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Saturday, June 30, 2007

Now that you've completed the surveymonkey on redistricting, WDYT?

The Minnesota Annual Conference voted in early June to reduce by one district. While we may not have even considered that question if there wasn't some financial motivation behind it, sometimes finances help us think about what's important to us and why.



By this time you may have seen that there is a surveymonkey that you can take to give us feedback on reconfiguring districts. I hope you'll do that. But I want to engage us in a conversation, listening to each other as well as for me to listen to you on what matters in regards to the make-up of a district. This is the "essay" part of the feedback.



I'm interested in what you think is most important in a district:



Is it an identity?



The role of the district superintendent?



What's the role that the district plays for you and your church that no one or nothing else can play?



What are the essential considerations and values that you would want us to keep in mind in relation to the reconfiguration and reduction of districts?



WDYT?

22 comments:

Brent Olson said...

Personally, I believe the most important job of a DS is to be my pastor's pastor.

The Northwest District, in particular, is so large, I think it would be difficult to form any real identity since the distances are too great for any continuety of fellowship. Most of my information and programs comes from the conference - we see the DS once a year, if things are going well. If we see him more often, it means something dire is going on.

The conference needs to be broken up into some sort of adminstrative units, simply as a management device, but whether there are four or fourteen doesn't make a great deal of difference, to me.

Brent Olson

Carole Vennerstrom said...

I am not currently serving on a District committee, but I have in the past. Travel distances in the Northwest District are burden and consume valuable time. If this is true of lay people, how much more true it must be for the District Superintendent.

A few years ago our church went through a crisis in personal relationships. The DS played a critical role in helping us grow through these problems and continue to grow as a church. To expand the size of the district to cover western Minnesota from the Canadian to the Iowa broders seems irrational. I hope Option B is not chosen.

bruce.anderson.mn said...

I live in the Metro East District and believe there is great value is keeping down the number of churches a DS supports.

I also believe that part of that support has to incorporate how often the DS may visit each church. I believe that the each DS serving a non-metro area is covering a large enough geographical area and therefore support option A - combining Metro East and Metro West.

Bruce Anderson
Blaine United Methodist Church

Ken Quass said...

It is my opinion that the most important task for a D.S. is to become familiar with each church in his/her district. To know their strengths and weaknesses in pastor and laity leaders. The next most important task is to be able to mentor each church when necessary. Becoming a credible mentor means one must be familiar with the situation. Spreading the D.S. even thinner by reducing their numbers seems counter productive. Saving money, whether its $60,000 (or twice that amount) in a $7 million operating budget would have little impact at the expense of this important function.

Some years ago the Wilson Report recommended adding 2 more D.S. when our numbers were 150,000 souls (create 15,000 per D.S.), not reducing them. Conference in its wisdom, reduced from 8 to 6 to create 25,000 souls per D.S. As a result the D.S. are hard pressed to get to know each church within their district. Thus when pastors are moved, many churches are not well served in the process by virtue of the fact the D.S. isn't familiar with the strengths and weaknesses, except from reading between the lines on the so-called Church Profiles. Perhaps that decision contributed to the decline in membership.

It defies reason as to how Conference believes reducing the number of D.S. to 1 per 15,800 souls is prudent so as to better serve the churches. I understand we are presently around 79,000+ souls. Given the choice, mentoring face to face is more effective than by electronics.

At some point Conference must realize it has to get out the door and into the field and mentor, not abandon it, telling us it is a cost savings measure as justification.

For example have the retired clergy develop evangelical and visitation programs, not develop and introduce divisive issues at Annual Conference. That might be another reason our numbers are declining.

Gerrymander a new District map, the present suggestions are not acceptable. A couple of D.S. are spending more time traveling than mentoring. Inefficient use to time and talent.

Randy said...

Identities, IMO, are not wrapped up in districts.During my years of serving as a clergyperson I have not felt a sense of a physical district office as being a primary hub of activity. Districts have lost much of their identity in terms of congregations that meet together for common tasks. Mobility and communication methods (internet) diffuse geographic boundaries. Gateway groups, clergy clusters, etc. are not bound by district lines.

Districts will continue to serve the functions of the ordination process (dCOM) and church building and location concerns primarialy to encourage district lay persons/clergy to be active in those ministries.

DS's are persons instrumental to the appointment process. They represent each congregation and each pastor in their district. They are the human resource agents and God-source agents as appointments are made.

An agent needs intimate knowledge of each congregation and pastor as these matches are created and sustained. (It is unfortunate that oftentimes DS's spend many resources in congregations and clergy in conflict because this diminishes the resources to become intimate with congregations/clergy who are not in conflict.) I do not believe that relationship of DS/Cabinet with congregation/clergy can primarily rely on profiles and forms. This is the role that no one else currently embodies.

Decide and communicate what functions DS & districts will no longer engage in. There must be functions we can stop doing. Do not try to delegate all the tasks that DS/Districts do to others.

The Annual Conference wants to reduce expenditures so be mindful of reduction and not reallocating costs(don't simply shift costs.)

Value the human connection and don't assume that a majority of congregants currently utilize internet communications. Pay attention to the demographics of the current constituency- they know this technology is being used, but they do not engage it to the extent that other generations do.

Bishop Sally Dyck said...

Come on, people, BE BOLD! I'm happy to receive your comments directly but this needs to be a group conversation, too. Leave your comments here on the blog!!

Duane M. Gebhard said...

OK, I will jump into the frey. As a former DS having served the NW District from 91-98, I did not speak on the floor at conference because I felt that enough former DSs were speaking to the issue. But I do have strong feelings about the matter. I am greatly disappointed with the decision to shift to five districts, especially as it was driven by finances and not by a carefully thoughtout proposal showing us how such action will help us carry out our mission as a conference.

During my 7 years as DS (one of which was during the Red River flood of 97 that affected 10 of our churches), I drove and average of 55,000 miles a year and usually spent about 25 hours behind the wheel per week. I did this because I vowed never to have distance be an excuse for not being present when a local church or a pastor needed the service and presence of a cabinet member or representative of the bishop.

At the present time, the NW District is the same size as the state of Indiana (two whole conferences!), and one can go from Rochester to Chicago in less time than going from one corner of the district to the other. Does it make sense to make it larger? Only if we don't mind isolating and cutting off even more than ever the churches on the fringes.

In addition to the issue of geography, we must focus on what we expect not only on the DS but of the cabinet and bishop as a whole. To me the most critical are: 1) every church wants to be fairly and adequately known and represented when it comes to the appointment prrocess. This can only be done when a DS has time and is expected by the system to relate to and get to know the needs of the church and its geographical setting. 2) Like ot or not, the Discipline gives the DS (representing the bishiop) supervisory responsibility. This cannot be done in isolation from a specific appointment -- so again the DS must be able to connect with every setting in an appropriate way and relate to the pastoral issues unique to that setting. Supervising the pastor and relating to the church CANNOT be divided up and assigned to different DSs. 3) The third major area of DS responsibility, that of working with the bishop to oversee the general ministry of the church (conference) and that of starting new congregations can very well be carried out in new and different ways -- this is where we need to focus our efforts.
Given all that I have mentioned above, I believe this whole matter of changing district lines and decreasing the number of DSs will only serve to decrease our ability as a conference to work toward our goal of making our churches stronger and more effective, and it will deminish our progress toward providing the best pastoral leadership possible in every church. We must work on a new plan together as a whole through "conferencing" rather than expecting the cabinet and bishop to solve yet another sticky issue tosseed in their lab because we want to save money. I hope they will tell us next May that there is no workable plan that will make us a stronger conference by going to five districts and five DSs.
Duane M. Gebhard

Kelly said...

I am just learning about the role of the D.S. but from what I understand it doesn't make since to me to combine the districts and decrease the amount of D.S.s. From the sounds of it they already have a large amount of churches and Pastors that they are in charge of over a wide area. If anything I think it would be wise to add another superintendent. It seems important that the DS gets to know each Pastor and Church in order to be effective. If the DS is spread to thin, and constantly traveling how can they be effective and use their talents? I also think connecting in person to each church is very important as opposed to emails..etc. Reducing the number of D.S.s may save the conference financially but at what price to the D.S. and the churches they serve?

Kelly Lindberg

Kelly said...

Just to clarify: I am fine with joining the MetroWest and MetroEast districts. I just don't think we should get rid of a D.S. In addition since the Northwest and Northeast districts are so large how about dividing part of each and making it another district with another D.S.?

Thomas said...

I think that we are getting our answer through the lack of response to the blog- the districts just are not that important anymore (even though we do have remarkable district staffs). The district structure is an old invention of a by-gone time and needs to be rethought (though dinking around with borders is not an exercise in deep thought). Our current districts have no real regional identity, there is no unifying purpose to unite the congregations outside of our common UM tradition and, given the size of some of the districts, our local congregations are disconnected by great distance. Besides, creative congregations and pastors can grab a hold of some of the best resources and support in the world through other means than the district office.

While I think that there is a need for a Cabinet to oversee the operations and mission of the Conference, dividing up the state into ever-increasing regional areas isn't practical given the diversity of the MN landscape. Our local needs are often intense, small and specialized while our conference structure continues to expand in responsibilities and demands.

The solution might be to rethink the definition of a district in some other way than geography. Given the ease of communications with the internet, cell phones and everything else, we have an opportunity to be creative. Why not have a new church start district? Why not have an evangelical district? Why not a social justice district? If there is a need, we can also divide regionally as well. We are doing this in a mish-mashed and messy way with Gateways... maybe Gateways can provide a blueprint for reorganizing.

My frustration is that we are putting a lot of energy and effort into shrinking and saving money instead of building and growing the body of Christ. Why isn't this debate about that?

Phil Strom said...

I am heartened by the prevailing voice, (though small in number) which sees the need for the DS to be an esential part of every congregation. Knowledge and experience that affords a DS clear understanding of a congregation's personality and circumstance and needs and assets is crucial to successful appointments as well as meaningful response to challenges. A DS cann also bring wisdom and

Cell phones and e mail and video conferencing all can be great tools, BUT there is no substitute for person to person, face to face, relational interaction. Our priorities of Spiritual vitality and Reaching New People will be dead in the water if we believe they can be accomplisihed apart from personal relationships.

What about using 25 superintendents, each serving an appointment as well as superintending for 15 congregations in the vicinity. Geography can be eliminated as an obstacle and costs can be shared between the AC and the Local church. Number of charges per DS can be reduced and contact frequency and time between superintendent and Local church could be increased. Of course we've never done it this way before . . . but . . .

Jeff Ozanne said...

While I think the idea of having 25 DSes seems a bit much for the general functioning of the Cabinet, I think Phil Strom is on the right track that having 1:15 is better than 1:75 when it comes to making connections. I like the idea suggested by Dan Johnson at Annual Conference that would consider have DSes focus on different aspects of ministry rather than on locations. Maybe there would be a way to have supervising pastors for clusters of 15 churches freeing the DSes to work with those 25 pastors for information on congregations and to bring their unique gifts and talents to help out local congregations strive to reach new people and grow in spiritual vitality.

Jeff Ozanne
Park UMC Brainerd
Light of the Lakes UMC Baxter

Thomas said...

I like the idea of 25 or 30 or 50 districts and an emphasis on intimate leadership. If we want to think a bit creatively.... why not appoint pastors as D.S.'s co-currently to part time smaller church (or part time associate positions) positions so that they can serve a local church part time and fulfill the position of D.S. part time? We could provide smaller churches with experienced leadership or allow elders to serve in specific ministry areas and invite more ordained clergy into the Cabinet as leaders?

Pastor Amanda said...

Randy wrote
"Decide and communicate what functions DS & districts will no longer engage in. There must be functions we can stop doing. Do not try to delegate all the tasks that DS/Districts do to others."

I'm new to the pastoring part of our conference, so there may be history of which I am unaware.

It seems to me that we've already begun the process of eliminating some of the functions of the DS. It's my understanding that the district chaplains are responsible for assisting with role of "pastor's pastor" within the district. How is this working? Do DS's spend less time and energy acting as pastors to the pastors in their districts? Could this be a model or a lesson as we explore new ways of DS-ing?

Perhaps the 25-50 DS's could be broken into specific roles within the districts-- there could still be a DS, but also a chaplain, a conflict mediator, a special events preacher, a charge conference specialist, etc. (I realize this is the delegating that Randy was concerned about.)

I see the most important roles of the DS as: with the cabinet create vision, with the churches share vision, and with the pastors equip us for the vision by matching us to churches where we can best use our gifts to support the vision.

And, for the sake of our planet and our roles as caretakers, we must stop driving so much. My covenant group meets online, it's an intimate group, and it works. We must be creative about reducing our driving. It wastes time and resources.

Walter Lockhart said...

My 15 years of involvement in this annual conference have been limited to working in the two metro districts. It amazes me how similar the issues are between the cities of Minneapolis and St Paul. It is my feeling that there is could be great synergy in having these two cities served by the same DS.

With the changing faces of MN we are called to understand church in different ways and to work together. I hope that the two core cited end up in the same district. Ethnic ministry, recovery ministry, justice ministry, and other specialized ministries do not have city limits, neither should our districts.

I think that Phil Strom has a good idea with having many part time DS's. This would be particularly useful in those areas where the population and church density require endless driving. In the city I think we need a DS to challenge us to work together and to hold us accountable. There are enough churches that is definitly a full time job.
Walter Lockhart

Bishop Sally Dyck said...

I love all this creativity, but what do we do with the fact that you as an annual conference voted to have 5 districts (and therefore district superintendents)??? Talk to me about what you look for in a DS as opposed to how many...

Sally

Jeff Ozanne said...

I look for a DS to help provide a sense of a greater conference vision. I expect my DS to be challenging me and helping hold me and my churches accountable to the Bishop's mandates. At the same time I see the DS as looking after me professionally, helping he Cabinet know about me when it comes to appointments, advocating for me when if my churches are struggling to live up to their end of the covenant, etc. I know these are still general things, but I guess I would prefer more emphasis on these areas and let things like charge conferences be done by clergy who are near by rather than the DS.

Jeff Ozanne

Michelle said...

I voted to have 5 districts -- as our demographics change I think our structure must as well. It may be regrettable, but I think prudent.

What do I want DSs to do? Very practically, for me as a clergyperson I want them to know me well enough that they can appoint me effectively. But I take some responsibility for that. I make sure my District Superintendent knows what he/she needs to when it is time for me to move.

I also highly value a DS pushing me to take the next step in ministry, to hold our conference's larger vision up to me and to the congregation, to encourage us to grow and to provide the connecting resources to try new things.

The job description seems unmanageable right now, and I hope it will be reordered as we move to this new structure. Might our Gateways connections provide some of the identity and connection we need? Is there a way that we can expand the clergy chaplain idea to have our fellow clergy serve some of the administrative or connectional functions for one another? I'd like to see the DSs serve the function that cannot be served any other way and to focus on that and to delegate other functions in another way.

Michelle Hargrave, Fairmount Avenue, St. Paul

Steve said...

For me the most important role of the DS is to minister to local Pastors and support local churches during difficult times. The DS is also an important part of the Conference Leadership team. In the past, the DS has accomplished these roles based on a lot of face to face interaction. I like the idea of numerous part time DS spread out throughout the state. However, that many DS would not form a practical leadership team. We could, however, have some type of assistant DS position that would serve under one of the 5 District Superintendents. We also need to seriously look at how the DS job might change in the future. What do the Superintendents do know that we would not have them do if it was not already in the job description? How will the DS job change with new communications technology? Ask any teenager how they communicate with their friends (text messaging, instant messaging, email …) and you will see that the future generation will use a different standard for personal communication. We need to look at all these issues before we adopt a redistricting plan that will be useful in the long term.

Leigh said...

As someone who is new to this whole experience, what I have valued most about my DS is her ability to help determine and communicate the vision for the conference and to hold our church and clergy accountable to this vision. I also rely on her for help with the ordination process and would rely on her if I had an appointment issue, but these roles could be reassigned, as long as we had someone to call.

My concern is this: if we are going to use geography to determine the districts, we need to be sure that churches with similar demographic profiles and ministry contexts are grouped together as much as possible - because many of our conference trainings and gatherings are done at the district level. Both proposals have defined the Cross Roads district within the 1494/I694 boundaries, and many churches in the metro Twin Cities area fall outside of those boundaries. The city is moving out, and the Anoka/Coon Rapids area is becoming increasingly diverse. Anoka County (which, with Hennepin County, forms the largest school district in the state) is experiencing homelessness, lack of affordable housing, poverty, racism, etc. just as Hennepin County is, but without as many resources. We are also enjoying many new immigrant communities, and are reaching out to these communities to spread the good news. Our context resembles Minneapolis more than Hibbing, and the area will become increasingly urban in the near future.

I think the communities along the NorthStar commuter line should be considered metro.

Thanks for listening! Leigh

Carl Wirtanen said...

I have been with churches in Metro East and SE MN that have had significant struggles of various kinds in which the DS has contributed help to the church and Pastor. However, in my observations, from being on the SPPR committee more times than I care to enumerate, the DS does NOT have sufficient time to really work the problems. It seems to me that it is a band-aid approach because of limited time. I am a believer in trying to do only what God can help us do. I.e. have the faith to increase the districts, DSs, and the effort to bring more souls to Christ and let God worry about the finances.
Rather than succumbing to a declining enrollment and be on the defensive, lets go on the offensive and give God the opportunity to give us the evangelistic resources to grow rather than decline. We must have faith that we can increase the number of churches, church members, and DSs.

Anonymous said...

I support the concept of reducing one district, and for a beginning point, support plan A over plan B. While both plans seem to be attempting to address the growth and demographic shifts going on up and down the I-94 corridor - esp. St Cloud through Rochester, Plan A allows for that involvement to become part of each district's involvement. While Plan B allows for a primary focus to be rural for Southwest, west central, northwest, and northeast parts of our state/conference, it segregates the realities of rural from the realities of urban and suburban sprawl. I believe it is healthier all the way around for us to be involved in the excitement of the growth areas, as well as the disparity in much of the rural area. We are a church for all people, and I fear a model of segragation would create more division across the conference - more of an "us" and "them" mentality of rural to metro. I believe this would be unhealthy. In plan A we are all involved in all of it in som way, and thereby can accept the challenge of how to be the church for all people in all our settings.

With this challenge, it might continue to challenge us to continue thinking more and more out of the box toward models that might even shift beyond district lines as we have known them and begin to partner - cabinet and elders (or other specifically appointed persons) for the purpose of having a more visible and connected presence among our local settings of the cabinet - maybe similar to the Dakotas Conference in some ways. If there were people who were designated to spend some of their tiome to be checking in on others within a prescribed area for the purpose of spiritual and covenant support and encouragement, we might just begin to see the overall morale of our churches improve, and the general spiritual health of our churches and its leadership might begin once again to become contagious, which will indeed grow the church. We have to minister to our overall health if we are going to grow and be vital, and I believe we have much work to do there first. Expanding district lines, and staying with the current model of district superintendency, will quite possibly diminish the positive effects of the valid reasons for such a move. Re-district (plan A), and then re-vamp how we have presence among the churches of each district, always lifting up the needs of all in every place, as well as celebrating the positive impact in new growing areas with everyone across each distraict as well. So everyone can be excited about what is happening conference-wide, and how their district is a significant piece of the whole collectively as we all participate in our covenant connection as UNited Methodists.

Anyway - just some thoughts.

Paul Woolverton