Lessons on Leadership for Church Leaders

By Vicki Brown

District superintendents and directors of connectional ministries—working collaboratively with church pastors and lay leaders—can lead the adaptive change necessary for the United Methodist Church to have a future with hope, the Rev. Jorge Acevedo told 81 new district superintendents and seven directors of connectional ministries attending a training in early September.

“It seems to many of us in the church that the greatest leverage point for congregational vitality is at the annual conference and district levels. We are a connectional church that by our very nature has a supervisory dynamic that resides in the office of the district superintendent. Leveraging this supervisory role can facilitate healthy, holy clergy who lead healthy, holy churches,” said Acevedo, lead pastor of Grace Church, a multi-site United Methodist congregation at Cape Coral, Fort Myers Shores, and Fort Myers Central campuses in Florida.

“Spiritual leaders who live in community foster transformational cultures and establish fruitful process,” Acevedo said, urging the group to tend to their own prayer life and spiritual discipline practices. He mentioned an article in Circuit Rider magazine which cited a study of 1,050 pastors. That study found that 72 percent said they only studied the Bible when they were preparing for sermons and lessons. Only 26 percent of pastors interviewed for the study said they regularly had personal devotions and felt they were fed spiritually.

“Can I encourage you to live a deeply spiritual life yourself?” he asked. He also urged them to organize their districts so pastors can be held accountable to their spiritual life. For instance, the DS could meet regularly with eight or 10 pastors who in turn met with eight or 10 more pastors with the express purpose of accountability to their spiritual life.

“If you can, trust and unity will grow. Wouldn’t it be wonderful for an entire district to own the responsibility for reaching the lost and broken in their districts? What if an entire district took as its responsibility that every child in the district was fed?” Acevedo asked.

The training event is sponsored by the Council of Bishops, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, and the General Board of Discipleship.

Superintendents oversee the total ministry of the clergy and churches for ministry and mission within their district. Directors of connectional ministries oversee program development for the annual conference.

Acevedo said The United Methodist Church in the U.S. has lost the practice of clergy watching over the souls of fellow clergy. Acevedo said he meets regularly with the three clergy he oversees at Grace Church and that they talk about how it is with their soul, if they are abiding with Jesus, and how is their ministry.

“Left to ourselves, even the most wanna-be faithful follower of Jesus will drift, and the drift is always south,” Acevedo said, adding that it is the spiritual environments created by regular practice that can keep people going in ministry.

“In our system, bishops, district superintendents, and local church pastors are charged with creating cultures where clergy and laity work collaboratively together to release the people of God to join Jesus in his mission in the world,” Acevedo said.

Since research on vital congregations has shown that 15 percent of United Methodist churches score high in vitality, that means the UMC cannot assign all the blame for congregational demise at the feet of the “institutions” of the church. “If 4,961 congregations have figured out ways to prevail in spite of our denominational condition, that is hopeful and promising,” Acevedo said.

He urged the DSes to create a culture of relational trust, appropriate vulnerability, and audacious faith. “Radical risk-taking is birthed in a transformational culture,” he said.

Vicki Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, Board of Higher Education and Ministry. This article was distributed by the Board of Higher Education and Ministry.