Lay Ministry Blog: Challenging and Nurturing United Methodists for Leadership


After Annual Conference each year, I post my Laity Address on the Conference website as a blog. If I were to title the address this year it would be called “Challenging and Nurturing United Methodists for Leadership.”

Before I share the blog, I wish to thank all the members of the Annual Conference Planning Committee that made Annual Conference so special this year. Also, thanks to the speakers, musicians and all others who were are part of Conference. I believe this was one of the best Annual Conferences in a long time.

Especially thanks to Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett for her inspiration of having 48 hours of worship along with a little business. The Conference was successful. Many people under the leadership of Linda Holland, Director of Connectional Ministries, and the Annual Conference Planning Team worked for months to make all the parts of Annual Conference fit together.

Laity Address:

“Challenging and Nurturing United Methodists for Leadership”
By Steve Lyles

Greetings members of Annual Conference, laity, clergy and guests.

I offer special thanks to Bishop Debra Wallace-Padgett for her service as the Episcopal leader of North Alabama and for her bold efforts in leading this Conference for God. Thank you Bishop…

Thank you Bishop Mike Watson for being part of the worship experience of this Annual Conference, and for your service as a bishop in the United Methodist Church.

Nurture — The definition I like: "The process of caring for and encouraging the growth or development of someone or something."

The news of today is the history of tomorrow.

As we live in today’s culture, those of us in the Church, are constantly reminded of the need to draw closer to God and his son Jesus Christ.

In every direction we turn, we feel the tug of society that wants us to turn our back on the Church and its message, and let some else care for a hurting world that lives at our doorsteps.

We silently and loudly hear the words,“It’s alright to put the Church on the shelf six days of the week and act like a Christian one day a week, and perhaps not all day on that day.”

Many in our society are not as fortunate as you or I, in that we had Christian training in a Church home.

That is why we must step up and become the nurture providers.

Today, we as Christians live so inwardly, we neglect the most important job we have in the Church — ministering to the people who don’t have relationships with God.

Fellow Christians in the Church will take care of themselves; it’s the people outside of the sacred circle that we need to care more about — the group Jesus cared about.

Churches that have any kind of outreach into the world are nurturing people.

My question to you, are we doing enough outside the walls of the church?

We United Methodists fall into the habits that we want to be entertained even by our own worship time, while God wants us to worship so we will be energized to turn our attention and energy outward.

A few years back, I was elected by you as your Conference Lay leader, and I have thought many times for what reason? What is my leadership role with you? Just what is my Leadership role as a partner with you in ministry and leadership?

I ask these questions today.

Where will you go with me as a leader?

Where will I go with you as a leader?

Where will you go with the persons sitting beside you in leadership for God?

Where will the persons sitting beside you go with you in leadership for God?

Will we go on an Emmaus walk? Will we work on an Emmaus walk?

Will we go to Talladega to the Federal prison with the Kairos ministry? We have strong Christian friends who do this ministry regularly; ministering to those incarcerated that want to become Christians.

Will you go with me to a new church start and help new Christians find their way in a new church setting? If you will, call Dr. Richard Hunter, Executive Director of New Church Development, who needs your help.

Will you help Dr. Clinton Hubbard in Ethnic Ministries to re-energize the African American churches in our Conference?

Will you help Dr. Lewis Archer in Ministry of the Poor to help eradicate poverty just under our noses in our affluent North Alabama conference?

Will you help Dr. Robin Scott in developing Healthy Churches?

These Conference ministry priorities need your and my help.

It is evident my number one objective as a leader is to challenge you in making new and more disciples for Jesus. This is my leadership role.

What is your role as a leader — in your District and in your local church?

This Annual Conference was designed for 48 hours of worship for several reasons.

Let me name a couple:

 - Designed to make a better flow of worship including reports and business, so your attention will stay focused on God.

 - Designed to hold your attention away from the secular world— letting your emails and texting take a rest.

 - But most importantly, worship to energize each of us and to challenge us to take the message back to our local church that God is alive, and He still nurtures us for His kingdom work that only we can do.

Everything we do at this Annual Conference is for God’s glory.

Nurture: Growing in Christ

My opening statement was,  "the news of today is tomorrow’s history."

Think back to some significant event in your local church that happened last year — picnic, youth trip, concert, service of remembering your baptism, homecoming, Vacation Bible School, Discovery Weekend for the youth.

Were these events just for the members of the local church?

What kind of events did you have for people not in your local church but in your community?

Did your church nurture anyone outside the church with any kind of an event?

Out of these events, did any new Christians come forth?

In remembering these events and planning for next year, did anyone ever say, “We reached a lot of new people this year, so let’s do it again!”

You may be surprised how really easy it is to reach out and how receptive the people are to your outreach.

In closing, if we don’t do God’s work outside of the Church by nurturing hurting people with God’s love, who will?

If you think about it, and I challenge you to think about it, next year at Annual Conference bring a personal, off-the-record report from your church representing the number of the lives you or your church touched and nurtured the past year —people that were not regular attenders of your church.

When you bring the report give it to one of the District Lay Leaders, to a District Superintendent, to me or to Bishop Wallace-Padgett. If everyone could bring a report of this type next year, our Conference would be on the way to great change.

This would be true outreach and leadership.

God’s grace for each of you and blessings for you and your local church.

Thank you for letting me serve with you in ministry as your Conference Lay Leader.

A post script for this year’s Annual Conference

Due to a conflict in schedule, we will depart from Birmingham-Southern College and gather in Huntsville for Annual Conference next June. We as North Alabama United Methodists enjoy a wonderful relationship with Birmingham-Southern and a bonus is our beautiful United Methodist Center building located on the campus.

We are delighted to welcome the new Birmingham-Southern College President Dr. Edward Leonard III. We look forward to his leadership. We also wish General Charles Krulak, who has been the college's president for the past four years, the best in retirement. We understand General Krulak and former BSC president Dr. Neal Berte will be teaming together for some special work for Birmingham-Southern. Best wishes for them.

Until next time,
Steve Lyles
Conference Lay Leader

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