Bishop Webb discusses transforming the world through leaders, radical churches
The 2015-2016 District Days tour is underway, as Upper New York Area Resident Bishop Mark J. Webb visited the Adirondack District on Oct. 26 and the Albany District on Oct. 27. For a full list of the remaining District Days, click here. For photos of the District Days, click here.
During each District Day, Bishop Webb will enjoy lunch and a session with clergy, followed by dinner with each District Leadership Team and district superintendent, and an evening session open to both laity and clergy. While each district can host the Bishop and Conference staff in different ways – choosing the menu for lunch and dinner as well as activities to fill the downtime – Bishop Webb’s overall message will be the same from district to district.
Transforming the world
“If we could find a way as clergy to worship together on a regular basis, our Church would be even more fruitful than it is,” Bishop Webb said at one District Day. “I would offer you a challenge: Find ways to worship together.”
Bishop Webb’s clergy session emphasized ways in which clergy can exert their influence to live out the mission: “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
“Our mission has been given to us, and it’s the same that has been given to any other church; it comes from Jesus,” he said. “When the Upper New York Conference was formed, the leadership that led through that formation crafted a vision statement. That vision statement is a picture of God’s preferred reality when, together, we are living the mission that Jesus gave us.”
The UNY Conference vision is “living the Gospel of Jesus Christ and being God’s love with our neighbors in all places.”
Bishop Webb emphasized that the mission is not accomplished by the structure of the Conference; disciples are made in the local church. The Conference can help in the process, but disciples are made as people in the churches build relationships with one another and grow deeper in their relationship with God.
“The purpose of the Conference is to grow Christ-following leaders who build healthy congregations that make disciples who make disciples so that the world will be transformed by the power and grace of God,” Bishop Webb said.
Bishop Webb said the Conference must define its culture, and right now, its primary task is to increase the capacity of God-following leaders, both clergy and laity. The Conference can assist in this by multiplying vital congregations, planting new faith communities, aligning resources for the purpose and primary task, and communicating connectional ministry for the 21st century. He said churches must be willing to try new approaches to live the mission and vision, and to anchor the culture.
“I used to say Christians should have the flattest noses of anyone on the face of the Earth because we are always walking into closed doors, so we can bounce off that closed door and get to where God wants us to,” Bishop Webb said.
The Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding, Executive Assistant to the Bishop and Director of Connectional Ministries, led a time of question groups, where clergy identified what resonates, unsettles, challenges, and motivates them. The Rev. Dr. Aaron Bouwens, Director of Vital Congregations, also spoke during the District Days tour, addressing whether leaders are born or developed.
“There is some natural leadership ability, and there are some things we can develop,” Rev. Bouwens said at one district day. “We can all grow and develop in our skills and our abilities as leaders.”
Rev. Bouwens emphasized the term “transformational leaders,” which means leaders who can help people come alongside God as He is doing things in their midst. He also discussed the 16 core competencies necessary for UNY clergy leaders, both adaptive (environment- or culture-based) and technical (skills-based). For more information on the 16 core competencies, see pages 7-8 of the spring 2015 Advocate. Rev. Bouwens also mentioned that the Leadership Development Team is developing multiple strategies to help clergy across the Conference.
“We live a constantly shifting culture … all kinds of things change,” Rev. Bouwens said. “We have to be comfortable with that ambiguity, comfortable saying ‘I’m not always going to have everything in line.’ We want leaders that can lead change.”
Bishop Webb devoted part of his clergy session to discussing Methodist/Wesleyan Ethos, one of the competencies he is concerned about.
“We have been commissioned in The United Methodist Church, yet sometimes our practices and our beliefs and our teachings and many other things have absolutely no grounding in our Wesleyan ethos,” he said. “Be reminded of what it means to be a part of the Wesleyan history.”
Becoming the ‘radical church’
“God is using you in amazing ways to offer the good news of Jesus to the world around you,” Bishop Webb said.
Bishop Webb called attendees of the evening session to be the “radical church.”
But what does he mean by radical? Well, he gave a few definitions:
- Of relating to or preceding from a root growing from the base of a stem
- A considerable departure from the usual of traditional
- Tending or disposed to make extreme changes in existing views, habits, conditions, or institutions, associated with views, practices and policies of extreme change
“I believe we are here to celebrate the call not just to be the Church but to be the radical Church, a Church to be used to bring hope and healing and joy and life,” Bishop Webb said at one district day. “A radical church is intimate and solidly connected to the root, to the stem, to the vine, and that root has been and always will be Jesus Christ.”
There are three main characteristics of a radical church: being willing or ready to be used, communicating in other languages, and boldly declaring faith. All three are demonstrated in Acts 2:1-13, 37-47 as the disciples waited in one place when the Holy Spirit came upon them (willing to be used), Acts 2:2-8 as the disciples were given different tongues by the Holy Spirit (communicating in other languages), and Acts 2:14 as Peter proclaims the truth of Jesus (boldly declaring faith).
“When we’re ready to be used by God, when we all come together in one place spiritually and allow the old to be laid aside, that’s when God does amazing things,” Bishop Webb said.
During his presentation, Bishop Webb showed a video of the Seneca Street UMC in Buffalo and its ministry to demonstrate an example of a radical church.
“If we will take on the characteristics of a radical church, we will see the results I believe God intends for the Church,” Bishop Webb said.
Those results include a spirit of unity, a willingness to meet needs, a desire for worship, a love for fellowship, and a promise of growth.
“Radical! Dangerous! That is who and what God is calling us to be,” Bishop Webb said. “God wants to change us, so that we can be used to change the world through the grace and power of God. Church, it is time for us to rise up; it is time for us to stop letting the world define us and allow God to use us to define and shape the world.”