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Frequently Asked Questions about our Strategic Priorities, Vision, and Mission
Communities of Faith may be established churches, new Bible study groups, curious seekers who meet to talk about life’s questions, emerging immigrant faith communities, camps, Wesley Foundations, a mission team of young people helping to clean up after a natural disaster, etc. Essentially, communities of faith are any people who gather together to deepen their spiritual walk with Jesus Christ and participate in God’s acts of renewal, large and small.
Disciples are persons who have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and seek to live as Jesus did, following his teaching and living by his example.
Transforming reminds us that change is inevitable in a faithful walk with God. Just as a chrysalis grows into a butterfly, both those who serve and those who are being served find new life in Christ’s saving grace. Transformation is about bringing about glimpses of the coming Kingdom of God and offering good news to the poor… whether in body or in spirit.
The World is the final element of our shared mission. We are called to go into the communities around us, near and far, to share God’s love and transforming power in a world that so desperately longs for healing and wholeness.
The Conference refers to all of us - lay and clergy - who make up the Iowa Annual Conference. While there are specific instances where we refer to the functions of a conference center or leadership, throughout the document whenever you read the words “Iowa Conference” or “the conference” we are moving to re-embrace our understanding of being a connectional body. We mean all of us, not the staff of the conference center or the leadership… all of us. Conference communications and goals of the conference all need to be read in this light.
Q. Where is our focus on the poor? Where is our focus on Jesus Christ?
A. The union of personal and social holiness is one of our defining United Methodist characteristics. Rather than lift up outreach/justice/service as one priority and faith/evangelism as another, we have tried to hold that union intact. So when we talk about world-transforming communities of faith, we are lifting up those groups of folks who are in ministry with the poor because they have a relationship with Jesus and who grow in their personal faith as a result of service. In transformational leadership, we are seeking to equip leaders who are deepening their personal discipleship as well as stepping outside their community of faith into relationship with the community and the stranger. We want to hold together both making disciples and transforming the world. In the goals of each priority, we have tried to lift up these core parts of our mission.
Q: What keeps this from being just another plan we put on the shelf?
A: Trust, faith, accountability. Every single person who is a part of our annual conference needs to take ownership of these priorities and we need to faithfully hold one another accountable for living them out. These priorities are presented as a working document, in part, because we understand that there is still work to be done. Rather than rush into specific structural changes, we want to have clear priorities in place, first. This is merely the beginning of a season of resurrection and transformation for our church. You are encouraged to take ownership of these priorities and expect to see changes in how we do “routine” work… including reporting and charge conferences!
Q: How are these priorities different from what we are currently doing?
A: One of the clear differences is a shift towards a flattened hierarchy. Rather than congregations led by professional clergy who do ministry, we seek lay and clergy working alongside one another in relationship with their communities. Rather than local churches sending resources to the annual conference so boards and agencies and ministries function, we seek collaboration between all parts of our connection and a shift towards those connectional structures empowering the contextual, on-the-ground work of discipling and transformation in communities of faith.
Q: Who was on the Strategic Priorities Writing Team?
A: Our team was convened by Bishop Trimble and composed of Rev. Brian Milford (Conference Superintendent), Rev. Art McClanahan (Communications), Rev. Karen Dungan (Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministry), Todd Weber (Conference Treasurer), Richard Braley (Planning and Research), Dave Decker (Conference Lay Leader), Rev. Katie Dawson, Phil Carver (SE District Field Outreach Minister), and Bishop Julius C. Trimble. This group distilled conversations happening across the annual conference: from the New Places for New People events, to interviews with the FACT team and the resulting reports, surveys sent to the entire conference about our first drafts, conversations with young adult clergy, deacons, Ministry Cabinet, Laity Day, etc.
Q: What was the process for arriving at this point?
A: One of the findings of the FACT Report (Financial Advisory Consulting Team) was that we lacked a clearly defined vision and mission as a conference to base our strategic plan on. This was necessary to implement the recommendations of the report. Bishop Trimble called together a writing team to help us articulate the vision and mission that was beginning to stir from conversations about New Places for New People and as part of the FACT interview process. At the same time, the writing team began to group the FACT recommendations into three main categories based upon where the conference was called to focus in our Discipline and to reorient the work of the annual conference back towards the grassroots life of our church: communities of faith, leadership development, and alignment of resources towards the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ and transforming the world. For six months, these strategic priorities and our vision and mission have been a work in progress and at many points along the way underwent drastic transformation as we heard from lay and clergy across the state. While the main categories have remained much the same, the goals under each priority have changed and the vision of where we are headed as a conference has as well. Because the writing team knew this needed to be a process embraced by the whole annual conference and not a mandate from the top, the team is not putting forth a strategic plan, per se, but priorities to help guide us into the future… priorities that allow for flexibility and input and for this to be a working document we all have the opportunity to live into with one another.
Q: What comes next?
A: In legislative time, we will have time for debate and perfection of the specific goals listed under each priority. These goals will help us measure progress and hold one another accountable for living into this vision. Once a document is approved, Planning and Research will help provide information about those measurements and our progress. The Ministry Cabinet will take primary responsibility for holding these priorities at the core of our shared ministry, but we pray that every local church, every ministry, every pastor and lay person will do the same.
Q: How are laity, clergy and ministries held accountable?
A: The section on “Aligning Support and Accountability” (page 10-11 in the pre-conference manual) is one way we will incorporate this into charge conference, professional interviews for clergy, and conference meetings. We hope and pray communities of faith will also use this tool as a way of helping us all to move in the same direction. The questions invite narrative responses about the lived experience of wrestling with these priorities in our contexts and encourage risk-taking, creativity, and faithful response. We want to focus more on how we are making disciples and how we are seeking to live our faith in transformative ways, rather than achieving set numbers. However, the measures incorporated into our goals are helpful benchmarks for how we are progressing towards these ends. In addition, these priorities will be incorporated into a revised CCMC budgeting process, will help determine priorities for CFA, and will guide the decisions about structure and staffing as we move into 2014. The specific goals listed under each priority are markers for how we are progressing towards our vision of a renewed annual conference.
Q: How do local churches have conversations about living into these priorities?
A: Every local church needs to be aware of its context. Ministry will look different in every place. However, these three priorities and our shared vision and mission are what unite us. We hope every local church will take the “Aligning Support and Accountability” questions and have conversations with their church council and ministries about what these priorities mean in their ministry. After Annual Conference, there will also be a study made available for communities of faith to use for exploring these priorities and how they can live them out in their unique place.
Q: What additional revenue streams are being considered?
A: One form of additional revenue would be an endowment set up to fund ministry or a particular ministry. The aim would be to reduce the burden of funding placed on local communities of faith.
Q. What do we mean by “conference-wide” communications?
A: We are referring to not only the communications from our conference center, but also district and local community of faith communications. We want to connect and equip more of our laity and clergy with important information about training opportunities, inspirational stories of transformation, “we did it, so-can-you” articles, etc. Some of that will happen by broadening our subscription lists for conference-level communications, but it also happens by equipping local communities of faith to tell the stories of our connection. This also means that we need our communities of faith and ministries to tell more stories that can be shared in conference- level publications, district newsletters, and also can be used by local churches across the conference.