(Dr. Jeremy Pridgeon) - The Cabinet of the Alabama-West Florida Annual Conference met last week in a regularly scheduled session in Montgomery. We continue to celebrate the work of local congregations in "Living the Mission" of the church as we seek to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
A significant part of our time together was spent in conversation about the state of the church. We shared stories of where God is at work in our districts, evidenced by the fruit we are seeing borne in communities across Alabama and West Florida. We discussed the effects of the on-going shift in churches from being attractional to missional, realizing that in the past in many congregations, the focus had been primarily on worship in order to draw persons to our congregations, at the expense of calling persons to a life of discipleship. In addition, with insights provided by Dr. Jeff Spiller, senior pastor of Christ UMC, Mobile, we explored the dynamics of "evangelism" and "discipleship", with evangelism being understood as "an invitation to live into the message of the gospel and the Kingdom of God", and discipleship meaning "to break with the past to live into the unfolding revelation of the Kingdom." We are of the belief that where discipleship exists, an evangelical and missional impulse will follow.
We participated in our Incubator process, reviewing the book Deep Change. We discussed "life-giving" choices that can be part of our conversations and behaviors that will model hope and expectancy in our work across the conference. We also reflected on what we felt was going right in the conference, pointing to a celebration of mission, a permission-giving climate, a greater sense of connectedness with one another and a continued focus on fruitfulness over faithfulness in the life of the church. It was noted that across the denomination, Christ, the Caretaker of the Vineyard, is breaking the branches of the vine not producing fruit.
Continuing to reflect on the creation of new faith communities, the Cabinet affirmed its belief that this will be best done through existing local congregations rather than coming exclusively from the Conference Office. This embodies a more organic sense of connectionalism.
Additional items discussed included: the clergy health initiative of Duke Divinity School, identifying ways to reengage the "ministry zones" around our churches, entering data for Vital Congregations and Year-End Reports, a review of connectional giving and direct billing receipts, and conducting consultations with clergy and congregations ahead of the appointment making session.
We are grateful for the clergy and laity of the Alabama-West Florida Conference and the leadership you are providing to all of God's children across our area. We are encouraged by the creative ways the people called Methodists are living the mission in our communities. We are excited at the possibilities for ministry in the coming year and eagerly anticipate what God will do in us, through us, and even in spite of us in 2012!