The Vital Work of Conference Lay Leaders - Part 1Email This Share This Tweet This
Interview with Bishop Janice Riggle Huie
Have you ever wanted to know more about a subject and been completely unable to find information about it, so much so that you felt the internet had personally failed you? Today was that day for me. I googled conference lay leader for over an hour, delved into Wikipedia, and scoured the dregs of the internet to discover - notta. I tried history of the conference lay leader, Methodist conference lay leaders, and more. Still nothing. I mean, I did happen upon the contact information for all lay leaders within Methodism, but knowing where these fine people live is not exactly what I needed.
Never heard of this position? Apparently, you (and the entire internet) are not alone.
The average church attendee probably hasn’t heard about this role or how important it can be to an annual conference, so TMF interviewed two resident experts to help us understand the work of the conference lay leader – Bishop Janice Huie and Leah Taylor – and in the next two blogs we will share what we learned.
Interviewer: Bishop Huie, as one of the first bishops across the connection to make the conference lay leader part of the extended cabinet, can you tell us a little more about this position?
Bishop Huie: As a new Bishop in the Arkansas Conference, I believed lay people could serve as a resource, so the conference lay leader became a part of our cabinet. It was a new concept and I received some pushback, but lay people simply have skillsets that are not always well developed in clergy. This conference lay leader had extensive experience in leadership development with his company, so I brought him onto the extended cabinet to help with leadership and programs.
Interviewer: The Book of Discipline has nearly two pages of information about conference lay leader responsibilities and as riveting as paragraph 607 is, it did not seem to be very focused.
Bishop Huie: Yes, the Book of Discipline lists several conference committees where conference lay leaders serve as ex-officio members. However, if the conference lay leader goes to all of the possible meetings for these committees, the role becomes too diffuse. Each bishop and lay leader have the opportunity to shape this role, so that it offers value to the conference. In Arkansas, I used the position to strengthen our leadership and programs. When I was in the Texas Conference, I first made this position part of the extended cabinet. Then, I took another step and I asked Leah Taylor, who was the conference lay leader at the time, to attend our appointive sessions.
Interviewer: How did the cabinet respond?
Bishop Huie: Leah charted new territory, because no other conference had included the conference lay leader in the appointive process. There were concerns initially, but her insights and voice as a layperson were incredibly beneficial. She helped the cabinet think about the future of the local church and what the potential pastor would mean for that congregation. As time went on, it was obvious her perceptions were an asset. Her presence was as well. There were times when we could have her accompany a district superintendent to a Staff Parish Relations Committee meeting. If there was conflict, her ability to speak as a lay person on behalf of the cabinet made a marked difference. Our credibility increased as her involvement increased, because church leadership felt less institutional.
Interviewer: I am still not sure I could define what conference lay leaders do.
Bishop Huie: Well, again, that depends on the bishop and the conference. Nevertheless, the conference lay leader is the highest profile position where lay presence is seen, and lay voice is heard within an annual conference.
Interviewer: What skillsets should a conference lay leader possess in order to be successful, regardless of conference expectations?
Bishop Huie: I believe conference lay leaders must have these skills:
- Deep theological understanding of faith
- Clear understanding of the mission of an annual conference and the capacity to communicate how laity can help move that mission forward
- Excellent organizational development knowledge, because annual conferences are large, complex organizations and conference lay leaders must understand how to work within that space
- Superb conflict management capacity, especially the ability to listen carefully and respond thoughtfully to all points of view
Interviewer: Why do you think this position is so important in the life of the church?
Bishop Huie: There are over 8 million laity in our church in the U.S. They are the difference between a local congregation being involved in mission or not. Conference lay leaders can harness that potential and inspire laity to pursue the same focus, which is incredibly beneficial.
Bishop Janice Riggle Huie currently serves TMF's Leadership Ministry in the area of Leadership Formation. Before her tenure at TMF, she served as Bishop of the Texas Annual Conference (2004-2016) and the Arkansas Annual Conference (1996-2004).