Tuesday, July 16, 2013

What can the UMC learn from British Methodists re-envisioning mission?

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Assistant Professor of Religion and Pieper Chair of Servant Leadership at Ripon College.

The Methodist Church in Britain held its annual conference over the last week.  One important decision to come out of that conference was to fully integrate the Methodist Missionary Society into the rest of the denomination.  In its announcement about the move, the church stated, "We have a unique opportunity to assert the understanding that the mission of the Church is one in which work at home and overseas is essentially the same mission."  David Friswell, Leader of World Church Relationships, added that "God's mission [is] one mission for all people wherever they call home." This move shows a dramatic move away from a colonial, metropole-missions or center-periphery understanding of the Methodist Church in Britain.  In this decision, the Methodist Conference asserts the equality (and similarity) of all areas of mission and ministry for the church.

The United Methodist Church still draws distinctions between its work in the United States and elsewhere around the globe in several ways.  Perhaps most obvious are the differences between the Central Conferences and the U.S.-based Jurisdictions.  Like the Methodist Church in Britain up until this point, the structure of the denomination's agencies also reflects a colonial privileging of the home body.  Most denominational agencies, while not operating entirely in the U.S., are nonetheless heavily U.S.-focused.  The UMC maintains a General Board of Global Ministries, tasked with furthering the church's work around the world.

What would it mean for the UMC to affirm along with the Methodist Church in Britain that "God's mission is one mission for all people wherever they call home?"  How would such an affirmation not only change our structures but change the ways in which we think about the relationships between the various branches of the UMC?  How would it change our understanding of mission and ministry?

These are all questions worth asking, and the Methodist Church in Britain's decision should be taken as an occasion for United Methodists to ask themselves those questions.


  1. I had the good fortune of visiting the annual conference of the British church by chance last week. It was a moving experience to feel part of the connection. While the view that mission is to and from everywhere has been an official part of mainline mission theology since at least 1963, there is a danger in seeing mission as subsidiary to the church itself. Mission is oriented toward the reign of God. Mission commitment is usually voluntary and by definition involves risky kinds of boundary crossings. So while affirming the multi-directional reality of mission is to be applauded, it should be noted that eliding mission with the church itself usually ends up domesticating mission. The missio Dei is bigger than the church. The church is the agent of mission, but it cannot control it. It will be interesting to see if this new affirmation by the British conference enhances or retards their commitment to God's mission.

  2. Excellent post and questions. Picked up for United Methodist Insight, with a link back to here so that Dr. Robert's remarks can also be read.

  3. Thanks, Cynthia! I'm glad you found the questions and discussion useful.