Vital! journey to begin at #arumc17

By Martha S. Taylor
Special Contributor

While Vital! is the theme for the 2017 Arkansas Annual Conference (#arumc17) set for June 18-21 in Hot Springs, it is also the starting point for a new website loaded with resources for local churches to use throughout the remainder of this year and into 2018.

The centerpiece for Vital! is a new website created by the Center for Technology. The site, www.vitaldisciples.org, is organized into four main sections representing four strategic areas that have been identified as crucial for living into the trajectory of the Annual Conference for the coming years: creating vital congregations who create vital disciples of Jesus Christ equipped to transform lives, communities and the world.

“Vital! is much more than the theme for this year’s Annual Conference,” said the Rev. Jim Polk, assistant to Bishop Gary Mueller and director of connectional ministries. “Vital! is the beginning of a 12-month journey local churches can make toward creating vital disciples in four key areas.” The four Vital! strategic areas are:

• Faith Sharing;
• Accountable Discipleship;
• 200,000 Reasons to Fight Childhood Hunger in Arkansas; and
• Personal Stewardship.

Each of these topics will be addressed in Annual Conference plenary sessions led by guest presenters Kay Kotan, the Rev. Dr. Kevin Watson, the Rev. J.J. Whitney, and the Rev. Dr. Clif Christopher.

Annual Conference attendees will receive a planning guide with a section for each of the four plenaries. The booklet also holds a planning guide for pastors and laity to use to develop a customized plan for their mission fields in the coming months.

The resources available on vitaldisciples.org are rich in content and plentiful in number. Churches will also find an area of the website for submitting their stories of vital discipleship.

Kay Kotan

Faith Sharing

Under the heading Faith Sharing, visitors to the site will find a four-week curriculum commissioned by the Center for Vitality. Written by author and speaker Kotan, Unpacking Your Faith Stories promises to take the fear out of evangelism and help participants to “capture your faith story and practice sharing it.”

“We are excited to share Kay’s curriculum with the conference,” said the Rev. Dede Roberts, director of the Center for Vitality. “I think the study, along with the many other resources we have developed, will equip the people in our pews to talk about how God is working in their lives and authentically share the Gospel of Jesus with the unchurched.”

While the study is a centerpiece resource, complementary faith sharing materials such as videos, graphics and wallet cards will be featured on the website, and all will be downloadable for ease of use. Following Annual Conference, Kotan’s plenary session video will be available.

Kevin Watson

Accountable Discipleship

The Accountable Discipleship section of vitaldisciples.org features leaders’ tools, preaching and worship helps and companion materials for adults, children and youth. Watson’s plenary session will be placed on the site following Annual Conference.

“I think those attending Dr. Watson’s plenary on accountable discipleship will come away with a renewed sense of the impact a class meeting can have on making disciples for Jesus Christ,” said the Rev. Dr. Blake Bradford, assistant director of the Center for Vitality.

Bradford added that Watson’s book, The Class Meeting, has been customized for the Arkansas Conference, and those attending the Annual Conference plenary will receive a complimentary copy of the book from the Center for Vitality.

J.J. Whitney

200,000 Reasons

As a majority of United Methodists in Arkansas are aware, 200,000 Reasons is a Conference-wide initiative to reduce the number of children who experience hunger in Arkansas. A key section of vitaldisciples.org will provide new and revised resources for local churches to use to engage their mission fields through hunger ministries.

The newest resource is a four week study written by Whitney, convener of the 200,000 Reasons initiative and chaplain at Hendrix College. The study delves into the many ways United Methodist congregations can start or expand their ministries to address the critical issue of childhood hunger.

Additional 200,000 Reasons downloadable materials include a poverty awareness exercise and several toolkits focusing on feeding, education and public witness. A video of Whitney’s plenary session will be available online.

Clif Christopher

Personal Stewardship

Stewardship materials on the vitaldisciples.org will include Christopher’s plenary session video and will feature a six session small group study, Living for Giving. Originally published by the Western North Carolina Annual Conference, the study has been updated and includes a new session with an introduction by Bishop Mueller. Members of the Conference Board of Discipleship, the Rev. David Orr and the Rev. Bruce Bennett, edited and updated the study.

“The website, vitaldisciples.org, is evolving and will continue to do so throughout the summer and fall,” said Polk. “The work of the Center for Vitality, the Board of Discipleship, 200,000 Reasons as well as the Center for Technology has been tremendous. I believe this will be a real gift to our annual conference and look forward to seeing the creative and exciting ways local churches will use the resources provided to them.”