Collaboration in New Places for New People
by Thomas Kemper
A remarkably diverse group of people came together in St. Louis, Missouri, last summer to learn how to build up the body of Christ together at the 2012 School of Congregational Development. In doing this, they set an example of what wonderful things can happen when we, as United Methodists, combine our resources, move out of God’s way, and let the Spirit move across our connection.
The School of Congregational Development meets annually in different locations as a venue where church leaders and representatives from congregations can learn how to network, develop new church starts, and revitalize established churches and ministries. The diverse participants at the 2012 school resulted from a collaboration of its sponsors and several racial and ethnic networks of The United Methodist Church. This wonderful event, co-organized each year by the General Boards of Discipleship and Global Ministries, has in recent years enjoyed the sponsorship of Path 1, the denomination’s new-church development program.
For the St. Louis event, Global Ministries mobilized its racial-ethnic networks and provided scholarship help where needed to add about 100 participants from racial-ethnic and multicultural congregations. Special tracks offered study for Spanish-speakers and for persons originally from the Asia/Pacific region. This deliberate networking infused the school with a diverse constituency, which, in turn, encouraged a dynamic discussion of ways to grow and transform what is already a church of all nations. For the first time, the school provided satellite experiences at local churches located in each jurisdiction—a significant measure given that almost half of the Path 1 new church starts are racial-ethnic and multicultural.
The 2012 School of Congregational Development is an example of how sharing resources among general agencies can benefit the whole church. It illustrates collaboration as the United Methodist order of the day.
A Global Way to Look at Church Planting
Collaboration is especially important in new church development. At Global Ministries, our perspective on both new congregations and collaboration is global, multicultural, and World or Pan-Methodist in scope.
The current Global Ministries’ agency is an amalgamation of a former World Division and a former National Division. The latter, the National unit, was created by merger of free-standing boards of National Mission and Church Extension when Northern and Southern branches of Methodism came back together in 1939. What was then the Board of Evangelism, one predecessor of the General Board of Discipleship, focused primarily on personal evangelism and disciple-making through education. New church starts, both national and international, were then seen as a responsibility of the Board of Missions. So, new church development is a part of our heritage and our vision. The first of our four goals is to make disciples of Jesus Christ and the second is that of developing strong congregations and communities.
The mission agency’s emphasis on planting racial-ethnic churches in the United States comes out of a commitment to justice and inclusiveness, which now infuses the whole of the church, as demonstrated by the ethnic and national plans endorsed by the General Conference. However, I see potential connections between international and US work in starting new churches. Our national plans can become international resources and our international work can help us in church starts here in the United States—especially where we work with immigrants from regions of the world where Methodist churches already exist.
For instance, good Sunday school curricula from the Methodist Church of Brazil can be used in Portuguese-speaking churches within United Methodist immigrant communities in the United States. We can learn from the mission activities in Honduras or in other parts of Central America to impact Hispanic ministries in the United States. And why shouldn’t things that are already happening in the US Vietnamese caucus help us in our mission and our church starts in Vietnam? Members of the Vietnamese church in the United States speak the same language that is spoken in Vietnam and share a common background and culture. They are the ideal missionaries to build a bridge between Vietnam and the Vietnamese-speaking churches here in the US. These are just a few examples, but we could extend them to all our related areas of work.
Global Ministries has a special responsibility to forge relationships that benefit United Methodists both in the United States and in other countries—creating real synergy in bringing the global to the local and the local to the global.
Both the West Ohio Conference and Global Ministries have helped the church in Vietnam develop a curriculum on stewardship. The church in Vietnam is trying to develop a model of church growth that is not dependent on US cultural forms. Not only does the Vietnam church have special mission Sundays and an offering day for the whole church, but it has also started its own system of what looks something like apportionments (see article on p. 23). This curriculum could be used for US Vietnamese churches—not fully perhaps, in this different context, but in part. This curriculum is probably more culturally sensitive than a translation into Vietnamese of US written material on stewardship.
Empowering the Whole Connection
I believe any new church start in the United States should be involved in some mission outside its own four walls. That can take the form of community ministry—an activity here in the United States—or it could take the form of ministry in the worldwide connection. We must start new churches with the understanding that The United Methodist Church is not a congregational denomination. What makes us different is the Methodist understanding of connection. New congregations need to engage the connection directly, and we can help them do this by actively involving them in some mission endeavor beyond their own church doors.
We see a tendency away from connectionality even in projects like those of The Advance. So many congregations, even individuals, seem to want their own special project. The constituency calls for thousands of Advance projects locally selected and supported. Some congregations raise money for their special projects and deliver it personally, spending $1500 on a flight and lodging to give $150 to a beneficiary. Is that what we as Methodists, really want to do?
So, I am confident that Path 1 will allow room in its new church starts for Global Ministries to provide global connections from the outset; new congregations would find this an exciting and transformative ministry. Such a connection would also be teaching by doing, allowing new members to discover who United Methodists are and what we do.
The National Plan for Hispanic/Latino Ministries, the Asian-Language Ministry, the Korean-American Ministries, and the Pacific Islander Plan can also be part of this connecting work.
Beyond the UMC
Collaboration with autonomous Methodist churches and ecumenical partners is essential in United Methodist mission. The mission agency has responsibility—as well as both heritage and history—to maintain the connections with long-time partners in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. In recent history, we have concentrated on relating to the United Methodist central conferences, while failing to see that the whole ecumenical dimension includes the world Pan-Methodist church and ministries of other denominations. Global Ministries has to be a clear and outspoken advocate of relationship building, partnership, and mutuality with Methodists beyond our United Methodist central conference structures.
At present, we are increasing our engagement in Asia and the Middle East, opening an office in Hong Kong and another in Jerusalem. We have also added an executive staff member who relates to churches in Latin America and is working out of Argentina rather than New York. That may be a model we can replicate.
Of course, relations with central conferences are important, but they are part of the United Methodist connection and, so, are part of “our” United Methodist system of responsibilities. For example, in our new Global Ministries governance structure, with a board of directors that is reduced almost by two-thirds, almost 30 percent of the seats are now filled by central conference members. Global Ministries’ directors were clear and intentional about that. This was a difficult process because it meant limiting participation from the US conferences. But the directors agreed that if Global Ministries is to be a global agency for the worldwide church, then we need to have strong representation from the central conferences—Africa, the Philippines, and Europe.
Before the 2012 General Conference, the central conference delegates were nominated by the central conference bishops. But within the legislation that was passed at the very end of the 2012 General Conference, which reduced our board of directors, was also a change in how directors from the central conferences would be elected. The whole central conference body—not just the bishops—now nominates and elects its own directors for Global Ministries. This reworking of the system is an effort to empower our central conferences, particularly lay and clergy members. It gives them a chance to be heard and to have a greater say in the workings of the global church.
Empowering the central conferences in their mission and in their participation in the life of the global church is a key component of our future. It is something we all must work on together. We have to find ways to work with our central conference clergy and laity directly.
The Issue of Dependency
Global Ministries has discovered that over the years, and even over centuries, in unintended ways, the church has created a culture of dependency in its mission outreach. Without meaning to, we have created a dependency trap—one in which dependency keeps being renewed, even while new ministries are being developed. In a world where economic injustice is such a big issue, how can we create mutuality?
Here is one example of this imbalance. If a US or European church member visits one of our partner churches in Africa and takes along a good camera, that camera may be worth more than what the pastor being visited earns in a whole year!
How can we forge an equal partnership in mission in a world that hosts such injustice—a world in which the economic disparity is so great that it is almost impossible to truly enter into an evenly balanced relationship? Writing about a partnership between the rich and the poor, German mission theologian Theo Sundermeier once compared it to a partnership between an elephant and a mouse. It is basically impossible.
That is where we are economically and socially in this world, while we still claim as a church to be the body of Christ. Where theological language and our common spirituality draw us together, economic and social realities continue to push us apart. In the world context, in which we have extreme “haves” and extreme “have-nots,” we talk about mutuality and partnership. We hold to such important and dear concepts as a 50-50 In Mission Together partnership (story on p. 12), and a Russia church “roadmap” to self-sustainability (see p. 34). It is a constant challenge for us to live out these ideals amid the day-to-day challenges of our mission and ministry.
In this issue you will find stories about communities where we feel real progress is being made—where strong church leaders are being formed and young churches across the world are taking ownership and responsibility for their own growth and development. In this way, the congregations, whether here in the US or in other countries, discover that they are not dependent on others to spread the love of Christ throughout their communities. Connection does not mean dependence, but strength, encouragement for the journey, and a common understanding of God’s working in the world. Just as congregations in the United States and Europe have discovered their need and calling to become directly involved in mission, so the emerging congregations of the mission initiatives have discovered the same.
In faith and hope and being honest with each other, we can meet the challenge—together.
Thomas Kemper is the General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries.
The Rev. Enrique Gordon of Greenville, South Carolina, in discussion with a congregation member at the School for Congregational Development. Collaboration is especially important in new church development. Photos: Cassandra Zampini
Participants engage in a workshop at School of Congregational Development 2012. Photo: Cassandra Zampini
Sharon Washington from Indiana Annual Conference worships at a plenary session of the School of Congregational Development 2012, held in St. Louis, Missouri. Photo: Cassandra Zampini