talk about as a conference, you take those themes and you start thinking about it in terms of the local church. Then you talk about being in covenant, and how you develop relationships with the churches by you. In what ways can we support each other?” he asks.    

“How can we partner to help them thrive? Because as they thrive, we thrive—and as we all thrive together, the kingdom of God will be strengthened throughout the world.”