Arkansas top-represented state at Leadership Institute

By Amy Forbus
Editor

More than 2,000 people gathered Sept. 24-27 at the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., for its annual Leadership Institute. While attendees came from across the U.S. and from a number of other countries, 143 participants came from Arkansas—more than any other state.

Founded and hosted by one of the largest churches in all of United Methodism, the Leadership Institute seeks to help renew churches through providing information, encouraging innovation and offering opportunities for inspiration through worship and prayer.

Several Arkansas Conference churches have made attending the Leadership Institute a priority for years, finding it valuable for growth in discipleship and outreach. This year, though, Arkansas attendance there took a big jump, as clergy and laity from 10 Arkansas churches attended at the invitation of the Arkansas Conference Center for Clergy and Laity Excellence in Leadership (CCLEL). A grant from the United Methodist Foundation of Arkansas (UMFA) covered the expenses for these invited churches.

“We wanted to do something that ignited excitement for local church ministry, and based on the experience of friends who have attended in the past, the Leadership Institute fit the need,” said Jim Argue, president and CEO of UMFA. “What a great gift the Church of the Resurrection has made to the UMC by offering this resource!”

The Rev. Kurt Boggan, director of the CCLEL, enjoyed having an up-close look at Church of the Resurrection in action.

“Everything they do is thoroughly aligned with their mission, and it was inspirational to watch,” Boggan said. “I think many of our participants saw that, experienced that, and are taking it back to apply in their own context and mission fields. If they can do that alignment, regardless of size, they’ll find what works.”

Church of the Resurrection’s size doesn’t limit it to only teaching other large churches. Workshop choices included “Beginning Change in a Small Church” and “Difficult Conversations,” as well as universal topics like “Attracting and Connecting Visitors.”

“These groups were led by some of the top in their respective fields, and gave practical advice and ideas to take back to your own local mission field,” said the Rev. Candace Barron, associate director of the CCLEL. She added that in his keynote, the Rev. Adam Hamilton, Church of the Resurrection’s senior pastor, said that everyone needs to be able to answer three basic questions: 1) Why do people need Jesus Christ? 2) Why do people need the church? 3) Why do people need my particular church?

Out of the comfort zone

Eddie Schieffler of the East Phillips County Parish was among the laity who attended—reluctantly, he admits.

“I tried to talk others into going, but there were no takers, so I felt like somebody should stand up, and that was me in the mirror,” he said.

Schieffler knew little about Church of the Resurrection, and was concerned about leaving his law practice for four days to attend a church event in another state. But as he witnessed the hospitality there and got to know his fellow travelers, he saw the value in the journey.

“I think I’m not only a better Methodist, but also husband, dad and boss from attending and soaking up the experience,” he said. “Our church is not for the professionals to be in charge, but the laity must roll up our sleeves, too. Too often, we just want to be fed.”

Schieffler encouraged steps in a new direction soon after his return to Helena-West Helena.
“Within our own framework at the East Phillips County Parish, I have already suggested the leaders listen to the people from the ‘outside to the in,’ instead of telling people from the ‘inside to the out,'” he said.

The parish arrangement has been in effect since July, with the hope that Elaine UMC, First UMC Helena and West Helena UMC together will discover new ways to reach their shared mission field.

The pervasive spirit of hospitality at COR prompted a group from his church to attend worship at Elaine UMC for the first time. “Many felt [the visit to Elaine UMC] was a blessing in stretching outside our individual routine with each other and our brothers and sisters in Christ,” he said.

Reinforcement, revitalization

The Rev. Todd-Paul Taulbee, part of a five-person delegation from First UMC Morrilton, called the experience “very much worth it.” He noticed familiar themes in keeping with years of conversation in the Arkansas Conference, through the CCLEL and its predecessor, Connected in Christ.

“Just because I heard it before doesn’t mean it wasn’t valuable,” he said. “To the contrary, the Leadership Institute provided reinforcement and revitalization for me. I also think that for the laity from Morrilton, it allowed them to hear some of what we have been talking about from different voices in a different context, which reinforces the message.”

At Church of the Resurrection, Taulbee found both inspiration and a challenge to work toward greater effectiveness for the Kingdom. And attending alongside so many others from Arkansas provided opportunities to share the approaches they take in mission fields near each other.

“It was good to be with so many people from across the country and around the world to hear about their challenges and victories, too,” he said.

For downloadable resources from 80 different workshops offered at this year’s Leadership Institute, visit li.cor.org.