As with many organizations, UMC LEAD and the LEAD Conference faced difficult challenges and uncertainty brought on by the events of 2020.

In the months leading up to the COVID crisis the UMC LEAD advisory board had been working hard to improve the conference experience, but to also envision what it would look like to offer tools, resources, and experiences, to equip leaders throughout the year. Our ideation sessions finally led us to develop a prototype of a year-long leadership cohort program. However, just as we were about to launch the pilot for this program the world was turned upside down. We postponed the cohort pilot and we wondered if there would ever again be a LEAD conference. In the fall of 2020, we ended our nonprofit fiscal partnership with the Missional Wisdom Foundation, as COVID led them to reorganize their own structure and programs.

Despite these setbacks, God reminded us that we were not done yet. In October 2020, UMC LEAD entered into a nonprofit fiscal partnership agreement with 1703: A Faith Collaborative, a 501(c)(3) organization founded and led by UMC LEAD co-founder Rev. Rob Rynders. We then regrouped and held a 2021 online conference that exceeded expectations. Since January we have added new members to the advisory board and have been discerning where to go next.

It is with great joy that the UMC LEAD project managers and advisory board are excited to announce a bold new roadmap for UMC LEAD and the LEAD Conference. This includes:

Young Leaders Program

Members of our advisory board are designing a program that will provide opportunities for younger leaders, such as undergraduate and graduate students, seminarians and other young adults to participate in UMC LEAD through a unique leadership development experience designed around the annual LEAD conference and connection opportunities throughout the year.

LEAD 2022 and Potential Online Conference

The LEAD conference will return in January 2022 to an in-person format, taking place in San Diego, CA. Speaker applications and registration will open this summer. We are also exploring what a potential online option for the conference could look like as well.

LEAD Membership Program

LEAD conducted a survey of past conference participants to learn more about what resources and experiences they’d like to see offered from UMC LEAD throughout the year. Based on that feedback UMC LEAD will launch a pilot “membership” program in Fall 2021 that will offer virtual leadership conversations and workshops, and opportunities for leaders to connect with and learn from one another throughout the year.

LEAD Advisory Board as Intensive Leadership Development Program

The re-formed UMC LEAD advisory board will continue to act as the primary planning and organizing body for the LEAD conference and the development of the membership and young adult programs. However, the advisory board will also act as an intensive leadership development program. Advisory board meetings and planning retreats will offer board members opportunities to deepen their leadership knowledge and skills. Retreats will see the addition of leadership mentors, coaches, and facilitators who will help guide board members on their leadership journey. Each year new LEADers will be invited to join the advisory board and leadership development program, with a particular focus on inviting LEAD Conference speakers and participant alumni.

As you may have noticed, we now see UMC LEAD as an end-to-end leadership development and support organization, connecting with young leaders as early as college and walking alongside them throughout their vocational journey. Overall, UMC LEAD hopes to connect with and equip leaders no matter where they are on their journey. We believe our bold new vision has the potential of doing just that.

While we believe we have developed a clear vision for the future, we know there is much work ahead, and we know that great ideas do not always come to fruition. We are indeed thankful for the UMC LEAD community and all those who have supported and sponsored UMC LEAD over the years. As the Church and the world continue to face unprecedented challenges, resilient leaders are needed more than ever. We hope to be a resource and community for those willing to take on those challenges, and for when the burden of leadership becomes almost too hard to bear.

Are you ready to LEAD? If so, we invite you to join us on the journey. We look forward to sharing more soon.

Advisory Board Members

Sophia Agtarap is a 1.5 generation Filipina American and a deaconess in The United Methodist Church–a lay order of persons called to full-time vocation in ministries of love, justice, and service. She serves as director of communications at Vanderbilt Divinity School, a progressive, ecumenical, interdenominational school in Nashville, Tenn.

Jessica Campbell, a Princeton Theological Seminary graduate, is an Ordained Elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference of the UMC. Her professional passions include creative worship, cultivating relationships within and beyond the church walls, and Ecumenical and Interfaith justice/mission work.

Kris Gallagher is an ordained United Methodist elder leading the fine people of downtown Reno, Nevada in compassionate, justice-oriented ministry, and the people of the California-Nevada Annual Conference in reorienting how we equip and empower effective leaders for the present and future.

Breanna Illéné (she/her) is an ordained elder in the Wisconsin Conference of the UMC. She serves as the Content Curation and Ecumenical Innovation Coordinator at the Wisconsin Council of Churches and the pastor of Trinity Church: Madison. She lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her spouse Andrew, son Ngnédji, and dog Ira.

Brandon Lazarus currently serves as co-project director of UMC LEAD and the director of the LEAD Conference. He is an ordained elder in the Western North Carolina Conference and currently serves Morning Star UMC in Canton, NC. He is married to Georgie, a mental health counselor, and they have a 3yr old daughter named Noely.

Luke Lingle: A North Carolina native Luke currently lives in Asheville where he serves at Central UMC as the Director of Leadership and Vision. Luke is married to Andrea Lingle, a writer and editor who has published two books. Luke and Andrea are parents to four children, three dogs, a turtle, and a snake. Luke loves the beauty of the Appalachian Mountains, a cold craft beer, and any time spent eating with friends.

Maria Longley: After working in the non-profit sector, raising two boys, and serving in a variety of lay leadership roles in the UMC, Maria Longley is thrilled to now be serving on the LEAD Advisory Board. She is passionate about creating space for the next generation of leaders to soar. A recent transplant to Southern California, Maria and her family attend Temecula UMC.

Kim Montenegro [she/her] is a multicultural black woman who is always looking for opportunities to encounter and reencounter God’s presence through laughter, deep conversations, and vulnerability. When she looks outside of her window, she sees the middle of California. Her three wisdom filled, wild, and wonderful children are co-corralled by her husband extraordinaire Jaime.

Derrick Scott III [He/Him] is the Executive Director/Campus Minister for the Campus to City Wesley Foundation in Jacksonville and St. Augustine, Fl. He has been leading campus/collegiate ministry over 18 years; loves flying on Delta and hates mayonnaise.

Rob Rynders is a United Methodist deacon and co-founder and co-project director of UMC LEAD. He is the founder and CEO of 1703: A Faith Collaborative, a non-profit whose purpose is to help individuals, leaders, and organizations cultivate purpose, compassion, and community. He lives in Tucson, AZ.

Kate Smith [she/her], a Methodist Theological School in Ohio graduate, is an ordained deacon in the West Ohio Conference serving in Cincinnati. Questioning the status quo, taking risks, embracing humor, and creating opportunities to put faith in action are all hallmarks of Kate’s approach to ministry and justice work.