“Love should be shown without pretending. Hate evil, and hold on to what is good. Love each other like the members of your family. Be the best at showing honor to each other. Don’t hesitate to be enthusiastic—be on fire in the Spirit as you serve the Lord! Be happy in your hope, stand your ground when you’re in trouble, and devote yourselves to prayer. Contribute to the needs of God’s people, and welcome strangers into your home. Bless people who harass you—bless and don’t curse them. Be happy with those who are happy, and cry with those who are crying.” -Romans 12:9-15 (CEB)

One of the many listed responsibilities for ordained and licensed pastors is “to embody the teachings of Jesus in servant ministries and servant leadership.” 2016 BOD Par340 (d1)

What does it mean for Indiana clergy to invest in and foster respectful relational leadership that is more collegial and trust-building?

When we repeatedly hear that clergy morale is low or strained, what assumptions should we make?

When harm is experienced by clergy or laity, trust becomes a casualty along with confidence in our collective leadership and covenant community. One of my often-repeated African proverbs is, “That which we hope for is always better than what we have.”

The bishop and those who provide leadership for and with our congregations must not avoid the hard work needed when disruption occurs. Author, pastor, and social activist Danielle Strickland, a 2019 Global Leadership Summit speaker, says, “Disruption is not a threat but an invitation.” However, it is only an invitation for progress if we embrace that there is “no changing the future without changing the present.” This is true at both a personal and organizational level.

The assignment and subsequent removal of lay supply for two churches in the North Central District should not have happened, and our process for vetting those who qualify as ministerial candidates, along with our protocol for assignments, has been reviewed in depth. The Anderson Herald-Journal news article highlighting past charges of sexual misconduct that created the rapid response from clergywomen and others has highlighted the need for paying closer attention to our General Rules of “Do no harm, doing good, and stay in love with God.” This disruption has shed light on leadership responsibility and clergy relationships. Building trust requires others believing we are who we say we are and will do what we say we will do. This will include our
witness of Christ’s love and evidence of our continued faithful service.

1. Where are we now?

It is important to recognize that 2020 will be defined—to a great extent—by two pandemics. COVID-19, with its global and local impact on families, hospitals, essential workers, and community institutions, has stressed our economy along with our mental and emotional well-being. The magnitude of the economic and relational disruption will be studied for years to come. COVID-19 is now the 3rd leading cause of death in the U.S.

A second pandemic of racial unrest and the hyper-partisan political and social environment are backdrops for examining systemic institutional bias and dysfunction. United Methodists across the globe were already in a state of institutional stress over the much-anticipated protocol for separation and now postponed 2020 General Conference. Will we experience a brighter future if we are released from decades of division over human sexuality, and dismantle racism as an impediment to the gospel?

Local churches have worked hard to navigate the restrictions placed upon us due to COVID-19. The United Methodist Church remains part of the hunger response safety net in Indiana. People are hurting, and yes, children are hungry in Indiana. Some churches are struggling to stay financially and missionally healthy, and others are adapting and even finding new enthusiasm and reaching new people.

Our Conference staff and Cabinet have been reorganized because of strategic planning and financial shortfall. This has resulted in 8 superintendents instead of 10, 3 Directors instead of 4, and fewer persons working at the Conference office and on camping staff, including senior managers. We are anticipating future changes, including additional replacement staff in the Communications department.

2. What we have.

We have gifted leaders all across the state. Clergy and laity have rediscovered necessity as the mother of invention and Luke 12:48b (CEB), “Much will be demanded from everyone who has been given much, and the one who has been entrusted with much, even more, will be asked.”

We have a Conference staff fully engaged with supporting our churches and pastors. We have healthy relationships with our institutional partners, including IU Health, University of Indianapolis, DePauw University, and University of Evansville. We have The United Methodist Foundation resourcing and serving local churches, and we have all three of our United Methodist-related Children’s homes engaged in “Children Matter Most.”

We also have frayed relationships that have eroded trust and the ongoing challenge of communications. I am shocked and disappointed to hear of abuse and the exchange of blame and name-calling taking place across social media. Critical conversation is the currency for positive change. In that case, we must make time and safe space for those opportunities to listen to each other’s stories, witness, grievances, best practices, and positive encouragement for our ministry in these times.

We have a workforce under stress. I know this is true because I see it with those navigating children out of school, aging parents, sickness, and death. The loss of rhythm and the constant pressure for some to be preparing for the next thing week after week is exhausting.

3. What I expect from all of us.

We have agreed-upon processes, and we have resources that too often are neglected:

  • The General Rules of our Church, which we have acknowledged that we know and will follow the 3 simple rules for social media
  • Christian Conferencing Guidelines adopted by Annual Conference
  • The connectional chain of accountability with every pastor under appointment or assignment related to a Superintendent.

First, and foremost, is our Christian commitment to embrace Matthew 18 and the biblical model of addressing the conflict between brothers and sisters, which starts with going to that person and engaging the problem together with the goal of resolving the disagreement.

When safety or trust is a concern, take someone you trust with you to engage the other person or persons. There is a formal complaint process spelled out in the Book of Discipline. Too often, we retreat to judgment and excoriating before others have had the opportunity to right a wrong or share in problem-solving. I know this to be the case beyond Indiana as we see the erosion of trust and badmouthing of others in our Church globally, and in society with social media being a weapon of destruction at its worse or —at its best—a tool for transparency and encouragement of excellence.

I expect clergy in Indiana to exercise Matthew 18 in local church settings and among colleagues. Engage your Superintendent and Directors with questions or suggestions, and respect Conference leadership enough to remember we are in ministry with you with equal passion for the mission and living missionally.

Lay and clergy serve on the Bishop’s Operational Team and the Indiana Episcopacy Committee. One of the blessings I have experienced is the opportunity to pray with and imagine being more missional with lay and clergy over the past four years.

Over the past 12 years, I have engaged in dozens of conversations and just resolutions often with the help of others. I have learned that many of our trust issues and morale problems stem from our desire to move past problems without paying attention to the pain that we may be experiencing and may cause others. The enemy wins when we fail to see the vast majority of our relational challenges as invitations for building healthier collegial relationships and friendships and, ultimately, the beloved community.

I expect to communicate our approach to missional appointment making in this season of angst and pandemic.

I expect the Conference leadership to communicate how we have reviewed our policies and practices at the Conference, District, and Cabinet level to ensure we live up to our highest potential.

I expect to keep before you the need to tend to your own soul and physical well-being.

I will continue to make decisions in consultation with others regarding appointments, assignments, commitment to dismantling racism, promoting multiplication, and intentional Christian discipleship.

4. What lies ahead.

COVID-19 will be with us, impacting our lives through the end of 2020 into 2021. It will affect international travel and local economies.

Conference Outdoor and Camping Ministries has been a major financial and programmatic challenge for 2020. In 2021, those areas will continue to be a significant concern.

The postponed 2020 General Conference and proposed Protocol for Separation remains unresolved.

Current best practices for churches in Indiana. How do we define a new normal and Fresh Expressions in 2021?

Hunger as a humanitarian crisis in Indiana and around the world.

AND YET … I believe God is calling us to a new day on the other side of this time where we will see REVIVAL, real, Holy Spirit-filled revival in powerful and exciting ways! I believe that this is the time to remember that we need each other to continue living authentically and serving so that the truth of the Gospel can be trusted and continue to grow God’s kingdom. And it is my hope that all of us will see these circumstances as a time to unite in earnest prayer for God’s will to be done on earth, as it is in heaven.

Be encouraged,

Bishop Julius C. Trimble
Resident Bishop
Indiana Conference of The United Methodist Church