Pastors of Large Churches envision the future

Pastors of Large Churches envision the future

October 29, 2019

Pastors of large churches gathered to envision the future of their congregations, themselves, and the Iowa Conference.  Coming together for the annual fall session, more than fifty of the conference’s pastors engaged in a day of worship, receiving and responding to Vision 2032, and sharing in some frank and open conversation with each other and the Bishop.

Rev. Richard Boatman welcomed the group to Oakwood UMC in Pleasant Hill, where he is the lead pastor.

A faithful journey

Focusing on Psalm 91 and other scriptures, Rev. Bill Poland invited all to journey “Into the Great Unknown.” Poland, who is the Director of New Faith Communities, observed, “We're standing at the entrance of something different, something unknown.”

“If we look with human eyes everywhere we look we see obstacles. We see a society that is completely divided and animosity with itself not just here in the United States but throughout the world. We see a church culture that is in decline,” Poland noted.

Click here to see images from the gathering

In contrast, he added, “What I see is a world ahead of us that is a new and unknown calling for us to be faithful to God and to reinvent ourselves as the church...not according to what we think best, but according to what God is already doing.”

The church of John Welsey’s time and current day have similarities, according to Poland.  “It was just over 200 years now, when John Wesley, who was part of the Church of England, looked out into the world around them that was also in a rapidly changing culture.”

Click here to listen to Rev. Bill Poland's sermon

Like our Methodist predecessors, we have the capacity to venture into the future - “We have enough faith to get past our fear and go where God is going, forgetting what other people might think of us, or what will happen to our church buildings.  With faith, with belief, we can journey into the unknown.”

In a closing prayer, the pastors of large churches expressed a hopeful commitment, “You have created as a new enterprise, and having trusted us with the task of living out this newness of life, so that others will also come.”

Vision 2032

Bishop Laurie Haller shared her “Vision 2032” for the Iowa Conference.  As she has with lay and clergy of two districts prior to the pastors of large churches gathering, and as the Conference Connectional Ministries Council and Conference staff have already heard, “We’re in a time right now in THe United Methodist Church were it seems as if we are looking into a mirror dimly...It is such an uncertain time ...and we’re not sure what will happen at the 2020 General Conference next May.”

Vision 2032 includes several observations:

  • Relationships will be more important than theological convictions
  • Innovation, creativity, and imagination will be more important than stagnation, rigidity, “sacred cows,” and the status quo
  • Our primary focus will be on the Great Commission and the Great Commandment

Bishop Laurie believes “the possibilities and potential are endless.  The mission field is all around us, and so many people are just waiting for someone to not only tell them about the love of Jesus but also to model it by reaching out to and caring for the very least of God’s children.”

Some of the possible new realities of 2032 include:
  • Fewer elders and more local pastors, bi-vocational pastors and Certified Lay Ministers
  • Fewer district superintendents
  • Larger churches will become teaching churches
  • Clergy will be appointed on the basis of gifts, graces, and effectiveness in consultation with Staff-Parish Relations Committees in a missional manner

Bishop Laurie concluded her presentation of “Vision 2032” by saying, “The good news is that Jesus is at work in communities all over Iowa and around the world.  What an exciting time it is to be the church!”

Setting the context

Rev. Harlan Gillespie set the context for an ensuing conversation about concerns, excitements, and possibilities.  Gillespie, the Assistant to the Bishop, noted, “Since 1968, The United Methodist Church has been engaged in mission and ministry throughout Iowa and the world.  This is our spiritual heritage.

He highlighted three elements of the current context:
  • Loss of connection and community
  • Concern for the survival of local churches
  • Decreasing finances for local churches and Conference/General Church apportionments

Even with the concerning elements of the current reality, there is hope for the future.  “We love our God. We love our churches. We love our communities. And we believe there is a future with hope for the church of Jesus Christ.

Table conversations

After being briefed on some of the recent reductions and realignments, the pastors of large churches were invited to consider two questions: (1) What concerns do you have for our future as United Methodists; and (2)What excites you for our future as Iowa United Methodists?

Following a report on each table group’s reflections an additional question was asked, “With God’s guidance, what kind of better, faster, stronger Iowa Conference can we build with a $6 million to $8 million budget?”  Reports of the small-group creative thinking were also shared with all.

Thoughts to be gathered and shared

As was the case with the two previous district gatherings as well as the upcoming six district-level listening sessions, the ideas expressed will be transcribed and listed, unfiltered, in a special section of the Conference website:  The collected thoughts will be posted beginning in the week of November 4.

Additional information found in that website section will include:
  • Dates, times, and location for upcoming district Vision 2032 gatherings
  • Links to videos of the vision, context, and framing segments of the Vision 2032 presentation

Persons interested in becoming a part of the prayer ministry supporting Vision 2032 can share their intention via email at  Questions, comments, and additional insights can be also be sent to that email address