God’s Mission Is Global
By Thomas Kemper*
Word definitions can become stumbling blocks in our deliberations on the worldwide, global or international nature of The United Methodist Church. Are we talking about structure, geography or vision? I find it a daily challenge to know in what context to use which of these overlapping terms. In my work as General Secretary of Global Ministries, I have come up with a functional delineation: Our worldwide—our global—nature as a church is in our mission, ministries and vision.
Earlier this month, the directors of the General Board of Global Ministries took the bold step of moving toward opening regional offices in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. These decisions were made not from a structural perspective but through a mission lens. Regional offices will stimulate missional excellence that is truly worldwide—shaped by the vision, insights and questions from different cultures.
In recent years, Global Ministries has become more global and international in its recruitment and placement of missionaries—moving from a “mission sending agency” to one that facilitates mission. Our vision of God’s mission—the missio Dei—incorporated into our work in vast areas of Asia, Africa and much of Latin America and the Caribbean.
We, as a church and through Global Ministries, have personnel, projects, and active mission partnerships in more than 125 countries. That is still not “global” in a literal sense, but it is worldwide. We have been extending our presence for a number of years through designated staff positions in Europe, Asia and Latin America. In partnership with the World Methodist Council and British Methodist Church, Global Ministries participates in the Methodist Liaison Office in Jerusalem. For many years, Global Ministries, through UMCOR, has created field offices for long-term disaster response and development.
In mission, we work with autonomous Methodist, united and ecumenical partners with as much commitment as we do with the annual conferences that send delegates to the General Conference. We have mission initiatives that may eventually become annual conferences, and others that will become autonomous, self-governing churches. We are as committed to one as to the other. “Each” and “all” are “us,” just as the Korean Methodist Church or the Methodist Church of Brazil, which both have been independent since 1930. They are “us,” even though they send only fraternal, non-voting delegates to General Conference.
Forging a strong regional mission operation offers significant opportunities to facilitate mission commitments that connect United Methodists and our partners in new ways across the global connection. Regional offices will be a crucial step in adapting Global Ministries to an increasingly globalized world, breaking out of our limiting structural discussions and focusing on our mission, which is connected in Jesus Christ and also strongly linked to our Wesleyan tradition.
As we extend our presence in the world, we find new ways to participate in God’s mission by sharing the steadfast, redeeming love of Christ that enlivens and sustains us through the Holy Spirit. Our mission is to show Jesus Christ to the world, and let us pray that our structures do the same.
*Thomas Kemper is the General Secretary for the General Board of Global Ministries.