The members of the panel included Bishops Larry Goodpaster of the Charlotte Area, Gregory Palmer of the Illinois Area, Rosemarie Wenner of Germany and the general secretary of the Commission on Religion and Race, Erin Hawkins.
Bishop Wenner said in an opening homily that being in mission for God will require becoming aliens in the culture around us.
“We will discover grief as well as hope,” she said. “In God’s mission, we will be transformed. The church will become more risk-taking, more diverse. We will experience God’s grace in new and unexpected ways as we go.”
The panelists focused on what the Steering Team identified as the “adaptive challenge” for the United Methodist Church: “To redirect the flow of attention, energy, and resources to an intense concentration on fostering and sustaining an increase in the number of vital congregations effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”’
Research cited by the team suggested that high-vitality congregations share some things in common, including effective pastoral leadership, multiple small groups, programs for children and youth, a mix of traditional and contemporary worship services, and a high percentage of spiritually engaged laity who assume leadership roles.
Among the recommendations made by the Steering Team:
- Reforming clergy leadership development, deployment and evaluation;
- Collecting and reviewing statistical data that measures progress in key performance areas;
- Reforming the Council of Bishops, with the active bishops assuming responsibility for improving attendance, professions of faith, baptism and other measures, and establishing a culture of accountability.
- Consolidating program and administrative agencies, aligning their work with the priorities of the church and reconstituting them with “much smaller competency-based boards of directors.”
Small group discussions among the participants revolved around questions posed on the webcast, including “What must change in your Annual Conference” to meet the “adaptive challenge.”
Those discussions were the highlight of the Summit for the Rev. Bob Bushong, senior pastor of First UMC in Winter Park.
“I didn’t hear anything new on the webcast, either in the reports or the comments, but the small groups were helpful,” he said.
Comments sent in by Twitter feed during the webcast indicated some skepticism about whether the Summit or the Steering Team recommendations would bring about renewed vitality in the church. Among the comments:
- “How are we making this transition to a holy conference model? Right now I mainly see a business model.”
- “I like accountability & metrics for effectiveness. But where does the ‘transformation of the world’ get measured?”
- “Wow that was a lot of talking. Are we better now?”
Bishop Whitaker said afterward that the webcast was about what he had expected.
“I assume the purpose was to give United Methodists around the world the chance to be part of an ongoing conversation. So often, leaders are off somewhere else making decisions that seem to be distant,” he said.
“The really important question they asked was the need to think about what every local church needs to do to become vital. What changes do they need to make?” Whitaker said. “Just asking the question encourages us to think about that.”
Read a United Methodist News Service article about the Leadership Summit:
Read a commentary from Erin Hawkins, General Secretary of the Commission on Religion and Race, about what she wishes she had said during the Summit: