Monday, January 31, 2011

What Alaska Could Learn from our Big Sister Conference

The Pacific Northwest Annual Conference includes Washington and the northern part of Idaho.  They engaged in an assessment of their churches called the District Planning and Strategy (DPAS).  This is the same process our Director of Connectional Ministries, Leila Disburg, has been using with Alaska churches.  The actual assessment instrument can be found at:

For PNW 140 churches have completed the assessment and this is one of the initial results.  This is from Kristina Gonzalez, associate director of connectional ministries.

Generally, we United Methodists engage well and effectively in charity work.  We provide food, clothing and shelter to those in need.  We care for the least in society through direct service or through donations.  We are a caring people.  What we do less well is to link our programs to our Christian faith in a way that invites – not mandates or manipulates, but invites - engagement of those receiving service through ministry into relationship with Jesus Christ through the United Methodist Church. 
We also seem less clear as to how to understand the changing communities in which our churches are located.  While we can cite the demographics around our churches, we generally do not know the needs, life stresses or hopes of the people outside of the walls of church.  We generally do not ask for advice as to the place of the United Methodist Church in serving people who do not worship with us currently.  In other words, generally, we do not engage our mission field effectively. 

I recently completed my visit of all of our Alaska churches and find a striking similarity to Kristina's comments about PNW.  We are an amazing church when it comes to caring ministries.  But I wonder if we would say the same thing as the PNW conclusion, that we are not very effective in linking our programs “in a way that invites engagement of those receiving service through ministry into relationship with Jesus Christ through the United Methodist Church.”  In other words we United Methodists need to have a conversation in our churches, our pulpits, our leadership meetings, our study classes about what it means to be a WITNESS for Jesus Christ.  

What is working in your church to make this vital connection between CARING and WITNESS?  Is it time for some holy boldness?  Is it time for the leaders of the Alaska Conference to step forward and help our church figure out how we can be witnesses to the resurrection story of Christ in ways that lead to discipleship and transformation?

My hope is to stir prayer and conversation in our conference on this vital subject.  What do you think?

Grace Always,

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