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Urgency Is Not Enough: Shepherding Team Talks About Change

Posted: June 15 2023 at 02:12 PM
Author: Victoria Rebeck

Liz Gracie, who has been one of the co-chairs of the Annual Conference Shepherding Team for the past eight years, told the Annual Conference 2023 members of an insight the team recently gained: Urgency is not enough; leaders have to internalize change itself.

The ACST heard this challenging but intriguing assertion from Susan Czolgocz, a consultant who specializes in church organizational development. She led the team in a day-long workshop and produced a report that the team will discuss in July.

The insight prompted Liz’s reflections on being part of the task force that led to the formation of the


Liz Gracie and Rev. Hwa-Young Chong

“How many of you have ever said, ‘Where does the annual conference stand on this issue?’—say, human sexuality. Or, ‘can’t the annual conference help us with this problem?’—which might be technology or building needs,” Liz asked.

On the other hand, she said, she has heard people complain that an initiative “seems top-down,” and then choose to ignore it. She has heard this even from those who were part of crafting the initiative.

This has not helped strengthen the shared ministry of the NIC, she said. She pointed to the ever-shrinking budget of the conference, a shared system of support and collaboration, as a sign.

“To turn this trend around or, at least, to plateau at our current level, our annual conference must engage in and empower genuine leadership,” she said. “If you are in this room, you are a leader of the Northern Illinois Conference and your constructive contributions are needed.”

She identified a second hard truth:  "Our reluctance to assert and accept leadership has allowed churches to struggle on their own," she said, "and the persistence of that state of affairs is dragging down the church that we love." 

"Our responsibility as leaders is to reframe the notion of hope for our local churches: that United Methodists should be inspired to hope for more than remaining independent in deteriorating buildings," she said. 

The concerns of churches’ attachments to their buildings, the ways clergy are appointed (sometimes one pastor might serve two or more churches), and the role of thriving churches all contribute to challenging of finding a clear path.

“If your church is currently thriving, I would encourage you to consider how to position yourself to serve as a destination for smaller congregations ready to depart their buildings,” she said.

Urgency Is Not Enough Photo2023

This means something more than simply allowing those folks to join your church. It requires intentional efforts to learn about those who have left a beloved but now closed church and allow them to be part of shaping the present and future of the larger church, Liz explained.

Rev. Hwa Young Chong, who has shared the leadership role with Liz, was struck by Susan Czolgocz’s understanding of liminality.

Liminality is a kind of in-between time, Hwa Young explained. One time is ending and the new one has not yet arrived. The time between can be a long one.

“On the one hand, I recognize that it’s not easy to live through liminality,” said. “We are not in charge, as we recognize the not knowing, the confusion, and the ambiguity as we go through liminal space and time.

“On the other hand, we know that, for Christians, liminality is not entirely a foreign concept. We proclaim God’s kin(g)dom that is ‘already’ here and has ‘not yet’ arrived—at the same time,” she observed. “We witness to our Lord, Jesus Christ, who is both divine and human. We have faith in a God who is transcendent and immanent. People of faith have seldom lived in an either/or world. Rather, our life in God has often been both/and.”

But she also sees liminal time as a time for hope, a time that leads to something new, though we know not what it is or when it will arrive.

She finds inspiration in Isaiah 43:19: 

   I’m about to do a new thing
   Now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
   I will make a way in the wilderness
   and rivers in the desert.

That “new thing” for the NIC may take longer than we hope it will, she said. “We may not exactly see a highway in the wilderness. In our own lifetime, we may not live to see the rivers in the desert.”

Still, God is about to do a new thing, she said.

“Can we be part of the resurrection story of Jesus Christ? I believe so!,” she concluded.

Watch a recording of the presentation

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