Lisa Batten’s recent experience at the UMC LEAD Conference affirmed that we, as the church, must continually evaluate what we’re doing so that we can risk something new.
Young Adult Initiatives Coordinator, Michigan Conference
Recently I attended the UMC LEAD Conference, held in Asheville, NC, this year along with several ministry colleagues from the Michigan Conference. UMC LEAD was started in the Desert Southwest Annual Conference in response to leaders of young adult ministries in The United Methodist Church and their desire to be more effective in ministry.
The conference is modeled around brief TED Talk-style presentations. It has expanded from young adult ministry to include topics related to starting new churches, self-care, creativity, leadership challenges, lay ministry, urban and rural ministries, and much more.
UMC LEAD’s mission is to create space for Christian leaders to be vulnerable and courageous, connecting them around their hopes for the future and equipping them to bring those hopes into reality. It’s a great opportunity to hear about other ministry leaders birthing new ideas.
There are two of the presentations that have stayed with me over the last few weeks.
The first was a story about a church’s food ministry. The meal ministry’s leadership began to question the types of foods being served, so they did an evaluation. In doing so, the leadership realized the meals were not nutritious, under the caloric intake needed for clients; in fact, they were hurting, not helping, the clients. So the ministry took the bold step to adapt the ministry to offer meals that met the nutritional needs of those eating them. The speaker was honest about the obstacles the ministry leaders had to overcome to change their mindset.
The second story came from a local pastor serving six small congregations in Appalachia in western North Carolina. The people in these congregations had been subjected to oppressive labor practices from the mining industry and “do-gooders” in the form of corporations who came claiming to “fix, help, and save.” The speaker was clear that there was no need for the congregations to wait for someone to come and lead them through how they could be the body of Christ in their setting. The congregations, albeit small on Sunday mornings, have begun practicing a form of “class meetings” as John Wesley did. Through these small groups, they have started to understand how to be in ministry with one another and their local communities.
Both stories affirmed to me the need we have in the church to examine what we are doing, what we are offering, and who we are in ministry with. A colleague of mine, who serves in campus ministry, shared recently, “We cannot go back to fall 2019, so we need to figure out what 2023 looks like. We don’t know, but we need to try some things and be okay with risk and failure and adaptation.”
This feels a bit exhausting coming through COVID-19 when most congregations and ministries have done so much adapting and risking just to survive. But what would it take to open ourselves to something new? What if we stopped doing something that isn’t working or took a serious look at a ministry that is mediocre? What if we stopped doing something that is not meaningful to the church so that we could rest? What if we took time to examine current ministry offerings to evaluate their effectiveness? What if we allowed space in our ministry and lives to consider how our resources and energy can be used to dream about and incubate something brand-new that served not only the church but also the community?
I know it’s a tall order to ask the church to let go of time-honored traditions and personal preferences when we are comfortable clinging to what we know. Resting is not what we do well as good church folk. And taking a risk to incubate something new might be a stretch. I pray that we, as the church, have the courage to live into the God-sized vision and call set before us in 2023 and beyond.
Maybe you’re looking to find like-minded colleagues to help you dream and incubate new ministries in your context. If so, you might be open to exploring the Michigan Conference’s Seed to Harvest program. Contact Lisa Batten at [email protected] or sign up by completing this online form.
Last Updated on October 31, 2023