By Ed Metzler
A new emphasis in the Indiana Conference is reaching back to Methodism’s roots to discover, develop and deploy fruitful lay leaders in Indiana.
“The laity carried John Wesley’s vision – they did the work, they owned the work,” said the Reverend Dr. Aleze Fulbright, the Conference Director of Leadership. “We have to get back to that.”
Conference Lay Leader Doris Clark said that this is a part of Methodism we have lost. “John Wesley sent lay people out to lead small groups of people,” she said. “In fact, Methodism in America began as a lay movement. Wesley didn’t have any educated clergy. Lay people carried out the mission of the church.”
But it’s more than just recapturing that part of the church’s history. “For the laity, this is about us being what God has called us to be and do,” Clark said. “It’s easy to be complacent and rely on the clergy to carry out the mission of the church, but both the laity and clergy are called to serve others and make disciples of Jesus Christ.”
Fulbright emphasized that when she talks about leaders, she’s not talking about people who attend meetings. “I’m not interested in producing more SPRCs, trustees and all of that,” Fulbright said. “Our interest is really about the leadership capacity of lay persons, giving resources, i.e., how to handle conflict, how can you become more of a missional leader, looking outside the walls of your church.
“I think the overarching vision for leadership development as we discover, develop and deploy fruitful leaders, both lay and clergy, is that we’re not into institutional maintenance in training leaders,” Fulbright said. “It’s more how can we expand the leadership capacity of those in the pews to better serve their churches and to better serve their communities.”
Fulbright said that of the 156,000 lay members in the conference, many are simply not being reached; not being helped to realize their potential.
“Why are we not reaching them?” she asked, “and those are the ones in the pews, not those outside (the church). Oftentimes we cycle the same people to be leaders because those are the ones who show up for meetings, but we need to become more intentional about reaching those who are on the periphery. People want to invest themselves in things they believe in and often we fail to ask them, or to resource them to be able to lend themselves to it. We have people in our congregations who are willing to serve, however they don’t know how. I think there are many on that periphery who are just waiting to be asked – not to join a committee but to serve.”
Fulbright said one of the reasons those people have not been reached in the past is simply the quality of the resources provided. “One of the things we’ve heard is that the resources the Annual Conference has provided in the past have not always been of high quality, so pastors have not always shared those resources with their people,” she said. “If you want to get to the people in the pews, it has to pass through the pastor and if it doesn’t get through the pastor, it’s not getting to the pews. We, as a conference, have to provide quality events and programs so that people get excited and want to get on board. It will happen, but it’s about the quality.”
The person charged with finding, developing and deploying those resources is the new Associate Director of Leadership Development for Laity, Megan Fetter.
“The Conference offers a lot of things for the development of clergy,” Fetter said. “How can we provide similar resources for lay persons, or how can they work together to complement each other? The mission of The United Methodist Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. So how do you do that? How do you make disciples? Part of that is to develop people to be stronger leaders in the church.”
“There are a lot of resources at the conference and general church level, but if lay persons don’t know about them, they aren’t doing any good,” Fetter said. “I can be the conduit for that. I can say, ‘We already have those resources,’ or I can find what we do need and get it out to people.”
Fetter said they are looking to current leaders to help them understand what is working now and what is needed. But she has only been on the job for a couple of months, so her first priority is meeting lay leaders from districts and churches. To that end, a survey went out to local church lay leaders, asking what they are doing in their local churches, outside of their churches and what is working in the church. It further asked what kind of training the leaders would like to see. The survey closed at the end of February and the results will be in this month.
As the conference focuses on the significance for vital ministry, it will be important to recognize the role each member plays. The potential for lay and clergy partnerships in ministry can bridge many of the gaps that exist today.
“The strategy to develop leaders that are equipped for ministry will mean that we have laity that are empowered and affirmed to be fruitful leaders in the church,” Clark said. “Laity and clergy working as teams can add a new level of leadership that will be transformative in many ways.”
Clark said lay persons in the Indiana Conference are doing good work, however that good work isn’t always shared throughout the conference.
“We have a lot of people who are doing a lot of good things, in their own churches and their own districts,” Clark said, “But we don’t have a way of sharing and communicating those things. I don’t think we’ve lost our missional focus, but we are not as mission-focused as we can be.”
One group key to that sharing of information is the Board of Laity.
“We have the 10 district lay leaders sitting around the table dreaming big, and it is our hope that they have their finger on the pulse of what the greatest needs are,” Fulbright said. “We are working with district superintendents so their annual leadership training days go beyond just SPRC and the trustees, so they are bringing in all sorts of leaders and resourcing them so they can become better leaders.”
The Board of Laity’s priorities (www.inumc.org/prioritieslaity) for 2015 are training of local church leaders; increasing communication regarding opportunities for training, opportunities of resources and better communications with the District Superintendents; creating uniformity of all laity training; and celebrating the ministries of laity. (The website for the Board of Laity is at www.inumc.org/boardoflaity.)
Another group they will be looking toward is the Lay Servants. Fetter said she would like to see that ministry bolstered in the conference.
“We want to provide a support system for whatever the laity need to be doing in their churches and in their communities” Fetter said. “Lay persons don’t always see their importance. They are the hands and feet. We want our people to see that everyone in the church is a leader and expected to lead. If we’re really excited about being Jesus in our communities and really becoming more fruitful leaders, it will benefit not only ourselves but our work, our churches and our communities, and that excitement will draw other people in as well.”
Fetter said it will be critical for the conference to get creative in training leaders. “We have to get creative,” she said. “We have to provide workshops, Internet-based training, whatever the need is. I don’t want this to be seen as yet another program.” The bottom line is providing what the laity needs to fulfill their call.
“My greater hope is that we will have a culture of fruitfulness, where we have newer leaders – not necessarily younger leaders, but newer leaders – who are serving at the local level, at the district level or even at the conference level,” Fulbright said, “and while some of these people on the periphery will end up serving on committees, that’s not our intention. We want to develop leaders, not committee members. We have a great opportunity here.”
For more information, go to www.inumc.org/layministry.