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Program staff shift into team ministry

Puzzle pieces coming together

The Michigan Conference’s new Connectional Ministries Team plans to equip and connect local churches through three key initiatives. The team invites you to meet them and learn more via online open office hours on February 22.

Content Editor

The new Connectional Ministries Team — Lisa Batten, Naomi García, Kathy Pittenger, and Laura Witkowski — invite you to the first of several online open office hours on February 22.

Join them via Zoom at noon or 6:30 pm EST. Click this link to join either session. (The Meeting ID is 833 3219 1151, and the Passcode is 867857.) This link will be used for all future open office hours this winter and spring. Office hours have been planned once a month through May.

The sessions will be for an hour, but you can come and go during the scheduled time. This informal time will be a chance for church leaders and anyone involved in ministry in the Michigan Conference to meet them and hear how they are shifting to a team ministry model. Please bring your questions and ideas, for they also look forward to getting to know you.

You will get to meet them as they introduce you to their new team ministry model and learn more about how they plan to equip and connect churches through three key initiatives: innovation and incubation, communities of belonging, and faith formation.

Open office hours
The Connectional Ministries Team will host a series of open office hours this winter and spring.

These initiatives are intended to generate momentum to meet the priorities of the Conference Leadership Council and resonate with our United Methodist congregations and leaders, nurturing spiritual growth and belonging.

As a result of staff restructuring and reductions, the Michigan Conference program staff have been focused on defining its role within a new organizational structure. During the last six months of 2023, the four members of the team have worked to transition from the specialist-based model that previously guided them to a single Connectional Ministries Team.

Each member of the Connectional Ministries Team brings foundational skills, knowledge, and spiritual gifts to the team’s shared work, and the new model allows for shared leadership and a synergy of resources. Laura Witkowski is the Team Lead, but her role is integrated and embedded into the team’s work and dynamics. This is different from past configurations.

As the Team Lead, Laura assumes the responsibility of ensuring the team’s smooth functioning. This involves maintaining focus, facilitating processes, and ensuring open and effective communication channels. Laura, Lisa, Naomi, and Kathy have strengths and will take the lead for various initiatives, but the other members can support and assist as needed. The team hopes this will make the Connectional Ministries Team more flexible and accessible to churches and ministry leaders seeking support or direction.

The Connectional Ministries Team is cultivating a strong team where each member provides leadership. However, it’s been challenging as they’ve recalibrated their day-to-day tasks and responsibilities and spent time in discernment regarding future ministry initiatives. Over the past year, they’ve been prayerfully evaluating current ministry initiatives led by the previous program staff configuration to determine which programs they need to bless and let go, which programs need more attention, and which programs need to be reimagined or renewed.

Ultimately, the Michigan Conference initiatives they will continue to offer and support going forward will be aligned closely with the overarching strategic priorities and goals of the Conference Leadership Council, the steward of the Michigan Conference’s vision and strategy. The Connectional Ministries Team will implement programs and ministry offerings that develop leaders, build the beloved community, share God’s love, and create financial sustainability.

Using this as a guide, the Connectional Ministries Team plans to equip and connect churches through resources and programs categorized into three broad themes: innovation and incubation, communities of belonging, and faith formation.

    • Innovation and Incubation: The Connectional Ministries Team will help ministry leaders realize their ideas by facilitating cohorts, resourcing ministry peers, and assisting with one-on-one or group coaching. Initiatives may include Seed to Harvest, Fresh Expressions, Transition Coaching, grant management, and more.
    • Communities of Belonging: The Connectional Ministries Team will promote diversity, equity, and inclusion, fostering unity and shared identity in faith communities. Initiatives may include coming alongside individuals, congregations, and committees with historically marginalized identities, anti-bias/anti-racism training and education, cross-racial/cross-cultural appointments, and more.
    • Faith Formation: The Connectional Ministries Team will equip individuals for ministry by nurturing their relationship with God through various means. Initiatives may include Lifelong Faith Formation development and resources, cohorts, young adult discernment and summer intern opportunities, enneagram for faith formation, and more.

The members of the Connectional Ministries Team are clear that their specific role as staff members is strategic and visionary, not disciple-making, for that is the local church’s mandate. According to ¶120 of the Book of Discipline, “local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” The annual conference is to equip and connect local churches in their call as they seek to make disciples of Jesus for the transformation of the world.

In this new team model, the members of the Connectional Ministries Team hope to lean into what they hear from churches and leaders, with the goal of being responsive, not reactive. The needs of the conference vary greatly, and their capacity as a staff is not the same as it once was. Their strategy is resourcing leaders and faith communities, looking at what only the conference can offer and how we can connect leaders to each other and assist or collaborate with them in their ministries. They welcome honest conversations with church leaders as they move forward in the coming weeks and months and live into this new team ministry model.

They will make decisions and choose to support new initiatives or programs through this new team spirit rooted in collaboration, celebration, and shared reasonability. Since the responsibilities are now shared, items are put before the team for discussion before making a decision. This approach may seem time-consuming, but allowing the necessary time for thorough discernment and honest reflection is crucial. How does a task or initiative fall into one of their three categories of initiatives, and do they have the capacity to take it on?

Moving forward, how will the Connectional Ministries Team relate to and assist Michigan Conference boards, divisions, and committees? There will no longer be specific staff liaisons assigned to aid in administrative and functional tasks. Instead, they will help with strategic planning, visioning, leadership development, and goal setting. The team is still working through those specific details and will have more information soon.

The members of the Connectional Ministries Team are committed to this shared team ministry. They believe the new model has great potential for impact within the Michigan Conference. Despite the worry and fatigue that many continue to experience in ministry and acknowledging the unknown aspects of the future, they believe that God is calling the Michigan Conference to move forward in hope and confidence in the God who calls us and cares for us. They want to be part of the transformation that is to come and want to watch and encourage the new ministries and churches that will sprout and blossom in time. They want to be partners in ministry.

Do you have questions for the Connectional Ministries Team? Anyone with a specific inquiry regarding responsibilities or needs guidance on who to contact can reach out to any team member — Lisa, Naomi, Kathy, or Laura — or contact them all collectively. They will work together to identify the right person and then respond with next steps.

The needs and priorities of the Connectional Ministries Team will change. Still, currently, Lisa Batten is the team member who is primarily responsible for Anti-Bias/Anti-Racism (ABAR) Curriculum Content and the ABAR Working Group, Naomi García for all things coaching and Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) requests, and Rev. Kathy Pittenger for protection policy-related matters.

Email addresses and phone numbers for all the Connectional Ministries Team members can be found on this staff web page. Lisa, Naomi, Kathy, and Laura welcome your questions and look forward to meeting you at one of the upcoming open office hour sessions.

Last Updated on February 16, 2024

The Michigan Conference