In reflections on the 2016 Annual Conference meeting and its theme, Leading Like Jesus, Bishop Ken Carter shares thoughts about a future church that has vital congregations offering “the abundant life that Jesus invites us to share with Him and His friends,” the changing leadership roles for the clergy and laity and the reimagining of the church.
He also speaks about how the Orlando murders shaped the context of the meeting.
“Our conference affirmed a very strong and clear statement in response to the murders, especially in support of the LGBT community; a very moving prayer vigil was organized at the hotel for delegates, and a resolution speaking specifically to violence toward the LGBT persons passed on the last morning,” he said.
And, he reflects on how rehabilitation from his knee injury, suffered at General Conference in May, affected his participation and leadership for the 2016 event.
Question: How did your rehabilitation from a ruptured tendon affect your own experience of Annual Conference?
I am about half-way through the rehab process, and I was somewhat apprehensive about how this would affect my participation and leadership. But it went well—David Dodge and his team had planned in a superb way, and Bishops Charlene Kammerer and Bob Fannin, both products of the Florida Conference, were able to preside during portions of the agenda, which allowed me to rest and prepare for the next sections. I was able to interact with many of the delegates, but not to the extent of previous conferences—I look forward to being back at full strength when we meet again.
Question: What did you want people to take away from #FLUMC16?
Our focus was on “Leading Like Jesus,” and we really did seek to expose our people to superb and diverse presenters: I was inspired by each of them—Bishop Adam Richardson discussing the response of the AME Church to the murders at the “Mother Emanuel” Church in Charleston, Bill Hybels reflecting on the importance of compassion and justice but also evangelism, Bishop Janice Huie on being more aware that we are always leading in the midst of change, the power and humility of Lucille O’Neal’s personal testimony and the sharp focus of Jeff James’ presentation on the culture of leadership within Disney. There was a wealth of material for the leaders—clergy and laity—who were present in Orlando.
Question: What do you see as the biggest challenges for the Florida Conference over the next quadrennium?
I would first say that Florida is blessed with many strengths and assets, which are actually blessings, and so I always approach the challenges from there. But one is to try to increase the number of vital local churches—this is where disciples are made, this is where the diversity actually is, this is the base from which we do our connectional ministries. And in those local churches, in the words of Lovett Weems, how to make new disciples, younger disciples, more diverse disciples. And I am not speaking of making disciples in a formulaic or mechanistic way—I am talking about the abundant life that Jesus invites us to share with Him and His friends.
Question: Bishop Huie talked about reimagining the church as an ecosystem rather than an institution. Do you agree with her view? If so, how does the movement toward that look to you, and what would that mean for leadership in our churches, districts and at the conference level?
I have thought lately that one expression of that ecosystem is the way our communities and conferencing look— how are we in small discipleship or covenant groups? How can we reimagine the charge conference? What is the purpose of the annual conference meeting? Some of the ecosystem now is healthy, but some of it is fragile—people are disconnected—and needs attention. I thought Bishop Huie’s presentation was very powerful.
Question: How do you see helping congregations, clergy and laypeople imagine themselves and their leadership roles differently—and helping them not be afraid to do things differently?
The clergy are set apart to equip the saints (the laity) for the work of ministry, as Paul writes in Ephesians. For most laity, this will be their service and witness beyond the walls of the church. We need to give the laity real tools and a new confidence for this. And, in fact, we need to learn from laity who are already doing this in amazing ways. When the clergy and laity struggle over power inside the walls of the church, there is a leadership vacuum in the world where the mission is calling us.
Question: How does the Fresh Expressions movement in Florida fit into this?
For clergy, Fresh Expressions can move us to where people are, especially in their networks and third places. And for laity, this movement can empower them to begin ministries in the places where people are already in community. This is the distinction between being attractional—expecting that they will always come to us—and missional—our getting on their turf.
Question: The Bishop’s offering will support leadership development in three areas pertaining to churches getting “beyond the walls” and reaching the neighborhoods around them. What are a few of the first things you see implemented?
We hope to train spiritual guides and mentors for our Fresh Expressions work—we already have thirty identified new communities, and here I am grateful for the leadership of Audrey Warren and Kevin Griffin. And we want to give small grants to these communities that will provide encouragement.
Question: How will this be remarkably different from the way our leaders are trained and developed now?
In some ways it builds on entrepreneurial leadership that has been present in Florida for generations. But in other ways, it is distinct from leadership development that assumes a church culture and stable and consistent flow of people who know our systems and structures.
Question: How did the murders in Orlando shape the experience of Annual Conference?
Obviously, the horrific events of the weekend prior to our gathering greatly influenced all that happened. We were meeting in Orlando, perhaps the first time the Florida Conference has met in that city. A number of our churches and leaders there were personally involved through relationships with persons in the club, congregations who had lost friends and in one instance a family member, and the ministry to the community in the days following. Our conference affirmed a very strong and clear statement in response to the murders, especially in support of the LGBT community, a very moving prayer vigil was organized at the hotel for delegates, and a resolution speaking specifically to violence toward the LGBT persons passed on the last morning.
Question: Now that we are beyond the meeting, what are some things you think churches and leaders can do in our communities to reflect the reconciling love of Christ?
Just the awareness that we have been through trauma—and when I say we, I refer to the LGBT community in Orlando, which overlaps with a number of our churches and lay and clergy leaders. And then I would invite us to lead with grace and err on the side of mercy, and to read the passages about the healing ministry of Jesus. Beyond the horror of the massacre, this is a teachable moment. And I thank God for people in our churches—working behind the scenes, first responders, clergy giving counsel and leading services, churches opening their doors—who are reflecting the reconciling love of Christ.