As part of the regular Methodist Women’s meeting for February, a special guest speaker, Mary Linda Portner, shared exciting ideas about programs that are at the heart of the growth of the United Methodist Church in the Texas Conference. Ms. Portner is the Director of Development for the Texas Annual Conference.
The Emerging Leaders Initiative seeks to create and sustain programming to ensure that United Methodist witness to the Gospel will remain vital and dynamic. It supports the theology and practice of the United Methodist Movement while developing a new generation of leaders. Ms. Portner spoke of various facets of this initiative and how it strives to encourage development of future leaders and pastors for our churches as well as working to improve individual churches.
Programs begin seeking and selecting college students who show promise as emerging leaders and help with discernment and career development. Students selected study in special courses with top professors and strong pastoral leaders for part of each day. They also work on special mission projects and learn how to begin to apply the art of ministry and developing community while in these special courses. Interns frequently emerge from these special programs to work with individual churches for ten weeks. In these internships, they are mentored by strong pastors and strong lay groups as they serve in ministry in areas they illustrate gifts for.
One such intern, Sara Odom, shared her experiences as the ten-week intern at First United Methodist Church in Center. How she grew in her abilities as a minister and how to deal with all elements of the church family was informative and entertaining. Sara’s call to serve, she explained, was heightened by her experience and she is now the permanent Youth Director where she served her internship and is devoted to ministry.
Other programs such as the Ambassador Grant program are offered to seminarians under the age of 34. This program encourages seminarians to seek grants to offset the cost of education as an incentive to consider ministry as a life’s vocation.
Advancing Pastoral Leadership reaches out to older candidates up to age 42. This program seeks to expand the education of the participants to include the nuts and bolts of pastoring a church. It includes skills that involve conflict – resolution / how to run a Capital Campaign / reading a spreadsheet / how to deal with people/ executive management skills and other much needed skills for a minister and their church.
The thrust of this Emerging Leaders Initiative is to recruit, credential, and deploy young, quality clergy to serve the people of God. With our aging church leadership and clergy and a future devoid of many young people professing their faith, joining, and attending church; this is an important step toward reversing or beginning to reverse the trend and encourage quality, enthusiastic, young people into the ministry and stemming the tide that threatens to engulf our churches.
Ms. Portner closed with a thoughtful question for the audience to consider: What is the church in the future? Let us be assured, “The Church is of God.”