Written by Jo Anne Hayden, Alaska Conference Lay Leader
One of the many challenges of ministry in the Alaska Conference is the isolation and physical distance between many of our churches. As such, networking and collaboration has been limited to the churches near each other (which for many of our churches are none).
During this past year the conference initiated an effort to change that reality for many of our churches by creating a platform, albeit virtual, for creating connection among our local church leaders.
Initiated through a joint effort of Superintendent Carlo Rapanut and Conference Lay Leader Jo Anne Hayden, six different groups: Lay Leader; Lay Member to Annual Conference; Council Chair; Staff/Pastor Parish Relations Chair; Finance Chair; and Trustee Chair were started with plans to begin some more groups this fall. These local church leaders from throughout the conference were invited to participate in a Zoom conference call conversation with leaders serving in the same role as them within their own churches. Though participants were encouraged to participate via their computer if possible so that they could see other participants, if that wasn’t a workable option, they could also participate by phone.
The initial conversation with each group of local church leaders included an explanation that through work of a Leadership Development Task Force, a sub-group of our Conference Leadership Team, the idea of trying this kind of connection as a way to help strengthen our local church leaders was envisioned – a network of connection for local church leaders who all share a common leadership role within their own church. Creating this form of relationship reinforced that they weren’t alone in that leadership role; supportive resources for their role were available/lifted up and shared; opportunities for sharing best practices/successes existed; and opportunities to identify challenges allowed the group to help brainstorm possible options for addressing the challenges.
Each group was introduced to a group facilitator during the initial conversation. The groups, with the assistance of their facilitator, then established their means of connection (email, Zoom, etc.) as well as their frequency. This created at a minimum periodic connection with each other, often addressing different topics related to their role while always allowing time to address any questions from participants, sharing successes, lifting helpful resources, as well as sharing ideas for helpful kinds of training that could be planned through the conference within the near future.
Feedback from the groups reminds us that the experience within the groups helps all within the groups. It has created an opportunity to lift up some basic local church leadership attributes, such as:
- Being an example of a Christian leader through word and action
- Recognizing the importance of your voice
- Being a supporter of your church
- Encouraging partnering
- Communicating positively
- Building relationships
- Promoting engagement
- Supporting processes that create healthy environments for all
In addition, whether a person is new in a role with something new to them to address, or whether a revision is being implemented to improve upon an existing process, the insight and experience of the group can save a lot of time and effort. Those who are participating in these groups are finding them very worthwhile and beneficial. It is our hope that this continues and grows as even more choose to participate by using this electronic door to networking and collaborating with fellow local church leaders throughout our conference.