(Indianapolis, Ind. – DNS – June 24, 2009) – About 40 church leaders met in Indianapolis last week to discuss more faithful means of helping congregations carry out mission.
The meeting, informally known as the Equipping Congregations Consultation, was comprised of general, regional and congregational leaders. Each person participated in discussions during the 2 ½-day meeting that included developing agreements about the cultural landscape for 21st century mission, as well as discussions on the habits and practices of faithful congregations, what congregations need to carry out mission, and the habits and practices of regions and general ministries to empower and partner with congregations.
The consultation grew out of a recommendation from the Mission Alignment Coordinating Council (MACC), a 12-person group that has met over the past year. MACC was charged by the General Board in 2008 with developing strategies to help the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) better organize its common life around the mission "to be and to share the Good News of Jesus Christ from our doorsteps to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8).
As one of its recommendations to the 2009 General Board in April, the MACC asked that its term be extended for one year to broaden the conversation about mission alignment with key ministry partners. The General Board agreed and the consultation was the first step in that broader conversation.
Representatives of Disciples Home Missions, Church Extension, Higher Education and Leadership Ministries, and the Division of Overseas Ministries attended the consultation as did leaders of the three racial/ethnic ministries and regional ministries.
Also in attendance was General Minister and President Sharon Watkins, who said: "This meeting brought regional and general church leaders together, including several pastors, to continue the work of identifying how best to equip congregations for mission. We started identifying some of the things that we recognize have to happen. Our next step is to consult more broadly with congregations to see if we are in agreement."
"I am very hopeful," said Sandra Gourdet, area executive for Africa with Global Ministries, who was one of the participants at the consultation. "This time together at such an expanded table has been helpful and has been a time for open dialogue. I feel we are closer to uncovering what has to happen for congregations to be empowered for mission."
The group looked at demographic trends that have occurred over the past several decades, and the fact that over the next 50 years, the U.S. population will grow by almost 50 percent, increasing from 282.1 million in 2002 to 419.8 million in 2050. People of color will account for approximately 90 percent of that growth. Among other traits, the group decided that the habits and practices of faithful and fruit-bearing congregations include: living as a spiritual community, engaging in God’s transformative mission, developing gifts, vision and competence in leaders and articulating and sharing the good news with evangelical fervor for this time and place.
"This gathering reflected more closely a vision of what our Church looks like as we grow into the 21st century…a multi-racial, ethnically diverse Church that reflects more nearly the Body of Christ in all its fullness," said Thomas Jewell, Oklahoma regional church pastor.
Once a final report of the group’s deliberation is developed, congregational conversations will take place over the next several months, with diverse church groups including rural, urban, suburban, immigrant and racial/ethnic churches. Congregational input on God’s call to mission also will be sought during General Assembly at the Wholeness Café, which will take place at the Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis on Thursday, July 30 from 2 to 5 p.m. The Wholeness Café will bring Disciples together to talk face-to-face about the future of the church and what it means to live into a newly stated identity of being a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world.
"We will ask churches from all of these conversations if the things we identified are the most significant issues that churches are dealing with today," said Watkins. "We also will ask churches about the best ways regional and general expressions of the Church can address their needs."
Following the congregational input, members of the Equipping Congregations Consultation and the 12-member Mission Alignment Coordinating Council will meet to identify the priority issues that regional and general ministries need to address and decide who and how those issues will be handled.
Written by: Wanda Bryant Wills