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Define values, make disciples: Dakotas Conference Values Discernment Workshop

By: Doreen Gosmire, director of communications, Dakotas UMC, and Janelle Jones, Spearfish UMC

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Images from Shutterstock.

Values drive our behaviors and decisions and are a part of the unique identity of each local congregation. If someone were to ask five to ten people in your local congregation to name the church's top three to five core values, how many answers do you think you'd get? Would there be some similarities? Would there be differences?

The Dakotas Conference has developed a 4-hour workshop to assist churches in discovering and defining their core values. The workshop uses videos, personal reflection, small group discussion, large group conversation, and consensus to help a congregation determine its core values. This workshop is free and available to each congregation. A trained facilitator will come to the church to lead the workshop.

Spearfish United Methodist Church recently held a Values Discernment Workshop to determine the core values upon which to base all decisions. Church members and friends were asked to reflect on such questions as: What is something you believe your church really cares about or values? What is the evidence or behavior that proves it's what your church finds important?

In 2022, the Dakotas Conference began offering values workshops for local congregations. Currently, 29 churches in North and South Dakota have completed the process. In addition, seven churches are preparing for the workshop. 

Some churches conduct the workshop in two in-person gathering sessions—two hours per session. Like some of the other congregations, Spearfish UMC assigned homework to be completed by each participant in advance. The size of the group and extensive conversation affect the length. 

Spearfish UMC had 24 participants who identified five core valves. One participant at Spearfish UMC stated that two sessions might allow more time for prayer and discernment, relying on the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Connie Eichinger of Faith UMC and Marcus Presbyterian in western South Dakota facilitated the Spearfish workshop. Pastor Connie is one of six persons in the Southwest District who is a trained facilitator. There are currently 14 trained facilitators across the Dakotas Conference. 

Rev. Eichinger explained that the core values should be widely used and presented to every group in the church when they meet to make decisions, asking, "Does this decision represent one or more of our values? How are we using our time, talent, and treasure? The core value statements need to be used, not filed away, but they are not carved in stone."

Also attending the Spearfish workshop were Rev. Dan Bader, superintendent of the Southwest District, and Rev. Quaya Ackerman, who serves Rapid Valley UMC and is also a facilitator. Rev. Ackerman noted that there was a great turnout and active participation and that there was time for prayer and discernment at the Spearfish UMC's workshop.

Janelle Jones, Spearfish UMC, said, "Focus for this workshop is on the congregation because as laity, 'we are the church.' The values need to be our values, what is important to the laity, not the pastor's values. All UMC pastors come and go, laity remain. Therefore, pastors are asked not to be part of the conversation about the values at any church."

At the beginning of the in-person session at Spearfish, many ideas were presented, such as missions, worship, children and youth, compassion, fellowship, outreach and caring, safety, and access. Then, all ideas were refined and defined in various ways using mainly small group discussions. All participants switched groups during the morning. Spearfish UMC ended this work with five tables of about five each. 

For example, one group wrote a statement about valuing children using the congregation's resources to help them develop physically, spiritually, emotionally, mentally, and educationally. Each group had the opportunity to reword that value statement relating to children. The group that authored the statement selected the best version of that statement for submission.

One person asked if the group that wrote the statement about valuing children was describing current actions or was this value aspirational. For example, do we aspire to use prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness for the good of kids? Southwest District Superintendent Dan Bader said, "A value can be aspirational if it truly reflects the heart of the congregation and when the church is willing to invest in that value fully—not just in words or ideals but in actions, resources, a commitment so that value is being lived out and becomes a reality."

One workshop participant commented that aspirational for her means always striving to do more and do it better.

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Mary Hyenga, Spearfish UMC. Screenshot from video.

Mary Hayenga, a member at Spearfish UMC, feels the Values Discernment Workshop can be helpful for the leadership of the local church, "It helped us focus on what we value by considering what we aspire to and what the current use of resources represent. leadership may become more focused due to this," she said.

Pastor John Madvig, who serves as a transitional pastor at Spearfish UMC, and his spouse Evie provided hospitality. Pastor Madvig will now assist the leadership and committees in refining, applying, and evaluating the church's values in its mission and ministry.

Council chairperson Kelvin Lower feels this is an ideal time to focus on our values as a church. "Pastor John is a transitional pastor and can help us to see the big picture of what we do and why," said Lower.

In planning a values workshop, it is important to encourage participation by persons who represent all ages and interests. Pastor John said, "I exhort you to attend this values workshop more than encourage participation." 

If you want to know more about holding a Values Discernment Workshop, contact your pastor and/ or district superintendent. Rev. Kris Mutzenberger is the cabinet member guiding this process for the Dakotas Conference. 

Southwest District Superintendent Dan Bader says, "I would encourage each congregation to consider hosting a values workshop so that each church might focus on the core values that will form a ministry that is a reflection of Christ not only within our churches but out into the community and world."


Dakotas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church 605.996.6552 Study Header Generic2.jpeg 1331 University Ave. Mitchell SD 57301-0460 US 43.69689310 -98.03291320 122 W. Franklin Avenue Ste 400 Minneapolis MN 55404 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 W University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000 1331 University Ave Mitchell SD 57301 US 0.00000000 0.00000000