By Michael Eastridge
LAKE JUNALUSKA, N.C. (June 5, 2016) -- Our world is in transition.
Does anyone question this fact?
Our world is being transformed.
Is this even in dispute?
But what is the world being transformed into? Where are we headed – and what will it look like?
Holston Conference is commissioned to make followers of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We are inspired to be servant-leaders in the glorious work of helping bring about the Kingdom of God upon this Earth that we share with billions of other people. People who look different from us.
People who live differently than us.
People who think differently than us ... and people who live next door to us. Right here in Holston Conference.
The transitions taking place in our world today sometimes feel chaotic, destructive, and threatening to our comfort and identity. It occurs with or without our desires or control and it sometimes causes us to feel helpless and hopeless.
But God calls us to be agents of transformation ... to transcend the brokenness of our world to give light to a new way of life. To be in a right and harmonious relationship with God – and our neighbors.
So here’s the challenge: How do we guide transformation while in the midst of transition?
First - we openly and honestly discern the transition that is taking place around us to determine how we can more effectively engage a world whose values, principles and religious perspectives have changed dramatically over the past decade.
Second - We build the capacity of clergy, laity, churches and districts to be innovators of ideas and ministries to bring about the transformation of the world ... one local church, community and neighborhood at a time.
Lastly - and primarily for us – we critically examine and calibrate our Conference structure to make sure we are configured to make the first two steps successful.
In fall of last year, a committee was convened for the purpose of examining the structure of Holston Conference with a view toward these challenges.
We recognized that the Holston Conference structure continues to operate on the basis of a reality that existed several decades in the past. Since the last formal reconfiguration of the Conference, many things have changed.
There is a recognition that in the past 50 years, there have been fundamental transitions in our Conference. Transportation routes have moved; cities and communities have developed new commercial centers and neighborhoods; the ethnic diversity of various regions has shifted and economies have expanded or contracted, depending upon where you lived. We communicate in ways that were entirely unimaginable 30 years ago. (If you’re reading this on your iPhone, you’ve just proven this point).
And hundreds of United Methodist churches have closed their doors.
The committee’s first approach was to consider re-structuring our districts to reflect these current realities and to incorporate a strategic blending of populations, economic strength, diversity in socioeconomic lifestyles and culture so that the districts could be strengthened and the Church could be more effective in recognizing and reaching the new mission fields within our Conference boundaries. The committee worked closely with church-development strategist Tom Bandy to identify the segmentation of lifestyles, cultures, economic diversity, rural and urban characteristics and church locations to develop a concept of what Holston Conference might look like with the consolidation of districts in a way that meets these needs.
The committee developed an ambitious timeline to accomplish the evaluation and recommendation of this vision for restructuring which, at one point, included the possibility of offering a plan for consideration at Holston Annual Conference in 2016.
However, as the committee engaged in its discernment process, we realized that there were many moving parts to such comprehensive change and that God was calling us to enlarge our vision to encompass a more fundamental call: How do we innovate our ministry as a Conference to do a better job of accomplishing our missional objectives in this 21st century? This is when we evolved from being a “restructuring” committee to becoming a Conference Strategy Team.
Our engagement with groups and persons around the Conference over the past several months revealed that there was recognition and support for the premise that we need to change the Conference structure to adapt to a rapidly changing world. However, in response to your feedback, we also realized that making a recommendation for change at this Annual Conference was premature.
Therefore, we will not be presenting any recommendations for action at this Annual Conference.
We are still in the process of evaluating feedback that we have received and creating a better mechanism for communicating with clergy, laity, and churches to develop a unified vision for our future. Please check our web page on the Holston Conference website for more information about our efforts: Strategy.Holston.org.
And finally, please engage us with your thoughts, visions – and your prayers – for how together we can find even better ways to meet our unchanging mission to bring people throughout the mission fields of our Conference into a transformational relationship with Jesus Christ.
Michael A. Eastridge is chair of the Holston Strategy Team.
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