Conference Table emphasizes role, importance of clergy

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference Table emphasizes role, importance of clergy

Nov. 7, 2006    News media contact: Tita Parham* 
800-282-8011    Orlando {0570}

An e-Review Feature
By J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — While the conference has placed much emphasis on the role of laity in ministry at recent conference gatherings, the significance of clergy, their role and the responsibility they have in the life of the Florida Annual Conference will be the focus of the next Conference Table.

Titled “Excellence for Ministry – A Focus on the Agenda for the Center for Clergy Excellence,” the Conference Table Nov. 28 will focus on the creation of a system that enables clergy to be resourced and supported throughout their ministry.

“We are all baptized into ministry, and as baptized Christians, we all have the responsibility for doing all that we can for the sake of the Kingdom,” said the Rev. David Dodge, executive director of the conference’s Center for Clergy Excellence and chairman of the event’s planning team. “Some people have an additional calling on their lives to do that on a full-time basis. They are called from the priesthood of all believers to be part of the representative ministry of the church for the full-time responsibility.”

Dodge said he is looking forward to focusing on establishing common criteria or understanding of clergy excellence — what exactly clergy excellence means and how it can be readily identified.

The Rev. Dr. Greg Jones makes a point during his Bible study at the 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event. Photo by Geoff Anderson, Photo #06-461.
The Rev. Dr. L. Gregory Jones, dean and professor of theology at Duke Divinity School, will be the facilitator and guest speaker for the session. Jones is no stranger to the Florida Conference. He served as Bible study leader during the 2005 Florida Annual Conference Event.

Dodge said he knew he wanted Jones to be part of the Conference Table after reading the book Jones co-wrote with Kevin R. Armstrong called “Resurrecting Excellence: Shaping Faithful Christian Ministry.”

Dodge says Jones also has an impressive resume, serving since 1997 as the 11th dean of Duke Divinity School and widely recognized as a scholar and church leader on such issues as forgiveness and reconciliation, Christian vocation and strengthening the church and its ministry. Jones is also known for teaching that fosters students’ imaginations in connecting Christian faith to everyday life, research that promotes interdisciplinary conversation and a commitment to ecumenical dialogue.

Jones’ leadership as dean has been marked by significant growth in the Divinity School. Major initiatives during his tenure include the Duke Institute on Care at the End of Life, a project on Caring Communities, the Reynolds Program in Church Leadership, the Learned Clergy Initiative, the Duke Youth Academy for Christian Formation, the Walltown Neighborhood Partnership and a partnership with the Methodist Church of Southern Africa.

He is the author or editor of 13 books, including “Embodying Forgiveness” and “Everyday Matters: Intersections of Life and Faith,” and writes a regular column, “Faith Matters,” for The Christian Century magazine, for which he is also an editor-at-large.

Jones, who will moderate a question and answer period during the Conference Table, said the importance of clergy cannot be overlooked — they “are absolutely vital and crucial to the flourishing of congregations.”

While acknowledging the clergy’s essential role, Jones also recognizes there are often barriers that derail even the most dedicated clergypersons.

“There are both structural and personal dimensions to the problems that beset clergy,” said Jones, who is an ordained United Methodist pastor and a member of the Western North Carolina Conference. “Some of those have to do with the loss of purpose — we’re not really sure what the church and the ordained ministry are really for — as well as problems of loneliness and isolation, in addition to problems, for many clergy, of economic challenges.

Jones said challenges can result from “discouragement in the midst of difficult personal and pastoral challenges and with few places to offer the needed support, accountability and encouragement to be ambitious for the Gospel.”

Recognizing and addressing both the internal and external obstacles are necessary in order for clergy to progress in their calling, Jones added. He said excellence in ministry is still attainable and must be achieved.

“The key is for us to reclaim excellence in relation to Christ, hence the focus of our title on ‘Resurrecting Excellence,’ ” he said. “We need to be focused on excellence patterned in the life, death and resurrection of Christ. Such patterning should shape our thinking, feeling, perceiving and living.”

He added: “We are called to renounce selfish ambition (in both Phil. 2 and James 3), but we should be about ambition for the Gospel. I know plenty of clergy and congregations who embody excellence, and we want to cultivate more of them.”

Dodge said a portion of the day will feature a panel of five Florida Conference pastors who are leading their congregations in shaping and producing a new culture in their churches and communities — and in turn producing a culture that is more Kingdom-like — sharing their individual experiences.

One of those pastors is the Rev. Jennifer Stiles-Williams, who is appointed to Avondale United Methodist Church in Jacksonville. She arrived at the church in June 2003 and discovered right away the church was in the midst of transition.

Located in the historic area off the beaten path, Stiles-Williams said she knew people wouldn’t just drive by the church and decide to visit one Sunday. She said people would come only if the church became plugged into its community, one that has a great diversity of lifestyles.

Since Stiles-Williams first arrived membership has grown from about 390 members to 483, but she says those new members didn’t come easily. “It’s been a carefully negotiated road,” she said. “It’s been a hard transition for our church.”

But the efforts are working. The church opens its doors throughout the year and on such holidays as Easter and Halloween in a variety of outreach activities. The attendance at Wednesday night suppers has increased and the youth and children ministries are blossoming, according Stiles-Williams.

“Someone said to me, ‘Your church has made such a difference in the community,’ and I shared that with the church,” she said. “They (the church members) see that it’s working.”

The event will also give attendees the opportunity to participate in small group discussions about what facilitates excellence and share those findings with everyone.

The session will end with Jones summarizing the day’s events.

Dodge said he wants people to leave the event asking what they can do in their own lives and in the life of their congregations to work toward excellence in their ministries. On the conference level he says he hopes the discussions will have conveyed “understandings of how the conference can have systems in place that will enhance people growing into excellence. It’s going to take conference, district and the church level for us to achieve excellence.”

The Conference Table will be held at St. James United Methodist Church in Tampa beginning with registration at 10:30 a.m. and ending at 4 p.m. Lunch will be provided at a cost of $7 per person. Individuals interested in attending may visit for more information and to register online through the link at the bottom of the page.

The gathering will be web cast live so those who are not able to attend may hear and see the discussion through their home or office computer. Interested individuals may enter the webcast on the day of the event by visiting the conference Web site at and clicking on the webcast button.


This article relates to Clergy Leadership/Conference Table.

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Buchholz is a staff writer for e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.

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