Four words that capture the fullness of our Christian faith!
Throughout history, God’s people have embraced these core faith commandments:
“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Deuteronomy 6:5 NRSV).
“You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.” (Leviticus 19:18 NRSV)
When Jesus was asked what commandment in the law was the greatest, he masterfully wedded these two Old Testament scriptures in this way, forever shaping our basic Christian faith:
“’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Matthew 22:37-38 NRSV)
The Greatest Commandment. Love God. Love Neighbor. Four words forever woven together as the basic expression of our faith in Jesus Christ.
Since the Fall of 2020, a “Sustainability Task Force” has been meeting to review our present ministry structure in the Western Pennsylvania Conference and determine how it could be sustained during these difficult and uncertain times. Consisting of members from the Coordinating Cabinet, the Conference Council on Finance and Administration, and the Connectional Leadership Team, the original goal of the team was to enable ministry to survive – yet the Holy Spirit intervened in our human task and compelled us to imagine how ministry could thrive – now and into the future!
A “Ministry” sub-group was formed to consider various models for our Conference ministry. After reading the book Three Horizons: The Patterning of Hope by Bill Sharpe, the team started to dream what ministry would look like in the Third Horizon (new patterns of ministry that will better address the emerging needs of our churches and communities). While our current situation, our First Horizon, is filled with vital ministry and excellent staff, our team yearned for a ministry construct that would call us back to the basics of faith – to love God and to love neighbor. So the team forged ahead to envision what kind of Second Horizon Ministry (transitional period) we needed to move us toward our preferred future of a ministry grounded in “Love God, Love Neighbor.”
As we talked and prayed about how the Conference could best provide a ministry model of “Love God. Love Neighbor,” a profound truth created the pathway: The local church is the most important place of ministry!
In The Book of Discipline of the United Methodist Church (2016), ¶201 reminds us “the local church provides the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs.” Further, ¶202 states, “The function of the local church is to help people accept and confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, and to live their daily lives in light of their relationship with God.” In other words, the local church is the best place for people to love God and to love neighbor!
So, as we imagined how the Conference could best provide resources to local churches to more deeply love God and Neighbor, we envisioned a way to decrease the distance between the Conference and the local church. With excitement, we formed a plan that would connect the basics of faith with the ground zero location of disciple-making, the local church.
The outcome is an experimental Regional Ministry Plan in which Conference staff would work more closely with local churches to equip them for disciple-making. The plan would deploy a Regional Coordinator of Spiritual Formation (Love God) and a Regional Coordinator of Community Engagement (Love Neighbor) to serve part-time in a defined region of the Conference. A simple explanation of the ministry focus is that the regional staff would work with churches to:
The ultimate outcome would be local churches more effectively applying their gifts/strengths in their community – all to make disciples of Jesus Christ!
In order to recognize and celebrate that all Christians are “called through their baptism to a ministry of servanthood in the world for the glory of God,” (BOD, ¶126) the ministry team in each region will be a partnership of a clergy and lay person. All will serve in the positions on an interim part-time basis.
As indicated in the graphic, two regions in the Conference, each comprised of two districts, have been identified to launch this ministry experiment on July 1, 2021: The Erie-Meadville/Kane region and the Butler/Pittsburgh region. In each region, a Coordinator of Spiritual Formation and a Coordinator of Community Engagement will be in ministry with the local churches. The regional coordinators will be considered Conference Staff under the supervision of the Conference Director of Connectional Ministries. If the project moves beyond the experimental phase, regional staff will be processed through an official hiring process conducted by the Conference Personnel Team.
This pilot project is an exciting experiment! In the midst of all of the uncertainty and anxiety of these troubling times, this opportunity will increase our focus on strengthening local churches to love God and love neighbor – all for the purpose of making disciples for Jesus Christ! Over the course of the coming year, the project will be implemented and evaluated. If the new staff model is truly leading us to Third Horizon ministry, interim regional staff could be deployed in other regions of our Conference in the coming years.
In the coming weeks, the staff who will serve in these positions will be announced. Please add this pilot project and the staff to your prayer list. May God be glorified as we love God and Neighbor in new and exciting ways!
--By Rev. Alyce Weaver Dunn, Director of Connectional Ministries