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    The Upper New York Conference of The United Methodist Church


    news article

    From isolation ministry to collaboration in UNY

    December 13, 2021 / By Rev. Dr. Aaron Bouwens

    Editor's Note: The following article originally appeared in the 2021 Issue II of the Advocate, which focused on mentorship. Click here to access the full issue.

    It has been said being a servant who is leading in the church is lonely work. Often there is a hesitation to reach out to fellow leaders within the congregation and in neighboring congregations. This isolation breeds burnout and frustration with ministry. Over the past few years several leaders have been engaged in a journey to move from isolation to collaboration. The Upper New York Conference has been inviting people to participate in Leadership Incubators. Focused on pastoral leaders, the Incubator groups invited together people from across the Conference to love, learn, and lead together so that an environment of transformation can blossom in local congregations.

    Moving from isolation to generative ministry is best done through an intentional process whereby a team supports each other through the guidance of a coach. The Leadership Incubators journey through a 10-month process of coaching and mentoring built upon clear principles and processes equipping pastoral leaders to develop team-based, generative ministry in their local congregations. At the core of the process is emerging from isolation by building a team, overcoming distractions through developing clear action plans, and moving out of the place of frustration into a place of ministry fruitfulness.

    Each Incubator has a coach to guide the process, however the real strength is the peer interaction with the guidance and support of the coach. An environment for transformation is created where trust is high, vulnerability runs deep, and experimentation begins to flourish. Instead of stewing in isolation when struggles show up, leaders have a community of peers to seek care, support, and encouragement to make needed adjustments.

    To date, nearly 50 pastoral leaders have engaged in an Incubator group, and plans are in the works for more pastors and laity to engage in what we are calling Area Teams. These will be teams of leaders from a geographic area who will meet together and walk through an intentional process to discern how God might be inviting the congregations to work together for the sake of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. Rather than each individual congregation attempting this work in isolation and possibly feeling frustrated, the invitation will be to collaborate and explore God’s invitation to generative ministry. Area Teams will follow the model of having a trained Facilitator to guide the process so that peer interaction will create an environment for loving, learning, and leading into the next faithful steps.

    Leadership Incubators and Area Teams are both designed to move out of the lonely world of solo heroic leadership and toward an environment of support and encouragement. Coaches and Facilitators will be able to help resist the pull toward isolation ministry. Without the guidance, it is highly likely movement toward generative ministry would be lost and isolation would set in once again. More important than the work of coaches and facilitators, teams of leaders, regionally and locally, will be established to foster the opportunity of leading together.

    TAGGED / Advocate


    With more than 134,000 members, the Upper New York Annual (Regional) Conference of The United Methodist Church comprises 865 local churches and 85 new faith communities in 12 districts, covering 48,000 square miles in 49 of the 62 counties in New York state. Our mission is to “live the Gospel of Jesus Christ and to be God’s love with our neighbors in all places."