Editor's Note: As the 2012 General Conference approaches, United Methodist News Service is looking at details of legislation and offering information to help readers better understand how the church works. A number of proposals are aimed at restructuring the denomination and its general ministries, so UMNS asked the top executives of each agency to answer five questions about their agency's role in the church. This is the response from the United Methodist Board of Discipleship.
New places for new people and renewing existing congregations
Discipleship works primarily with this area because it forms the basis for local church response to the other three focus areas.
The Path 1/New Church Starts effort is meeting promises made at the 2008 General Conference. By Dec. 31, 2012, this initiative will exceed its goal of starting 650 new churches and faith communities. Nearly half focus on reaching people of color. Also by year-end, the effort will exceed its goal of training 1,000 new-church-start planters. We have trained more than 125 lay people for this specialized ministry.
Discipleship links with the Path 1 Team of the Council of Bishops, a network of congregational developers, district superintendents, all racial ethnic national plans, United Methodist Communications and the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries to provide coaching, resources, training events and specialized agreements with U.S. annual (regional) conferences to support the formation of new churches and faith communities.
Discipleship also strives to transform existing local churches. We provide booklets on evangelism, Christian education, small groups, worship, preaching and stewardship and address ways to increase effectiveness in congregational ministry in these areas. We also offer focused training through partnerships with annual conferences. Discipleship has trained conference leaders in four weekend retreats over the past six months. This 22-week program for lay and clergy allows churches to reshape their ministry using vitality goals. Through another opportunity - the Route 122 Network - conference staff guide local church leaders in building vitality in existing congregations.
Toward Vitality is a short-term project funded by Discipleship, the General Council on Finance and Administration, United Methodist Communications and the United Methodist Commission on Religion and Race. This project works with the Council of Bishops and supports the Vital Congregations ministry effort. This initiative provides online tools, resources, research and inspiration for people who seek to transform existing local churches.
Through Discipleship Resources International, we have been implementing the Central Conference Sustainable Resourcing Initiative since 2009. This expanding global publishing network serves United Methodists in the central conferences. Materials range from basic liturgies and hymnbooks to Bible studies and scholarly work by Africa University professors. Currently, eight publishing teams across Africa and the Philippines work with three- to four-year publishing plans to develop contextual, affordable resources for discipleship, congregational ministries and pastoral leadership. These teams are progressing toward financial sustainability.
Developing principled Christian leaders for the church and the world
Discipleship believes leaders are best formed through vibrant and effective local churches. With our guidance and support, youth, young adults and adult leaders from the global connection gather to learn, work and lead ministry for young people throughout the connection. We work in partnership with the United Methodist Board of Higher Education and Ministry and Commission on Religion and Race and United Methodist Communications to develop and deploy young leaders for ministry in local churches.
Our Young People's Ministries division sponsors a quadrennial Global Young People's Convocation and Legislative Assembly, involving 500 young people from around the world. The purpose of the event is twofold: to provide young leader formation and to offer a venue to create legislation for the upcoming General Conference.
For more than 75 years, a worldwide prayer movement through The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide has reached into more than 100 countries in 40 languages, calling people daily to meditation. A new Nepali edition will launch in July 2012.
In addition, Upper Room programs develop multicultural leadership through The Academy for Spiritual Formation and Walk to Emmaus. The Academy for Spiritual Formation had a bilingual experience in Florida and the first Korean five-day academy in South Korea. There were 638 weekend Emmaus walks in 2011. New international Emmaus communities were launched in Ukraine, Romania, St. Maartens and the Philippines.
Stamping out killer diseases of poverty by improving health globally
The Upper Room provides Prayers of Encouragement for people affected by and afflicted with HIV/AIDS. Discipleship is assisting in the development of global health/Imagine No Malaria materials for study and reflection.
Engaging in ministry with the poor
Africa Upper Room Ministries, located in South Africa, provides outreach on that continent. Tanika's story demonstrates one of its many ministries.
Africa Upper Room Ministries is working to expand its reach with a new Zimbabwe initiative.
Discipleship is assisting in the planning for lunchtime and other serving experiences with the poor planned for 2012 General Conference delegates.
4. How does the average United Methodist pastor or member benefit from your work? Social advocacy? Curriculum? Scholarships? Please give a concrete example, ideally quoting a testimonial from someone outside of your agency.
While thousands of people link to Discipleship's learning networks through onsite experiences, thousands more link to our work via the web and social media. Hundreds of thousands of people use Discipleship's online worship materials each month. Millions more participate in prayer and meditation daily through The Upper Room Devotional Guide.
Bishops, congregational developers, clergy and laity teams find a multitude of resources created specifically for new church development work in the United States. These resources help annual conference leaders find, assess and equip more than 1,300 lay and clergy new-church planters. One said, "I have a better understanding of being a Methodist, being an Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference layperson and &ellipsis; what it means to be a new church planter."
A reader of The Upper Room Devotional Guide said, "Not a day goes by that God does not speak to me through the devotional. Thank you for being an instrument of God's peace delivered to me."
Discipleship provides support for the Walk to Emmaus. About a million pilgrims have completed a weekend Walk, a 72-hour retreat. Pilgrims commit to ongoing study and action that will assist them to be more active and vital leaders in their local churches. Open to all denominations, Emmaus communities empower Christians in the United States, Australia, South Africa, Mexico, Brazil, Ukraine and the Caribbean. "I was getting burned out doing church work," a participant said, "but I came home energized and on fire with a new attitude."
Discipleship works with central conferences to develop publishing teams that produce contextual resources for leaders and laity in all areas of local church ministry. "This publishing partnership &ellipsis; is so important because our goal is to create a culture of reading, writing and learning," said the Rev. Daniel Mhone, superintendent of the Malawi Missionary Conference. "We have faith, but we need to add depth of understanding to our faith."
5. How much money and how many employees does it take to maintain the work your agency is currently doing?
The United Methodist Board of Discipleship currently has 160 full-time staff members and numbers of part-time and short-time contract workers.
The dollar amount for Discipleship's World Service income is $11,809,886 annually. [Note: When the former Board of Evangelism created Upper Room Ministries more than 75 years ago, the expectation was that this prayer and daily devotional ministry would be self-supporting. Upper Room Ministries continues as a self-funded division, contributing millions of dollars annually to this completely self-sustainable ministry.]
Learn more: Website of the General Board of Discipleship
For more information, visit the 2012 General Conference website.