About a year and a half ago, I wrote "Not Your Parents' D.S.", which were some reflections after doing the job for a year and a few months. I reminded folks of the "new" job description:
¶ 419. As an extension of the office of bishop, the district superintendent shall oversee the total ministry of the clergy (including clergy in extension ministry and ministry beyond the local church) and of the churches in the communities of the district in their missions of witness and service in the world.
1. The Church expects, as part of the superintendent ministry, that the superintendent will be the chief missional strategist of the district...working with persons across the Church to develop programs of ministry and mission which extend the witness of Christ into the world.
As I've lived into the new focus (more accurately, foci) for three years, I'm starting to see light! Deep change is s l o w... but the changes I am beginning to witness are encouraging and exciting in the Paducah District:
1. Generative Leadership Academy. In a word: wow! The response of the first "class" has truly humbled me. Laity who have participated are energized for leadership and discipleship. The creative genius of the Wesleys showed in how conferencing as means of grace bears fruit! To be sure: GLA is not the answer to all of our problems, but it certainly frames how we should live a life of discipleship and piety. I can't thank those enough who helped plan the first GLA - and am so appreciative of those supporting and praying for GLA 2014. We now have folks from other districts and conferences participating. Amen!
2. Charge Conferences. I have no regrets doing individual charge conferences - and so many churches took seriously the process of evaluating themselves and asking themselves how they might be more effective in making disciples of Jesus Christ. Our decline and loss of focus on mission and discipleship didn't occur overnight, and our recovery will take time as well. But owning and identifying the problems are great starting places. God is not done with us yet!
3. Apportionment Payout. For the third year in a row, the Paducah District has increased its apportionment payout - this year, we paid 90.5% of our apportioned amount. In real dollars, that's $981,811 out of an apportioned $1,084,905. I cannot begin to say how blessed I feel and how proud I am of our district. I certainly want us to have 100% as a goal, but we are getting there!
4. District Strategy Team. These folks just completed a YEAR together in an SLI incubator, praying about our district, our churches, and our mission and discipleship. As you heard at the District Training Day, we have a missional direction and values statement that is in concert with our conference's mission - all to help local churches do the most important work of all: make disciples of Jesus Christ. These folks continue to live, work, and pray together as we discern God's call for the Paducah District in the Memphis Conference.
The Challenges Ahead
1. Loss of Employment. It is hard to see our brothers and sisters hurt and suffer. More than ever, we have to connect and network as a district to take care of each other, pray for each other, and be willing to pool our resources and gifts to be a strong United Methodist presence. I think we have something unique to offer the Purchase Area; more than ever, people need to hear the healing and saving power of God's grace - and we Methodists major in grace!
2. Conference Staff and Program. Even though our total apportionment payout as a conference was a bit higher for 2013, the apportionment for Connectional Ministry Team was only funded at 68% - which is a $340,000+ shortfall. As a result, the CMT budget and personnel committees met and had to make adjustments in staff positions and CMT funding, and you can imagine how difficult cutting 1/3 of your ministries would be. We will certainly go on doing ministry in Jesus' name, but there are challenges ahead.
3. Reduction in Districts. The task force that met the past few months is recommending we decrease the number of districts from 7 to 4, having a Purchase Area district, a Metro district, a Mississippi River district, and a Tennessee River district (those are just geographical locations, not names). This would move the average number of charges per district from 42 to 62. Before you think that's unreasonable, it is more in line with the rest of the Connection in terms of workload. What that probably means for the Paducah District is that we would add Calloway and Fulton counties to our district and truly be a "Purchase Area" district. While there will be some challenges ahead, I think there would also be some bonuses for a unified "Kentucky" part of the Memphis Conference being under one district. Most importantly, this frees up funding to go toward renewed missional and discipleship needs in our conference, rather than funding the "way we've always done things," which we all know isn't working.
There are of course some things the D.S. will continue to do as always, but as I adapt to the new priority of being a "chief missional strategist," the work ahead is exciting - and I am excited about the more excellent way God is preparing for us. But most of all, I am excited to have a district that is on board. We may be moving s l o w l y, but we are moving with purpose. I think that's a work of the Spirit; God is not done with us yet!