The Connection: What Ministry Shares mean for the local churches
November 14, 2016 / By Rev. Bill Gottschalk-Fielding
When I started serving as the UNY Conference’s Director of Connectional Ministries, it wasn’t long before I was asked, “so what do we get from the Conference?” This question, asked by both clergy and laity, usually came up in a discussion about shared ministry payments and conference budgets. Heard in the wrong way, it could sound like a consumer demanding a vendor to justify the price of a product. But churches aren’t consumers and the Conference isn’t a vending machine. We’re more like a family bound by a covenant. We work together to serve a common purpose: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
With this in mind, I hear this question as a plea from the frontlines to understand what resources are available to help ministry happen. While churches aren’t consumers, they are the primary deliverer of all our ministries. Ministry happens in and through the local church. The conference structure exists solely to support the ministries of local churches.
I am a visual learner and have been answering the question of what churches get from the Conference with three simple images: a compass, a lever, and a bridge.
First, a compass, which symbolizes for me how the Conference equips churches for ministry by growing Christ-following leaders. Leaders equipped with a compass help guide people forward through rough terrain and into new and promising places. The primary way the conference equips leaders is through recruiting, training, credentialing, deploying, supporting, and supervising ordained and licensed clergy. In other words, the simplest way to answer the question “What do I get from the conference?” is to point to your pastor! He or she is with you because of our connection as a Conference. Your pastor’s call to ministry was recognized and nurtured by the Conference; his or her gifts and skills were developed with Conference resources; and he or she was sent to minister among you by the conference. Although laity are primarily equipped and supported by their local churches, the leadership of lay people is also increased through Conference initiatives and programs (e.g., Lay Servant Ministries, Conference Council on Youth Ministries).
The second tool the Conference offers local churches is a lever, a symbol for how the conference enhances local churchministries by developing and “scaling up” resources to be shared by all. With a lever, you can magnify and stretch your efforts. Examples of how churches leverage their efforts through the conference include our conference’s camp and retreat ministries and our Media Resource Center. No single church could own a camp and retreat center or purchase 1,000 DVD-based Sunday school programs, but churches linked together have access to all of these things.
The third and final tool offered by Conference is a bridge. Like a bridge, the Conference extends the reach of local churches beyond their particular neighborhood or community. Bridges allow people to connect across geography and culture. Conference “bridging ministries” include conference Volunteers in Mission (VIM) programs, our disaster response ministries, and conference support of Global Ministries’ missionaries and UMCOR aid workers through our General Church apportionments.
These three tools – the compass of spiritual leadership, the lever of shared resources, and the bridge of connection– are what we get from the Conference. Better put, they are what we build together as a Conference to support the work we do as local churches.
Editor's Note: This article originally appeared in the 2016 UNY Advocate, Issue 4.