Today's post is the latest in a series of posts that are re-examining the mission document of The United Methodist Church, Grace Upon Grace (Nashville: Graded Press, 1990). Various United Methodist mission professors and practitioners are re-examining this theological statement and how it can inform our corporate life in The United Methodist Church today. This piece is written by Dr. William Payne. Dr. Payne is the Harlan & Wilma Hollewell Professor of Evangelism and World Missions and Director of Chaplaincy Studies at Ashland Theological Seminary. Dr. Payne is commenting on paragraph 54 on "global awareness," from the ninth section of the document, "A Church Formed By Grace." Use the "Grace Upon Grace" tag to identify other posts in this series.
Paragraph 54 of Grace upon Grace rightly emphasizes that God has equipped the UMC to engage God’s mission. It begins with a quote from I Cor 12:4-6. “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of service, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of working, but the same God who inspires them all in every one.” Ministry to the whole world requires that the whole church utilizes all
the gifts of all the people.
Paul’s organic analogy related to the Body of Christ requires unity within diversity. Accordingly, we are one Body; yet, each member in the Body occupies a special ministry
position. When the spiritually animated Body works in unison, it is fully equipped to do the work of God in the world. As such, the locus of mission is the spiritually gifted church; not a mission board, a mission team, or a missionary. The mission of the church comes from God and belongs to the whole people of God.
I am reminded of my recent Pentecost sermon. It examined the “pouring out” of the Spirit and investigated how the phenomenon was tied to calling and mission. In Numbers 11:24-29 Yahweh pours out the Spirit on 70 elders so they can share the burden with Moses. Without it, they are not equipped to participate in his labors. As a sign of their anointing for service, the elders prophesied after receiving the Holy Spirit. The sign was given for the benefit of the people and the elders. Likewise, God anoints Saul with the Holy Spirit in order to prepare him for his new calling as king over God’s people (cf. I Sam 10:6). In like manner, God pours out the Holy Spirit on all the gathered disciples in Acts 2. In the New Testament, the Spirit is given to all believers because everyone is called and gifted to participate in God’s work.
The outpouring with the gift of languages should be seen in light of the church’s global commission in Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea, and Samaria, and to
the ends of the earth” (NRSV). Before the outpouring of the Spirit, Jesus sternly warned the disciples to remain in Jerusalem and wait for the promise of the Father (Acts 1:4). Even though the eager disciples had been personally trained by Jesus, they were not prepared for the global mission of the church until they were spiritually equipped.
Obviously, global Methodism has not arrived at this ideal. For example, many in the West value formal education more than spiritual vitality. I have overheard American
colleagues sneer at the African connection’s lack of academic training. At the same
time, friends from the Cuban connection have sneered at the spiritually dead conditions in American Methodism. Some years back I worked with a Methodist missionary from South Korea who was dispatched from his connection to teach American Methodists how to pray. In fact, formal training and Spirit anointing (vital piety) belong together.
After the outpouring in Acts 2, Jewish pilgrims heard the disciples proclaiming the gospel message in their native languages. As a result, about 3,000 Jews from all regions of the known world believed, received baptism, and were discipled. In Acts 4:4 another 5,000 people were added to the church as a consequence of the healing of the
crippled beggar and Peter’s anointed preaching. Later, due to the persecution described in Acts 8, God scattered the new disciples in all directions. As they fled, they planted the seed of the gospel by preaching the word from place to place (cf. Acts 11:19). Some of the foreign pilgrims who had been assimilated into the Jerusalem Church on the Day of Pentecost returned to their home communities and started house churches. In this sense, disciples who were scattered became inadvertent church planters.
In the book of Acts, one may discern the “evangelize, disciple, and scatter” strategy. First, people are converted, baptized, and filled with the Holy Spirit. Afterward, they are discipled. Next, the new disciples engage in the mission of the church as they
are deployed in gifted ministry inside and outside the local church.
From this perspective, one can argue that God has gifted the church, both locally and globally, so that it can work God’s mission. As such, a critical linkage exists between the local church and God’s mission. Individuals are gifted, called, and trained
within the context of a local community of faith that is sent into the world. The entire community of faith is called into mission. By means of one’s gifting and calling, one participates in and enables the local church to do God’s mission. Gifting must be seen in light of mission. Gifting is never an individual thing or a cause for personal pride.
Additionally, within the UM connectional system local congregations are also called and gifted for specialized ministries within their communities and the larger connection. Still, the mission of the church is never subsumed by the local context. For this reason, local congregations should not emphasize the local mission to the
neglect of the global mission. All churches must jointly discern the mission and work of the UMC so that they work together to achieve it on the local and global scene. No local church exists solely for itself. The same can be said of conferences. The entire UMC is one body called and equipped to do God’s multiverse mission together.
When the entire Methodist connection works together to discern the need and give voice to the global mission, it will find a basis from which it can fulfill that to which
Paragraph 54 aspires.