Enthusiasm grows for Circuit Ministry—an interview with Paul Wilcox, Transitional Superintendent

Enthusiasm grows for Circuit Ministry—an interview with Paul Wilcox, Transitional Superintendent

April 13, 2021

As Circuit Ministry training continues every month in the Iowa Conference, enthusiasm and ministry are growing alongside it.
 
“From clergy and laity, I see enthusiasm for elements of the circuit that they've been looking for in their professional and personal lives,” said Transitional Superintendent Rev. Paul Wilcox.
 
Circuit Ministry at its core has two elements: Leadership Development and Missional Accountability, which are elements that “meet and feed the vocational part of us, the spiritual side of us, as well as just learning the things we need to know to adapt and be nimble in an age in which transition is on the menu every day,” Wilcox said.
 
“Missional Accountability breaks down into four separate parts from there,” Wilcox said. “You’ve got the local church’s ministry goals, and how is the pastor helping to accomplish that. You've got spiritual accountability: What are you doing to stay in love with God? You've got relational accountability, which is governed by a covenant that each circuit will develop on its own and make sure that everybody is treating each other well. The fourth is vocational, and that's an aspect that we're developing, but it will be maintained to some extent by the local staff parish committee and the Board of Ordained ministry.
 
It’s exciting to me that our lay folk and clergy are still listening, they're still learning, and they're still showing up,” he added. “We're asking them to do a big job.”
 
Being a part of a circuit is a commitment of time and preparation, but so much of what happens there is relational.
 
“It really shapes the idea of connectional ministry in The United Methodist Church and puts it at the grassroots level where we can work together,” said Pastor Keith Pitts of the DELCO Circuit. “There’s a group of pastors that can work together and share their gifts and talents. They can bring their ministry superpower to the table and share that with every other pastor in the circuit.”
 
As for the laity, he and other district superintendents have been recruiting Circuit Lay Leaders to co-lead with Clergy Leaders.
 
“The Circuit Lay Leader will work with the other lay leaders in their circuit,” Wilcox said. “We hope every quarter they will meet and put their heads together and talk about what's going on in their individual churches, what's going on in their circuit, and what are things they can do together in the circuit and the district.”
 
He added an example of this would be churches that share school districts dreaming about what they can do together to draw kids in who know each other already through their school district.
 
The Circuit Lay Leader will be committed to lay ministry in the local church and will meet once a month with the district superintendent and other lay leaders and clergy leaders.
 
“This is an adaptive system, so there might be slight adjustments, but I see the district superintendents frequently being able to meet virtually with 10 to 12 Circuit Clergy and Lay Leaders,” Wilcox said. 
 
Wilcox sees Circuit Ministry as an opportunity for clergy and leadership of local churches not having to be “solo heroic leaders trying to find their way,” as he sometimes felt in his own ministry.
 
“It is going to add to your work, but it’s work that will be very beneficial to you and your brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said. “To know that you're not alone, that's worth a lot. We work smarter, and we work better, and we have time to refuel. Clergy burnout has been a huge problem for a long time, and I see what we have built into the circuits as a beneficial solution.”
 
Wilcox added an illustration of an old woodcutter working hard at cutting his pile of wood when a friend walks by and sees him.
 
“The woodcutter has got this axe, and he is whacking this wood, and the axe is so dull that it's just splintering the wood. It's taking him forever, his axe is blunt, and it’s just pounding the wood into pulp. The friend says, ‘If you just take a little time to sharpen your axe, this will go so much better!’ He says back to his friend, ‘Look at the pile of wood I got here! I don't have time to sharpen my axe. I have got to get this done.’"
 
“That's how our pastors often feel,” said Wilcox. “There are parts of the circuit that will feed hungry places in our pastors’ vocational, spiritual, and relational lives that will empower, inspire, and equip them. Leadership development is a big part of what we do in the circuits. The reality is that we've got highly skilled and innovative clergy and lay leaders, and by putting those together, we will help sharpen the axe.”
 
District Circuit Leader Training is underway for Clergy and Lay Circuit Leaders in the five new districts. The circuits have been identified in all five districts—Aldersgate, Camp Clear Lake, Golden Valley, Pictured Rocks, and Riverview Park—are in the process of being released. The District Leader Training will conclude in June, with the majority of circuits being launched from July through September. 
 
To learn more about Circuit Ministries in the Iowa Conference, visit www.iaumc.org/circuits.