10 Questions for Church Leaders: Bishop Michael J. Coyner

Bishop Michael J. Coyner

“Bishop Mike” as most people call him, is originally from Anderson, Indiana. He served churches of various sizes, served as a District Superintendent of the former Lafayette District, and was also the Executive Assistant to Bishop Woodie W. White for the Indiana Area. He was elected a bishop of the United Methodist Church in 1996 and was assigned to the Dakotas Area where he served two terms as resident bishop. In 2004 he was assigned to serve the Indiana Area, and in 2012 he was assigned to a third term.

Bishop Mike and his wife, Marsha, live in the Indianapolis area where the Bishop’s Office is located. He oversees the life and ministry of over 1,200 United Methodist congregations in Indiana, including over 200,000 members organized into10 districts. Under Bishop Coyner’s leadership, the former North and South Indiana Conferences voted in 2008 to create a new Indiana Conference which was launched in 2010.

Bishop Mike received his B.A. degree from Purdue, his M. Div. Degree from Duke Divinity School, and his Doctor of Ministry degree from Drew Theological School. Bishop Mike also has received honorary doctorates from Dakota Wesleyan University, the University of Evansville and the University of Indianapolis. He is the author of several articles and five books: Making a Good Move (Abingdon Press, 1999), Prairie Wisdom (Abingdon Press, 2000), The Race to Reach Out (Abingdon Press, 2004), A Year With John Wesley and Our Methodist Values (Discipleship Resources, 2008) and The Andrew Paradigm: How to Be a Lead Follower of Jesus (2012 Abingdon Press). In addition to serving as a Trustee or Board member of various United Methodist agencies and institutions in Indiana, Bishop Coyner also serves on the General Council on Finance and Administration for the denomination.

1) What is your story of faith? How did you come to faith in Jesus and participation in the UMC?

I grew up in the church and in a family which was very active in our local Methodist congregation.  But my faith came alive through church camp at Epworth Forest in northern Indiana, where I publicly gave my life to Christ in Junior High and where I first responded to a call to ordained ministry while in Senior High at that camp.  So I credit my parents, my home church, my youth group, and church camp.

2) What are some of the ways that you work at maintaining and deepening your relationship with God?

I keep a spiritual journal (I have since 1984) in which I reflect daily on the events of my life and I also look for God’s direction and leading in my life.  Over many months and years it is possible to see how God has been working – which gives me strength to know that God is working in our lives right now, even if that is not immediately evident.

3) Who have been the greatest influences on your life and ministry? Why?

I have been most influenced by mentors – lay and clergy – who have been willing to risk sharing their insights and who have offered relationships of love and support.  That has included pastors at my home church while I was growing up and attending seminary, older clergy who shared their faith and ministry, more that one District Superintendent who offered mentoring, and a whole host of lay leaders and friends who have mentored me.  Now I am more involved in what I call “mutual mentoring” with younger leaders who continue to teach me while I (hopefully) also mentor them.

4) What is the greatest challenge facing the United Methodist Church today and what is your vision for addressing that challenge?

Without a doubt, the greatest challenge we face is the choice between “preference” and “purpose” in our churches and their ministries.  We have lived on our preferences rather than making choices around our mission of making disciples and transforming the world.  “Purpose” takes us beyond our walls, out of our comfort zones, and into engagement with the world.  I see our conferences and congregations moving toward “purpose” through prayer, Bible study, preaching about mission, study of our demographics, visioning by our leadership, and confession of our past failures.  Such a change is not easy, but it is transformative and life-giving.

5) Where do you find hope for the future of the UMC?

I find hope whenever I am engaged with youth and young adults who have a wonderful passion to make a difference and to be involved in the Kingdom of God.  That does not automatically translate into their engagement in the UMC – we have to provide them with pathways for that engagement, we have to listen to them, and we have to allow them to lead us.  But my involvement with those next generations gives me great hope.

6) What do you think John Wesley would think about today’s world, and what would he say to our current culture?

John Wesley lived in a world that needed transformation into the likeness of Christ, so our world would seem familiar to him in many ways.  He would preach about the grace of God in Christ, he would form believers into small groups for mutual support and for ministry to others, and he would train new leaders (lay and clergy) to join him in that movement.  He is still our model for effectively transforming our world.

7) Kenda Dean’s book “Almost Christian” has suggested that we’ve been guilty of promoting a vision of Christianity that has little to do with the teaching and example of Jesus Christ. How do we encourage and empower both our clergy and laity to engage in timely and relevant theological conversation?

While it may sound simplistic, I believe we need to focus upon Jesus, learn about his life and example, and call others to know Jesus.  Whenever we stray from that basic of our faith and engage in our own theologies and arguments, we lose power and strength.  In Jesus himself there is a pathway to unite the so-called liberal and conservative divisions of our church.  One simple example:  a layperson recently told me that he imagines “Jesus reading my e-mail” before he ever hits the send button.  That simple act of imagining Jesus reading his e-mail, he said, has changed his use of social media from anger and self-righteous arguments to sending messages of love and compassion.

8) What are you passionate about — both in your ministry and personal life?

Given that I am three years away from retirement, I am most passionate about developing younger leaders.  That includes my own kids and grandkids, but it extends to my spending a great deal of time with younger leaders, learning from them, and inviting them into what I call “mutual mentoring.”  For example, each of the four years of my final quadrennium here in Indiana, I am offering a Bishop’s Leadership Academy” where I gather with 25 younger clergy, 5 senior pastors, and myself – we meet monthly for input from excellent leaders, then spend time sharing with one another.  I plan to do that each of these four years, so I will have deep and regular contact with 100 younger clergy leaders.

9) What would people be surprised to find out about you?

Probably not much.  I am who I am, and through my weekly E-pistles and my preaching and writing, most people know all about me, my family, my faith, and my life.  I tend to reveal myself in my preaching – hopefully not making it about me, but using myself as an imperfect example – so most of my congregations and now my Episcopal Area know me pretty well.

10) What’s your favorite flavor of ice cream?

Butter pecan


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The United Methodist Reporter wants to encourage lively conversation about The United Methodist Church and our articles in the belief that Christian conversation (what Wesley would call conferencing) is a means of grace. While we support passionate debate, we cannot allow language that demeans or demonizes others, and we reserve the right to delete any comment we believe to be harmful or inappropriate. We encourage all to remember that we are all broken and in need of Christ's grace, and that we all see through the glass darkly until that time we when reach full perfection in love. May your speech here be tempered with love, and reflection of the fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. After all, "There is no law against things like this." (Galatians 5:22-23)
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