GBOD Directors Sing About a Brighter Future

March 23, 2011

By Andrew J. Schleicher

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Directors of the United Methodist General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) engaged their duty of oversight March 16-19 with singing, celebrating, and envisioning a better future.
Members of GBOD wrapped their sessions of reports, legislation, and brainstorming with time for worship – utilizing the new Worship & Song, a songbook published by Abingdon Press. Both the familiar and the new songs helped provide a worshipful feel to the times of business and holy conversation.
The board had much to rejoice about last week as they reflected on new programs.
"Given all the turmoil across this world, GBOD continues to equip local church leaders for their task of making disciples who live and move in ministry that seeks to transform the world," said Karen Greenwaldt, general secretary of GBOD. "Engaging in conversation with board members from around the world is exciting, and the decisions they make continue to weave patterns of response and support for vibrant and effective ministry."
One place of effective ministry may be seen in GBOD's New Church Starts initiative (Path 1). More than 340 congregations have been planted since 2008, a 33-percent growth over the 2004-2007 period. New Church Starts (Path 1), the program leading this effort, has assessed 1,218 prospective planters and equipped 618 through national training events.
A good report from the Upper Room
Upper Room Ministries reported that book sales were up in 2010, helped in part by author Missy Buchanan's appearance on ABC-TV's "Good Morning America." The Upper Room also rejoiced in the creation of new language editions (Ilokano in the Philippines and French in Cote d'Ivoire) of its daily devotional. Furthermore, the Upper Room celebrated new Emmaus/Chrysalis communities in Malaysia and the Caribbean.
Last year was a good beginning for new fundraising efforts. The Upper Room's 75th anniversary campaign resulted in a 60-percent increase in individual contributions and more than 3,500 first-time donors. The board plans to continue efforts to support new programs of leadership development and church planting.
Directors celebrated how GBOD is expanding e-learning programs. The Upper Room launched successful online Advent and Lent studies. GBOD's Leadership Ministries developed three webinars for local church leadership training, beginning with training for the staff-parish relations committee, the administrative council, and the finance team.
"The joyful embracing of technology by this body is key," said Gail Grossman of the Pacific-Northwest Conference. She encouraged the board to do more to target local church leaders and members directly.
Additional leadership webinars are planned for trustees, for the nominations committee, and around topics such as Easter, pastoral changes, and summertime discipleship. Interested persons may visit to view or register for a session.
Resourcing the black church in the U.S.
The Africana Hymnal Study Committee also found ways to use technology to carry out its work on a limited budget. Members of the committee met regularly via video conference calls and used an online survey as one method of data gathering.
The extensive data generated by the committee's various surveys showed that the black church in the United States is a singing church. Seventy percent of those surveyed use four-to-six songs in every worship service, with another 15 percent singing seven or more songs. Nearly all black congregations (95 percent) have a choir and 78 percent of those having multiple choirs, even though most are small congregations.
There is a diversity of styles in black church singing. Sixty-one percent of survey respondents said their worship is blended, as opposed to being traditional or contemporary.
Nevertheless, the committee was concerned that traditional forms of black song such as the long meter and ring shouts were used infrequently. Therefore, the committee proposed that a new Africana worship resource have both old and new music forms.
GBOD staff member and committee member Safiyah Fosua says, "We want to teach the pastor and the worship planner how to blend music from past and the present as music emerges in ways that have theological integrity and that validates all the generations that worship in the church."
The study committee and GBOD recommends to the 2012 General Conference that a new worship resource be developed for the black community, but that it not be a printed hymnal. Rather, the committee is calling for a CD/DVD resource with materials also available online. About half of black congregations and choirs learn music by ear, and the surveys found that there is no single printed song collection in regular use by black congregations. A CD/DVD resource will be easier for this community to integrate, suggests the committee – particularly for congregations that may not have the musicians necessary for accompaniment.
Other business
In other business, directors of GBOD considered the possibility of reducing their board size and increasing the expectations on individual board members. This conversation follows from the denomination-wide conversation guided by the Call to Action study.
Directors of GBOD took no final action on the size of its board of directors. Rather, GBOD chair, Bishop Charlene Kammerer issued a call for prayer and discernment to continue until the directors gather again in July.
"I see this board genuinely struggling with core values," said Kammerer. "The board has a desire to set a better future for itself and the whole United Methodist Church."
Other recommendations to the 2012 General Conference include changing "Lay Speaking Ministry" to "Lay Servant Ministry." This change, supported by the Association of Conference Directors of Lay Speaking Ministries, is intended to reflect the fact that this ministry consists of more than speaking. The board hopes that the name change will encourage people to pursue lay servant ministry even though they are not called to preach.
Directors of GBOD will gather again in July to finish legislative discussion and make any necessary recommendations for the 2012 General Conference, the top legislative assembly of The United Methodist Church. It determines the general structure and direction for the denomination and its various agencies. For more information about all the work of the General Board of Discipleship, visit
* Andrew J. Schleicher is a writer, editor and agency consultant living in Nashville, Tennessee.