Step 7 of the Bishop’s Mission Plan: Unleash Lay Leadership

By Martha Taylor Special Contributor When a pastor says something in a sermon that you do not like, goes the old joke, the pastor has “gone from preaching to meddling.” The pleasant and comforting stories (or enjoyably convicting stories about the sins you don’t commit) cease and the interfering with your life has begun. Some may see Step 7 of the Bishop’s Mission Plan, Unleash Lay Leadership, as just that: meddling with the comfort laypersons have with their role in their churches and the expectations church membership holds. In a recent interview, Bishop Gary Mueller said that that kind of thinking cannot continue if we hope to have vital United Methodist churches in the future. “A mistake I think we make in church is we think it’s someone else’s job—a pastor’s, or a committee chairperson or a volunteer leader,” said Mueller. “They’re the ones called to do ministry. The work of ministry belongs to the people of God, to the disciples of Jesus. Sometimes I don’t think we take that seriously enough.” To help prepare laity for this new work, the Bishop’s plan calls for coaching and mentoring that assists laity to “increasingly demonstrate passion, boldness and excellence in faith sharing, servant ministry, stewardship and utilizing their spiritual gifts.” “A lay person is asked to live as a disciple of Christ, to do these amazing things, and yet is not equipped to do that,” Mueller said. “We’re going to work to develop training and resources to help them carry out the trajectory God has given us.” Conference lay leader Karon Mann thinks every United Methodist in Arkansas has the potential to be “unleashed.” “I love the phrase ‘unleash lay leadership,’ because it calls up a visual image of a bundle of energy that’s been harnessed and is about to be let go to go across the land,” said Mann. “I believe unleashing lay leadership means giving laity in Arkansas the permission to live up to their fullest potential as Christians.” Mann says she’s witnessed the difference between an enthusiastic Christian and the lukewarm Christian John Wesley warned his followers not to become. Enthusiastic Christians “are always looking for ways to serve, ways to learn, and they want to be guided by the Holy Spirit in the directions that God wants them to work,” said Mann. Mann believes her role as Conference lay leader in part is to keep her eyes open for opportunities for the Conference to be a resource to local congregations. “I’m most excited about our Center for Clergy and Laity Excellence in Leadership and the Center for Technology,” said Mann. “Both of those centers will be wonderful resources to members in Arkansas. I view my role as trying to connect the dots, make the link or improve the connection.” Mann is optimistic about the ability of the United Methodists of Arkansas to rise to the challenge and that there is a new focus and energy in the Conference. “I see signs of life in a focus that I’ve not necessarily seen before,” said Mann. “I believe it’s taken our Conference a few years to move from thinking about new ideas in a new way to coming up with a plan to implement those ideas. And now with the Bishop’s Mission Plan, we will all have specific roles, goals and things we can do to continue to move us forward.” Mann feels strongly that if laity and clergy make themselves available to the Holy Spirit and God’s direction that amazing things will happen in Arkansas. “We are so limited by what we can imagine that we cannot even comprehend how God can use us if we are willing to be used.” The Rev. Taylor handles marketing and training for the Arkansas Conference.