Tuesday, November 24, 2009

State of the Church Address: Charge Conference 2009

For the past several years St. Paul United Methodist Church has weathered some of the toughest times of its ministry. In the past year alone we have had to reduce our annual budget by nearly $100,000 and have lost 5% of the membership, and more than one quarter of our weekly attendance, through transfers to other churches. This has been more than a time of belt tightening, but a winnowing; leaving only the most committed and determined to lead the church into a new era of ministry. We find ourselves at a crucial crossroad. No longer can we continue to do what has always been done without regard to its ministry impact. Greater focus must be achieved so that we can fulfill God’s unique mission for St. Paul moving forward.

As we move into the future it is apparent that every ministry must focus, with laser intensity, upon one of the three primary ministry principles. The three principles require that every ministry of St. Paul United Methodist Church either connect people to Christ, connect people to community, or connect people to their divine calling. To connect people to Christ, we will provide opportunities for people to make an initial commitment or renew a previous commitment to Jesus. To connect people to community, we will create ministries and systems that foster a sense of belonging to the body of Christ and to St. Paul United Methodist Church. To connect people to their divine calling ministries will be designed to provide them with opportunities to discover their God-given ministry within the body of Christ. Anything that is outside of these three driving principles will have to be eliminated as superfluous to ministry.

To gain further clarity St. Paul has gone through a multi-week process to discover the five core values that will act as covenant commitments in how we relate to each other and to the world. After much discernment we determined that we wanted to be a congregation that is: loving, accepting, growing, committed, and serving. We have just finished a five-part message series to ground each of these concepts biblically and theologically. As a result the relational atmosphere at St. Paul has begun to change as the people embrace these values as part of their church identity. The goal is that these five core values will be more than words upon a wall, but values lived out in the communal nature of the congregation. Ministry effectiveness will be measured in relation to these values and decisions will be intentionally made with them in mind.

With the ministry principles in place and the core values taking shape, St. Paul United Methodist Church is becoming a healthier place for ministry to occur. We have begun to embrace our call to serve within the context of our local church, outside our doors in the communities that surround us, and across the globe in support of missional efforts that serve at risk children. Our Ministry Action Plan highlights our local efforts to continue and grow our strategic partnership with a local school where more than 90% of the students receive free or reduced lunch and lack the basic supplies for learning. Additionally we are continuing with our long-standing relationship with the Bassett Center, the family homeless shelter, as the congregation with the longest, consistent relationship with the organization. Our newest endeavor will be the launching of Co:Mission Weekend Camps in the fall of 2010 with the goal of repairing and maintaining vulnerable homes in low-income neighborhoods which will allow families to retain their homes and improve their living conditions.

Functionally we have taken steps to align our vision and values with the realities we face. We have made significant adjustments to budget and staffing in an effort to begin budgeting in a manner consistent with our actual projected giving. Thanks to the leadership of the finance committee we have begun an active stewardship process that is allowing us to take steps and realizing our commitment to meeting our connectional responsibilities. Additionally, with the new covenant council structure, the decision making process is clear and this group of leaders will be able to measure the effectiveness of each ministry against the principles and values the congregation has established. Monthly leadership seminars will provide intensive training and reflection for the leaders and any others interested in embracing solid, Christian leadership ideals.

The challenges before us at St. Paul are still very real. To meet those challenges we will have to be a people of prayer, persistence, and patience. We will have to be intentional about seeking God’s will through prayer about every ministry and decision we make as a body to ensure that we are being good stewards of the limited resources we have available. We will have to be persistent, not giving up or giving in at the first sign of difficulty. We must persist in maintaining quality worship experiences that provide opportunities for believers and seekers alike to encounter Christ. We must persist in being willing to listen and love each other, even when we may disagree about points of preference. Lastly, we must be patient, not expecting an immediate recovery from a long-term decline. It will take time to heal from the hurts of the past. It will take time to recover from the losses of faithful members who have chosen to worship elsewhere. It will take time to establish new systems and ministries consistent with our principles and values so that we can move into a healthier and more vital ministry future.

If these steps are taken St. Paul will be a church that reflects the community we serve. We will be a congregation that is Spirit infused, inclusive, and intensely missional. We will reflect the love of Christ to all we encounter, be accepting, growing, committed, and serve with open hearts, open minds, and open hands. Our prayer is that God will guide every step of the way and that we may be bold enough to accept God’s leadership and direction in all things.
Respectfully Submitted,

Dr. Marty J. Cauley, Pastor
St. Paul United Methodist Church
Charge Conference, November 24, 2009

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