Discernment, education support starting points to develop Christian leaders
With a focus on leadership, education and young people, the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) is "Preparing Global Leaders for a Global Church."
At the same time it continues to serve as a regulatory agency with the University Senate and annual conference boards of ordained ministry, GBHEM is shaping a new understanding of how to support people who are discerning God's call in The United Methodist Church.
In a message to GBHEM's directors in 2015, the Rev. Kim Cape, general secretary, said, "We are shifting our weight from a regulatory agency to a capacity-building agency."
This shift is bearing fruit as new initiatives emerge for equipping leaders for ordained, licensed and certified ministry in the United States and in central conferences around the world. Through recruitment, preparation, nurture, education and support, Cape said, the agency is "building capacity for contextual United Methodist leadership across the personal and professional lifespan here and everywhere."
Two new initiatives implemented during the 2013-16 quadrennium are helping the agency make the shift.
Young Clergy Initiative
The 2012 General Conference created a three-quadrennium Young Clergy Initiative Fund to increase the number of young clergy in the United States. Grant recipients were encouraged to raise matching funds, doubling the church's investment. Cape told GBHEM directors that, by requesting matching funds, "We were able to leverage the $7 million ($5.2 million actually received) from General Conference into $12 million."
The grants are for developing new projects that will allow greater numbers of young people to strengthen their relationship with God while discerning God's call on their life.
According to Kim Ingram, a member of the YCI Selection Committee, grant requests came from United Methodist entities. "There were also some exciting partnerships that were going to happen as a result [of the grants,] through campus ministries and United Methodist [related] colleges, between churches and campus ministries, between seminaries and conferences, [and] between a seminary and a college," Ingram said. "We're excited about people working together."
One of the grants supports Project Transformation, a program in which young adults who are discerning a call to vocational ministry work with children experiencing poverty and who are at-risk of lower educational accomplishments. According to a report to GBHEM, participant Justin Mayo has made meaningful life changes through his participation in the Project Transformation community, serving others and sharing his story. "I've gotten more involved with my campus ministry at the Wesley Foundation. I have switched my major to social work. I now sing in a gospel choir at my church. I feel more at peace. While my relationship with God isn't perfect, I'm trying to be open to God's path for me," said Mayo.
The requests for YCI grants showed clearly that multiple groups faced similar challenges.
For example, many congregations and conferences recognize that discernment leading to preparation for vocational ministry happens as lay and clergy identify and nurture the gifts of individuals through personal relationships. To help guide those relationships and conversations, GBHEM worked with other agencies to develop "Called: One Word, Many Ways" (www.explorecalling.org/called). This free resource addresses developing a culture of call and includes sermon starters, worship helps, youth and children's curriculum, and retreat plans. The resources will be updated and expanded annually.
The Young Clergy Initiative funded 76 projects in 2013-16. Because the ordination process takes many years, it is too soon to evaluate fully the success of those that were funded. Based on the inquiries and grant requests, however, GBHEM identified additional needs that they are addressing now and hope to continue during 2017-20. Among these are:
- Seminary debt relief
- Young clergy financial wellness
- Ethnic/minority recruitment and early ministry support
- More frequent best-practice sharing
- Discernment/recruitment issues outside of the jurisdictional conferences
- Continued development of vocational discernment resources
- Support for hiring vocational discernment coordinators in each annual conference
Through the Central Conference Theological Education Fund, faculty and students at 22 theological institutions in Africa and Asia and four seminaries in the Philippines now have access to e-books on Christian education, evangelism, preaching, counseling, church leadership, United Methodist worship and Wesleyan theology.
Using technology for global education
The E-Reader Project is a collaboration of GBHEM, Discipleship Ministries and the United Methodist Publishing House. Staff works closely with the individual schools to ensure consistent training and updated content, which is available in English, French and Portuguese.
It is not an overstatement to say that the e-reader project is revolutionizing theological education in Africa, says the Rev. Myron Wingfield, associate general secretary in GBHEM's Division of Ordained Ministry.
While in the Angola West Conference, GBHEM staff met with the Rev. Kalumba Alfredo, general secretary of the Angola Bible Society. Alfredo said the society was impressed with the project and offered more than 500 Portuguese books, in digital format, to be loaded on the e-readers.
Pastors like the Rev. Salama Hassan now have the opportunity to read more extensively. Hassan, who serves in Nigeria, says he not only has expanded his theological reading but also has been able to read more books written from a Nigerian perspective.
"The books in the e-reader are very rich and wisely selected to help in ministry. The Nigerian novels Things Fall Apart and Half of a Yellow Sun by both Chinua Achebe and Chimamanda Adichie are books I was told to read in the days of my school, but I was not able to," he writes. "With the help of the e-reader, I was able to read them all, giving me a full knowledge of Igbo traditions and the Nigerian civil war, among others."
While GBHEM and Discipleship Ministries provide major funding for the E-Reader Project, support also comes from annual conferences, local churches, individual donors, universities and from the students themselves through fees that help offset the price of the e-reader and its content.
As it continues to lead work in the denomination's focus on "developing principled Christian leaders," GBHEM will contribute to a goal for the 2017-20 quadrennium to recruit, train and engage 3 million "difference makers," United Methodists who will transform the world as they put faith into action.
Cape is committed to adapting the work of her agency to meet the needs of a rapidly changing church. "We listen to the church to hear what the church needs from us, and how we can best serve the ministry of The UMC," she told directors in August 2015. "Hearing the church, and then matching our resources to meet the expressed needs of the church, is really the purpose of our general agencies."
Among the challenges she identifies is making theological education, including the Course of Study for licensed local pastors, more accessible to students, particularly ethnic minority students. The agency is asking the 2016 General Conference to adopt legislation proposing that United Methodist-related undergraduate institutions offer bachelor's degrees in religious studies or ministry arts that would include the requirements for the Course of Study. According to Cape, this will provide greater access to students and add the benefit of earning a bachelor's degree while completing the Course of Study.
"With God's help, I am confident we can answer the challenges of our day with theological excellence, excitement, commitment and practical imagination," she said.
The Rev. Melissa Hinnen is a freelance writer and associate pastor of Asbury United Methodist Church, Croton-on-Hudson, New York. She earlier served on the communications staff of the General Board of Global Ministries.
In 2017-20, recruit, train and engage 3 million "difference makers," United Methodists who will transform the world as they put faith into action.