Legacy from the 19th century
The present General Board of Global Ministries inherited a rich legacy from predecessor mission agencies of the Methodist Church and the Evangelical United Brethren Church. The Missionary Society of the Methodist Episcopal Church, begun in 1820 and headquartered in New York City, was among the earliest of those agencies and focused on mission within and outside the United States. The issue of slavery divided the Methodist Episcopal Church in the 1840s and the newly formed Methodist Episcopal Church, South formed its own mission agency with offices in Nashville. Mission outreach flourished in both “northern” and “southern” churches.
In both denominations, women in the late 19th century began to form their own freestanding societies for home and foreign missions and to send women missionaries, who were responsible for starting numerous educational, medical, and childcare institutions.
1960s to 1980
In 1968, the creation of The United Methodist Church brought about the merger of the Methodist and Evangelical United Brethren Mission Boards. Four years later (1972), the General Board of Global Ministries was created with seven divisions: World, National, Women’s, Education and Cultivation, Health and Welfare, United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR), and Christian Unity. In order to better coordinate the work, the Board was again restructured in 1980 with the creation of three divisions (World, National, and Women’s) and four departments (Health and Welfare, Mission Education and Cultivation, Mission Personnel Resources, and UMCOR).
Fifteen years later, looking toward a new century, the agency reassessed its structure based on several significant issues and realities that were changing the context for mission. These included:
- The emergence and awareness of the global nature of the church;
- Growing enthusiasm of lay people for mission volunteer service;
- Increasingly direct involvement of annual conferences and local churches in mission opportunities;
- The capacity of persons around the globe to contact others rapidly through technology and expanded transportation options;
- Strong and successful evangelistic efforts by former "mission-receiving" churches;
- The end of the Cold War, which increased mission opportunities, but also saw a rise in regional tensions and conflicts; and
- The global growth of other living faiths.
Global hearings and informal conversations on a Board “mission statement” in the 1980s projected the role of the Board into the pivotal role of facilitator of mission, acting as servant-leader, encouraging and resourcing the United Methodist connection, the whole church, to be in mission throughout the world. This spirit pervaded the legislation adopted by the 1996 General Conference, which organized the Board by missional tasks rather than by geographical factors, clearly acknowledging the global basis of mission. It reflected in the Board’s institutional life the essential interdependence of all persons, churches and cultures, regardless of national boundary. This awareness was a motivating factor in more than a dozen new mission initiatives around the world—more than in any period since the early 20th century. The new structure sought to represent in organizational form the theological affirmation that God’s world is one world.
The Board’s Four Goals of Mission, which summarize mandates from the General Conference, reflect an inclusive, global perspective: 1) Make disciples of Jesus Christ; 2) Strengthen, develop, and renew Christian congregations and communities; 3) Alleviate human suffering; and 4) Seek justice, freedom, and peace. The 1996 structure supported mission involvement through seven program units (Community and Institutional Ministries, Evangelization and Church Growth, Mission Contexts and Relationships, Mission Education, Mission Personnel, Mission Volunteers, and Health and Relief), the Women’s Division, and General Administration.
In late 2008 Global Ministries initiated an organizational review that would lead to decreased operating costs, increased revenue, more effective service delivery models, and a more rational organizational structure. This occurred in response to the changing context of The United Methodist Church and the need for a more effective structure to face the new missional challenges around the world. The review recommended that Global Ministries implement strategic planning and performance management, and implement organizational structure changes: to clarify responsibilities and eliminate redundancies, to streamline management, to revitalize training and employee engagement programs, and to ensure that all employees have the skills necessary to operate in the 21st century. By taking this global understanding of the organization and placing its context with the missional goals of Global Ministries, the new structure created a coordinated and holistic approach to the mission function of the agency. The mission objectives of Global Ministries are carried on by three Mission program areas: Mission and Evangelism, Mission Theology and Evaluation, and UMCOR. In order to bring this global understanding into practice, the agency has moved to establish a regional presence through offices and staff presence in Europe, the Middle East, Asia, and Latin America, as well as maintaining a network of field offices related to UMCOR in Africa and Asia.
God’s Mission is “glocal,” to use a business term coined 30 years ago. It integrates the local and the global in all aspects, strategies, and methodologies. Missionaries go from everywhere to everywhere. Leaders in new mission areas are trained and facilitated in their work by effective practitioners, or mentors, from other newly developed churches. Connecting the Church in Mission, which is the biblical model of church planting, is Global Ministries’ theological and programmatic theme. In response to Global Ministries’ strong disciplinary calling, national churches—new places for new people—have thus far been created in 17 nations through Global Ministries’ Mission Initiatives program. Global Ministries makes disciples of all nations by linking Christian communities together through a connectional system (as in John 15 and 1 Corinthians 12).
A Global Understanding of Mission
The history of Global Ministries has, since the inception of its predecessor organizations, guided the agency to implement its programs throughout the entire connection, focusing on expanding the presence of the church and facilitating its participation in God’s mission, in all geographic and political contexts in which the church is called to serve. Moving from a distinction between “home” and “foreign” missions, to “national” and “world” divisions, to a global understanding of mission as the presence and action of God in the world, who invites us to participate in all areas of service, and to a practice of mission “from everywhere to everywhere,” Global Ministries has maintained its identity as an agency that is present and serving the global connection.