Life-affirming ministry

October 08, 2014

As the leaves change colors and the air becomes cooler, I find myself feeling very happy and grateful to be in my new role as district superintendent. It is a tremendous privilege to work with such a gifted and seasoned leader in Bishop Ough, to learn from both the pastors in the district and my trusted colleagues on the cabinet, and to be part of such a talented team of annual conference staff. As I make my way around the district this fall, locating each of the churches and meeting so many wonderful lay members and lay leaders, I’ve been reminded of the words of Margaret Wheatley. For those who don’t know her writings, Margaret is a pioneer in organizational leadership and change. My favorite book of hers is Turning to One Another: Simple Conversations to Restore Hope to the Future.

In another piece titled “On Leadership” she writes:

“So, what I see in life-affirming leaders is that they are willing to say to people ‘I do not know the answer, but together we will figure it out.’ They are also leaders who rely on other people’s intelligence. And a life-affirming leader is one who knows how to rely on and use the intelligence that exists everywhere in the community . . . These leaders act as hosts, as stewards of other people’s creativity and other people’s intelligence. And when I say host, I mean a leader these days needs to be one who convenes people, who convenes diversity, who convenes all viewpoints in processes where our intelligence can come forth. So these kinds of leaders do not give us the answers, but they help gather us!”

This is the kind of leader I long to be in the Big Waters District as we struggle together to learn how to speak to a different culture—a culture that no longer holds organized religion as central to life in our communities. I long to gather up the creativity, the experiments and innovations that are happening in our churches and to share our learning with each other in order to build community. No one has all the answers these days. No one has a magic wand that will stop the decline and restore our churches to the way they were back in 1950. But, together (not in isolation or in silos) we will learn to sing a new song in this strange land—to invite and inspire people of all ages to know Jesus. I’m quite excited about this journey that we will take together over the next six to eight years. I hope you are excited too! God has much to teach us if we are willing to cooperate with the Spirit that is already at work within us and in our churches, carving out this new path toward our new future.

It is truly a blessing for all of us to be in our various ministries—ordained and lay. I know that your lives are as busy as mine, but my hope and prayer for you is that you will take time to enjoy the fall colors, to enjoy your families and friends, to eat a Minnesota-grown apple, to help someone in need, and to feast on God’s goodness and grace.

Finally, there is another critically important part of this fall season. Each of your churches will receive a call from a pastor or lay leader who is eager to share with your church the story of what God is doing in our Minnesota Annual Conference and how the Reach • Renew • Rejoice initiative will allow us to do even more to revitalize our existing churches, plant new churches, and reach more people for Christ. More than $1 million has been pledged so far. As I travel around the district and see the diversity of our churches in terms of size and geography, I see that there is so much important work that needs to be done and I am excited to partner with leaders throughout our district to develop the strategy to accomplish this work. I am proud to report that, as of the end of September, the Big Waters District has the second-highest amount in clergy pledges! I’m excited to see now what our churches can do!

Susan Nienaber is Big Waters District Superintendent for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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(612) 870-0058