United Methodist Mission Chief Executive Encourages
New Questions and Conversations for Such a Time as This
By Melissa Hinnen
April 18, 2013—“Thoughts on a Global United Methodist Church that We Have Never Dared to Become” was the message that Thomas Kemper, general secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries, shared in his semi-annual report to the agency’s directors. The report was based on a longer paper that he presented to professors of Wesleyan studies earlier this month.
Noting that Global Ministries’ staff and missionaries reflect the multinational nature of the church’s mission, Kemper stressed “the theology and practice of mission – broadly understood as the work of the church, not the portfolio of one agency – will determine our global reality in the future.” His report to the directors encouraged United Methodists to engage in dialogue and conversations around four interrelated topics:
- framing a new or renewed mission vision for our global agenda;
- grappling with the impact of an unjust and divided world;
- addressing the implications of migration/immigration on our vision and mission; and
- daring to ask new questions and do new things for the sake of the Gospel.
Looking at how the people called Methodist have historically and passionately been witnesses in the world, Kemper challenged, “How then, in the 21st century, do we continue our mission in concert with the mission relationships we have formed along the way?” Explaining that it is mission, not structure that has sustained the Wesleyan missionary movement, he reminded the directors that two qualities have always been present: “The desire to share the love of God in Jesus Christ . . . and the conviction that the Gospel is both personal and social.”
Throughout time, he said, the mission movement has ministered in an unjust world. Acknowledging economic and sociological realities is something that the church must do to discuss mission and church structure authentically and to avoid “foisting upon central conferences U.S.-style church systems that require outside funding and which the indigenous people might not have shaped had they been asked.” Kemper explained that taking into account economic factors, inequalities and the potential of each local church, without making assumptions or categorizing African central conferences as one unit, will help build sustainability and begin to release cultures of dependency.
The third important conversation in which he advised engaging is about global migration. Saying “immigration is missional in nature and is a whole-church challenge,” Kemper outlined a number of ways that the incredible movement of people is affecting The United Methodist Church. This flow of people from one place to another creates challenges and opportunities for which a church with a global mission must be prepared. Of particular note, according to Kemper, is that immigrants to the United States have become United Methodist missionaries who have returned to their homelands. They are “greatly responsible for the planting and nourishing of our exciting faith communities in Southeast Asia.” He emphasized the need to listen to the voices of people who are migrants and to those who are working with them.
Finally, Kemper laid the groundwork for new questions to ask and reiterated the need to listen for the answers offered by laity, central conferences, nondenominational mission successes (such as in China) and those in the margins. “We might have a stronger church if we could more clearly hear the voices of lay men and women who are nurses, farmers, factory workers, school bus drivers, legal professionals, store clerks, graduate students in physics, owners of small businesses and the unemployed — people who, in any culture, are the backbone of our church,” he said.
He closed with the words of John Wesley in a letter to Ezekiel Cooper: “Lose no opportunity of declaring to all men that the Methodists are one people in all the world; and that it is their full determination so to continue, though mountains rise and oceans roll, to server us in vain.” Kemper added his own wish saying, “I long for new mission, from what we once saw as margins, creatively interacting with multiple streams of memory.”
Read the full text of Thomas Kemper’s Spring 2013 report to the board.