Common Table to recommend bigger 2016 budget to boost leadership development

January 22, 2015

By: Christa Meland

Members of the Common Table began the year with an in-depth discussion of the conference’s mission and the critical levers to achieve it—and they explored the balance between the need to manage resources wisely and the need make investments to prepare Minnesota churches for the future.

As part of its discussion, the group—comprising leaders of all ministry teams—on Jan. 15 voted unanimously to recommend a 2016 apportioned budget that is 1.5 percent higher than the 2015 apportioned budget in order to pay for programs to train the next generation of leaders. That recommendation will be brought to members of the 2015 annual conference session, who must approve the budget.

The Minnesota Conference has a budget “ceiling” rule that uses a formula to limit the growth of the apportioned budget from one year to the next. Under that rule, the 2016 apportioned budget can increase by no more than 0.5 percent, or $31,000 over the 2015 budget. But the Common Table would like to suspend that rule in order to fund several high-priority, mission-critical items. Its favored budget totals $6,120,770—roughly $90,000 more than the 2015 apportioned budget. If approved as recommended by the Common Table, the 2016 budget would still be the lowest one since 2002 (with the exception of 2015).

The United Methodist Book of Discipline gives the Council on Finance and Administration the responsibility to recommend an apportioned budget to members of annual conference. That group is required to bring a 2016 budget recommendation that complies with the ceiling rule. But its members expressed support for suspending the ceiling in order to add several important items.

Suspending the ceiling rule would require a two-thirds vote by members of the 2015 annual conference session.

Why funds are needed

Bishop Bruce Ough has said many times that developing leaders is the most critical lever to increase the conference’s number of vital congregations. Developing young leaders is particularly important, given that less than 7 percent of Minnesota clergy are under the age of 40 and more than 50 percent of the state’s clergy are eligible to retire within the next five years. Research also shows that leaders are best able to reach people within 10 years of their age. The average age of Minnesota clergy is 53.5—and the Council of Bishops set a goal to lower the average age of United Methodist congregants to 47 to 2019.

The increase to the ceiling would fund two specific leadership development initiatives:

  • The ELI Project: This just-launched program provides internships to college students exploring a call to vocational ministry. The first year of the program was made possible thanks to a $60,000 grant from the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry’s Young Clergy Initiative fund. But future years would need to be funded by the Minnesota Conference. The 2016 budget includes $60,000 to continue this program during that calendar year.
  • Soul Leaders: This umbrella title refers to clergy peer groups. Right now, Soul Leaders is a retreat series that offers small groups of clergy the opportunity to reconnect with their passion and purpose and explore issues related to heart, courage, and call. But it will soon be expanded to encompass other types of clergy peer groups that are under development. Leadership in the church is often lonely in that clergy are working in solo appointments in locations that are far from their peers. Peer group learning has proven to be one of the most effective ways for clergy to grow and be sustained in their ministry even after their formational years. Soul Leaders launched in 2013 thanks to accrued Ministerial Education Fund dollars, but those resources are dwindling. The 2016 budget includes approximately $50,000 for the continuation and expansion of this program during that calendar year, $30,000 of which is contingent on increasing the ceiling.

Other highlights

Most areas of the proposed 2016 apportioned budget are at or below the 2015 level. But other new initiatives that the budget will fund (that aren’t contingent on raising the ceiling) are youth leadership events and opportunities for churches to become more mission-focused.

The conference’s newly formed youth ministry team has planned an annual multi-generational mission event targeted to high school and college students, training for youth leaders, dinners for high school seniors and their families, and a day of service event for high schoolers. These events aim to help students stay connected to their faith and grow as leaders as they navigate their teen and young adult years. Additionally, the budget includes $5,000 that would be put toward micro-grants for churches to start partnerships with local schools and another $5,000 to help fund short-term mission experiences for Minnesota United Methodists. For churches to be relevant and vital, they need to be connected to their communities, outwardly focused, and engaged in healing a broken world.

New staff person

Members of the Common Table also learned about a proposal to add a conference staff person to champion leadership development. This person would be responsible for managing, evaluating, and improving current programs, including Soul Leaders, the Clergy Leadership Academy (open to new and more experienced clergy), and various training sessions for clergy, including boundaries and ethics and multicultural competency.

Funding for that position is being sought from sources outside of the apportioned budget and thus would not be part of the 2016 budget presented and voted on at the 2015 annual conference session.

Common Table response

“In these next five years, do we want to be all in?” Director of Ministries Cindy Gregorson asked members of the Common Table.

In response, several people spoke about the need to invest now in order to facilitate growth in the years to come.

“It’s time for action and we need to have initiatives that bring about new vitality,” said Steve Knight, chair of the Camp and Retreats Board.

Rev. Rhodie Jacobson, co-chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, said the additional funding—particularly the money for the new staff person—would help the conference put more time and energy into developing leaders.

Karen Andrew, chair of the conference’s Board of Trustees, said it’s easy to see the importance of each of the goals outlined.

Barb Carroll, the conference’s director of finance and administration, noted that the 2015 budget was significantly lower than the 2014 budget because of benefit-related items that were previously apportioned but are now being paid from health plan and benefit reserve accounts. Every time the apportioned budget is reduced, the new ceiling is calculated based on the lower budget.

The last ceiling increase was for the 2012 budget. Since 2000, 14 budgets have been at or below the ceiling.

Christa Meland is director of communications for the Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.

Minnesota Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church

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