Global Ministries

The United Methodist Church

Connecting the Church in Mission

Thomas Kemper

General Secretary,
General Board of Global Ministries

Thomas Kemper.pngThomas Kemper is the general secretary and top executive of the General Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church. He is responsible for personnel, projects and mission partnerships in more than 120 countries.

A native of Germany, Kemper is the first person from outside the United States elected to lead a United Methodist agency.

Prior to his position as general secretary, he was mission leader for the German Central Conference of the United Methodist Church and was Director of Ecumenical Learning at the Lippische Landeskirche, a regional church of the Association of Protestant Churches in Germany.

Kemper spent 8 years in Brazil as a missionary from 1986 to 1994, where he taught in the Brazilian Theological Seminary in Sao Paulo and engaged in ministry with the poor and new church development.

He is married to Barbara Hüfner-Kemper and is the father of three children.

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The General Board of Global Ministries is the global missions agency of The United Methodist Church. Founded in New York City in 1819, Global Ministries today supports 340 missionaries in 60 countries, including the United States. It has personnel, projects and partners in a total of 125 countries. Learn more about Global Ministries by visiting or follow and

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Read Thomas Kemper’s Mission Musings.


Toward a United Methodist Representative Church Council: A Concept Paper

Thoughts on a Global United Methodist Church that We Have Never Dared to Become

By Thomas Kemper, General Secretary

General Board of Global Ministries, The United Methodist Church

The following paper, presented in the spring of 2013, explores church history and action relevant to the current discussion of the worldwide nature of The United Methodist Church. It surveys recurring organizational issues regarding a multi-national denomination considered across decades without resolutions. It looks at new and emerging concerns requiring consideration in the present century, including the shift of the Christian center of gravity from Europe and North America to the Global South. 

The issue of the global, or worldwide, nature of the church has great relevance for me; first, because I am the first general secretary of any United Methodist general agency from a central conference—that is, from outside the United States. This fact heightens my awareness that we are not just an American church.  Second, because I see my selection in part as a mandate to move forward the discussion about and the awareness of our worldwide nature. I often describe our goal at the General Board of Global Ministries as that of more and more becoming “a global agency for a global church;” although this phrase in this context is not limited to United Methodist church structures.

1. The Issues

I begin with the 2012 General Conference in Tampa because of the title of the conference in 2013 for which this was originally prepared; and it also happens that the General Conference meeting in Tampa is notable for not having had before it legislative proposals for the structuring, or restructuring, of what has come to be variously called the “global” or “worldwide” church. The absence of structure proposals was not intentional. It resulted from complications encountered in recent chapters of a structure-shaping process begun in 1992, with even older roots, and entertained by every quadrennial General Conference for 28 years.

For decades we have been discussing something we have never dared to become and even without a global structure plan, the global question hovered like a specter over the Tampa Convention Center 11 months ago. The prolonged, eventually dead-ended, debate on general church and agency reorganization spotlighted geographical representation issues. Delegates took a theological and liturgical step in adopting in principle a “Covenant for a Worldwide Church,” with accompanying litany.  It came quite close to doctrinal matters in approving a “Global Book of Discipline” for the US jurisdictions and the African, European and the Filipino central conferences represented in the General Conference.

With no global restructure plan to consider and the judicial defeat of the general agencies overhaul, Tampa placed a semi-colon in a long-running debate, called a momentary halt in a progression of failed organizational proposals about our international structure. I hope we will take advantage of the semi-colon, treating it as a pause for reasoned conversation and soul searching on a number of interrelated questions, including:

  • What do we mean when we say “global” or “worldwide” nature of the UMC?  Is this nature something we think we have, or something we want to obtain?  Perhaps the word, polycentric, is more appropriate.
  • Is a global nature a geographical or spiritual entity?  Is it structural or missional, or both?
  • In so far as structure is concerned, are we speaking only of relations among those geographical regions and churches covered by our US jurisdictions and central conferences? That is, are we limited only to Methodists with “united” as an adjective? How about the rest of the Methodists in independent or autonomous denominations, many of which were initiated by the mission activities of United Methodist predecessors?
  • How does and how should, our global nature relate to the ecumenical church, the universal church with which we share the biblical mission mandate of Matthew 28?

My objective here is primarily that of organizing and fleshing out such questions and I begin with a survey of our global nature pilgrimage, a survey that clearly indicates a deep United Methodist uneasiness with how we have, or have not, understood this issue. We need a deep breath of fresh air, and I hope that the semi-colon of Tampa will provide for that, a chance to take a breath, which is what we call our mid-week prayer service at Global Ministries, and frame a vision of the church that is neither romantic nor pessimistic.

I am emboldened in this quest by the fact that whatever we mean by “global” church, whatever we want to achieve on the worldwide level, relates in a dramatic measure to mission, to the work of generations of missionaries beginning in the first half of the 19th century and continuing up to this very day.  Questions of the global nature of The United Methodist Church are before me every day in my role at the General Board of Global Ministries. The shift of Christian gravity from Europe and North America to the Global South is not a demographic chart on my office wall; it is real in the aspirations and frustrations of those from both the Global South and Global North who pass through my door, call my number, or send an email.  The multinational, if not the worldwide, nature of our mission is not a paragraph in a press release but is real in the diversity of our staff and the missionary community. Missionaries today are truly “from everywhere to everywhere,” fifty per cent of our current standard missionaries being from countries outside the US.  It is a reality when we say we have personnel, projects, and partners in more than 125 countries and staff from 30 countries.

It may be that experiences and perceptions of the arena of mission can contribute to our present and future consideration of the church’s global nature; at least, our church’s experience in mission is salient to the story of how we arrived at where we are post-Tampa with regard to global vision and structure. And I deeply expect that 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.

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General Secretary’s Report: God’s Mission and Human Rights

Report to the Board of Directors. New York, NY, April 10, 2014

With a focus on human rights in mission, Thomas Kemper’s semiannual report to the Global Ministries’ directors highlighted one of the mission goals of the agency, to “seek justice, freedom and peace.”

Noting the frequency with which he is asked to issue statements on human rights violations as well his involvement in the Task Force on Human Rights and Investment Ethics, Kemper discussed the importance of promoting human rights as a mission responsibility. While the United Methodist Social Principles and General Conference resolutions offer guidance, he explained that complexities “take us into a maze of often competing historical interpretation, theological perspectives and practical implications involving Christian promotion of full and equal rights among all people.”

Kemper shared three lessons he has learned from exploring the philosophy and application of the assertion that “every human being has the right to justice, freedom and peace.” 

  1. While the importance of human rights has a Biblical basis, the concept and consciousness have evolved over time. For John Wesley, Kemper said, “rights were not based solely in theological perspective on the image of God in the human creature; he went another step: dignity and rights are inherent because of the creative and creating love of God.”
  2. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is not entirely secular but was written in large part by theologians and lay statesmen with strong ecumenical connections.  Observing how the declaration connects human rights with religious conviction, Kemper challenged directors to question, “just how do we treat one another when we believe that we all belong together through divine creation and God’s affection?”
  3. The global church strives to be faithful in God’s mission, however human rights are not universally observed. Kemper said that “culture often dictates what is considered a ‘right’ and what is considered unacceptable behavior.” Emphasizing concern for religious liberty for people of all faiths, he indicated a special solidarity with Christians who face barriers and persecution in many parts of the world. Noting the situation in Pakistan, including its blasphemy laws, Kemper said, “I have learned that the denial of rights, the failure to realize that we belong together, kills people, ends the dreams of children, and disrupts families.”

At the heart of his third point was the story of a couple, who lost their two children and the wife's mother when a suicide bomber killed 80 people at All Saints Church in Peshawar, Pakistan, this past September. Global Ministries is sponsoring the couple for a time of spiritual refreshment in the United States. Introducing them to directors, Kemper said, “We are honored to have them with us today to stand as witnesses to agony and to reliance on God when human rights are violated.”

Read the full text of Thomas Kemper’s report to the board.

Thomas Kemper Invited to Lecture at Kwansei Gakuin

Thomas Kemper, who leads the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries, will present two lectures at the Methodist-related Kwansei Gakuin mission school in Japan. The lectures are part of the school’s 125th anniversary celebration.

In 1889, the Rev. Walter R. Lambuth, a missionary of the Methodist Episcopal Church South, founded Kwansei Gakuin. While gakuin is a Japanese word meaning academy or school, today Kwansei Gakuin is a comprehensive, integrated educational institute teaching kindergarten to graduate school. A total of 24,000 students attend. Seiwa College, which has similar Methodist roots, recently merged with Kwansei Gakuin to form a School of Education within the university. Read More

The Work to Which We Are Called

Report to the Board of Directors. New York, NY, October 10, 2013

With a spirit of joy and gratitude, board president Bishop Hope Morgan Ward opened the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries’ annual fall board meeting. Bishop Ward, who leads the North Carolina Annual Conference said, “It is a privilege to be gathered to work together in God’s ministry. May the hospitality of God flow through us and be reflected in the work that we do.”

Building on the theme of the opening worship, General Secretary Thomas Kemper began his report to directors saying, “Our joy and hope sends us into mission, into the work of the Gospel of Jesus Christ—the work to which we are called.”

Kemper read from John 21 in which Jesus tells Peter to feed his sheep. Kemper added that particularly with programmatic emphases on Ministry with the Poor and Global Health, “We of Global Ministries are called to continue with strong faith the challenge to feed and tend the sheep and lambs with Gospel love and physical nourishment.”

He affirmed that Global Ministries is in a strong position to “creatively respond to God’s call to mission.” The agency’s restructure is almost complete and the cabinet is now fully staffed, providing solid leadership for each of the units.

Mission and Evangelism

Through missionaries, young adults, and mission initiatives, Global Ministries continues to share the Gospel, start new churches, and offer opportunities for United Methodists to carry out God’s mission. Celebrating that 574 new worshipping communities were launched through 13 mission initiatives from 2009 to 2012, Kemper announced a goal of developing 600 new churches and faith communities in the current quadrennium.

Global Ministries is regularly preparing and sending missionaries who come from everywhere and serve everywhere. Underscoring this point, Kemper lifted up 15 new missionaries who are being commissioned this week. “We have new personnel from Costa Rica going to the Dominican Republic, from Panama and Puerto Rico to Mexico, from the Democratic Republic of the Congo to Senegal, from Brazil to the US, Hong Kong to Japan, and so on,” he said.

He went on to explain how new opportunities for young adult missionaries are being enhanced and broadened. Noting that “for every generation, young adulthood is a time of personal transformation,” Kemper announced the 2014 launch of Generation Transformation, an initiative that encompasses three service opportunities for young adults: Global Mission Fellows, Global Justice Volunteers, and Individual Volunteers.

Partnerships and Collaboration

Through the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), Global Ministries is addressing issues of global health. Kemper was part of a forum last week with Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare, a US medical association with multiple facilities in the Memphis area, that explored how community-based approaches can help churches in the United States respond to needs that will arise from the Affordable Health Care Law. “The start of the enrollment period for the Affordable Care Act is an opportunity for United Methodists to take an active part in helping people to understand and enroll in the plan,” Kemper noted.

Highlighting UMCOR’s response to Hurricane Sandy, Kemper praised the way the whole denomination has come together to collaborate in recovery efforts. “This work is a strong example of what can happen when United Methodists really work together,” he said. One partnership that grew out of Hurricane Sandy relief efforts is with Restoration Generation. This young adult service project is supported by a number of agencies, commissions, and annual conferences. Global Ministries has placed two US-2 missionaries on the Restoration Generation staff.

There has also been denominational collaboration in the area of Ministry with the Poor, with Global Ministries sharing oversight with the General Board of Church and Society in close cooperation with the Justice and Reconciliation Table of the Council of Bishops. Kemper shared that this coordinated effort is leading to a plan that will promote and strengthen congregational and community-oriented ministries with the poor.

Global Ministries partnerships often extend ecumenically, and Kemper reported on some of the recent ways that he has reached out in “solidarity with those who suffer through military, terrorist, or technical disasters,” including to those affected by tragedy in Pakistan, Kenya, and Lampedusa. He also shared information about the April 2013 United Methodist delegation that was officially received by the church in China. Kemper confirmed that the visit expanded “the opportunity for mutual relations between the church and one of the places of greatest Christian growth of the 21st century.”

In closing, he said that while we don’t always know what the results will be, “Every time we start a new faith community through one our initiatives, or educate a pastor in Congo or Bolivia, or place a missionary, or organize a team of mission volunteers, or put a community back on its feet after a storm—in all of those situations we run a risk: the risk of starting something the Holy Spirit can bring to fulfillment.”

Read Thomas Kemper’s full report to the Board here.

Spring 2013 Report to the Board

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.

Read more and download the full text of Thomas Kemper's Spring 2013 report to the board.

Thomas Kemper Address to Global Ministries Directors

General Secretary’s Report
October 22, 2012
A Covenant of Hope in Mission

Welcome and Contextual Matters:

This is an historical meeting of the directors of the General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church, the first session under a new governance plan wherein almost 30 percent of you, the directors, are from Central Conferences. Also, it is the first meeting with United Methodist Women as a separate but related organization. We convene with a refocused strategic plan and a refined management structure ready to implement the decisions and policies that you forge for global mission in a time such as this. Our twice-yearly meetings will by necessity be concentrated and convened with the expectation that all of us, directors and staff, are equipped to engage in the dialogue and action required to carry out our mission mandates.

We meet at a time of reassessment of structures and relationships within our denomination, but at a door of great potential, a time to be open to innovation and new forms of collaboration on many fronts. We come together not only in faith but also in hope.

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