Bishops Affirm Church's Four Areas of Ministry Focus

November 14, 2008

By Linda Green*

(UMNS) The four centerpieces of United Methodist ministry for the next four years were affirmed by the denomination’s bishops at their semiannual meeting, earlier this month, as "God’s call to us" to lead the church into a new day.
 
The four areas of ministry focus—developing principled Christian leaders, creating new churches and renewing existing ones, engaging in ministries with the poor, and stamping out killer diseases of poverty by improving global health—"give us the leading edge of a plan for living out faith," said the Rev. Karen Greenwaldt, top executive of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.
 
"The four areas of focus are moving the church into the urgent work that Jesus wants us to do," said Kentucky Bishop Lindsay Davis.
 
The ministry priorities are the result of four years of study, collaboration, partnerships, and discernment among the bishops, the Connectional Table, and top executives of churchwide agencies. The 2008 General Conference, the church's highest legislative body, approved the plan last spring to guide the denomination's future work.
 
During the meeting at St. Simons Island, Georgia, the church's Council of Bishops heard examples on Nov. 6 of how the four focus areas already are transforming the denomination and the world, and discussed how they as global church leaders must lead by example. (In photo above, Bishop John Hopkins responds to an outpouring of support from fellow bishops for the church's ministry priorities.)
 
Presenters emphasized that, in order for the church to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, the bishops must find ways to help the church embrace the ministry priorities and show the global church how to break through institutional walls.
 
Ministries already being done in the four areas "fill us with hope," Davis said, urging the bishops to encourage similar ministries that are localized but in alignment with the church's mission.
 
"Make them your own," Davis told the 69 active and 91 retired bishops that serve on the council.
 
Greenwaldt called the ministry areas "our great opportunity to spread the Gospel" and "generate a new United Methodist movement."
 
Pittsburgh Bishop Thomas Bickerton (at left) called them "the tie that binds all of us together, reconnects us to our Wesleyan DNA, and once again opens us to God’s will."
 
During the presentation, the bishops:

·         Learned of the work of the Rev. Adam Hamilton of Leawood, Kansas, who brought together 80 large-church pastors to establish an eight-year plan to create 370 new faith communities, recruit 1,000 young people from those communities for seminaries, and raise $256 million for ministries with the poor;
·         Reviewed how the church's Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference is impacting the people of Liberia by sending more than $1 million to the West African country for scholarships, pastoral salary support, church and school reconstruction, and malaria bed nets;
·         Celebrated that the Detroit Conference sent more than 600 school and health kits to the Methodist Church of Haiti; the Texas Conference shipped 800,000 bed nets to Côte d’ Ivoire; and Mary Watson of Atlanta provided a $400,000 gift to a fund established to start 400 new churches outside the United States;
·         Applauded partnerships being created among church agencies, annual conferences, and initiatives to impact communications, distance education in Africa, and global health and leadership;
·         Reviewed progress by United Methodist Communications to raise $75 million for the global elimination of malaria;
·         Learned of the continued momentum of Nothing Buts Nets, an anti-malaria campaign of the people of The United Methodist Church and other partners to buy and distribute $10 insecticide-treated sleeping nets for families in Africa.
 
The bishops were encouraged to address any confusion between the four areas of focus and the "Seven Vision Pathways." The focus areas, in part, grew out of the pathways, which serve as the bishops' blueprint for leading the church in making disciples for Jesus Christ.
 
The pathways focus on developing new congregations; transforming existing congregations; teaching the Wesleyan model of forming disciples of Jesus Christ; strengthening clergy and lay leadership; reaching and transforming the lives of the new generations of children; ending racism and authentically expanding racial/ethnic ministries; and eliminating poverty in community with the poor.
 
"These are not competing, but rather complementary principles and vision," Davis said. "Let’s teach—to show how that is so."
 
*Green is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tennessee.