District Executives Sponsor Conference Celebrating Gifts, Calling for Leadership

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
The three plenary speakers at the CODE conference on leadership: (from left) Jeff Carter, Belita Mitchell, and Lee Solomon

“Are you fanning into flame your gift? Have you started any fires yet?” asked Belita Mitchell, who spoke for the opening plenary of a conference on leadership sponsored by the Council of District Executives (CODE). The conference on May 14-16 was the first such CODE event, and was hosted by Frederick (Md.) Church of the Brethren.

Mitchell, who pastors First Church of the Brethren in Harrisburg, Pa., and is a former Annual Conference moderator, focused on the first section of the theme of the conference, “Gifted by God.” Referencing the relationship of New Testament leaders Paul and Timothy, she noted that everyone needs a teacher to learn how to use their gifts for leadership. When leaders are not taught to receive and use their God-given gifts, the church suffers, she said.

“We each are going to have to use our gifts if the church is to survive and grow. Fan the flame and pass the torch,” she said. “Let God lead and use the gifts that God has given us!”

The conference brought together some 100 people to hear Mitchell’s remarks, and those of two other plenary speakers–Jeff Carter, president of Bethany Theological Seminary, and Lee Solomon, who comes out of the Brethren Church tradition and who served at Ashland University for some 20 years. Participants also had opportunity for small group learning and discussion at numerous workshops on topics related to leadership.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford

“It is not by accident that you all are called,” Carter said, focusing on the second part of the theme, “Called by the Church.” God calls leadership in order to advance discipleship, he told the conference. “God is scripting you into the history of the world,” he said. “It’s because of Christ…. How do you lead? By following in his steps.”

However, churches often are distracted by the how of leadership, and forget the why, he warned. Among leadership “hazards” that he identified: paying too much attention to technique, and not enough to culture. He defined church leadership as “having the eyes to see where God is already moving and going to join in that work.” The three qualities every church leader must possess, he said, are “the three p’s”–being present, prepared, and proactive.

Solomon, who addressed the third part of the theme, “Empowered by the Holy Spirit,” urged attention to the individual interactions that he said lie at the heart of church leadership, because they reveal the presence of God’s Spirit.

He referred to the “Where’s Waldo?” books, in which children have to search for the Waldo character who is hidden somewhere in plain sight on each page. Similarly, he said, God is on every page of the Bible, and in every individual interaction. “Yet many of us leaders in the church today are asking ‘Where’s Waldo?’ Where is that Spirit of power that is promised to us?”

The mystery of God’s presence may be found in the one-on-one interactions within the church, and with people in the surrounding community, he said. Solomon interspersed stories of such personal interactions with gospel stories of Jesus’ personal interactions, which brought healing into the lives of those he touched.

Photo by Cheryl Brumbaugh-Cayford
Participants meet and greet during the CODE leadership conference

“It is not enough to teach this power of the presence of the Spirit,” he warned church leaders. “We must live it ourselves every day.”

The conference ended with worship led by pastor Paul Mundey of the Frederick congregation, and a service of anointing. Mundey closed the event by focusing on the humility required for church leadership. The church leader’s calling is not focused on self, he emphasized, but on proclaiming the name of Jesus, and “serving the kingdom of God.”

Participants who came forward to receive anointing were given a special blessing, that they might “accept and courageously be bold to utilize the gifts God has given you.”

Find a photo album from the conference at www.bluemelon.com/churchofthebrethren/codeleadershipconference .