By Jessica Connor
Hungry for a word on transformation and eager to meet the conference’s new bishop, hundreds of South Carolina United Methodist pastors descended upon Myrtle Beach Oct. 1-3 for the 2012 Bishop’s School of Ministry event.
With the theme “Invitation to a Changed Life: Moving Towards Clergy Excellence,” the three-day event featured keynote presentations by top church growth and revitalization experts, along with workshops, two worship opportunities and a kickoff banquet led by new S.C. Resident Bishop Jonathan Holston.
“We are God’s people and we need to be about God’s business,” Holston told the crowd gathered for the opening banquet, urging clergy to use their time at the event to share and improve upon their ministries. “If we are not about changing, then what are we about? God has called you to be the church in this place.”
Holston recounted how he has been talking with various groups asking five major questions to help him be effective at the helm of the conference, and he posed those same questions to the clergy at the banquet: what challenges will we in South Carolina have together? Why are we having these challenges? What are our untapped resources? How are we going to maximize those opportunities with available resources among the people who want to be called United Methodist? And if you were me, what would you focus on?
“I have a plan to listen to you,” Holston said. “We are going to work together. We are going to disagree but not be disagreeable.”
As he noted, if we cut each other up and cut our churches up, then what will we have?
Some of the challenges noted by clergy include a difficulty in finding volunteers to work with children, the struggle of the UMC to find its identity, the need to develop genuine covenant partnerships among clergy, and the clear segregation that still exists in our churches, creating “black” and “white” churches.
Untapped resources noted by clergy include mentoring young people as leaders in the church and the ability very small churches have to unite and care for fellow members in a way that big churches often cannot do.
The next two days featured keynote presentations by Dr. Mark Tidsworth of Pinnacle Leadership; Larry Ousley, executive director of the Intentional Growth Center, life coach and former pastor of several large churches; and Dr. Anne Burkholder, who served most recently as director of Connectional Ministries and district superintendent in the Florida Annual Conference of the UMC.
Tidsworth started what would be two full days for clergy of intense learning and fellowship with his keynote presentation Tuesday morning.
Right now is a time of transformation and change, he said, and because of that, “We as congregational leaders better have a clear understanding of change.”
To help clergy deepen their understanding of the dynamics of change and help them develop a stronger philosophy of change, Tidsworth explained technical and adaptive change. Technical change is what we do when first faced with challenges, such as try harder, do better what we know how to do, change leadership, etc. Adaptive change is useful under conditions of instability, transition and discontinuity – such as new solutions, different approaches, changing the model itself, etc.
“Leading this church is like transforming this airplane into the space shuttle while charting a new course to a planet we have yet to identify – while still flying it,” Tidsworth quipped.
He urged people to take heart when facing difficult change.
“God’s people have been doing this for thousands of years,” he said. “It seems new to us, but it’s not.”
Ousley spoke Tuesday afternoon on the ministry of coaching and how clergy can better develop those skills.
Coaching is the act of partnering with clients in a thought-provoking and creative process that inspires them to maximize their personal and professional potential, Ousley explained.
He cited eight building blocks of coaching skills: deep listening, powerful questioning, artful language, action and accountability, the coaching relationship, the coaching agreement, creating new awareness and direct communication.
Jesus can be viewed as the ultimate coach, Ousley said – He used questions throughout Scripture to help people reflect and discover truths within themselves.
“Coaching is about empowering others,” Ousley said. “The coach is not the star.”
On Tuesday night, Rock Hill District Superintendent the Rev. Joe Long brought a message on change, remembering his childhood growing up on a beef cattle farm in Saluda. Long said he was really good at hauling hay.
“But you’ve got to have a solid place to stand on to bale the hay,” Long said.
Applying that foundational aspect to all the change we are experiencing, Long urged pastors to have a strong point of reference, a firm foundation, from which to navigate all the change.
He pointed out that Paul was a change agent, and Paul said there are three things we can always count on: faith, hope and love.
“If step by step, decision by decision, day by day we’d put our hands in God’s and put our faith in the Lord, we can make it,” Long said. “We may step in some mud puddles, … but if we’re going to be excellent in anything, let’s be excellent in faith, let’s be excellent in hope, and let’s be excellent in love.”
Burkholder shared insights Wednesday morning on clergy leadership, and clergy rounded out their three-day experience with in-depth workshops on leadership, coaching, clergy excellence, conflict and retirement.
For more scenes from the Bishop’s School of Ministry, visit www.umcsc.org .