Four Areas of Focus: Updates

January 20th, 2012
This article is featured in the Call to Action (Feb/Mar/Apr 2012) issue of Circuit Rider
Developing Principled Leaders

Developing Principled Christian Leaders

I can think of no other time in my professional life as a United Methodist as critical as this one for our future ministry. Truly, we stand at the crossroads, and what we do right now will forge the difference between growth and decline for our denomination.

All of the four focus areas for our church are integrated, but leadership cuts across all of them. I am convinced that it will be leadership that spells the difference as we define our future as United Methodists.

The Leadership Table, led by the Council of Bishops, has virtually all of the general agencies represented in our current work. The General Board of Higher Education is designated as the “lead agency,” and this priority will focus the future of this Board.

We have three main priorities: The first is to establish a young people’s mission internship program called Spark12. Our long-range vision is to send thousands of our young adults across the connection and world to do short-term mission’s internships. We envision a holistic program of nurture and spiritual development for them, as they explore ministry in all of its various forms. We will allow them to follow their passions and skill sets, as the assignments could be as varied as doing missional service at a local church to engaging in micro financing for a developing nation. We will be running a pilot program starting in 2012 with funding from the general church. We believe that this program needs to be designed and run by young adults, with support from the general church. Currently, a group of our top UMC young adults are working on the pilot design, and it is almost ready to be rolled out for the denomination. Questions and comments can be
directed to the new website

Second, our top UMC leadership experts have met for a “Leadership Think Tank” to evaluate our present state of leadership, share best practices, and talk through a comprehensive leadership development model for the church.

Third, our Leadership Table is looking at our entire leadership system, identifying gaps, and attempting to align toward a holistic leadership development system. We are also focusing on the top annual conferences in leadership development in an effort to identify what is working well. Finally, our Table is asking the adaptive questions , “What kind of leadership culture do we want? What are the clear visions and boundaries of effective leadership?”

In short, leadership must be on the front burner in all of our plans now and into the future. At stake is our very life as a denomination.

Bishop Grant Hagiya, Chair of Focus Area on Developing Christian Leaders


New Places for New People

The past quadrennium has been an exciting time of forward movement for the gospel of Jesus Christ in the Focus Area “New Places for New People and the Transformation of Existing Congregations.” Called Path One, as the first of the seven pathways to vitality, “New Places for New People” centers on the crucial strategy of new church development.

No Christian denomination has shown growth without a high commitment to new church development. New people are more likely to join new churches. New churches are more likely than existing churches to be open to all kinds of people and are more likely to be open to female pastors or pastors whose cultural background, race, ethnicity, or nationality differs from that of the majority membership. Inclusivity and diversity by ethnicity, gender, and socioeconomic status are a hallmark of new church development. To date, 48 percent of the 440 churches planted are non-anglo, racial-ethnic new church starts. Furthermore, new churches find it easier to engage in new models of mission and ministry and are naturally more culturally adept at reaching new generations of people than are existing congregations.

Path One defines New Church Starts as having these characteristics:

  • Are theologically Wesleyan
  • Worship frequently and are sacramental
  • Have an effective system for developing disciples
  • Teach and practice biblical stewardship
  • Are missional and work toward community transformation
  • Receive new members

Through the work of Path One, the United Methodist Church in the United States has taken a great stride forward in advancing the ministry of Jesus Christ through the church. Four hundred and forty churches (of the projected goal of 650) have been planted in the United States since January of 2008, which represents 58% growth over the 2004-2007 quadrennium, when the denomination planted 278 churches. We are currently planting at a rate of 9.5 new churches per month (compared with 4.23 new church starts per month from 2004-2007. Prospective planters number
1,332 (far exceeding the goal of 1,000) have been assessed through Path One’s online assessment tools (English and Spanish) and through assessment processes in jurisdictions and annual conferences. Additionally, 854 potential planters have been equipped through a multitude of local, national and regional training events (e.g., New Church Leadership Institute, School of Congregational Development, Lay Missionary Planting Network, etc.).

The “New Places for New People” focus area is not limited to the United States. The General Board of Global Ministries, through its mission initiatives, is starting new churches for new people in places where there has not been a United Methodist presence. Such places include Cambodia, Cameroon, Thailand, Central Asia, Mongolia, Vietnam, and Moldova. Short-term academies for evangelism and church growth have been held in a variety of places including Southern Africa, the Philippines, the Congo, and in Nordic countries. In the Philippines, churches starting churches is an expected ethos. An amazing work of the Lord is unfolding through “New Places for New People.”

This work is not limited to new congregations. A transformational table has been at work on transforming existing congregations. A transforming congregation is a growing community of committed disciples of Jesus Christ, constantly compelled by the Holy Spirit to go beyond its current reach of ministry into the broader mission field. The Board of Discipleship has offered significant leadership through Route 122 and other ministry ventures. The work of helping to transform existing congregations is now included in the Vital Congregations emphasis of the Call to Action.

As stated by Dr. Reggie McNeal of the Leadership Network, “We have a Pentecost going on somewhere every hour in the world.”

Bishop Mike Lowry, Chair of Focus Area on New Places for New People


Engaging in Ministry with* the Poor

"Engaging in Ministry with the Poor,” one of four UMC priority foci, is led jointly by a Bishops’ Task Force that I chair, and an Interagency Task Force led by Thomas Kemper, General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries. This ministry is rooted deeply in our heritage, goes to the heart of the Church’s mission, and is intimately linked to the other three foci. It also is a key driver of congregational and denominational vitality, personal and corporate transformation, and connectionalism.

We discerned from scripture and theology that Ministry with the Poor is different from ministry to or for the poor, and requires all of us to take a fresh look at our attitudes, assumptions, and responses regarding poverty and “the poor.” Ministry with the poor is relational and bi-lateral, not paternalistic, and is biblically grounded in social principles of love and justice. See Guiding Principles and Foundations for Ministry with the Poor: Answering Jesus’ Call to Discipleship in God’s Mission of Love and Justice.

This quadrennium, we have been particularly heartened by the growing network of local churches, community centers, community ministries, and Annual Conferences that are engaged in transformational ministries with the poor with the Central Conferences and throughout the U.S. Some illustrations of these collaborative ministries:

  • Many hundreds of missionaries, national mission institutions, community developers, and volunteers in mission who engage in diverse transformative ministries, domestically and internationally
  • Scholarships to individuals called to serve their communities develop community leaders to transform impoverished communities. (See, e.g., 10-Fold webcast on Developing Community Leaders)
  • Donor-funded anti-poverty and global health projects alleviate suffering and injustice, develop local leaders, and create sustainable community development. (See, e.g., 10-Fold webcast on Philippines or 10-Fold webcast on Kamina, DRC);
  • A novel certification program in “Engaging in Ministry with the Poor” trains lay and clergy to lead transformational ministries with the poor;
  • The WITH* video (shown at thirty annual conferences and many congregations); Worship and Bible Study Series #1; and the Ubuntu Day of Service Tool Kit (used by UMCOM for Change with World 2011) inspires and informs engagement in ministry with; and
  • Advocacy campaigns engage people of faith in working to transform policies and systems that will move us closer to God’s Kingdom of love and justice.

Our work is not done. We must keep spreading the message of ministry with; identify others doing ministry with; and collect and share with the Connection best practices, model projects, new ideas, and spiritual and practical materials concerning poverty and ministry with the poor. That is the very purpose of the new Ministry with the Poor website at where you will find all the resources noted above.

We have sown seeds that are bearing fruit. But, the race is long and the prize goes to those who persevere. (See Hebrews 12:1) We stand ready to lead this discipleship ministry into the next quadrennium as Church structures are being re-aligned in support of our Mission and ministries to transform this world into God’s kingdom of love and justice for all.

Bishop Joel N. Martinez, Chair of Focus Area on Ministry with the Poor


Combating the Diseases of Poverty by Improving Health Globally

The 2008 General Conference overwhelmingly endorsed the following resolution: “Therefore be it resolved that the 2008 General Conference affirm the Global Health Initiative and the Campaign to Fight Malaria as an entry point into the broader struggle regarding global health issues.”

Little did we realize the impact this resolution would make on the United Methodist Church in the United States and across the globe. At General Conference we bounced basketballs and introduced a movement called “Nothing but Nets.” Yet we quickly came to understand that in order to embrace the Millennium Development Goal of “eliminating malaria-related death by 2015” it would take much more than just a net. It would take a campaign to literally “Imagine NO Malaria.”

Through this campaign we have:

Raised Awareness

Four years ago we stated a clear reality: Every 30 seconds someone died from malaria resulting in over 1 million deaths per year. Today that rate of death has slowed to every 45 seconds. We have come to believe that every United Methodist can play a significant role in achieving this goal.

Increased Cooperation

In a time when there has been a heightened criticism of the work within our General Agencies, the Global Health Initiative has created a successful model of collaboration internally among our agencies and externally with partners from other faith-based and secularly driven organizations. This has resulted in a successful implementation program, increased advocacy networks, and an important intersection with the other three areas of focus.

Provided Greater Accountability

The development of a new model of mission partnerships has resulted in the development of “in-country” health boards where our African partners determine the projects that receive funding and take leadership in holding those projects accountable for the funds distributed.

Strengthened Our Commitment

The General Conference authenticated a campaign to raise $75 million dollars. To date we have raised over $20 million in the midst of heightened economic uncertainty. Testimonies abound with examples of how this campaign has increased giving for other areas of ministry within Annual Conferences and local churches. This work has provided a distinct way to realize the “Call to Action” by revitalizing the ministry of the local church.

Saved Lives

Twenty million dollars translates into over two million lives that have been impacted by the nets distributed, the education provided, and the treatment administered. This work has without a doubt made an impact across the globe.

On my dresser there is a picture of a little girl from Democratic Republic of the Congo whom I held in my arms. Less than twenty-four hours after the photo was taken, that little girl died from malaria. She is why this work matters. She is our bottom line. She is the reason this work must continue until this disease is no more. It’s not a quadrennial emphasis. It is a lifestyle we are called to embrace until the job is finished.

Bishop Thomas J. Bickerton, Chair of Focus Area on Global Health

comments powered by Disqus