Conference Leadership: Living and Leading Together

February 03, 2020
By Cathy Bruce

Bishop’s Extended Cabinet gets advice for uncertain times

This past Sunday was memorable to sports fans as Super Bowl Sunday. But for Bishop Leonard Fairley and the members of his Extended Cabinet and the Conference Secretary, the day was memorable for another reason: It was a time of discernment during turbulent times for the United Methodist Church.

The group gathered that afternoon at the Conference Center in Crestwood to look at ways to lead in uncertain times: how to be the leaders the Kentucky Annual Conference needs as we face the uncertainty of General Conference 2020 and beyond, and a time when – unlike in the Super Bowl – our hope is not to have winners and losers, but a new reality where we continue to create disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Their time together was led by Peg Aldridge, the executive director and co-founder of Passion in Partnership. Aldridge, a lay member of the Western North Carolina Conference, focused the group around the topic of "How Will We Live and Lead Together?" 

The Extended Cabinet is made up of district superintendents and other senior leaders in the Conference. They acknowledged that their fervent desire is to lead well … together, without  anxiety, negativity or fear but with their presence and humility.

The scripture they pulled forth as best capturing what they desire to do is Philippians 4:8-9, Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.

The group leaned heavily on the ideals of trust, love and transparency. One question Aldridge asked the group was, “Can we trust those that we don’t agree with?” The answer was a resounding yes, with Rev. Susan Jinnett-Sack, the Northern Kentucky DS, and Rev. Scott Stith, the Pennyrile DS,  offering that, “A portion of trust will lead to love, but a measure of untrust leads to fear and judgment” – which is where we do not want to be as a conference or a denomination.

Members also examined the core values that they will lead with as we navigate our future together. The values that the group shares mirror the fruit of the spirit found in Galatians 5:22-25, By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live by the Spirit, let us also be guided by the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, competing against one another, envying one another.

Bishop Fairley reminded those gathered that “our goal is not to beat up on each other but to offer Christ” to all who seek him no matter where they may fall within the manmade descriptions such as “progressive,” “centrist” and “traditionalist.”

Aldridge cited five important concepts to remember as they lead:

  • Our words create our world.
  • The question starts the change.
  • You have a choice in how you see things.
  • Image inspires action.
  • Positive images and positive actions produce positive results.

The compromise separation plan put forth in early January, the Protocol Document on Reconciliation and Separation, also was addressed during Sunday’s gathering. Aldridge said that, often, “you have to have a breakdown to hit your breakthrough.”

Everyone in the room had examples of how the Protocol caused much consternation in their districts, teams and/or departments. With major national news organizations picking up the story and in many instances getting both the story and its implications wrong, it made leading without anxiety that much harder.

Fairley recommended a book for the group, How to Lead When You Don't Know Where You're Going: Leading in a Liminal Season, by Susan Beaumont.

 “Across the church you hear a lot about Kentucky,” Fairley said, but he cautioned the Extended Cabinet to “never let anyone tell us who we are or whose we are,” and to stay true to the values that the group has claimed as its own.

So on a day that many celebrated winners and losers, the Extended Cabinet was reminded that the stakes are too high to frame our future as winners or losers … that they are just servant leaders loving and leading the people called Methodists into a new future.