Hopes and Dreams for Western North Carolina

Annual Conference, 2015

“Hopes and Dreams for Western North Carolina”

BishopGoodpaster-215x300By the time we adjourn Annual Conference on June 21, I will have less than fifteen months before my retirement as mandated by The Book of Discipline. Already my calendar for the coming year is filling up with various preaching engagements, retreats, and conference meetings. Lately I have been giving much thought to these closing months, what I hope we can accomplish together, and how I plan to invest myself in our common mission and ministry in Western North Carolina.

From the very beginning of my assignment to the Charlotte Area, I have constantly held up our mission and vision as the driving force behind our work. We are to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of lives, communities, and the world. I am convinced that the mission will be accomplished only through vital churches fully engaged in God’s mission locally and globally. That has been the theme underlying decisions made, lessons taught, sermons proclaimed, and this transitional journey begun and continued. That is precisely what I will spend the remaining months urging, advocating, guiding, and structuring.

I am equally convinced that no one person or church will be able to achieve the mission without connections and cooperation with others. Let me share some hopes and dreams for the coming year, and invite your prayers, your commitment, and your cooperation in advancing Christ’s Kingdom and building for the future. Here, then, are my hopes and dreams for how we will focus our energy and resources during the coming conference year (2015-2016), extending and adapting the work that continues in this transitional time and that was highlighted in the previous report.

I will continue to urge, challenge, advise and exhort laity and clergy to be fully engaged in God’s mission in their communities. A vital church focuses outward by paying attention and responding to the needs of people who live and work within the shadow of the church facility. A vital congregation gives itself away in hands-on outreach ministry.

  • I will join with SALT and our communications team in creating new and fresh ways of sharing stories from our missional networks, from partnered churches, and other faith communities through the conference web site and other mediums.
  • I will continue to work with the Cabinet in our roles as missional strategists to encourage church leaders to foster a risk-taking missional imagination for the sake of the Gospel.

I will focus on disciple development and on moving church members toward fruitful service as followers of Jesus. A vital church provides opportunities for intentional faith development, and encourages members and constituents to participate so that they grow from an acceptance of Jesus to living like Jesus.

  • I will challenge every church to work on a comprehensive plan for making and developing disciples of Jesus Christ.
  • I will be working with our Conference Staff Relations Committee, the Cabinet, and SALT in creating a Disciple Development Team at the conference level. My goal is to have a Director in place by January 1, 2016, and the entire team assembled and deployed by July 1, 2016. This team will assist churches in designing, developing, and implementing plans for making disciples of Jesus Christ.

I will invite churches to take charge of their future, believing that God always provides among the people all the gifts and skills needed to be a vital church. My desire is for our churches to choose the path toward vitality through missional outreach, a generous spirit, and an evangelical passion.

  • I will challenge our Leadership Development Team and our Church Vitality Team to upgrade and expand the resources available to local churches.
  • I will encourage local churches to take advantage of the many opportunities that are currently offered, such as Readiness 360, Intentional Vitality for Change, Checking Vital Signs, and many others.
  • I anticipate receiving by the end of 2015 a report and a plan from a task force currently working on the processes for helping churches make decisions about their future, such as going on a charge, or joining a cooperative parish, or creating a partnership with another congregation, or participating in a vital merger, or becoming a legacy church. I will support and work collaboratively with the Cabinet and Conference Staff, as they work with local churches to implement this plan.

I know that at the 2016 General Conference our denomination is facing hard decisions that will impact all of us. I believe that to become a vital movement for Christ in the world we must prayerfully enter into conversation with one another and with a heart and spirit warmed by God. Topics including issues of racism, violence and human sexuality will not be easy or comfortable conversations.

  • I will be asking our Justice and Reconciliation Team to help design and develop some models for holding these conversations at conference and district levels.
  • I will encourage clergy and local churches to make use of excellent resources already available. Models such as appreciative inquiry or spiritual discernment have been utilized by many. In addition, groups such as PlowPoint, JustPeace, or the Lombard Mennonite Peace Center offer effective resources and training events.

Finally, I have a deep desire to see our great conference become one of those in our denomination that is growing in membership, worship, and generosity. In the last few years we have slowed the rate of decline of membership (in 2014 we decreased less than 1%), but I believe we can and must do even better. With the population growing across our area, there is no reason for us not to see more people coming into a relationship with Jesus Christ and living out their faith in one of our local churches. I urge all of us, lay and clergy, to become witnesses in our neighborhoods and to build relationships that result in new commitments to Jesus Christ. Focused outward, we must go to where the people are rather than expecting them to come to us.

I am confident that the coming year in the Western North Carolina Conference will move us further down the road of accomplishing our mission and of serving Christ with love and grace, with energy and passion, and with a commitment to be the people God has called us to be. I cannot wait to see what God will do next with us and through us as we continue this journey of transition.

Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster
June, 2015