Every church in the Iowa Annual Conference will develop a process for intentionally forming disciples of Jesus Christ by the year 2020.
That Wildly Important Goal is the ambitious direction overwhelmingly and enthusiastically set for every one of Iowa’s 767 United Methodist congregations by the lay and clergy members of the 2017 annual conference session.
“No matter the size,” notes Rev. Ryan Christenson, Field Outreach Minister for the Northwest District, each church can provide a healthy environment for people to grow in faith.” Every faith community, he adds, can absolutely “trust that God is there, actively at work, and the Holy Spirit will be their guide.”
Instead of being a “numbers enterprise,” the commitment to forming disciples of Jesus Christ “is about being a part of God-changed lives,” Christenson adds. “A church that takes disciple-making seriously is a community is dedicated to discovering what God is wanting us to do, individually and together.”
The Conference’s Field Outreach Ministers (Phil Carver, Rev. Ryan Christenson, Rev. Melissa Drake, Rev. Jaymee Glenn-Burns, Rev. Dr. Jaye Johnson, Naomi Sea Young Wittstruck) work with lay and clergy who are looking for ways to be “equipped with a foundation to help people to grow as disciples,” Christenson observes. “They’re asking questions such as, ‘What is a disciple,” which is something that hasn’t been asked in a long time.” The guidance that Christenson and his colleagues offer is simple - “Being a disciple is loving Jesus and committing your life to service.” That commitment, they suggest, “looks different everywhere.”
One question that arises from the Conference’s Wildly Important Goal of developing a discipleship process in every congregation is, “How do we get there?” “While worship services are places to celebrate and fellowship groups are frequently supportive, one to one relationships are the best way to get there,” Christenson says.
Workshops, with resource people from beyond the Conference, will be held in September and October. Ken Willard will lead four events: Southwest - September 30; North Central - October 1; Northwest - October 2; and South Central - October 3. The goal of those events is for every congregation to have at least two people present. Willard, who has helped with the “healthy church initiative” experience in Missouri, will assist congregations to discover their own pathways. “They will have an opportunity,” Christenson said, “to think about their own strengths and to think about first steps...or next steps.” The East Central District is inviting congregations to move from “Membership to Discipleship” and to discover what it means to be a “mature Christian.” “The Willard and Maynard events are a wonderful example of apportionment dollars at work,” said Christenson. Rev. Dr. Lilian Gallo Seagren is also leading discipleship events across the Southeast District.
Two retreats will be held in January 2018 that will be opportunities for congregations to receive personalized coaching and take next steps in discipleship pathways. Camp Okoboji will the site for the January 5-7 event. It will be offered again on January 26-28 at Camp Wesley Woods. (Cost: $150/church for first 3 participants; $25 for each additional person)
How can the faith communities of the Iowa Conference accomplish the Wildly Important Goal? “Reach out relationally,” Christenson suggests. “That can change the world. Go to where people are. Help them to meet Jesus, even in the work that they do. People will get excited, wherever they are on life’s journey.”