A core group of Florida Conference leaders tapped by Bishop Timothy Whitaker has engaged a consultant to help it clarify the Conference’s desired future state and how to get there.
The Conference is working through a strategic planning process to clarify the conference vision and to develop a plan to accomplish that vision. The 2010 Annual Conference commissioned Whitaker with leading the process, and he selected the 10 members—both laity and clergy—of what is called the Strategic Leadership Team last fall.
The SLT will be responsible for oversight and implementation of the conference’s mission and vision. It will also form task teams to respond to specific needs and trends and dissolve them when no longer needed. A larger group of laity and clergy from across the Conference called The Key Leader Connection will provide confirmation and feedback to the smaller group. The SLT currently includes Whitaker and Director of Connectional Ministries the Rev. Beth Fogle-Miller (serving as staff liaison), along with Arlinda Burks, Bob Bushong, Russ Graves, Rini Hernandez, Beth Knowles, Dale Locke, Chuck Mallue, Annette Pendergrass, Jeff Stiggins, and Alice Williams.
“One of our real needs is the ability to articulate our purpose or our vision. This means we have to spend a lot of time in deep reflection, thinking about our common identity and mission or direction,” Whitaker told the e-Review. “As a practical matter, I think what we will do is be able to give a progress report to the (2011) Annual Conference on what we will produce and where we are in the process of creating that product, and when we anticipate being able to make a report to them..”
Fogle-Miller said she hopes the presentation at Annual Conference also includes the opportunity to solicit feedback from attendees and generate discussion about the accuracy of the SLT work up until that point. She added that the SLT realized that to most effectively gather the necessary insights needed from across the Conference to help inform the drafting of a strategic plan, it would require some third-party assistance. The team sent out request for proposals (RFPs) to consulting companies that had been referred by SLT members or other sources.
The Jholdas Group, based in Atlanta, was selected because of its solid background working with churches and its top notch references—and after interviews with Whitaker, to ensure solid chemistry. Jholdas’ lead consultant, Gary Christopher, and another team member have already interviewed more than 80 people from across the Conference.
“They stood out at having really excellent experience with leading diverse groups to do this,” added Fogle-Miller. “They had a lot of experience with non-profits as well as for-profit businesses”
While Jholdas is the key player in the SLT’s strategic planning efforts and the necessary information gathering to inform those efforts, the Conference has contracted with another consultant—Details Communication of Birmingham, Ala.—to help it clarify its identity and communicate the work product that flows from the SLT.
Whitaker noted that the SLT is not intended to be “a representative group in the old fashioned sense, where there’s a quota system or we have every organization represented. And yet to be effective, this is a group that has to have diversity in it—all kinds—ages, ethnic experiences, theological perspectives, gifts in ministry. The word representative probably isn’t the right word because it isn’t large enough.”
The SLT has been utilizing the Key Leader Connection as a sounding board for any proposal it may bring, the Bishop continued. Key Leader members were among the 120 names given to Jholdas for assessment interviews, and also will be invited to participate in focus groups next month to respond to the SLT’s preliminary work up until that point.
“When we have a comprehensive plan, I’m sure we would want to share it with the key leaders first,” added Whitaker. “There will be occasions when the SLT will be dealing with a particular concrete problem, and it might need to consult with key leaders. I don’t think the key leaders will be meeting as a group very often; probably only once or twice a year as a group.”
Fogle-Miller said this work will dovetail with the Connectional Ministries strategic plan put together last year. That process, she noted, involved a consultant gathering data and talking to all department leaders. “It was real clear that we needed to take a more comprehensive look at the organization. We were designed for each tree to be cared for without a group to look at the forest. The SLT helps us look at what we are doing and what we should be doing, and figuring out how to close the gap.”
As the SLT concept was being fleshed out, Fogle-Miller talked to her counterparts in numerous other Conferences, and discovered that each Conference organizes itself quite differently. There was no one consistent model, she added, “other than that they had a blend of a large group to be able to give feedback and a small group to be able to have the kind of in depth conversations you cannot have in groups of 25 people.” The SLT, Fogle-Miller added, was designed to be a group that would work specifically and closely with the Bishop to consider the major issues that are not necessarily limited to or defined by the other groups.
“To me, it seems really biblical,” she asserted. “Jesus didn’t choose one from each of the 12 tribes. He spent a lot of time in prayer and decided whom he would call. I was grateful that the Conference was willing to give the Bishop the authority to name that team. Over time the needs of that group might shift, and at some point they might need more folks who know more about a particular kind of issue or challenge.”
News media contact: Gretchen Hastings, 800-282-8011, firstname.lastname@example.org, Lakeland
*Hastings is executive editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer, editor, coach and speaker based in Franklin, Tenn.