Retiring Conference lay leader awaits God's next call

As Sharon Luther stepped down after four years as lay leader for the Florida Conference of The  United Methodist Church, she had some advice for anyone who worries about being unworthy to answer the call to be lay servants.

“God doesn’t call the qualified,” she told a crowd of well-wishers last week, as she bid farewell at the 2012 Annual Conference. “He qualifies the called.”

She offered herself as proof.

Sharon Luther steps down after four years as lay leader for the Florida Conference.  -Photo by Tom Mulryan

“God always chooses the weakest and most inadequate because through them His power is revealed,” said Luther, who presided over the Annual Conference laity session last week for the final time. In her farewell address, she urged all Methodists to recommit themselves to the mission field that extends beyond the doors of the church.

“We need to step up to the plate and let God lead us in the way he would have us go,” she said. “God has great things in store for us if we would just follow his teaching.”

Luther knows God called her to serve as lay leader for the Florida Conference for the past four years. Though she had many moments of uncertainty, it now seems pretty clear it was all part of God’s plan.

“I was a district lay leader and associate district lay leader before becoming Conference lay leader,” she said in an interview shortly before the Conference.

As district lay leader, Luther worked with and supported organized lay groups for women, men and youths. She believes God was using her previous positions in the church and her 27 years in management at Sears to prepare her for conference-wide leadership.

“Over the years, God has given me many experiences to help me fulfill the role of Conference lay leader,” said Luther, a member of Cypress Lake UMC in Fort Myers. “God called me to this position, and He gave me the peace, confidence and energy to do this.”

The Florida Conference lay leader is elected biennially but may serve a maximum of four consecutive years, according to the Board of Lay Ministry rules in the Journal of the Florida Annual Conference. Luther was elected lay leader at the 2008 Florida Annual Conference. In this role, she served as the chair of the Board of Lay Ministry and the Executive Committee.

The board is responsible for developing and implementing long-range and annual programs encompassing lay activities of Methodists throughout the Conference. The lay leader is responsible for guiding the work of the board so that it coordinates with the broader program of the Conference; serving as an ex-officio member of other conference ministries, committees, and commissions; and presenting a written report annually to the Board of Lay Ministry and to the Annual Conference.

The day¬-to-day job description of the lay leader involves a lot of meetings and travel to churches throughout the state. This has afforded Luther the opportunity to see firsthand what makes successful churches thrive.

“I have found that successful, growing churches have small groups and Bible studies,” she said. “The clergy and laity work together, with good preaching by the clergy. The prayer life of the church is so important.”
Luther used this insight in her efforts to foster better understanding between laity and clergy at all levels of the conference during her term.

“The laity want their clergy to be spiritual leaders, and leaders who will help the laity do the ministries and missions to fulfill the laity's roles as disciples,” she said.

“Of course, communication between laity and clergy has to be open and prayerful.”
Luther was grateful for the opportunity to serve as she prepared to hand the reins over to Russ Graves, whose nomination was approved during Annual Conference.

“The best moment for me has been the whole four years serving as an advocate for the laity,” she says. “I have met so many wonderful people and feel thankful I was able to serve our Lord and Conference.

“It has been an extremely humble time. The most challenging part was when God stretched me to do those things I have no graces or gifts for. As an example, preaching on Sunday mornings was never easy for me, but God helped me.”
“Sharon is a gentle warrior in God’s army,” Graves said. “We owe her a debt of gratitude that just can’t be put into words.” 
Walter Dry, former vice chair of the Board of Lay Ministry, who has known and worked with Luther throughout her service to the conference, said she sets the standard as a Christian and a leader.

“As the lay leader, her direction and guidance have always been ‘we are a team and we are here for the good of Conference and we are going to do what is best for the Wesleyan tradition,’” Dry said.

“We’re going to miss her. But I know she will be setting that same Christian example wherever God leads her.”

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