What's in store for '08? Leaders offer insights


By the Advocate


What does the future hold?


Most of us would like to know the answer to that question. A few folks try to predict what might happen around the world in 2008 in politics, sports or entertainment.


Locally, some leaders of the Mississippi Conference are in a position to give us a forecast of what to expect this year. The Mississippi United Methodist Advocate asked some of those leaders to give us an idea of what they expect in 2008.


Here, in their own words, are their responses:


Bishop Hope Morgan Ward, episcopal leader of the Mississippi Area


I envision “Three Simple Rules” in the midst of our common life:

• First, do no harm.
• Second, do good.
• Third, stay in love with God. 


These three simple rules were received, taught and lived by John Wesley. We will hold these rules in our spirits as we approach General Conference, Annual Conference and Jurisdictional Conference. By holding these rules at the center of our life, we will grow in unity and common purpose.


I envision growing in spiritual, mental, emotional, physical and relational health so that we might reach out and welcome more people, more younger people and more diverse people. We will turn our attention to those not yet in our churches, remembering that Jesus Christ said, “When I am lifted up, I will draw all to myself.”


As the 2004-2008 quadrennium ends and the 2008-2012 quadrennium begins, we will sense God’s moving purpose and providence that bears us onward in our life and ministry.


Rev. Steve Casteel, director of Connectional Ministries


As we look to 2008 there are some exciting possibilities on the horizon.


In early winter laity and clergy will join us for a series of listening sessions with the bishop to help us discern how we will order our lives, and (Connectional Ministries) will launch the 2026 initiative as we seek to change the world for the children born in 2008.


A new mission handbook will be distributed with a myriad of practical tools and ideas.



• We will begin a discipleship initiative called “Live Loved.”
• A young people’s leader network will be established to help establish new and strengthen existing ministries with young people.
• We will begin to explore a “family systems” approach to spiritual formation.
• Our efforts to strengthen the small membership churches in the conference will be re-energized.
• The Chabaza Covenant will sponsor a medical trip to Zimbabwe.

This is an exciting time to be a part of The United Methodist Church in Mississippi. We invite you to be in prayer with us as we seek to be faithful to God in all we do.


Rev. Embra Jackson, administrative assistant to the bishop


The year 2008 is poised to be an exciting and innovative year for the ministry area of congregational development. As one of the annual conference’s five initiatives, this area addresses the vitality of existing churches and the starting of new churches.


Congregational development will focus on discipleship in 2008. We will continue our efforts in local congregational self-assessment through the A2 Indicators. A majority of our churches completed this self-assessment by the end of 2007.


In order to assist the churches in responding to the areas of strength and weakness, we have designed a church coaching ministry. A nationally trained congregational coach will train conference staff, district staff, lay and clergy in each district (our A29 team members) to assist us.


Coaching, as a Christian concept, is based on Acts 11:23-24. A church coach is one who encourages, helps and equips a church to realize and fulfill God’s calling for them. Coaches will be assigned to churches at the request of the district superintendents.


We also plan to develop “Best Practice Churches” that will become centers for sharing and collaborative learning related to the A2 Indicators. For example, a church that has developed an active children’s and youth ministry will share its best practices with other congregations. Some of these churches may be asked to share their best practices at Annual Conference.


In new church development, we are excited that we met our goal of starting three new churches in 2007 and that we will begin 2008 with our fourth new church start since the 2007 Annual Conference.


We anticipate starting at least three more new churches and will begin to develop new churches in non-traditional ways and with new communities.


For example, it is anticipated that we will continue to have a large increase in our Hispanic/Latino population. As a result we will look to expanding our ministry via the planting of new churches to this population base.


We also anticipate the use of technology to start new churches. For example, the use of electronic churches is on the increase across the nation. Many churches have several campuses that are related to each other via electronic media. Many other churches are predominately electronic in nature. 


The General Board of Pensions is training self-care covenant trainers. We will conduct a Self-Care Covenant workshop in our conference with the goal of developing self-care covenant groups in each district. These groups will be available for both lay and clergy persons. These covenants are centered on the spiritual, physical, emotional and relational aspects of holistic health.


David Stotts, conference treasurer, director of administration, benefits officer


As we go into 2008, we find ourselves with the first increased budget since 2006. We also find ourselves with the first budget to exceed $20 million.


I would like for us to exceed 90 percent in budget paid and make an effort to give 100 percent to Africa University and the Black College Fund. We have a vested interest in Africa University through support in dollars and people power. Rust College does a great job and benefits financially from the Black College Fund.


I would like to know that each church is giving systematically to apportionments. When we give systematically, the recipient mission work can be done throughout the year. Large gifts at the end of the year are great, but the monthly bills go on.


We will have information available in the (conference) office about the apportioned dollars and where they go and what ministry they produce. I would like to see every church have at least one program around that subject. I truly believe that when faces are put on needs, the needs will be met. Also, when people know what ministry they are supporting, they find it easier to support the conference budget.


Our major cost to the conference is pensions and insurance (both property/casualty and health). We are working diligently on ways to reduce this cost. We had a motion on the floor of Annual Conference last June to explore ways to raise at least 20 percent of the budget in ways other than apportionments. I look forward to that work and reporting on the progress being made in finding that type of support.