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Rev. Mike Schafer Selected as GM Church’s First Connectional Operations Officer

By Walter Fenton

After an extensive search process, the Global Methodist Church’s Transitional Leadership Council confirmed at its Monday, June 3, 2024, meeting that the Rev. Mike Schafer will serve as the denomination’s first Connectional Operations Officer.

Schafer is currently the president pro tem of the West Plains Provisional Annual Conference, a region that includes local churches in west Texas, New Mexico, and the panhandle of Oklahoma.

“The nine-member Connectional Operations Officer Search Committee enthusiastically commended Rev. Schafer to the Transitional Leadership Council,” said Cara Nicklas, Chairwoman of the TLC. “His years of experience as a pastor and leader, his many enthusiastic references, and his very impressive interviews convinced me he is just the person to help lead the GM Church into the next stage of this Holy Spirit inspired movement.”

Raised on the wide-open plains of west Texas, where cattle ranches, oil and gas rigs, and small towns dot the landscape, Schafer’s blend of humility and his can-do attitude are indicative of the region’s spirit. He and his wife, Sandy, live in Lubbock, Texas, where she recently retired as the principal of a Christian elementary school. They have two adult sons, Nathan and Matthew, Tessa, an “amazing” daughter-in-law, and two “awesome” grandchildren, Jerzy and Daxton.

“My passion is for the local church; I strongly believe it is God’s plan to win the world,” said Schafer. “In my opinion, there is no plan B. Church leaders must be about the business of doing all they possibly can do to equip, empower, and strengthen the local church. I believe we should always build relationships and trust with people rather than create another rule or policy to try to resolve a situation.”

A graduate of McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, Schafer went on to Asbury Theological Seminary (Wilmore Kentucky), where he received a master of divinity degree in 1984. For the next 25-years he was a local church pastor, spending 20 of them at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Lubbock, Texas, (now Aldersgate Church, a GMC local church) where he led a young congregation to become a vibrant disciple-making community with a passion for the unchurched.

From there, Schafer accepted an appointment as the chief operational officer of SonScape Retreats in Divide, Colorado. In addition to managing the enterprise, he also leveraged his teaching and counseling skills at weeklong retreats. He and Sandy helped people in full-time ministry to develop healthy self-care practices and to regain their passion for serving in the local church or other ministry settings.

At a critical time in the life of the UM Church’s Northwest Texas Annual Conference, Schafer was tapped to serve as the assistant to Bishop Earl Bledsoe and then Bishop Jimmy Nunn. At the same time, he served as the Conference Director of Mission and Administration. In addition to managing daily operations, he guided the development and implementation of the conference’s disaffiliation plan, ultimately allowing over 160 local churches to join the GM Church. Remarkably, the conference’s local churches received funds from the conference, rather than paying the exorbitant exit fees required of many UM local churches as the price of disaffiliation.

Given his years of experience and his various leadership roles, it was not surprising when the leaders of the GM Church’s newly forming West Plains Provisional Annual Conference recommended the TLC appoint Schafer as the conference’s president pro tem. He was duly appointed, and assumed the leadership post on January 1, 2023.

“As the West Plain PAC’s president pro tem, Mike leads with humility, experience, and wisdom,” said Angela Carter, the conference’s co-lay leader and a recently elected delegate to the GM Church’s convening General Conference. “He exudes all of the qualities of a godly man – integrity, servant leadership, and love. Under his leadership, our conference launched with fervor and hope, and I am confident the general church will experience the same as he helps steward the way forward with Jesus at the center of his leadership.”

The proposed responsibilities and duties for the GM Church’s connectional operations officer make clear Schafer will stay busy in the new role (all organizational proposals from the TLC must be approved by the delegates attending the denomination’s convening General Conference). From its conception, many people believed the new denomination would need an operations officer to see that the mission and vision of its General Conferences’ were fully implemented. As former United Methodists, many believed bishops had been too easily bogged down in or distracted by administrative tasks. They want GM Church bishops to spend the vast majority of their time out among the people of the church to promote, teach, and defend the church’s faith and mission; unite it together through presiding at its annual conferences; and oversee the deployment of pastors in its local churches.

Consequently, the connectional operations officer will “bear responsibility for the accountable functioning of the connectional council, general commissions, and task forces as they work to fulfill the General Conference’s missional mandates between General Conferences.” Composed of laity and clergy representatives from across the denomination and supported by the general church staff, the connectional council will be dedicated to empowering, equipping, and strengthening local congregations as the whole church works to fulfill its God given mission.

“As a president pro tem, who must carefully follow the work of the TLC, I was aware of the COO’s proposed responsibilities and duties,” said Schafer. “I had no plans to apply for the position, but then a number of colleagues from across the connection started to encourage, nudge, and cajole me to to do so. I have the highest respect for them, so after a great deal of prayer and conversations with my wife, Sandy, I did. I took comfort in knowing plenty of high-quality candidates would apply as well, so I figured the likelihood of my actually being selected was pretty low. Well, now I find myself in a familiar place – trusting the Lord to make me a faithful disciple, to keep me grounded, and focused on our mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly!”

The TLC formed the COO Search Committee in October of 2023, and it began meeting the following month. Craig Cheyne, a GM Church layman who attends The Woodlands Methodist Church in The Woodlands, Texas, was chosen to serve as the committee’s chairman. The committee was not only tasked with conducting a search for a candidate; it was also directed to prepare legislation for the COO’s selection, a list of qualifications for a chosen candidate, the term(s) of service, an annual performance evaluation process, and the position’s responsibilities and duties.

“Initially, we spent the better part of three months trying to discern the COO’s job in relation to other critical leadership areas in the church,” said Cheyne. “It was a great privilege to work with a faithful team of GM Church lay and clergy leaders. They are all very passionate about the church, and they were not shy about sharing their opinions – which was just what we needed! By the time we were ready to submit our proposal to the TLC, we had prayed, discerned, debated, and considered all the details from every angle.”

In early March the search committee handed its draft legislation to the TLC which voted to receive its work after careful review and the making of modest amendments. The search committee posted the position in late March, and by the latter half of April, it had received 26 applications.

“We had a wonderful pool of candidates,” said Cheyne, “We struggled to reduce the number of applicants to nine for greater scrutiny, and then after a long meeting, we selected our top three for interviews. The top three did not make our work easy – they were stellar candidates, and we thoroughly enjoyed the conversations we had with each of them. After lengthy debriefing sessions, personal reflection and prayer, and then a final hour-long meeting, by consensus we decided to warmly commend Rev. Schafer to the TLC for the COO position.”

Schafer will begin working alongside the Rev. Keith Boyette, the GM Church’s Transitional Connectional Officer, on August 15, 2024. Boyette will step down from his job at the adjournment of the convening General Conference on September 26, 2024, making way for Schafer to immediately assume the new role of Connectional Operations Officer.

Launched on May 1, 2022, the GM Church continues in a state of transition until duly elected delegates from around the world meet in San Jose, Costa Rica, for its convening General Conference, September 19-26, 2024. The General Conference is the denomination’s principal authoritative body, and it will consider all legislative matters that come before it. In just over two years, 4,598 local churches have joined the GM Church, and 30 provisional conferences have been organized to connect them together.

Read and review the COO’s proposed responsibilities and duties.

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The Rev. Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connect


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