A growing group of young United Methodists in Africa are being encouraged with annual gatherings and monthly Internet sessions to explore and apply their indigenous leadership attributes as they become leaders in church-related activities.
The 2013 Young Africa Leaders Summit, conducted in May by the Young People’s Ministries division of the United Methodist Board of Discipleship, brought together young leaders from 17 annual conferences throughout the African continent.
“There are rich principles of leadership that come out of basically every people group’s history. This summit is designed to explore some of those leadership principles that come out of mostly the Nilotic people’s history – the people who migrated down the Nile to Sub-Saharan Africa,” said the Rev. Michael Ratliff, who heads the board’s Young People’s Ministries division.
The May summit in Johannesburg, South Africa, which followed an initial pilot session last year in Nairobi, Kenya, was the first of four planned annual summits in Africa during the quadrennium. Similar young leader summits will follow in other Central Conferences and the United States, Ratliff said.
“In October, we’ll be doing the first young leaders summit in the Philippines, and the division has indicated they would like to see the young leaders summits developed in every region of the church,” Ratliff said. “The hope would be that in the next year or so we’ll establish one with the help of the European Methodist Youth and Children’s Council in Europe, and probably in the U.S. after that.”
The goal for each summit will be to help young leaders learn about their region’s historical and indigenous leadership principles and how to apply them as leaders in the church. Most research and development work concerning leadership has been in the West, either in Europe or the United States, with the word “leadership” actually emerging about two centuries ago in Great Britain, Ratliff said, adding that Western-influenced leadership styles have been infused throughout the world, but rich leadership principles exist in virtually every region worldwide.
Each bishop in Africa, in conjunction with the youth organizations of their conference or episcopal area, was asked to choose one young leader to participate in the summit. Last year, 18 annual conferences were represented at the pilot, and this year there were young leaders from 17 annual conferences in Johannesburg.
“There have been 46 young people who have been a part of the two summits that we have done,” Ratliff said. “It’s been kept small very specifically and is very focused on a process that allows them to work on discoveries about leadership principles from their own history – from the history of the development of the church, and The United Methodist Church specifically, in their settings.
“We had young leaders from churches where the Methodist movement and church has been around for 100 years and settings where The United Methodist Church has been present for 14 years,” he said.
Participants came from different backgrounds and were encouraged to look at the history of how their church has reached where it is today and then begin to consider what it could become in the future, Ratliff said.
“We have missionary conferences, provisional conferences and regular annual conferences that are involved, and they are all in different stages of development,” Ratliff said. “The youth and young adult ministries in those areas are in different places. The relationships with leadership that these participants have are different.”
The summit also provides the youth with an online platform that allows them to continue a cyber dialogue after their face-to-face session ends. The private website has a chat function and forum which automatically translates each person’s interaction into the appropriate language for all others.
“They’ve determined that once a month – the last Saturday of the month at 2 p.m. Johannesburg time – they will come together online and the participants in last year’s pilot summit are invited to join them,” Ratliff said. “They’ll spend time with one of the topics that they identified as important for discussion during the summit.”
The goal this quadrennium is to provide similar experiences for a significant group of young people around the world.
“The experience is designed so that there is structure for them to explore within, so hopefully we’re not imposing one more western kind of process, but instead are providing a structure that allows room for them to continually explore what it means to be a leader from a perspective that’s more contextual,” Ratliff said.