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Annual Conference Shepherding Team hears hard truths as it determines its purpose

Posted: August 30 2023 at 11:08 AM
Author: Victoria Rebeck, Director of Communications


Clarifying its role in strengthening Northern Illinois Conference shared ministries is priority one for the Annual Conference Shepherding Team and was its focus at its July 29 meeting at Friendship United Methodist Church in Bolingbrook.

The team, created in 2017 to coordinate and communicate the conference ministries, was interrupted by the pandemic of 2020-2021 in its efforts devise a plan for this work. 

Susan Czolgosz, a church and organizational development consultant who specializes in congregational and middle judicatory vitality, continued her guidance at this meeting.

Given a number of choices, the majority of task force members identified developing vital congregations, leadership that focuses the mission of the church, and developing disciples for compassion, mercy, and justice ministries as the most important work of an annual conference.

Supporting this, the majority named connecting people and resources, vision, and putting vision and money together as the ACST’s primary responsibilities.

The timing of the creation of the ACST has been one factor that has held it back. Mark Manzi, the task force’s co-chair, noted that the conference Standing Rules related to the task force were written when the future shape of the United Methodist Church, beset by persistent conflict, was unknown but expected to shift. 

In 2019—only months before the pandemic significantly changed life across the world—the annual conference approved three goals for the ACST: to grow and reach new disciples of Jesus Christ, to live out the conviction that racism is incompatible with Christian teaching, and to increase the number of highly vital congregations.

The conference affirmed these goals “to set a direction that could get us moving toward something,” Manzi explained. “They came out of responses received from the ‘landscape survey’ of many conference groups.”  

While some unknowns remain, The United Methodist Church remains intact, and God’s call on churches continues.

Czolgosz urged the team to appreciate the urgency of identifying and pursuing its goals and tasks.

“We are on a burning platform,” she said. “How much time do we have to talk about what we do, while membership, resources, and other aspects of ministry continue to decline in the conference?”

She commended six capacities (“hows”) for the task force to ponder in the coming weeks. At its September meeting, Czolgosz urged, the task force should agree on a plan for how it will develop these capacities:

  1. Formulate and fulfill a mission
  2. Facilitate change
  3. Lead and govern effectively
  4. Cultivate lifelong learners
  5. Resolve conflict
  6. Actively discourage triangulation (the habit of avoiding direct conversation)

Listening first, talking straight (honestly and directly), transparency, keeping commitments, and extending trust should define the task force’s behavior, Czolgosz said, as it envisions and lives out its purpose.

Bishop Dan Schwerin reflected on what he heard in the day’s meeting.

“When you do a new thing, expect a lot to fall off,” he observed about the changes that the task force is pondering. He added, “Be willing to let go of things so that we can be about our message. Where we insert a period, God inserts a comma.”

The task force next meets on Sept. 23.

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