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Conference staff cross ministry 'boundaries' as new structure takes shape

Conference staff cross ministry 'boundaries' as new structure takes shape

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Conference staff cross ministry 'boundaries' as new structure takes shape

May 25, 2005    News media contact:  Tita Parham*    
800-282-8011     Orlando  {0299}

An e-Review Feature
By Tita Parham and J.A. Buchholz**

LAKELAND — Some lines of ministry in the Florida Conference are becoming blurred, and that's a good thing.

Conference Council on Ministries (CCOM) staff traditionally worked within rigid boundaries when it came to their areas of ministry, but that is changing as they begin to function within a new conference structure.

Staff are now able to use their interests and talents in other ministerial areas, according to the Rev. Dr. Anne Burkholder, director of the Florida Conference Connectional Ministries office.

"It is about re-imagining ministry to the whole conference and not some part of it," she said. "Staff are no longer locked into or limited to one area of responsibility."

The shift is the result of a conference-wide transformation that was proposed by the Florida Conference Cabinet, Council on Ministries and Conference Table and approved at the 2004 Florida Annual Conference Event. The plans presented by the groups included reducing the number of districts in the conference from 14 to nine, forming church clusters, dissolving the CCOM and developing the concept leaders are calling the Conference Equipping Network (CEN).

Members of the CCOM met for the last time April 18, and at the "One Body One Spirit" 2005 Florida Annual Conference event June 2-5, the CCOM will officially cease to exist. The CCOM continued to function during the past year in order to lay the groundwork for the new structure.
Two key components of that structure are the CEN and Leadership Connection. The CEN is the "web of relationships" between all of the ministry groups within the conference. It's not a specific team of people or a committee. Instead, it is the ways people who are part of the ministries that make up the annual conference relate and work together to accomplish the vision and mission of the conference. In essence, it is the Florida Annual Conference.

"The CEN is really a concept. It's designed to lift up a new way of relating to each other," Burkholder said. "It creates heightened awareness of the interrelatedness of the people who make up the ministries of the conference and their need to work together to fulfill the conference's vision and mission."

The Leadership Connection, on the other hand, is a group of people — a team of 15 who are responsible for identifying ministry needs of the conference. Delegates to this year's annual conference event will vote on nominees for the team. The conference lay leader is an ex-officio member.

The Leadership Connection's job is to form task teams that are responsible for both strategically thinking about specific areas of interest and concern to the conference and meeting identified needs. Specific groups will also be formed to accomplish tasks required by the Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church or conference Standing Rules. Under the CCOM, ministry teams were put into place to operate for an indefinite period of time. Task teams formed by the Leadership Connection will develop their goals and complete their work, then cease to exist unless the need for them to continue remains.

The goal of the Leadership Connection is to move the conference away from maintaining programs and toward identifying and fulfilling leadership and ministry needs. It is charged with equipping groups within the conference — local churches, various "mission outposts," districts, conference boards and committees — to make disciples of Jesus Christ. It will also focus more on providing information to churches and groups, researching ministry trends and needs, developing ministries and equipping people for those ministries, and seeking and evaluating input and feedback to assist in future research.

In that role, the Leadership Connection will make recommendations to the Annual Conference, the bishop and Conference Table to determine priorities. The Conference Table will continue to function as a kind of town meeting to get feedback from conference leaders and church members on specific topics, but the Leadership Connection is more a think tank looking at the big picture, according to Lynette Fields, who has served for the past year as chairwoman of the CCOM.

"We will be able to look at the conference needs as a whole," she said. "We can be proactive, rather than reactive ... create relevant ministries."

Within that framework, conference staff who used to work under the CCOM will be attached to Burkholder's office, and as director of Connectional Ministries Burkholder will oversee the work of the Leadership Connection. But conference staff are not becoming part of a new group that replaces the CCOM. They are more like floaters between ministry areas, with their roles changing as the needs of the conference change. They will play a significant role in researching the needs of the church and society across the state and providing information about those issues to local churches so they may respond.

"The intent behind the change is to ensure their work remains directly relevant to the vision and mission of the conference and the 'three legs of the stool' — new church development, congregational transformation and global mission," Burkholder said. "Each position will be evaluated based on its relevance to these and adjusted as necessary."

"The Leadership Connection is not just a new name for the CCOM. It is something entirely new," Fields said. "We did wonderful work through the former structure, but the new structure creates the ability for the conference to be much more flexible and allows the staff to allocate their time in ways that are much more effective at meeting the needs of the conference."

Staff members have already begun to function under that new model.

The Rev. Dr. Larry Rankin joined the CCOM in 1995 to direct the conference's work with missions and ethnic groups. With the transition to the new structure he maintains some responsibilities in those areas, but has assumed the role of dean of the newly formed Healthy Church Academy (HCA), which provides clergy and laity with tools for new church development and congregational transformation and life-long training in making disciples. The conference's New Church Development, Congregational Transformation and Connectional Ministries offices worked collaboratively to create HCA.

Rankin said staff members were referred to as "program staff" when he first joined the CCOM, a designation he felt was not accurate because staff weren't generating programs. He said the new structure is more representative of the work being done.

"We are facilitators who are sensitive to the needs, issues and concerns of local congregations and desire to help congregations fulfill their mission and ministries of making disciples for Jesus Christ," he said.

The Rev. Carol Sue Hutchinson is focusing more on ministries related to congregational development. She said she has seen her responsibilities as a CCOM staff member expand beyond discipleship and children's ministry, which were once her primary areas. And the Rev. Edwin Santos, director of the conference's Hispanic Ministry, is now working more closely with the conference's Office of Congregational Transformation.

Burkholder says it's not effective for staff to work in one area, and that the ability of staff to "segue into various ministerial areas is a good thing."

Fields understands it may be difficult to see how the changes being made are anything more than a renaming of the old structure, and she knows it will take time and a lot of communication to help people see the differences.

"My hope would be that if the Leadership Connection really does its work many more people throughout the conference will be impacted and empowered to begin new ministries that align with both the vision and mission of the conference and their own calling and passion," she said.


This article relates to Florida Conference Transformation/Council on Ministries.

*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.