Bishop kicks off ‘District Days’ to help cultivate strong souls, strong leaders

By Jessica Brodie

A healthy, strong church can effect change for God’s kingdom. But it takes strong church leaders—and strong, Spirit-filled souls—to cultivate a strong church. 

To help develop that strength, South Carolina Resident Bishop L. Jonathan Holston is making the rounds to every district in the annual conference to explore “Strengthening Your Soul to Lead.”

Based on “Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry,” the book by Dr. Ruth Haley Barton, the bishop’s Days in the District began in November and will run until May.

The district days are designed to help people learn to be authentic in their leadership, forge deeper connections with others, make better decisions and experience greater fulfillment.

All are welcome to attend, from clergy to other church leaders—lay leaders, committee chairs, lay servants, United Women in Faith or United Methodist Men presidents, etc.

“The journey toward becoming an effective leader does not begin by leading someone else anywhere,” Holston said. “It is learning how to move from striving to thriving, allowing ourselves to be transformed and guided by the Holy Spirit, and only then can we lead others toward deeper connection with God.”  

Holston said developing effective leaders, both clergy and laity, is one of the conference’s four stated priorities.

“We began our conversation around ‘Strengthening Your Soul to Lead’ with key lay leaders from across the conference in October, and continued it in November with our clergy during the Fall Clergy Orders Gathering. Taking this important and timely discussion into the districts reinforces what we know to be true now more than ever—that strong congregations begin with strong lay leaders.”

Registration is required, and churches are encouraged to bring a team of leaders.

The bishop’s district days began in the Greenwood District Nov. 18. Held at Central United Methodist Church, Newberry, the event featured teaching from Holston along with Connectional Ministries Director the Rev. Millie Nelson Smith, Congregational Specialist the Rev. Jim Arant, and Greenwood District Superintendent Dr. Stephen Love.

The morning started with a centering thought, brought by Love and inspired by Exodus 18:17-18, when Moses was told by his father-in-law, Jethro, to share his workload.

Holston began by leading the room in singing “We’re Marching to Zion,” then he lifted up Jesus’s words in Matthew 16:26, “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” (NIV).

He encouraged churches to use what they already have, intentionally teaming up laity with clergy to do what is needed.

Often in the church, Holston said, “We claim we need more and more. But what we have is what we have. The question remains, “How are we going to use what we have to do what God is calling us to do?”

When laity and clergy work together, a difference is made, Holston said. 

Smith lifted up the conference’s four priorities—developing clergy and lay leaders, engaging our communities, connecting with and growing disciples, and measuring current realities and evaluating missional possibilities—noting laity play a huge role in carrying out what pastors begin. Both must work together.

“One cannot do it without the other,” she said.

Arant led group discussions that tied into what Jethro told Moses in Exodus 18: You can’t do it alone. Tables gathered to discuss and then come up with answers to three questions: 1) With expectations of pastors at a high level, the danger is for them to get burned out. What can Jethro’s suggestion do for pastors? 2) How can leadership be shared between laity and clergy? 3) What hinders sharing leadership between lay and clergy?

The gathering closed with a Service of Communion.

December will feature two district days: Dec. 2 in the Florence District at Central UMC, Florence, from 9:45 a.m. to noon and Dec. 9 in the Greenville District at Lee Road UMC, Taylors, from 9:30 a.m. to noon.

See for January to May district days and their locations, as well as to register.

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