Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary 1983 and 1989
District Superintendent, North Central District, Indiana Conference, The United Methodist Church
As district superintendent in the Indiana Conference, Rev. Michelle A. Cobb oversees congregations with very diverse populations—people living in socioeconomically vibrant communities as well as those living in poverty. In this role, she encourages laity, clergy, and congregations to “see what is possible when we put our trust in God who is calling us to partner with Him in bringing about transformation.” But she continually challenges these same groups to go beyond their accomplishments to discern what God is calling them to address next. As a spiritual leader, she is aware of the importance of being as well as doing, and she leans on her relationship with Jesus Christ for guidance and discernment: “All that I say and do is born out of my relationship with Jesus Christ.” Collaboration with others, within and beyond the local church and Conference, to help fulfill the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ is also important to Rev. Cobb.
Maintaining a healthy and viable relationship with Jesus Christ is, in fact, Rev. Cobb’s understanding of faithfulness. Several spiritual practices help her stay accountable to the relationship: weekly Sabbath rest; a rich prayer life; daily devotions; public worship; Bible reading and study; a covenant group. While these practices are both personal and corporate, they help her personally to “better understand who Jesus Christ is and who he is calling me to be in this time of great challenge and opportunity for his Church and his world.”
Rev. Cobb sees faithfulness as a spiritual race, and she believes that without nurturance, Christians struggle with perseverance. Because she takes seriously Paul’s admonition in Ephesians 6—“For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places”—she knows she must do all she can to be the best spiritual leader possible, modeling what she wants pastors to be and to do. She makes sure her message is consistent with every person and entity she is responsible for: “What is important is nurturing your relationship with Jesus Christ . . . whatever you need to do, do it out of your understanding of who Jesus Christ is and what Jesus Christ through his Spirit is calling you to do in your context, because that is what the church needs.”
Most inspiring to Rev. Cobb are those clergy, laity, and congregations who are connected to their communities in a way that brings about spiritual, social, and economic transformation—including community-wide worship experiences, Bible study, giving basic assistance such as providing hot meals or teaching parenting and life skills, or providing more life-giving opportunities such as helping young people discern a call to ministry or connecting them to community. In these ministries, Rev. Cobb sees examples of “hope in a challenging environment.” When she came to Garrett-Evangelical, Rev. Cobb was a lay person, and her seminary experience affirmed the importance of equipping laity to be bold leaders. For her, this is key to connecting church and community: “God is too big to only call a small group of people to ministry. All persons must understand that through their Christian baptism, they have been called to ministry.”