Mission Agency Stresses Collaboration

April 22, 2010

By Linda Bloom | Stamford, Conn. (UMNS)

Global mission is about to become more local.
 
Officials at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries are signaling a "cultural shift" in how the denomination does mission.
 
Instead of acting as an implementer of mission for the denomination, the agency must be "a resource to those individuals, churches, conferences and institutions already in mission," Ohio West Area Bishop Bruce Ough, board president, told directors during the April 12-14 spring meeting.
 
Building a capacity for mission among all parts of the connection should be the standard for all the board's activities. "I think we could begin by strengthening our partnerships with annual (regional) conferences and devoting significantly more staff time to helping conferences build their capacity to be in global mission," he said.
 
Part of that effort would mean strengthening ties to the largest congregations by attendance. Staff representing two of those churches, along with a conference mission leader, were part of a discussion on ministry with the poor.
 
Jonathan Bell, director of mission ministries for the United Methodist Church of the Resurrection in Leawood, Kan., said his and other large congregations believe "the best days of The United Methodist Church are still ahead of us."
 
A year ago, he said, he was the host of a meeting of mission directors from many of the large churches to see how they could work more collaboratively. The group challenged itself to nurture 300 new young clergy and create new faith communities.
 
Now, they would like a similar relationship with denominational leadership. "It would be great if we could cooperate more, but collaboration would be better," he said.
 
Lynette Fields, executive director of servant ministries at St. Luke's United Methodist Church in Orlando, Fla., pointed out that large churches are "very entrepreneurial" and, because of the breadth and depth of their congregations, "often filled with resources that our denominational agencies may not have."
 
Alternative funding sources needed
 
One of the dwindling resources for agencies is churchwide funding, a fact that Thomas Kemper, the board's new top executive, acknowledged as he and others cited the need for alternative sources of funding for mission work.
 
Collaboration – with groups ranging from conferences and congregations to schools, hospitals and ethnic, racial, geographic and social networks – is necessary for the denomination's future success, he said.
 
"We need to become expert in facilitation, passionate for partnership and open to the mission visions of our partners," Kemper declared.
 
The German church mission board, which Kemper led before coming to the New York-based Board of Global Ministries, successfully used a "roundtable" model that brought together all those in a particular conference or country to share information, set priorities and strive for transparency and accountability, he said.
 
That model is being used this week as the Methodist Church in Haiti convenes a meeting of its partners, including United Methodists, involved in earthquake relief and recovery.
 
Both Ough and Kemper mentioned the possibility of establishing regional mission offices and agreed that missionaries would continue to play a vital role in the agency's work.
 
While the patterns of missionary service differ in the 21st century from the 19th and 20th centuries, "the need for the church to self-consciously send and receive missionaries" has not changed, Kemper said.
 
The Board of Global Ministries currently has some 220 full-service missionaries in 60 countries, plus about 100 in the United States.
 
*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in New York.