The Christian Church in the Upper Midwest
(Disciples of Christ)
Resolution for a Disciples Together Form of Ministry
I believe we can change the world
If we start listening to one another again
Simple, honest, human conversation
Not mediation, negotiation, problem solving, debate or public meetings
Simple truthful conversation
Where we each have a chance to speak
We each feel heard and
We each listen well.
-Margaret J. Wheatley, Ed.D.
The 2003 Upper Midwest Regional Assembly prayerfully and unanimously adopted a bold new ministry vision entitled Disciples Together, Sharing in the Fullness of God’s Table, For the Blessing of All. Throughout the last seven years, we’ve phased in the Disciples Together strategy. The next phase prescribed in the vision is to modify our structure in order to fully embrace this new vision for ministry.
Since 2003, we’ve seen dramatic results as we’ve lived into the Disciples Together vision. We were able to recognize that energetic regional ministries, programs and resources are more likely to spring forth from congregations than to be distributed to congregations from the hub of a regional office. The new vision enables more congregations to work together at a time when financial constraints have led to dramatic decreases in regional staff. Individuals throughout the region are uniting around “God inspired calls.” The relational components of the vision have led to churches reengaging in regional ministries instead of keeping them at arm’s length.
The region’s approach and framework for doing ministry has significantly shifted over the years. However, much of our formal structure is designed to support the “hub” concept of region rather than the “web of connected congregations and individuals” concept that we have been practicing. In order to keep on track with the next phase of the vision and to align our current ministry approach with our structure, the Regional Board has taken action. In 2010, a Vision Task Force was charged with the mission of proposing a structure that will enable us to move fully into the Disciples Together vision.
As the Vision Task Force approached its work, a dream began to take shape of a transformed and revitalized region. The “what if” question clarified our direction:
What if we recognized that congregations are the starting point for passion-based ministries?
What if we had a new kind of gathering where ministries could emerge from new conversations?
What if we had a region where laity are much more involved at every level?
What if smaller churches and congregations throughout all parts of the region felt that they were indispensable parts of the regional body?
What if our gatherings weren’t about hearing reports and voting but about discerning and validating?
What if the region’s ministry was to help facilitate ministry instead of gate- keeping?
What if we invited congregations to participate rather than presuming they were on board?
When the Vision Task Force asked these kinds of questions, certain principles emerged which guided the vision for a new structure. The new structure would need to be:
Consistent with the Disciples Together vision
Relational rather than hierarchical
Laity-oriented rather than clergy-dominated
Inclusive of the entire region rather than oriented toward big and central Iowa congregations.
One where leadership selection is determined by passions and a large group rather than a self-replicating nominating process.
Permission-giving and invitational.
True to our Disciples heritage and allowing for diverse forms of ministry and opinions with folks still celebrating at the common table
One that celebrates the life-cycles of ministries and is not interested in perpetuating ministries because “that is how we have always done things.”
Flexible to adapt to new ministry opportunities.
One where meetings are focused on engaging in ministry rather than receiving reports.
Driven by spiritual discernment rather than parliamentary procedure and votes that divide “winners and losers.”
The New Structure
The Vision Task Force is proposing structural changes that seek to fulfill these principles. In the Resolution you will see the following fundamental changes.
The Gathered Body will be a discernment group that is engaged in conversation and development of ministry initiatives. Ministries will arise from these gatherings instead of being handed down from the denomination or regional staff. Gathered Body meetings will meet 1-2 times per year.
The Gathered Body will include two lay representatives from each congregation and all clergy with standing in the region. Larger churches will not have more representation, and laity will outnumber clergy at the event.
The 20 member Operations Council will replace the Regional Board. There will be a lay majority on the board (12 laity/8 clergy). Members will be selected by the Gathered Body by geographic sections rather than the current cluster configuration.
The Operations Council will nominate leaders for three Ministry Functions: Commission on Ministry; Personnel ; and Investment and Property.
Ministries that emerge from the Gathered Body discernment process will be commissioned and may apply for funding to the Operations Council, and their budgets will come before the Regional Assembly.
When needed, the Gathered Body will break into an administrative session and become the Regional Assembly.
Be it resolved that the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Upper Midwest adopt an organizational form consistent with “Disciples Together” and composed of these structural elements:
1. “Gathered Body”
a. Purpose: To gather together in conversation to foster relationship with the diversity of voices throughout the congregations in the Region and to provide an intentional time for discernment of what God would ask us to do in ministry as “Disciples Together.”
b. Primary responsibilities
i. Gather the voices of the congregations
ii. Build relationships by providing space for conversations
iii. Discern and commission ministries each year
iv. Elect representatives to Operations Council by ministry area (12 lay – 8 clergy)
v. Final approval of nominations brought by Operations Council
c. Basic structure
i. Full day meeting/retreat
ii. 1-2 meetings a year
iii. Guided and led by the Regional Minister
iv. Focused on intentional ongoing conversational sharing and discernment to authentically get to know each other and, within this experience, share ministry ideas.
v. Use intentionally designed processes that allow for large groups to share with each other while allowing common ministries to arise in the group.
vi. The Gathered Body will commission ministries for the next year.
d. Membership Participation
i. Every congregation invited to send 2 lay persons to the gathering
ii. All clergy with standing are invited to attend
iii. Regional Staff
2. “Operations Council”
a. Purpose: Serve as the main administrative entity for the region.
i. 2 lay representatives are chosen by the “Gathered Body”; one from each of the 12 ministry areas of the region.
ii. 8 Clergy are chosen by the clergy.
c. Basic structure
i. Meets 3-4 times a year or as needed
ii. Elects officers as needed
iii. Terms staggered in 3 year terms
iv. Led by elected moderator
d. Primary responsibilities
i. Serve as nominating committee for functions
ii. Submit a budget to be approved by the administrative session of the Gathered Body (Regional Assembly)
iii. Oversee the approved budget
iv. Serve as legal administrative entity of the Region
v. Decide and distribute all grants
vi. Serve as the evaluative committee of the new structure with responsibility of bringing amendments to the structure before the Gathered Body administrative session.
3. “Functions and Ministries”
a. Functions: Those activities of the region that are needed for legal or other administrative reasons. These activities/committees will require positions to be nominated to by the Operations Council.
i. Commission on Ministry
ii. Commission on Personnel
iii. Commission on Investment and Property
b. Ministries: Those activities discerned by the Gathered Body to be expressions of our call from God. Ministries that emerge from the Gathered Body discernment process will be commissioned and may apply for funding to the Operations Council, with their budgets coming before the Regional Assembly.
i. Each ministry will determine its own leadership organizational pattern
ii. Each ministry will communicate its progress to the regional minister and president
iii. Once ministries have been commissioned we will sound the call for others to participate in them.
iv. Any financial needs for these ministries will be submitted to the Operations Council, which will propose a budget to the Regional Assembly.
Frequently asked Questions (FAQs)
What happens to the ministries we are currently doing? Do they go away, change or something else?
When we make the switch to the new structure all ministries technically end. However, this is simply so we can enter into the new structure and validate, welcome and encourage all ministries which churches and/or individuals may have a particular calling to carry out. Therefore if there is passion for any existing ministry it may continue.
What is discernment and why is it necessary for regional ministry?
Put simply, discernment is an act or process of determining together what God wishes us to do. It is a spiritual approach to decision-making common in the early church. Laity and clergy from across the region will gather for scripture, prayer and conversation. A sense of where God is leading us will emerge from these conversations. To understand more of these processes please refer to Margaret J. Wheatley’s material at http://www.turningtooneanother.net/ and/or http:// www.theworldcafe.com/) This model of discernment and group conversation has been used by Disciples’ Women across their gatherings in this region and has been used in several churches for Search and Call as well as visioning sessions. *Note: A process like this is hard to explain fully in words. It simply must be experienced to have a better understanding of it.
Will the structure affect the way we relate to general church, ecumenical church, and other regions?
The answer is no, as it relates to representatives or any other interaction requested by or required by the general church or the ecumenical church. These positions and interactions can be nominated or directed by the Operations Council. However, it is hoped that if this new way of being church together proves to be successful and enriching to the spirit and strength of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the Upper Midwest, then perhaps other regions may benefit from our experience.
Why do we need to start with a large gathering called the Gathered Body?
Actually the structure starts with the individual congregations within the geographic area we call The Upper Midwest. As such we need a beginning structure that creates space; a table large enough for direct representation from the congregations to come together. Anything smaller would not be “Disciples Together” and only adds to the fragmentation of the ministry we try to do together.
What makes the “Gathered Body” different from a Regional Assembly?
The main difference between a Regional Assembly and the “Gathered Body” is that in a regional assembly resolutions are debated, reports are heard and individual members who gather rarely have real conversation with each other. Regional Assemblies meet once every two years and most times the representatives have little opportunity to truly get to know individuals from other congregations. However, it is hoped with the “Gathered Body” that our primary purpose will be to have authentic human conversations with each other, which will be the basis for determining and discerning our ministry together. We believe strongly that simple conversations will produce deeper relationships that will produce both a stronger sense of Disciples Together and purpose-filled ministry.
If we adopt this, how do we move from the structure we have to the next structure?
All officers, units and task forces will stay intact until the October meeting. However, in order to allow a clean switch-over, all officers, ministries and functions will expire at the beginning of the October Gathered Body. As we meet we will embrace new ministries, choose the Operations Council, choose needed officers, nominate to functions and restart our ministry together.
Why are Functions understood to be different than Ministries?
In the past what has prevented us from changing has been the fear that there are certain obligations and activities that must continue as part of the institution. In the proposed design these items are called functions, and must have a clear structure that appoints them and keeps them going. However, ministries are activities of the church that change depending on the need and discerned call of God. Ministries need more flexibility in any structure to allow them to be quickly created and commissioned, as well as allowing them to end.
How are chairpersons and members of the functions chosen?
Nominations and appointments for chairpersons of the functions and functional unit members are the responsibility of the Operations Council.
If participation in the region is declining, why do we expect ! this structure which relies on more participation to work?
In the new structure participation is not assumed, and that makes all the difference. In the new structure congregations are invited, inspired and encouraged to understand again that we are stronger together. When people choose to be involved in a ministry rather than being assumed or simply slotted into a position, it is likely that participation will rise. Another difference in the new structure that might affect participation is that in the present structure individuals are asked to be representatives from a cluster rather than from individual congregations.
How will we know this is working? What will the criteria be for evaluation?
The most obvious criterion to use is to ask “Are more congregations involved in the ‘Gathered Body’ through the sending of representatives?” “Is there a greater sense of ownership by the churches of the ministry we do together?” “Are we still happy with the new structure?” Because of the flexible nature of this new structure, ongoing conversations around evaluation of the structure are quite compatible. At the end of the two years, a direct conversation and feedback session in the “Gathered Body” time and by the “Operations Council” will serve as the two main ways to determine if this new structure is working, needs to be adjusted or needs to be abandoned.
How is a ministry launched and how do people join a ministry?
When the need for a new ministry is discerned in the Gathered Body, people gathered that day will be invited to form around this new ministry. We will also sound the call for those in the congregations to join this ministry. Each ministry will determine its own leadership and organizational pattern. These ministries will communicate their progress to the Regional Minister and President.
Will we still need a bi-annual Regional Assembly?
No, because the Administrative Session of the Gathered Body will serve as Regional Assembly as needed.
How does this structure affect the way congregations interact and relate with the regional church?
Because the new structure does not assume participation by the congregation but instead actively invites, encourages and inspires the congregation to participate, there is an anticipated change in the relationship. However, in most technical ways there will not be any great change. The hope is that because we return to a time when churches are being asked again to share their gifts and talents, there will be more incentive and ownership on the part of the congregations to join in the ministry we call “Disciples Together,” not because we have to but because we choose to.
Will this structure address the perceived and often real disconnection of congregations farther out from the population center of the region?
It is hoped that with every congregation being invited to send two representatives, there will be some equalizing within the region. The new structure intentionally emphasizes the principle that all parts/churches are valuable to the whole. Although this new structure has as its base an intentional focus on breaking down some of the barriers that have divided us over time, it alone will not solve all those issues. However, it is hoped that through our conversations we will be able to do more to assure all that we are “Disciples Together.” Once one has an authentic conversation with another that leads to friendship, it is more difficult to ignore the disenfranchisement of that particular other!.
Are representatives from congregations automatically assumed?
No. The choice to participate is what makes this new structure and form of being region so different. We will continually evolve as more churches choose to participate. This choice also means that a congregation’s involvement can never be taken for granted and must always be earned and inspired.
What is a Geographic Ministry Area?
These are simply a way of creating smaller areas in the region to balance representation and encourage possible ministries between churches in those areas. Actual lines for the areas will need to have direct input from churches and will likely evolve for a couple of years while we work out what is the best configuration.
Will there be a Quorum number for the “Gathered Body”?
No. This gathering will simply invite and bring together the voices of those who choose to come together to do mutual ministry. It might be 50 congregations the first year and then 80 the next. There are no assumptions of participation in this gathering that would give a basis for the quorum number.