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Directed by the Spirit

The “Director Model” of new Michigan Conference is designed for vision-keeping.

Senior Editor-Writer, Michigan Area

When Design Team Co-chair, Rev. Marsha Woolley, spoke to the Michigan Annual Conference on Thursday afternoon, she shared a favorite poetic image. “Take a lump of clay, wet it and pat it. Make it into a statue of you and me,” she began. “Then shatter it and remold it again. In me there will be some of you and in you there will be some of me. God is doing a new thing among us.”

The Design Team has been re-shaping lumps of clay for the past two years as they seek to mold the new Michigan Conference into something that is more than a combining of the West Michigan and Detroit conferences. Several of those lumps of clay—rules, organization, re-districting and more– were voted upon at the 2017 Michigan Conference.

Other lumps of clay are still being shaped. Such is the Director Model for staffing.

The current draft of the plan may be found at Design.michiganumc.org. In summary:

  • The “lens and the foundation” of the model is the Vision of the Michigan Conference: The Michigan Conference equips and connects through: Christ-centered Mission and Ministry; Bold and Effective Leaders; and Vibrant Congregations.
  • The Clergy Assistant is a Director position.
  • Christ-centered Mission & Ministry to be the purview of the Director of Connectional Ministry.
  • Bold and Effective Leadership to be overseen by the Director of Clergy Excellence.
  • Vibrant Congregations to be the responsibility of the Director of Congregational Vibrancy
  • Supporting those visionary endeavors are Connectional Communication (Director of Communication); Administration (Director of Administrative Services and Conference Treasurer); and Personnel (Director of Conference Benefits and Human Resources Service).

The model is still in the “molding” stage and there are other coordinator and assistant staff positions, some regionally deployed, defined within the document.

MIConnect was directed to two spokespeople for further interpretation of the Director Model. Rev. Ellen Zienert, Chair of the West Michigan Conference Personnel Committee, and, Design Team member, Rev. Jerome (Jerry) DeVine. DeVine currently serves as the Director of Connectional Ministries for the Detroit Conference.

What are the key characteristics of the Director Model of governance?

Ellen: The main goal of this model of organizing the work of the Michigan Conference is to capture and embed the vision as outlined by the Design Team. In addition, the model allows space to care for the administrative functions of the Conference. We wanted to make sure we were equipping the Conference to carry out its vision as best we could. We also wanted to ensure that all faces of that vision were given a clear voice and lines of accountability in this new organization.

Jerry: The Design Team, Conference Leadership Team, and Conference Personnel Committees were intent on truly living out the vision. We understood that required something more than simply transitioning all current staff. Yes, we respect the staff we have. But we began to look at expanding collaborative and inter-disciplinary kinds of approaches rather than continue “siloes” in which staff do their own thing. The intent of the Director Model is that all staff work in full conversation with each other. This approach to staffing respects boundaries but allows leaders to be in partnership once the Annual Conference sets a direction and the Conference Leadership Team establishes priorities. The Director Model is not a separate decision-making body but an implementation team in the best sense of the word. This excites me. They can hit the ground running with each other on behalf of the churches and Annual Conference.

Why move to this model of staffing?

Jerry: People will ask why we are doing this if we are not saving money doing it. There will also be concerns about the workload of the District Superintendents. But I don’t think we can do anything different if we continue to do everything the same way. If we want to create new cultures, practices and missional areas, we have to shake it up in order to share ourselves as new people.

Ellen: We felt it important to change the structure to match the vision, and not try to simply meld the two structures that we had into a single unit. That would not fulfill the vision of the Michigan Conference, the Bishop, or the Design Team nor would it meet the future needs of ministry in Michigan. The Personnel Committee felt that this model gives a strong voice to each aspect of the vision—one area is not singled out over the other. The seven directors are equally important members in the conference.

Because this is a different way of operating, what are the things leaders will need to learn in order to function in this new way?

Ellen: There will need to be more collaboration in the new conference among its leaders. The silo principle of each person or staff doing its own thing will not work, if it ever did. This model, we hope, will foster collaboration in a natural and free-flowing manner as there are clearly designed areas of responsibility but there are also areas where collaboration will be needed to be successful. For example, the Director of Clergy Excellence is a new position that will be responsible for leading the conference in ensuring the vocational and spiritual development of clergy and clergy candidates. However, we know that lay conference leaders will also benefit from spiritual development as well as development in their areas of responsibility. That assignment falls to the Associate Director of Lay Leadership Development reporting to the Director of Congregational Vibrancy. We expect that these three persons (and others) will work together to offer relevant, meaningful and effective training to both lay and clergy.

Jerry: It’s important for people to recognize that this has been examined and revised by over 100 people. This is not something an insular group drafted. The place where people will see most difference in terms of jobs is the Director of Connectional Ministries. Staff members who that individual now supervises will come to the director table as peers. Another new piece is the Director of Clergy Excellence (DCE). This critical new emphasis does not denigrate lay development, which is being focused on in another way. The DCE will work with the Board of Ministry and the Cabinet to develop ongoing assessment tools used to meet the General Board of Higher Education and Ministries’ new eight-year cycle of evaluation. That will be a major effort. Also note we are talking about congregational “vibrancy” not “vitality.” The Vital Congregation Initiative (VCI) is a specific process. The Design Team is proposing a director role with a broader umbrella responsibility regarding energy of local churches.

What will constituents (local churches, volunteers, etc.) need to understand in order to work effectively alongside the directors?

Jerry: I hope that as a lay person in a local church looks at the language of the plan he or she will recognize that this is not one-size-fits-all. We are serious about equipping local churches to engage in transformational ministry in their communities and we are ready for a different kind of partnership with them. This is not the conference or district coming in to do a one-day training that doesn’t connect with anything in the local churches across Michigan. I believe we can do better together with this new approach to collaboration. This is a new paradigm that invites local churches to look at their mission field again. The Annual Conference is making a clear commitment through this model of staffing (and eventually funding) to focus on equipping local churches for relevancy and vibrancy.

Ellen: Clarity and flexibility are crucial practices that will be needed by all. It will be important for all constituents and staff members to understand the staffing model and job descriptions, and have conversations about expectations, rather than simply assuming that if someone has a position similar to one in the past then everyone knows what is expected. It will also be vital for committees, boards and agencies to clarify their roles in relation to the new staff members so that expectations are clear. Ongoing dialogue about the needs of the local congregations among District Superintendents, Conference Staff, conference leadership, and local churches will be necessary to effectively implement this organization. Our new Michigan Conference will take time to learn how to operate most effectively but I believe that we are ready for this new way of working together. I am excited as I envision what I believe will be a greater sense of the Spirit’s power and God’s grace working through us to increase congregational vitality and missional focus so that together we are transforming lives and making new disciples.

According to Jerry DeVine, the Conference Personnel Committees in conversation with the Bishop are already working on job descriptions for DCM, DCV and DCE. It is likely that the search for those directors will begin in fall 2017.

DeVine also reminds the Area that downsizing of conferences staffs began in 2008. “I believe that we had 13 more full-time equivalent staff then than now,” he remarked. The Director Model is not about staff reduction but about redeployment. “The numbers will not change but the priorities will,” DeVine noted. “That’s the big shift. This is not driven by money but by vision and effectiveness.”