Like many of you, I suspect, I used to have a very detached view of our general boards and agencies.  I had heard that their budgets and staff were bloated and that they were disconnected from the lifeline of our denomination, which is the local church.  That perception began to change when, as chair of the Board of Ordained Ministry, I had frequent phone conversations with the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM) staff about ministry issues.  When I was elected to be a director of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry in 2004, I realized how valuable our general boards and agencies are in resourcing, training and empowering our annual conferences, local churches and pastors

Last week I spent three days at the fall meeting of GBHEM in Nashville.  What a privilege it is to be involved in the work of the church on a denominational level.  Our twice yearly meetings are indeed a time of holy conferencing, and I have the highest respect for the GBHEM staff and my colleagues on the board of directors. 

The formal mission of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry is:   

“The GBHEM leads and serves the UMC in the recruitment, preparation, nurture, education and support of Christian leaders – lay and clergy – for the work of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”

That mission is based on the following vision: “A new generation of Christian leaders who commit boldly to Jesus Christ and are characterized by intellectual excellence, moral integrity, spiritual courage, and holiness of heart and life.”

The GBHEM understands that the membership decline of the UMC will continue if we follow on the same path.  That decline is based, in part, on a crisis in clergy and lay leadership.  In that light, in March of this year, the GBHEM approved a strategic plan with five primary goals.

  • Reach young people to assist and support them in identifying and forming their vocations as Christians for leadership in the global church and the world
  • Recruit, enlist, prepare and retain lay and clergy leaders, educated and formed in the Wesleyan tradition, who reflect the global community and strengthen the diversity of the denomination
  • Bring clarity to the nature, theology and practice of ordered ministry in UMC
  • Support, strength, and enhance global UMC higher education and ordered ministry
  • Strengthen the viability, quality, and identity of UM-related schools, colleges, universities, campus ministries, and theological schools

We spent much time last week discussing the nature of globalism vs. localism, the need for trained pastors in Africa, financial support for seminary students, the recruitment of young people to ordained and lay ministry, the Task Force on the Ordering of Ministry, and proposed legislation for General Conference.  I’ll be sharing more of that in other emails.

GBHEM is also collaborating with the Council of Bishops and other general boards and agencies to formulate common strategies for making disciples and reversing our membership decline.  Two emphases have come out of this work:

  • To make disciples for the transformation of the world, we must have a sustained emphasis upon developing, strengthening, equipping, retooling lay and clergy leadership.  The key is leadership, leadership, leadership!
  • We must leverage the considerable resources of people, prayer, spiritual depth, financial resources, and connection in order to truly address and eliminate poverty and poverty-related diseases in this world.

Clearly, we had some sobering discussions, especially related to the 2009-2012 quadrennial budget and the fact that apportionments (ministry shares) are actually funded at about 85%.   We acknowledged the need to address the perception of scarcity in local churches, the misconception that if we pay ministry shares in full, then we won’t have enough for “us”.  We need to communicate more effectively with local churches about how our apportionment money is used.  And we need to facilitate better stewardship education in our denomination.  The GBHEM is convinced that lay people do respond when they are led passionately and skillfully and have the appropriate resources to understand where their money is going.  Another reason to put the Bishops Day for Evangelism and Stewardship on your calendar.  March 3, 2007: please come with your lay people!

It was a delight to enter into active dialogue with other pastors and lay people from around the country.  I was especially challenged by our college students.  When discussing proposed legislation for General Conference, one young woman said our Book of Discipline should only state what we believe and not get into detail about how to do it.  The Discipline should get smaller, not greater!  What a refreshing idea! 

Rev. Mary Ann Moman, Associate General Secretary for the Division of Ordained Ministry (the other part of GBHEM is the Division of Higher Education), summarized our time well by saying that our goal is faithful, fruitful leadership.  We need to look celebrate lives that are being changed through military chaplains, ethnic ministries, Hospice and hospital chaplains, Exploration, campus ministries, Africa University, Women of Color Scholars program, and $4.2 million in scholarships awarded to UM students this year.  I am so proud to be a United Methodist!

If you have any questions about the work of the GBHEM, please feel free to email or call me.  

Blessings, Laurie

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