When New District Superintendents Go to School


By Michael Rich, Web and Communications Manager for the Western North Carolina Conference
Gil Rendle, keynote speaker, Texas United Methodist Foundation
Gil Rendle, keynote speaker, Texas United Methodist Foundation


New District Superintendents (DS) and Directors of Connectional Ministry (DCM) from across the denomination gathered at Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, August 23-27, for “Cultivating Vital Ministries,” the new DS/DCM Orientation. The event was sponsored by the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), the Council of Bishops and Discipleship Ministries with 67 superintendents and 13 DCM’s attending, representing 35 Annual Conferences. 

While the theme “Cultivating Vital Ministries” has remained the same for this quadrennium, but according to the Rev. Myron Wingfield, Associate General Secretary, Division of Ordained Ministry, “This year’s training is a more focused and refined process of orientation in developing the Chief Missional Strategist.”   

Bishop Gary Mueller of the Arkansas Conference preached on Monday morning at the first service of worship. Highlighting Paul’s letter to the Colossians (3:12-17), he challenged the participants to focus on “The Heart of the Matter.”   

“You are doing something that makes a difference, something huge, something magnificent that can be summed up by only one word: ‘ginormous.’ You are called to an impossible task, one thing that is essential is to go to the ‘heart of the matter’ and the heart of the matter is Jesus Christ.” 

Following worship on Monday, Gil Rendle from the Texas United Methodist Foundation opened the training with the first plenary session, Chief Missional Strategist & Steward of the Vision: Your Unique Role in Cultivating Vital Ministries. 

Rendle focused on the evolving roles that District Superintendents and Directors of Connectional Ministry are facing in a changing world. “Under the old paradigm, the DS served the congregations and pastors of a district. In this new paradigm, the churches and clergy are resources for mission, for the making of disciples and transforming the world,” said Rendle. 

Rendle shed light on overwhelming statistics about the role of the DS. The average number of direct reports for a DS is over 80 pastors and churches, which is ten times the amount of an average manager in the corporate world. Rendle states, “The only way to deal with this in a changing culture is to locate the readiness among your clergy and churches and use them to change the institution.” Rev. Laura Auten, the new DS in the Uwharrie District of the Western North Carolina Conference echoed those thoughts when asked about her reflections on the week. “This training is helping me to be a ‘detective’ of missional readiness among the congregations and clergy in the district I serve.” 

Rendle also highlighted that leading in a culture of change requires asking better questions.  “Congregations know more about who they were than who they are. Good leaders ask the questions that help them name the tensions between their expressed values and their actual behavior.” 

Rev. Dr. Shirlyn Brown, the new superintendent of the Easton District of the Delaware-Peninsula Conference, recognized the challenges before her. “I know that I have to balance my time to focus on the things that really matter – the heart of the matter. I am learning that questions are important to doing the work of a DS. I need to be a good listener to do the job effectively.” 

Rendle closed with his reflections on making missional appointments. “Your job is to put people with potential into churches with potential, into the part of the mission field with the most potential…Tiredness is a guarantee, but it is not a measure of faithfulness or effectiveness.” 

Other plenary sessions for the entire group in the program included Your Unique Role in Cultivating Vital Ministries, Part Two, led by Melissa Shortridge and Anthony Tang, and Next Steps led by the Rev. Myron Wingfield and Ken Sloane. 

Sloane, the director of stewardship and connectional ministries for Discipleship Ministries, noted that the key to moving forward is, “Letting go of past descriptions and focusing on the future. The DCM is to be a steward of the vision, align resources, lead renewal and transformation and maintain the connection.” 

Wingfield added, “We are trying to recapture the narrative and collect the stories of the connection: What does it mean to be a Chief Missional Strategist? There are no experts here, as you heard Gil Rendle say. We are living in between the old and the new paradigms, and we are trying to focus on the future of serving the mission field.”