Bishop looks to past, future
By Lisa Elliott Diehl, Communications director
“One of the things that has really taken place over the last several years is that the conversation about the future of the United Methodist Church has taken off,” Jones said in a recent video message. “I’m proud of what we’ve done here in Kansas.”
In 2005, Jones asked four questions of the Kansas West and Kansas East conferences in special sessions:
Those four questions led to the development of strategic plans adopted at conference sessions in 2006 and later to the Bridges to the Future capital campaign to fund infrastructure to make those plans reality.
“I’m privileged to sit with the Focus Team in the West and the Leadership Team in the East as we respond to requests from our ministries for these funds,” Jones said. “The Bridges campaign has made a huge difference in so many of our ministries.”
The Council of Bishops and the Connectional Table started a conversation on the denominational level about the future of the United Methodist Church. The two created a Call to Action Committee, which issued a report late last year.
“As a whole denomination, we face an incredible challenge,” Jones said. “We need to redirect our focus and our energy on increasing the number of vital congregations in the United States and around the world.”
The report went on to list a number of recommendations for doing so.
“Responding to this adaptive challenge is crucial,” Jones said.
An adaptive challenge refers to a problem that does not have an easy solution. In explaining the difference between an adaptive problem and a technical one, Jones often talks about a parent who takes their child to the doctor for an ear infection. The doctor prescribes medicine, and the child’s ear infection is cured. That’s a technical challenge.
“An adaptive challenge is one that requires a large group of people to make changes in their behaviors, in their attitudes, in their values,” Jones said. “That adaptation is not easy, and it takes a long time. That’s where we are.”
Jones said Kansas is further down the road to adaptive change than many other conferences because United Methodists here have already been working on adaptive change.
“Remember those four questions from 2005? That’s all the report,” he said. “We are ahead of the curve in Kansas. We’ve already been asking the right questions and gathering important resources.”
That doesn’t mean Kansas has turned it around yet, but it does mean that there are ministries in place that are resourcing existing congregations for vitality—Incubator, ABIDE, Leadership and Faith Transforming Communities and others.
“We’re going to evaluate all of these programs to figure out how to improve them to help our existing congregations be stronger,” Jones said.
Emphasis will continue on starting new congregations. Two new churches have been planted in Johnson County, and planning meetings will begin July 1 for the second of two church starts in Sedgwick County.
“Most of our population growth in Kansas in the past 10 years was the result of new Hispanic people in our state,” Jones said. Hispanic ministry in both conferences has increased in strength through Bridges to the Future support.
“We’re putting a big emphasis on how we help people hear God’s call,” Jones said.
In addition to all the attention given to this area through Bridges for infrastructure at camp sites and campus ministries, staffing changes at the conference level also will contribute to this effort.
“I’ve been asking, ‘What would it look like if we took seriously this adaptive challenge and the recommendation the Call to Action has made that we should dramatically change our clergy credentialing, recruitment and appointment process?’” Jones said.
“That leads me to another change,” Jones said. “Nebraska and Kansas will be served by one bishop beginning in 2012.”
In a recent webcast, the Nebraska-Kansas Episcopal Area Transition Team unveiled its recommendation to create one new annual conference in the new episcopal area.
“That recommendation will be debated in all three conferences this year,” he said. “We know that under one bishop, the three conferences will be working more closely together in the future than they have in the past, and we believe that will strengthen the ministry in all three places.”
Jones said the team believes that coming together as one annual conference would empower the United Methodist Church in Nebraska and Kansas to do a better job of deploying passionate, effective spiritual leaders into the mission field in the two states.
“It’s a controversial decision,” Jones said. “This is part of a bigger process, one where we’re asking big questions about the future of our church and how God can use us to accomplish God’s purposes. I believe that the United Methodist Church has within its history, within its living memory, within its clergy and lay people and within its DNA, everything we need to be revitalized, growing and strong.”
The video message from the bishop, “Where are we and where are we going,” and a shorter version of the video for congregations to use in worship are available online at www.kswestumc.org/videos.