Depending on each other: Bishop’s Road Show

12-district event bridges new ways to trust, deepen relationships for better disciple-making

By Jessica Brodie

SPARTANBURG—When it comes to building the church, it’s all about relationships.

That was the overriding word from Bishop Jonathan Holston as he completed the last of his 12-district Bishop’s Road Show in Spartanburg Feb. 28.

Holston spent the fall and winter touring every district in the state to meet with lay leaders and lay servants, talking about how a renewed focus on people will steer the church toward its proper course for Christ. Holston was joined by South Carolina Conference Lay Leader Barbara Ware, Connectional Ministries Director the Rev. Kathy James, Congregational Development Director the Rev. Sara White, Connectional Ministries Convener Cynthia Williams, district superintendents, congregational specialists and others.

“We’ve been wanting to get out in the districts where the people are, to be in your presence and share in a significant way,” Holston told the lay leaders and servants. “There’s a sense of concern in our church—are we really making disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world? How do we build the type of church that will make a difference, where people say, ‘That church is really doing something’?”

Relationships are the key to this, Holston said to a roomful of nodding heads and “amens” at Central United Methodist Church, Spartanburg.

Amid Spartanburg lay leaders and speakers, Holston shared wisdom he and his Cabinet gleaned from the book “The Five Dysfunctions of a Team,” by Patrick Lencioni. Lencioni writes that absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability and inattention to results catapults any entity—whether the church or a business—into a dysfunctional, unproductive situation.

Holston said those issues are at the heart of what can go wrong in church, and he and his team want lay leaders, lay speakers and others across the South Carolina Conference to work on those issues so they can better fulfill their mission for Christ.

So many times, Holston said, we focus on “the right programs,” as if those will bring in new members and keep existing members engaged, but that’s not it.

“Programs will not change your church. Programs will not save anybody,” he said. “We’ve been concentrating on programs, but not focusing on people. We have objectified them. … But when you have a relationship with someone, it makes all the difference.”

Holston said the root of much of this is in trust: when people don’t trust each other, it becomes a slippery slope to the other four dysfunctions.

“We know trust doesn’t come easy,” Holston said. “But we want to build a church where God reigns and we make disciples, where we make a difference for Christ with the people in our area. We need to learn to depend on each other. We need to learn to be God’s people together.”

Trust and animal types

James talked about the difference between predictive trust (where, because you know someone, you can come to predict their actions, reactions or feelings about a certain issue or situation) and vulnerability trust (which is rooted in real relationship).

“We need to cultivate a climate of vulnerability trust,” James told the room, “where you can say ‘I need help’ or ‘I made a mistake.’”

She led the Spartanburg lay leaders and servants in a small group exercise, where people shared three things about themselves with each other—where they were born, what is their birth order and what was a challenging experience from their childhood—as an example of what churches can do with each other to help build a safe place and cultivate new trust.

Next, Chris Lynch, Spartanburg congregational specialist, had people take a personality test that identified them as one of four animals—an exercise that showed how, when you are aware of people’s personalities, you can understand how they work as a team and avoid trust issues and other problems.

People were categorized as beavers, hawks, giraffes or monkeys. Then the room discussed how a monkey or a beaver type might interact when he or she is working in a group with primarily giraffe types.

All about unity, not uniformity

After a lunch break and fellowship time, Holston led the group in a hand-clapping version of “Standing in the Need of Prayer.”

“We do this thing together,” Holston said, reminding attendees that we don’t work alone, even though we might sometimes think we do. “We’re not by ourselves, and together, we can do more.”

But everybody is not the same, he said; we must embrace who we are and whose we are—God’s.

“We don’t have to agree. It’s not about uniformity. It’s about unity,” Holston said. “Different people, different parts of the world, coming together to learn how to live—isn’t that the church?”

The day wrapped up with the lay leaders and servants committing on paper—posters positioned around the room for all to see—what they will do in their church in the next three to six months.

Next event to bring in clergy, too

Ware said the road shows have been a terrific opportunity for people to get to know the bishop, whom she called a wonderful person, and learn how to build a better church.

“When I look back over the road shows, the words that come to my mind are excitement, engagement, connection and fun,” Ware said. “Folks told us how excited they were to be invited to engage in dialogue with the bishop. And, as is always the case with the bishop, he was very entertaining and made the event fun. It was refreshing for all of us who traveled together over those six months during the road shows to see the enthusiasm of the laity about the many possibilities we have as the church to be disciples for Jesus Christ.”

Ware said she knows of no other conference in the UMC that is doing these one-on-one sessions between laity and their bishop, but she’d like to see that happen.

Next year, she said, they’re hoping to expand the road show concept a step further and bring clergy to the table, too. Ware said an event similar to the road shows will evolve beginning in the fall, with the bishop going back into the 12 districts and inviting local church leadership teams and their pastor to join him in discussion.

“I think having lay and clergy together will offer an opportunity to continue building a solid partnership between laity and clergy,” Ware said.

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