Agencies Share Ideas, Models for Lay-Led Ministries
By Sandra Brands
March 21, 2013—Planting new faith communities for new people beyond the borders of the United States is one of the primary charges The United Methodist Church has given to its mission agency, the General Board of Global Ministries.
Its sister agency, the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD), has a similar charge: to help laity and clergy plant new congregations for new people in the United States. Key to that effort is GBOD’s Lay Missionary Planting Network (LMPN).
The Rev. Patrick L. Friday, In Mission Together (IMT) coordinator for Global Ministries, “saw a point of contact with [GBOD’s] domestic efforts to mobilize laity with the lay mobilization that already exists abroad.” He wondered what the two agencies might learn from one another.
“In the United States, we’ve lost the idea that lay people can and do plant churches,” he said, “but abroad, we count on lay people spreading the church. It’s exciting and there’s definitely room for dialogue between GBOD and Global Ministries about how to effectively mobilize laity.”
“Because (we) are both interested in lay mobilization we can learn from each other just as we are learning from those overseas who are already planting churches and growing because lay mobilization,” Friday said.
The dialogue began in January when Friday and eight In Mission Together (IMT) coordinators met with discipleship staff members to learn more about the Lay Missionary Planting Network (LMPN) and how the two agencies could learn from one another.
“Lay mobilization overseas is reminiscent of Methodism when we were a movement in the United States,” he said.“Here, church plants have been predominately done by elders, but if we look back to Methodist history, when we were growing at our fastest rate, it was primarily a lay-led movement. The LMPN curriculum is really saying to the church in the United States that lay people can be key players in planting churches
“GBOD is lifting this up as a way to really engage laity in church planting. That’s a very encouraging thing because as your church is more institutional, the more you rely on professional clergy.”
Friday wanted the IMT coordinators to become familiar with the material used to train the lay missionary planters, “to understand what it would be like to plant a church in the United States,” he said. “Being exposed to materials, to the concepts of what a lay person can do is helpful to all Americans.”
Patti Bacher Clifford, IMT coordinator for Cameroon and Guinea, agreed.
“Just as we were able to learn a lot from the LMPN training about planting churches in the United States, GBOD and others who have been through this training can learn a lot about church planting in other countries,” she said. “There’s a lot to be said for seeing what’s working in other countries that might work in the United States.”
Noting the IMT 50/50 partnerships that pair U.S. churches with a church abroad “to support them in their growth, their outreach and their church plants,” Bacher Clifford sees opportunities for church planters in the U.S. to partner with churches abroad for mutual support.
“A person who is a church planter very often has the feeling of being alone, that they don’t have community of support,” she said. “If they know they have a partner church behind them, it can alleviate that feeling, especially if both churches are planting new churches at the same time.”
The training was more than simple information gathering for the Rev. Cayce Stapp, Beyond KC missions director at United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., and the new IMT coordinator for Malawi.
“It forced us to think about what lay pastors deal with within the context of each of our countries,” he said. “As much as we can bring compassion and empathy, it’s impossible to fully understand what lay pastors go through and what they encounter in terms of obstacles and opportunities, suffering and sacrifice.”
“For us to come along side our partners through the ministry of accompaniment, it is incumbent for us to do everything we can to have a better understanding of their reality,” he said. “One of the ways we can do that is to better understand the reality of their lay pastor counterparts in the United States.”
In return, he said, IMT 50/50 partners can share their experiences with the lay ministries happening in other countries.
Citing Malawi as an example, he said, “One of the things that is such a huge part of what it means to be a lay pastor in Malawi is an unbelievable reliance and dependency on God for daily activities. For those pastors, their daily spiritual meal of prayer and their reliance on God through trust and hope is as necessary as eating a physical meal. Their grounding in prayer and spiritual feasting is unbelievably compelling for all of us, particularly for lay pastors.”
Bacher Clifford said that both the training and the chance to meet with staff at GBOD opened the door to an exchange of ideas. “When you have people gathered around the table, around a meal, there’s always an exchange of ideas,” she said.
Learn more about the work of the General Board of Global Ministries, its ministry with the poor and opportunities to partner in mission with a global church.
Contact: Melissa Hinnen, public information officer, 212-870-3833, MHinnen@umcmission.org