The joy of being a year in

June 30, 2015

I’m celebrating an important anniversary this month—my first full year of being the Big Waters District Superintendent. I have to say that I love this role! At the Big Waters District lunch at annual conference, I shared several of the reasons why I love the role and all of the incredible things happening in the district:

  • My predecessors did such a wonderful job of setting the table for me. Many things were already in place when I arrived, which has led the Big Waters district to be the second-most vital district in the annual conference. I would list about 33 percent of our churches as either growing, vital, and healthy or very high potential. My long-term goal for the district is to reach 40 percent. I am confident that we will get there in the years to come.
  • Apportionment giving continues to increase. Our churches increased apportionment giving by 1 percent from the end of 2013 to the end of 2014 and then increased by another 1 percent through the first quarter of 2015.
  • I see an increase in energy and hopefulness across the district. I also see a willingness to innovate, take risks, and experiment with new and different ways of growing in love with God and neighbor, reaching new people, and healing a broken world. One of the biggest signs of this deep desire to learn and experiment was the huge turnout for a two-hour workshop with Jim Ozier on a cold Tuesday night in February. We had 178 people register and many who bought his book and have been using it in their congregations. (By the way, Jim Ozier is returning for a one-day conference breakthrough workshop on September 19—stay tuned for more information about how to register.)
  • Several times a week, I get to hear these incredible stories of how lives are being transformed for Christ. There are such amazing things happening in so many of our congregations that are opening themselves up to cooperate with the Spirit and making a great difference in their communities.

My goal for my first year was to make connections with everyone and to help others make positive connections with each other. My second goal was to increase energy and momentum, which was easy because of all of the amazing things you are doing on the ground in your churches. If I had one goal for the district for the next year, it would be this: All of our churches would continually focus on God and on the larger purpose in being together. Every day, prayers should be lifted up asking God to use us and getting ourselves out of God’s way. This sounds simple but it is not—especially for long-established churches. The longer we have been around, the more we drift from our original purpose in being together. Then, we begin to focus on meeting individuals’ preferences. Or, we focus only on how to survive as a church so that we can continue to keep doing things the way they’ve always been done. This creates a social club mentality where our members want what they want because they want it instead of what God wants.

One of the other DSs recently shared with me an interesting reading from Joan Chittister. Joan is a member of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie, Pennsylvania, where she served as prioress for 12 years. She is a gifted writer who has authored 50 books and over 700 articles in numerous journals and magazines. She was reflecting on Matthew 10 (Jesus says that those who find their life will lose it and those who lose their life for His sake will find it) and wrote in her journal: “Whatever we do we do for a purpose larger than ourselves or there is no use doing it at all. The real purpose of our lives is not for ourselves alone. It is to co-create the world. It is to bring the rest of the world to the point of humanity we think ourselves to have achieved. It is when all I care about is my life that I begin to have it seep out of me into a pool of selfishness so deep that I miss the juice of all the life that is around me.”

There is so much juice and life all around us. My hope and prayer is that together we can give ourselves over to this life all around us and then amazing things will (continue to) happen.

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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