When a plan comes together

By William O. “Bud” Reeves Special Contributor Step 3 of the Bishop’s Mission Plan: “Broaden disciple-making through District Mission Plans.” As I put together this column, I have just finished a day with the Cabinet on retreat. (The Arkansas Conference Appointive Cabinet consists of the bishop, the five district superintendents, the executive director of mission and ministry, and the director of the Center for Clergy and Laity Excellence in Leadership.) We spent the day going over the District Mission Plans written by each superintendent. From morning devotion to closing prayer in the evening, we spent about 12 hours presenting, discussing, and questioning our plans, hopes and dreams for each district in our annual conference. It sounds riveting, I know. But in fact it was an engaging and interesting day, because this conversation is critical to the success of our plan to revitalize the United Methodist Church in Arkansas. The Bishop’s Mission Plan, published last fall, includes Next Step #3: “District superintendents will become skilled in developing District Mission Plans that align with the Bishop’s Mission Plan.” Since the Bishop published his plan, each DS has been working on a plan for his or her district, customized for the challenges and opportunities particular to each section of the state. What will a District Mission Plan mean? What purpose does it serve? Three purposes A District Mission Plan’s primary purpose is to align the Bishop’s Mission Plan and the mission of the local churches. Districts are the bridge points between the annual conference and the local church. Each district is different, and the plans translate the statewide initiatives into goals that make sense for the context of each district. The trajectory we are trying to reach is stated in the bishop’s plan: “Creating vital congregations that make disciples of Jesus Christ who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.” That’s something that can only happen at the local level, so we want to use the resources of the annual conference and the districts in ways that encourage, empower and enable success in local congregations. A second purpose of a district plan is to help us think strategically. Too often in the past, churches, districts and the Conference have been connected only by the institutional expressions of church life. Our connection is stronger, deeper, and more spiritual than that! A District Mission Plan allows us to see where we can focus our resources on the mission rather than the maintenance of churches. It was pretty exciting to hear about the plans and possibilities each DS envisioned for his or her district. Thinking strategically before we set about appointing pastors will help us make appointments that better serve the mission fields where congregations do ministry. The third purpose of a district plan is to orient our action to outcomes. If an organization doesn’t know what it is supposed to do, it does what it has always done—and what we have always done in the church doesn’t work so well any more. So our mission plans include specific, measurable outcomes that we believe are crucial to healthy churches. Achieving these outcomes will help create more vital congregations, make disciples who make disciples, and transform lives, communities and the world. Accomplishing something A popular TV show of the 1980s was The A-Team. The leader of their dangerous missions was John “Hannibal” Smith, whose catchphrase has endured a couple of decades of re-runs: “I love it when a plan comes together.” That statement usually accompanied something exploding. Not only do we love it when our plans can come together around some strategic goals, but we also love to see we are making a difference. In this issue of the paper, you can read that in 2013, every measure of vitality for the United Methodist congregations in Arkansas trended in a positive direction. Maybe not in an A-Team explosive kind of way, but it is a significant shift in course from the past several years. The Bishop’s Mission Plan and the District Mission Plans will be useless unless they accomplish something—unless we make a transforming difference in lives, churches and communities. And we won’t make a difference without the power and presence of the Holy Spirit. The first step in the Bishop’s Mission Plan is to experience spiritual revival. That is the foundation of all the plans. Revival won’t happen because we are smarter, more organized or more strategic. It won’t happen because we have the resources of the institutional church. And it won’t happen because we had a guest preacher for a few nights in a row. It will happen if we use the resources of the church to encourage and enable local churches to be open to the movement of God in their midst, so that they make disciples of Jesus Christ who make disciples equipped to transform lives, communities and the world. That’s when revival will happen. That’s when the plan will come together. The Rev. Dr. Reeves serves as superintendent of the Northwest District. Email: breeves@arumc.org.