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by Estee in

I'm on a task-force in our United Methodist conference that is looking into realigning the conference structure with its mission. The process has been very educational for me and I'm happy to have the opportunity to participate. Our task-force had a meeting this afternoon that really got me thinking about the power of context.

Context matters in ministry. For years, the Central Texas Annual Conference hasn't taken much account of the local church context when developing mission and ministry. This isn't saying anything that everyone doesn't already know. The local church was the lowest level on the totem poll, with clergy above it, then conference office staff, then district superintendents, then the bishop. The local church was always told what to do from the top-down. "Do this program, collect this offering, parcipate in this mission of the conference." None of this was terrible, especially because United Methodists are connectional -- our churches are bound together in a web of mission and administration and purpose. And connectionalism is a good thing. But no one ever asked the local church what they thought about all the programs and initiatives the conference asked them to implement.

Now things are changing. What the task-force I'm a part of is trying to accomplish is turning over the tables so that now what matters is not what the leadership of the conference push down the pipe, but the ministry that is happening in each local church. We're contextualizing. No longer will the conference be program driven, but resource supportive. What matters is the grass-roots, organic ministry that is happening in the local church. So, if a local church finds itself in an area with a high need for divorce counseling, the conference won't push marriage-enrichment seminars upon them, but resource the church with appropriate ministries.

I know that not much of this matters to most anyone who reads this blog. But, what I find really interesting is that not only have I heard about the importance of contextualization in a church setting, but I've also heard lots about it lately on an individual level.

This past Sunday, our Scripture lesson was Jeremiah 1:4-10 -- the story of Jeremiah's call to prophecy. Jeremiah's call was very specific -- go to the unrepentant people of Israel and pluck up and plant. Get rid of the refuse and help them start over. God's call of Jeremiah was contextual. God says to Jeremiah: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you" (v.5). God created Jeremiah to be the prophet he needed to be. God creates each of us to be the people we need to be in this world. God creates us with a context in mind. And part of discerning our calling, our vocation in this life, is taking a good long look at our context, at where we find ourselves, and asking how we fit into the larger picture and reflect God into it.

At our meeting today, Bishop Lowry kept emphasizing that the outcome most desired by all this "realignment" is the fruit that the local churches produce. Hopefully, this new structure of empowering churches from the bottom up and not the top down will help produce the fruit of transformed lives. And so, in our own individual context of calling, what is the fruit we are each producing on our own? Are we making a difference? Are we bringing hope to people? Are we helping others transform into the people God created them to be?


Jamie Valendy said...

Thank you for this post, Estee. I needed parts of this. I'm also glad that you're a part of something so great.

Anonymous said...

Wow. This has really encapsulated my frustrations that have been brewing over the last year or so. I'm so glad that the conference is finally opening their eyes. Now let's carry this one step furhter. How about letting the churches tell the conference what they want in a pastor and have a true selection process? How about auditions in the form of guest speakers leading up to the actual assignment? The assignment of pastoral staff is another area where there has been a "take it or leave it" attitude by the conference....
Howad Rife

Sarah Boyette said...

go girl! I'm glad you're on the team!

Estee said...

Thanks Howard, I appreciate your comments! I think the move towards more inclusion in the selection process is hopefully where the conference will go in the future. I agree with you!

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