The changing landscape of finding, recruiting and nurturing leadership


By Leah Pogemiller
Vermilion District Superintendent Leah PogemillerBishop Beard, honored guests, and members of the Illinois Great Rivers Annual Conference: good afternoon. I bring greetings from your Conference Cabinet.  I am Leah Pogemiller, Conference Superintendent appointed to the Vermilion River District and one of the two deans of this Cabinet, together with Doug Rorex. 
We welcomed Bishop Frank and Melissa Beard last September; their faith, wisdom, experience and humor have already touched our lives and faith; we look forward to those deepening relationships.  We have been blessed by three of our colleagues:  Terry Harter and Doug Rorex as they retire from active ministry and to Roger Grimmett as he becomes Lead Pastor at Springfield First UMC.  Rose Booker-Jones and Sylvester Weatherall are moving to new Conference Superintendent appointments and we welcome Angie Lee, Steve Granadosin and Nic Showalter as they make the transition to the Cabinet.
In the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, we read of the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at the well.  The exchange between the two is rich with questions and teaching that touches on the topics of eternal life, call to ministry, doing God’s will, and the nudging from Jesus to notice the great need for others to share the Good News.   It has been a cherished passage of scripture for me, but for the past six years while serving on the Illinois Great Rivers Conference Cabinet, the depth of it has grown for me!
The Cabinet has been blessed in witnessing what God is doing in IGRC!  Yes, we grieve when individuals and congregations struggle, but your Cabinet continues to rejoice as you take risks in working to build God’s Kingdom, moving outside your comfort zones and adapting to the ever-changing multi-cultural world around us. 
However, what has surprised me in these six years is the rapidly changing landscape of finding, recruiting and nurturing leadership --- both lay and clergy --- in The United Methodist Church. 

In the autumn of 2011, the IGRC Cabinet discussed the upcoming 2012 appointment season with a shortage of one or two persons for full-time appointments.  This year, it was in the range of 12 to 13 persons with a long list of contributing factors, which includes:  a growing number of retirements, smaller ordination classes, the lack of a comprehensive recruitment plan, and a failure to create and sustain an overall plan to develop a church-wide culture of invitation.
It is to this last factor --- the failure to create and sustain an overall plan to develop a church wide culture of invitation to persons to affirm their God-given gifts and graces --- that I ask you to reflect with me this afternoon.   
As I connect the dots of my personal walk with Jesus and the broader picture of God’s viewpoint, I invite you to celebrate when we have succeeded and be inspired to discern ways we can amplify our efforts to develop and deploy leadership for the generations to come.
I grew up in a large United Methodist Church, Grace UMC, in Joliet.  Sunday School classrooms were bursting at the seams in the late 1960s and the youth group attracted both “church kids” and unchurched kids.  My confirmation class had more than three dozen youth who were drawn into formal and informal areas of church leadership:  in that confirmation class are ordained and licensed clergy, church musicians and worship leaders, spouses of clergy, and a ministry coach.  I did not realize that this was not typical in churches until decades later, but I think that with changes in ministry focus and the intentional building of relationships in the local church and community, we may begin to see a plentiful harvest of fruit in making new disciples of Jesus Christ to lead the church into the future!
To begin addressing the development of an invitational culture into the DNA of local congregations, let us ask questions, such as:  

  • How do we encourage persons of all ages in their giftedness?
  • Do we give persons opportunity to develop skills as they walk alongside mentors? 
  • Are local churches willing to provided spiritual support and financial support to candidates who God called into ministry from that local church to further their training?’
  • Are we providing experiences that allow them to grow deeper in faith? 
  • Do we point them to resources available in The United Methodist Church for persons to explore and test options in ministry?
 I experienced encouragement from my pastors, youth group leaders, Sunday school teachers, and the broader church family --- they embodied the qualities of the disciple Barnabus, the Encourager.  But they encouraged others as well!  In looking back, we were each encouraged in different ways.  It was simply embedded in their congregational DNA!
I went off to college at the University of Illinois planning on majoring in chemical engineering then heading to medical school.  Yes, I was already experiencing an inward call to ministry, but I resisted. I experienced an outward call to ministry from my church family, family, and friends.  After all, I was officiating at playground weddings and funerals by the second grade!  The clearer the inward and outward call became, the more I resisted.  All was not lost, since I completed two Bachelor degrees at UIUC; I am probably one of the few United Methodist pastors that has the rudimentary skills to design distilleries -- something I have yet to do in ministry!
Having been a lifelong United Methodist, I went to UIUC without knowing about Wesley Foundations.  Soon, Urbana Wesley UMC became my new church home, one that also has that Barnabas-way of encouragement.  They assisted me in understanding my call and gave me a place to serve God.
For decades, the Wesley Foundations and UM-related Universities and Colleges have been developing leadership, lay and clergy alike, in IGRC and other annual conferences around the world.  The first Wesley Foundation at UIUC, assisted in establishing the first Wesley Foundation on African soil at Africa University.  For years, the most fertile ground for developing lay and clergy leaders in The United Methodist Church has been on the campuses of our church-related universities and colleges and the Wesley Foundations.
To see the impact of these United Methodist ministries to college campuses, I invite you to please stand if you have participated or are currently participating in a ministry at a UM-related college or university or a Wesley Foundation.
Each of these ministries are different in their context and scope.  And they continue to impact the Church today.  They ARE NOT the Church of tomorrow, but are the church today.  They are studying the Bible and current issues in the world, building bridges across different cultures and faith communities, addressing hunger issues in a huge way, taking young people on national and international mission trips during Spring breaks and Christmas breaks to help with clean up and rebuilding efforts. 
Our newest IGRC church, Bloomington Normal Hope UMC, was begun with the core leadership from recent Wesley Foundation alums at ISU.  Please watch with me a new promotional advertisement that your IGRC Board of Higher Education and Campus Ministry produced targeting high school students who might consider participation in these opportunities in a handful of years.
In the Vermilion River District where I serve as a Conference Superintendent, two interns from the ISU Wesley Foundation will share in the opportunity of filling pulpits in a four-point charge under the direction of Rev. Gifty Smith.  If the local churches find ways to support our ministries on college campuses, we begin addressing the shortage of pastoral and lay leadership for the churches of Illinois Great Rivers Conference!
Finally, I want to express our thanks and appreciation to the nine women who are the district administrative assistants.  The Conference Superintendents are indebted to their gifts and skills in coordinating our efforts and enabling us to function in an efficient manner.  To the District Administrative Assistants, we give God our thanks for the faithful ministry you accomplish through the district offices.  For those district administrative assistants that are present, would you please stand to receive our appreciation?
In conclusion, I challenge you to go back to the churches of IGRC and begin inviting persons to consider ministry.   Demonstrate how persons can be mentored. Volunteer by leading youth ministries, Sunday School, lead Bible studies.  Encourage the creativity they bring to the Church today.   And lift all these in daily prayer.