Rev. Blair Zant and Rev. Brian Tillman introduce the North Georgia Conference's 5 areas of focus.
By Rev. Blair Zant and Rev. Brian Tillman
In 2021, we accepted a charge to assemble a group of leaders, representative of our entire Conference, who would pray and discern how God is calling us to pursue our mission in this season. This group would claim our Conference’s core values, and would name the areas of transformational disciple-making they felt were most essential to our mission between now and Annual Conference 2024. This became the work of your Common Table.
The Common Table’s 50-person membership, set through our Conference’s nominations process, includes members of the extended cabinet, Conference lay leaders, chairs and representatives from the various boards and committees of the conference, and members at large to ensure full Conference representation.
The Common Table met 3 days over the span of 3 months to prayerfully consider the values we want to live by, the needs of the people of North Georgia, and how the North Georgia Conference can embody discipleship.
The first part of the process was clearly identifying the values we want to live by as a Conference. We were guided in this discussion by Rev. Russ Moxley, who has been a mentor and friend to many in the Conference from his many years co-facilitating the Reynolds Program in Church Leadership. Russ defined a core value as something we cherish, prize, publicly affirm, have chosen freely, have chosen with full acceptance of consequences, we act on, and that we act on repeatedly. Core values are those things we already are. Aspirational values are those things we strive to become.
As United Methodist Christians in North Georgia, we value:
Integrity: We will walk with integrity in Christ and build trust with each other through transparency, honesty, and accountability. As commanded in Jesus’ sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:37, our yes will be yes and our no will be no.
Courage: With courage, we will innovate and adapt, repent and repair, and live out our historic faith as a prophetic witness. When we risk failure or threat for the sake of the Gospel, we will not fear. For Christ has conquered the world. So be at peace, and take good courage. (John 16:33)
Inclusion: Christ welcomes All to the Table. Therefore, so we will. We will remove our prejudicial blinders & barriers, and see each other through the eyes of baptism (Gal 3:28). We will celebrate the beauty of our diversity: for we are the body of Christ, and each one of us is a part of it (1 Cor 12).
Connection: As Wesleyan Christians, we will live and love as one church in limitless missional expressions. As Jesus himself prayed on our behalf in John chapter 17, verses 22-23, our oneness will be our witness.
Transformation: Drawing from Paul’s words in Romans chapter 12 - that we will be transformed by the renewing of our minds and by devoting ourselves to the difficult, holy work of living as Christ’s church - we will seek God’s preferred future for our neighbor as for ourselves. Sanctify us, O God. Perfect us in Your love.
After wrestling with our values, we turned our attention to some challenges facing people who live in North Georgia and what the values we identified would call us to lift up as a focus area. So our second Common Table planning session was devoted to hearing from some folks from organizations who could paint a picture of some of the problems for us. We heard from Wellroot about the realities of children in our state who have experienced abuse or neglect. We heard from the Atlanta Community Food Bank about the realities of food insecurity and deserts in our state. We heard from Faith and Public Life about harnessing the strength of entire groups to affect change in the state legislative process so that we are fulfilling the call in the Book of Discipline to “support just policies and programs and oppose policies and programs that stand contrary to our convictions.” (par. 164.B). United Methodist in North Georgia cannot remain silent while unjust laws are passed in our state.
One question each organization was to answer for the group was this one: What happens if the North Georgia Conference does nothing?
What if we did nothing about the children in our state who are under-resourced and lack basic needs for health and wellbeing? What if we did nothing about the lack of scriptural literacy and people not having opportunities to hear about God’s grace, mercy, justice, righteousness, and love found throughout the scriptures and embodied in true disciples of Jesus Christ? What happens if we do nothing about the racism and other forms of bigotry that produce racist outcomes in systems? What happens if we do nothing about the impediments to people receiving physical and mental healthcare? What happens if we only plant churches in places where people with money and power are moving to? What happens if we do nothing?
The contrasting question is of course: What's possible if we do something? What kind of transformation can take place if we harness the full potential and strength of our connection to engage the needs of our communities? Work alongside the pains, the hopes, and the strengths of our neighbors?
In our third gathering, we were led in worship by Josh Davis, founder of Proskuneo Ministries. He demonstrated how it is possible for people of different races, nations, and languages to come together to worship God in a way that is holy. The presence of the Holy Spirit in the room that day was overwhelming. The experience there prompted those leaders to insist that Josh be invited here, to inform the design of our Opening Worship Session, and witness to us directly tomorrow afternoon.
The Common Table then spent hours under the expert facilitation of Dr. David Anderson Hooker, a professor and international peacebuilder who has become a friend of the conference. As table mates prayed together and wrestled and conversed and discerned, five areas came into focus. Over the past four months, these areas have been further refined in numerous listening groups, feedback sessions, and one on one conversations with pastors, church members, Conference staff, middle school students, senior adults, and community members who are not a part of any church, and were intrigued: to be asked, and to consider how they might relate to this kind of church…
In North Georgia, we want to Be Disciples Who Make Disciples Devoted To these 5 areas of focus:
Throughout the Conference this week, members and guests online will be learning more about what these areas of focus look like and how you and your church can engage.
When we gather here again for Annual Conference in 2024, how will we have become more devoted disciples of Jesus? Made new disciples? Witnessed Holy Spirit-led transformation in our own lives, and in the lives of our neighbors and neighborhoods? The answers to these questions are dependent upon you and your commitment to the call God has on you and this Conference.
Rev. Blair Zant is Director of the Center for Congregational Excellence and Rev. Brian Tillman is Director of Inclusion and Advocacy.