There is no ambiguity in how “The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church 2022” explains the function of those who lead our 22 North American districts: “The District Superintendent is to be the spiritual and administrative leader of the district” (paragraph 1300).

To find out how this is done daily, “WesLife” talked to three of the five most seasoned district superintendents (DSs) serving The Wesleyan Church (TWC) denomination — Jerry Lumston in North Carolina West, Joey Jennings in Western New York and Karl Eastlack in the Northeast District.

A DS serves a four-year term before being eligible for re-election, and these three have served for a combined total of 44 years. While they serve in different districts of varying sizes with diverse cultures in distinct geographical areas, they all had nearly identical answers in describing the importance of what a DS does:

  • One-third of their time, and most of their energy, is spent trying to find the right pastor for the right church while working closely with those churches in transition.
  • One-third of their time is spent mentoring, coaching and building relationships with pastors.
  • One-third of their time is spent on administrative issues — property matters, legal issues, phone calls and emails, handling problems.

Jerry Lumston is the elder statesman of district superintendents, having served in that role since 2008. Previously, he served in the local church for 25 years and as a hospice chaplain. “There is a wide range of responsibility, and it [district superintendent] is not an easy role to define,” said Jerry. “But without a doubt, the most important thing we do is to recruit pastors to serve our churches, and to raise up young leaders for the next generation.” After years of experience, Jerry said one thing he would do differently is to wait longer for the right person to fill an open pastorate.

“A primary challenge now is finding qualified leaders. When I began, we would almost always have more people available than open churches,” said Jerry. “That dynamic has flipped in recent years,” creating a need for some pastors to serve two churches.

Joey Jennings, who began serving as a DS in 2010, also believes working closely with pastors and finding the right church fit for them is a crucial component of his job. Joey served 22 years in local church ministry prior to being elected district superintendent. He has a heart for first-time and younger pastors and puts them through a year-long program to help them succeed. This role fits with his other top priority — helping churches that are between pastors. Joey works with church boards to reassure them they won’t be without a pastor for long. “That gives peace and stability to churches in transition,” said Joey.

Joey and Karl Eastlack both credit former Northeast District Superintendent Harry Wood for his wisdom in setting them up for success. “Harry Wood said ‘the most important thing you will ever do is help churches get the right pastor and get them through that transition. That’s when you are critical to that church either turning backward or going forward,’” Joey said. “I put as much energy as I can working with search committees and local boards in transition.”

As a DS, the one thing Joey would love to not have to deal with are all the legal and property issues that come with the job. The thing he wished he would have done earlier in his tenure, he says, is have more vision and culture-oriented conversations with pastors. “A lot of my time is spent fixing a relationship that we could have maintained better,” said Joey.

Karl Eastlack, elected DS in 2012 after serving as a local church pastor for 30 years and as president of World Hope International, believes many people think a DS is deeply involved in the workings of the local church. Serving a district with 120 churches in eight states, it would take nearly three years for Karl to visit each congregation. “So, I put most of my focus on the pastors of the churches. If I drive to an area, I’ll set up multiple meetings with pastors or do leadership development with a group,” he said.

Karl admits before becoming a DS, he thought the role was “someone who went around putting out fires.” He sees things differently now. Within the structure of the denomination, he said, the local church comes first but the district office is the “linchpin to success.” That is mainly because the DS has the power to find or, in some cases, appoint the pastor. Another example is TWC’s well-known support for women in ministry. “I think the DS and district board of administration are the most powerful forces for whether that succeeds or not.” The Northeast District has 19 female lead pastors because Karl has made their appointments a priority.

“One of the strengths of The Wesleyan Church is our district superintendents,” said General Superintendent Wayne Schmidt. “Not only do they wear many different hats needed for a wide variety of situations, many of which occur within a single day, but they are also pastors seeking to lead well with God’s help. I am grateful for each, for their giftings, their faith, their passion and their service. I pray for them, every day by name, asking God to bless and equip them to honor him as they lead their districts.”

Jennifer Jones is a former journalist and pastor’s wife serving as the North Carolina East District administrator.


“The Discipline of The Wesleyan Church 2022,” used by the permission of Wesleyan Publishing House: Fishers, Indiana.