Discipleship Made Top Priority At UMC Bishops Conference For 2005-8

This fall’s heralds a great development in churches as the UMC Council of Bishops propose a new leadership strategy for 2005-08. At the bishops conference, they decided to make “disciple-making and world transformation” top priorities for the next four years, claiming that there is no “greater calling” than making disciples of Christ (UMNS). This comes at the perfect time, when concerns are growing over the lack of a new generation of lay leadership.

During the same Oct. 30-Nov. 5 meeting that the 130 bishops representing the 11 million-member international church signed a congratulatory statement to President Bush, the bishops asked themselves a most pressing question, Where is God calling us to focus our leadership [for the next four years]?

Of course, the answer concurs with a heightened awareness of the needs of the world at a time when everything is globalizing from toys to terrorism.

What was surprising was that discipleship training was also at the top of the answers God revealed, it seems.

UMNS lends insight, “During small and large group discussions, the issues of discipleship and engagement with the world emerged as top priorities for the 2005-08 quadrennium.”
Or maybe it’s not as surprising as we believe.

UMC’s many ministries have already begun to focus on discipleship training. UMC’s Board of Discipleship is hosting a "Healthy Churches Transforming the World" conference, set for Jan. 27-30 in Houston, whose main objective is to inspire conference leaders to build healthy leaders, healthy churches and a healthy world, emphasizing that healthy churches are not about the number of people or size of a congregation, but more about “faith formation, disciple making and social witness,” states UMNS. The main point here is discipleship.

The bishops are catching the tail end of a long overdue and much needed direction within UMC and churches in general. Bishop Janice Riggle Huie, council president-elect insisted in her Nov. 3rd sermon, "There is no greater calling for this council than to lead this church into being one with Christ, one with each other and one in ministry to all the world."

Meeting at Epworth by the Sea, a church-owned retreat center, it was also the first time all met together since 22 new bishops were elected last summer, and at the end of the gathering, a strategy was planned listing steps to take to assume a larger leadership role across the church.

UMNS provides the details: “Each active bishop will prepare a plan for disciple making in annual (regional) conferences. These plans will be shared during the council’s May 1-6 meeting in Washington. The summaries will include methods for measuring results and suggestions on how active and retired bishops can be supportive and accountable to one another.”

The bishops also participated in “daily worship services focused on mission, unity and the role of bishops as leaders of the church” (UMNS).

"We are making it clear that bishops are in alignment with the mission of the church," said Huie.

Below is the complete transcript of the Council's leadership plan.

Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church
November 5, 2004

Proposed Leadership Strategy
2005-2008 Quadrennium

As bishops, we acknowledge the leadership expected of us. We have declared our commitment and determination to give corporate leadership to the Church and to express specific strategic areas of focus in both corporate and residential leadership.

Meeting in retreat November 1-5, 2004 the Council affirmed that,

"During the quadrennium 2005-2008 the Council of Bishops will focus its energy and leadership resource to lead the church in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." (cf. The Book of Discipline paragraphs 121-124)

The Executive Committee recommends that the Council of Bishops adopt the following items as a consequence of the Retreat discussions. These items are part of a whole – the Council’s response to the call of God to be corporate and residential leaders.

- The Council focus the Spring 2005 meeting on the consideration of recommendations from the "Plan Team" of strategic actions that will lead the church "in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

- Each residential bishop is to prepare a one page summary of their plan of a disciple making system for a transformed world, and what fruits of that system they intend to measure and for which they are willing to be supported and held accountable. The one page summary is to be submitted to the Executive Secretary of the Council one month prior to the spring 2005 Council meeting for distribution to the members of the Council in advance of the meeting.

- Continue Children and Poverty and Hope for the Children of Africa into the next quadrennium as an initiative of the Council – an expression of the Council’s invitation to the Church for "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

- The Council direct an offer or team to manage the funding of Children and Poverty related monies approved in the Finance Committee actions of November 4, 2004 relative to grant funds and ongoing initiative expenses.

- The Plan Team examine ways in which the teaching plan contained in the Episcopal Address to the General Conference 2004 can support "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

- The Executive Committee develop an agenda plan for the Spring 2005 and subsequent meetings that continues and expands the "best practices" seminars used for the first time in the fall 2004 retreat meeting and to select subjects for those seminars which address "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

- The Plan Team develop a foundation document to support the Council’s determination to lead the church in "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world." The paper is to be a Biblical and theological vision which reflects images from Council November 2004 worship experiences, Council papers such as Our Shared Dream: The Beloved Community, In Search of Security, The Episcopal Address, Becoming the Beloved Community and Book of Discipline statements relative to "making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

- The Plan Team consider invitations to resource leaders to assist the Council in future meetings to advance these commitments.

- Executive Committee to name a "Plan Team" to carry out the action items in this report.

- Executive Committee present to the Council at the spring 2005 meeting a plan of organization of the Council that enables the implementation and accountability of the strategic directions to be developed to advance "disciple making for the transformation of the world."

- The Council receive and note in its Minutes the reception of the Final Report of the Episcopal Initiative on Children and Poverty Task Force