Friday, December 14, 2018

New Mission Area: Entrepreneurial Support

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Some weeks ago, I raised the question of what features of the world and its various contexts in the 21st century might constitute new areas of mission, in the same way that features of the world 50, 100, or 150 years ago led to areas of mission work that we now consider central: education, poverty relief, healthcare, etc.

This week, I suggest another new area of mission work: support for entrepreneurs, especially social entrepreneurs.

This new area of mission work would bring together two threads in the church: First, the church has long engaged in various forms of economic development mission, especially in developing countries and in American cities. Second, in the United States, the church is facing the question of how to deal with unused and underutilized church buildings, as Monday's Recommended Reading indicated.

One solution to the problem of empty church buildings has been to re-purpose them. The Missional Wisdom Foundation, highlighted in the recommended article, has been engaged in this sort of work with local congregations. There are a variety of ways in which empty church buildings can be repurposed, though. They can serve as community centers, homes for non-profits, converted into housing, sites for church-run businesses, even as climbing gyms.

Certainly, any time a church building is put to use for the good of the community is a missional success and should be celebrated and replicated. Yet there are reasons why churches may want to give special consideration to one possible use for their space: as free or low-cost space for start-up businesses, especially those pursuing a model of social entrepreneurship.

To the extent that churches care about the economic well-being of their neighborhoods, supporting entrepreneurs is a promising way to boost that economic well-being. Entrepreneurs and other small businesses create many of the jobs in the US, but support for entrepreneurs and the number of new entrepreneurs has been on a thirty-year decline. Space is one of the basic needs for early-stage new businesses, and churches thus could make an economic impact by offering their space to new businesses on favorable terms.

Moreover, engaging in support for new businesses also gives the church a say in what sorts of businesses get developed. This is an opportunity for the church to exercise some moral influence on the world of capitalism, influence that has been significantly curtailed in most other ways (and probably never existed to the extent popularly imagined).

That moral influence can come in not supporting businesses which the church finds morally offensive: alcohol, gambling, weapons, etc.

But it could also come in supporting businesses with a positive moral and social dimension as well. One of the hot topics in both the business and social service worlds is "social entrepreneurship" - the practice of starting businesses that both generate profit and benefit those in the communities around them in some tangible way. There's even a special type of incorporation (B Corp) that puts this goal of social benefit into the very foundational documents of a business.

So, what if the American church sought to use its space as a resource to benefit social entrepreneurs? What if it took something it had in abundance and was able to use that for the betterment of the neighborhood and the world around it? Wouldn't this be a form of joining in what God is doing?

As with pretty much all other areas of new mission work I have suggested in this series, this sort of entrepreneurial support is not something a church can likely do successfully on its own. There are, however, a host of other organizations out there with which churches can partner, from colleges and universities to economic development agencies to business associations to government entities. The availability of other partners is not the question; the question is whether the church is willing to be one of these partners.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: Mission from the Margins

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Let me share three reflections with you on Mission from the Margins:

1. Mission from the Margins is a Choice:
We all know that Eugene Peterson translated the Bible (the famous Message version) into the common language of the people for contemporary times. So the Bible is understood even by the communities at the Margins. This has also given the power of interpterion to the common people.

One of my favorite passages from The Message translation is John 1:14, which says “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the neighborhood.” When I was sharing this passage with a community at the margins in a small group meeting in Sri Lanka where I come from, they helped me to understand and read the passage with new eyes. The group agreed to understand the passage on incarnation like this: “The Word became flesh and blood and moved into the margins of humanity.”

We believe in a God who came to liberate humanity and creation through ‘Jesu Christu’ and offer abundant life to all. The point is that Jesus came to the utmost margins of the most powerful empire of that time. That margin was Nazareth of Galilea! So the very beginning of mission is God’s choice to incarnate in the margins with one of the most marginalized communities in the universe.

The Gospel of Luke asserts God’s deliberate choice:

“God’s Spirit is on me;
    he’s chosen me to preach the Message of good news to the poor,
Sent me to announce pardon to prisoners and
    recovery of sight to the blind,
To set the burdened and battered free,
    to announce, “This is God’s year to act!”
He rolled up the scroll, handed it back to the assistant, and sat down. Every eye in the place was on him, intent. Then he started in, “You’ve just heard Scripture make history. It came true just now in this place.” (Luke 4:16-21)

Mission is always and everywhere a choice. As churches and Christian communities, are we ready to make that choice today? Are we ready to reach out to the modern Nazareths struggling under our modern empires?  Are we ready to be in solidarity with the Nazareths of our own local churches?

In the work of God’s reign, we cannot be neutral - either we are with Jesu Christu or we are out of God’s reign.

Mission from the Margins commences first with well-discerned decisions, missional choices, and solidarity with the communities at the Margins. That is how God started mission through Jesus. Therefore, the first transformational point that I want us to understand is that we rediscover the mission of the church by renunciation of our own powers and ecclesial selfishness, letting God take over and allowing God’s sprit to lead us to be with the margins.

2. People at the Margins as Agents of Mission:
Together Towards Life is one of the recent ecumenical mission papers that we all must read in and through our mission debates. It corrects one of the major misconceptions of mission:

“The dominant expressions of mission, in the past and today, have often been directed at people on the margins of societies. These have generally viewed those on the margins as recipients and not as active agents of missionary activity. Mission expressed in this way has too often been complicit with oppressive and life-denying systems. It has generally aligned with the privileges of the centre and largely failed to challenge economic, social, cultural, and political systems which have marginalized some peoples. Mission from the centre is motivated by an attitude of paternalism and a superiority complex. Historically, this stance has equated Christianity with Western culture and resulted in adverse consequences, including the denial of the full personhood of the victims of such marginalization.” (Together Towards Life: https://www.oikoumene.org/en/resources/documents/commissions/mission-and-evangelism/together-towards-life-mission-and-evangelism-in-changing-landscapes)

Jesus’ first followers were a community of those on the margins. Through their faith in Jesus, they experienced a newfound power and agency. Among them were marginalized women, children, the lepers, the sick, the prisoners, the blind, the poor, the Samaritans, the gentiles, the destitute, persons in prostitution, the victims of structural sins, the Galilean fisher folks, and many more. This community was gathered from the lowest strata of the social order. Through struggles in and for life, these marginalized people became reservoirs of the active hope, collective resistance, and perseverance that were needed to remain faithful to the promised reign of God. It was the people from the margins who provided the power of agency to God’s mission in Jesus.

Are we ready to recognize the power of agency from the margins? Are we ready to be transformed by the power of the spirit that comes from the margins? Are we ready to connect with the Jesus community in our day and in our missional spaces for the sake of God’s reign?

3. Hope and Mission from the Margins:
This transformation begins with the denunciation of self-power and the annunciation of God’s power. As Christians we take refuge in God the Father, God the Son, and God the Sprit. There is a beautiful hymn from Asia introduced to the world church by D.T.Niles (The United Methodist Hymnal, No. 523: https://www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-saranam-saranam), which emerged in the context of peoples’ struggles. It goes like this:

"Jesus, Savior, Lord, lo, to thee I fly: Saranam, Saranam, Saranam;
Thou the Rock, my refuge that's higher than I: Saranam, Saranam, Saranam.
In the midst of foes I cry to thee, From the ends of earth wherever I may be;
My strength in helplessness, O answer me: Saranam, Saranam, Saranam."

This hymn speaks of people in the margins, and of their cry to the Lord. When they are in utter desperation the prayers of the people have reached the God of the Oppressed. We see the same in the Bible in the prayers of the exiled community. We take Saranam (refuge) in that God. We do not take refuge in the empire or any other higher worldly power or mammon. It is only in God that we have hope!

"My strength in helplessness, O answer me: Saranam, Saranam, Saranam."

Friends, this is the lament song of the people from the margins for all generations. May I invite all of us to connect our lives and missional energies with this universal lament by taking refuge in the Cosmic Christ?

However, the questions remain – How should we be vulnerable? How should we be listening and hearing ministry seriously? How should we integrate voices from the margins into missional praxis? Are we as disciples of Christ ready to be evangelized from the margins?

May Jesus the Christ - crucified and risen Cosmic Guru - be our teacher, our guide, and the one who empowers all of us and transforms us in God’s mission.

Amen!

Monday, December 10, 2018

Recommended Reading: Empty Churches in America

This blog has occasionally discussed the missional problems associated with church decline in the United States. One of those problems: What to do with church buildings that are too big for dwindling congregations or no longer used by defunct congregations? Religion journalist Jonathan Merritt has written an article for The Atlantic about just this problem, "America's Epidemic of Empty Churches." The article particularly highlights the work of United Methodist mission theologian Elaine Heath and her Missional Wisdom Foundation in helping congregations rethink the use of their buildings while still in them.

Friday, December 7, 2018

New Mission Area: Space for Honesty and Vulnerability

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Some weeks ago, I raised the question of what features of the world and its various contexts in the 21st century might constitute new areas of mission, in the same way that features of the world 50, 100, or 150 years ago led to areas of mission work that we now consider central: education, poverty relief, healthcare, etc.

This week, I suggest another new area of mission work that would be a revival of an older area of mission work: spaces for and practices of honesty and vulnerability.

Once upon a time, two practices were common in the predecessors of The United Methodist Church: public confession and public testimony. In the first, a person admitted to things they had done wrong and were trying to turn away from. In the second, they shared a story of what God had done for them, usually in terms of helping them turn from sin or make it through some significant difficulty.

These two practices have some things in common: They are a means by which people can honestly shared about their mistakes and the difficult parts of their life experiences, they are a means by which people can provide a narrative structure to make sense of their life experiences, and they are a means by which can connect those narratives of their life experiences to the larger narratives of the gospel.

Part of the genius of the Methodist theology of sanctification and the Methodist structure of class meetings was that they provided a reason and a context to continue to generate these types of narratives about one's life on an on-going basis, rather than confining such narratives solely to the moment of conversion as in some other traditions.

Despite the one-time importance of these two practices of confession and testimony to evangelistic mission and on-going discipleship, they have largely dropped out of use, at least in the United States.

Yet it seems to me that there is still a need, often unmet, in American society for exactly the sorts of spiritual and psychological benefits provided by these practices of confession and testimony. They provide a space for honesty and vulnerability about the difficult aspects of life and they way in which we do things we regret, or at least the conflicts among our motivations. Especially in an age in which social media demands public performances of perfection, there is a deep need to honesty confront one's imperfections and the imperfection's of one's life.

You can see this need being expressed in a variety of ways. It's in anonymous sharing phenomena like PostSecret. It's in the popularity of the work of Brene Brown, with its focus on the power of vulnerability. It's in the popularity of movies like Bad Moms and Trainwreck and "hot mess" t-shirts and other cultural products that depict and embrace imperfection. In the Christian world, it's part of what fuels the popularity of (ex-)evangelical female writers and bloggers like Rachel Held Evans, Glennon Melton Doyle, and Jamie Wright.

Opportunities for and models of confession and testimony are, however, largely lacking in the mainline churches, including the UMC, with their commitment to middle-class respectability. (ELCA minister Nadia Bolz-Weber is perhaps the main exception.) They're also mostly lacking for men, where a culture of toxic masculinity prohibits the sort of emotional work necessary for confession and testimony and forbids men from showing weakness in any way.

So, if The United Methodist Church wanted to engage in mission that addressed the spiritual and psychological needs of both its members and others in American culture, it would give serious consideration to how it could open up spaces and practices of confession and testimony. These probably will be different from how those practices played out in the past, but they're likely to be just as life-giving, both for those embracing them and for those who would no longer have to suffer the destructive attempts to deal with such sublimated emotions in other ways.

Wednesday, December 5, 2018

Would some African and Filipino delegates to GC2019 prefer no plan pass?

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

A couple weeks ago, I encouraged readers to consider the possibility of the "null hypothesis" being true at General Conference 2019: that no plan to resolve the denomination's debates about gay ordination and gay marriage is passed. That post was intended to remind readers that the passage of a plan is not a given. There is a real possibility that there may not be sufficient support for any of the three plans coming out of the work of the Commission on a Way Forward or any alternate plan introduced by another body.

In this post, I would like to suggest something further: that at least for some central conference delegates, this scenario would not represent a failure of GC2019 but a success. That is, at least some central conference delegates to GC2019 may prefer the present state of affairs to any of the three plans on offer.

To understand why, one can look at some of the recent episcopal statements from African and Filipino bishops. As I have cautioned before, episcopal views don't necessarily reflect the attitudes of delegates from episcopal areas, but these statements are nonetheless instructive.

Both the Africa College of Bishops and the Philippines College of Bishops have recently released statements weighing in on the state of the denomination. Neither endorsed any of the three plans coming out of the work of the Commission on a Way Forward. The statement by the Africa College of Bishops emphasized two things: a traditional definition of marriage and unity. The statement by the Philippines College of Bishops emphasized unity without directly addressing sexuality. Opinions among the Filipino bishops vary, but as the accompanying UMNS article made clear, at least some bishops like Bishop Torio favor a traditional understanding of marriage.

While opinions certainly differ among central conference delegates, as they do among American delegates, these two desires seem common: a desire to continue a traditional understanding of marriage and a desire for church unity, both as a spiritual principle and because it facilitates partnerships with a broad range of American partners.

Yet the major contending plans each threaten one or the other of these two desires. The Traditionalist Plan, while it maintains a traditional understanding of marriage, cuts into the unity of the church and the breadth of partnership because it also emphasizes a "gracious exit" from the denomination for progressive conferences. The One Church Plan, while it maintains unity and thus allows for continued broad partnerships, undercuts a traditional understanding of marriage. The Connectional Conference Plan would seem to threaten both the desire for unity and the desire to maintain a traditional understanding of marriage.

Of course, central conference delegates may decide that one or the other of these two principles is more important to them and vote accordingly. Or they may decide that the changes involved in one of the plans are not significant enough or likely enough to affect them to really threaten their desires.

But there is also the option that central conference delegates would decide that the current state of affairs is actually the best way to balance unity and upholding a traditional understanding of marriage. The UMC currently officially has a traditional understanding of marriage. Passing nothing would not require anyone to leave the denomination (it is likely that some would, but that is likely under any scenario). Thus, some central conference delegates may see the status quo as the best way to balance their desires for traditional understandings of marriage, unity, and broad partnerships.

Most Americans see the debates over gay marriage and gay ordination as indicative of an untenable situation in the church. Surely, they think, something has to happen. We can't continue to go on in the way we have. Yet, for many outside the US, these debates are remote and do not affect the daily experience of the church. It is entirely thinkable and relatively unproblematic for the status quo to persist. Ultimately, the biggest difference between US and central conference delegates to GC2019 may not be over views of marriage but over how important it is to try to resolve the debates.

Monday, December 3, 2018

Recommended Reading: Mental Health Ministries

A couple of weeks ago, I published a piece entitled, "New Mission Area: Mental Health." The piece argued that the church should consider addressing mental health issues as a form of mission, just as it has long addressed physical health issues as a form of mission.

Since that time, I have been informed of the existence of Mental Health Ministries, a site for online resources for addressing mental illness. Mental Health Ministries is an outgrowth of the DisAbility Ministries Committee of The United Methodist Church. Those who are interested in learning more about the potential for conducting ministry with those with mental illness as a form of mission are encouraged to peruse the resources available on Mental Health Ministries' site.

Friday, November 30, 2018

New Mission Area: The New Temperance

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Five weeks ago, I raised the question of what features of the world and its various contexts in the 21st century might constitute new areas of mission, in the same way that features of the world 50, 100, or 150 years ago led to areas of mission work that we now consider central: education, poverty relief, healthcare, etc.

This week, I suggest a fifth new area of mission work that would be a revival of an older area of mission work: temperance.

 Already, readers from different geographical areas will have responded differently to this post. Many in Africa and the Philippines will ask, "Isn't this something the church still preaches and promotes?" Many in the United States and Europe will ask, "Why is he suggesting the revival of some out-dated, moralistic crusade?" I mainly want to address the US context here.

As someone who has studied the history of Methodist involvement with the temperance movement, I will readily admit that there were certainly problems with that movement. Much of it was motivated by, or at least drew upon, anti-immigrant, anti-Catholic, anti-working class prejudices. There was a tendency for the movement to be moralistic and self-righteous.

Yet, the movement had its points as well. In the eighteenth century, a fifth of US adults were essentially functional alcoholics. You don't need to think that we should ban the sale of all alcohol to recognize that as a problem. Moreover, temperance reformers were also often concerned with alcohol use's correlation with domestic violence, the economic impact on women and children of money being diverted to alcohol use, and the economic exploitation of the poor through alcohol sales. More than just kill-joys, nineteenth century temperance reformers saw temperance as a means of both aiding individual alcoholics and of ameliorating social injustices.

Temperance's great achievement and apotheosis was the passage of the 18th Amendment to the US Constitution establishing Prohibition as the law of the land. While the 18th Amendment prohibiting the sale of alcohol didn't last (it was repealed by the 21st Amendment), it did produce a marked decrease in the amount of alcohol Americans consumed, even after drinking was re-legalized.

But Americans are now back up to pre-Prohibition levels of drinking, drinking much more than in recent decades. The amount of binge drinking and alcoholism is up too. The gender dynamics of drinking have changed, too, with women making up much of the increase, raising their drinking to on par with men.

I will admit than even as a good United Methodist, I still enjoy a bottle of beer or a glass of wine. I've even brewed my own beer. I drink in moderation, but I do drink.

But still, I wonder: at what point in the craft beer revolution, wine as "mommy juice" trend, upswing in craft distilled spirits, boom of wine of the month clubs will Americans start to recognize that perhaps we've gone too far? At what point will we decide that the impacts on our health, our relationships, our work are more than we've bargained for?

And when we come to that point, what will the church do about it?

Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Reappraising the Study of World Christianity

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Theology of Mission has an interesting overlapping cross-disciplinary engagement with the field of World/Global Christianity. As a scholar and student of missiology (from Asia), I would like to bring out some critical perspectives on the field of World Christianity from my global south point of view. It is my hope that my friends and partners in the study fields of World/Global Christianity and Missiology/Theology of Mission take my reflections as a friendly contribution in broadening the boundaries of these subject areas in leaning, teaching and praxis.

We live in a challenging time, both as the church/Christian community and the world. After centuries of mission and evangelization, Christianity is a global phenomenon today. Our world today is faced with rapid changes due to post-colonialism and post-modernism, technological enhancement, international politics, global migration, and economic transformation. Economic changes have caused both extreme poverty and created a wealthy minority. Therefore, Christian phenomena should be identified, analyzed, appraised, and understood in relation to other socioeconomic and religious-cultural phenomena in the world.

As Christianity’s focus is shifting to the global south in our changing globalized context, and as Christianity is also seeking new mission fields, such as North America, it is necessary to engage in a critical reading and application of Global Christianity as an expanding phenomenon today. Therefore, World Christianity as a field of study in Missology faces the challenge to develop new strategies to promote its learning-teaching paradigms.

I appreciate the substantial work available already on some specific areas of discussion such as the very concept of Misisio Dei that has attracted the attention of both progressive and evangelical theologians alike. Other such areas include the changing landscape of Global Christianity, globalization and Christian responses, empirical approaches in World Christianity, interfaith dialogue, religious fundamentalism, ecumenical approaches to global church, and the like. But I would like to suggest some core areas that need further work and reflection.

Strategic Rethinking and Furthering
World Christianity as a research field should develop new strategies to face the new challenges of the world today; therefore, I would like to identify five strategic areas of cross-disciplinary engagement in promoting World Christianity as a field of study. These areas of course are not new in the discourse, although I suggest the need of further work and research.

1. Mission from the margins: This will provide opportunities to engage in mission on the margins of global Christianity. This approach suggests engaging in interdisciplinary research with scholars and movements from the margins. Defining the margins here can take many shapes and could be multi-faceted. For example, we can think of categories from geo-political margins to ecclesiological margins, from economic margins to ecological margins, from cross-cultural margins to knowledge-based marginalization. This strategic area will use critical social analysis, ecclesiology, and missiology to design and conduct new innovative research projects and studies. The landscape of World Christianity has moved from a Northern-Western based paradigm to a global paradigm. We have to face the realities in the world church, world Christian movements, and global social movements.

2. Cross-cultural engagement: The current cross-cultural discussions of mission in missional education programmes are still very much US- or Euro-centric, as are anthropological studies and discussions in Christian theological schools. In recognizing the limits of these approaches – for example a significant amount of cross-cultural theories are still based on western anthropology, sociology of religion and cultural studies – a question could be raised: What are alternative approaches and methodologies to enhance cross-cultural discourses in missiology using World Christianity as a base? To put it in another way – are we ready for and open to totally different approaches and methodologies in both the theory and praxis of cross-cultural discourses from partners and friends from post-colonial nations?

3. Biblical hermeneutics and Global Christianity: The Bible is central to the Christian faith, but the way in which it is interpreted and read by diverse Christian communities varies. This is an interesting field of study both for biblical and mission scholars. Can these two groups engage in a fresh look at this critical concern and develop new research questions?

Are we ready to rethink some of the methodological considerations of the fourfold western theological approach of Bible, church history, theology and pastoral ministry to adopt totally different (wholistic) models developed in the emerging nations?

Some rethinking in this regard is already happening in the global south itself. I can personally speak of Asia. Wati Longchar, an eminent theological teacher and missiologist from India, presented the following critique of missional education in an unpublished paper presented at a recent FTESEA meeting in October 2018 under the theme of “Journey in Training Church Leaders: Looking Past, Challenges Ahead and Future Partnership”:

“We have curriculums on ecumenism, comparative study of religions, interfaith dialogue, feminist theology, minjung theology, dalit theology, indigenous theology, eco-theology, HIV & AIDS, Disability, etc. But they are not within the mainstream of theological studies. We try to integrate those emerging courses within the inherited traditional western fourfold curricula (Bible, theology, church history and practical ministry) patterns. Some colleges do not offer those courses. Many colleges offer as Elective or Optional courses which many students do not register because they are over loaded by required courses. This paradigm of “integration” or “addition” needs to be changed. Again, if we make further analysis of the whole pattern of theological education, one will discover an urban biased theological education. Theological education is still shaped by the Enlightenment paradigm – philosophical-cognitive development approach focusing on training denominational leaders. This is the crux of the problem in theological education particularly in Asia.”

4. Dialogue related to multiple expressions of Christianity and theologies in the world: We speak of the North-South dialogue in economics and politics, and the South-South Dialogue in global economic and cultural corporations. However, non-Euro and non-US-centric research on the dialogue about various Christian expressions and theologies remains underdeveloped. Yet I believe this is an extremely important field if we wish to develop a wholistic view of world theologies and missiologies. This requires investment in collaborative research with multiple scholars in many parts of the world and the church.

5. World Christianity and world peace: Our world is in dire need of healing, peace, and reconciliation. This strategic point requires study and research on such issues as Christian contributions to, and challenges in, world peace, global Christian scholars’ roles in promoting world peace and reconciliation, and the interdisciplinary research questions that can be developed to study issues in the dynamics of world Christianity and world peace.

Some Challenges
The world mission today takes place from “everywhere to everywhere.” I would like to identity five challenges we have to face to promote World Christianity as a subject. All world Christianity programmes, whether at the undergraduate, graduate, or professional levels, must respond to the main audiences (publics) of theological education: the church, academia, and society. This requires further discussion and practical application.

  • It is essential to extend beyond traditional disciplinary areas, such as church history, missiology, and evangelism (I prefer the term to ‘evangelization’), to develop new knowledge bases to address contemporary changes and secure the position World Christianity deserves as a university subject.

  • International collaborative research: the authenticity and future of World Christianity study programmes will depend on the degree to which our research is international and collaborative, in that our ability to integrate various perspectives, schools of thoughts, and methods, particularly from the global south, is critical to the field. However, this may pose challenges to some Western scientific approaches to the study of mission.

  • We must determine the extent to which scholars in World Christianity both in the global north and south are willing to engage with professional sociologists and social analysts in their critical appraisals of the global church and Christianity’s presence in the world.

  • Church leadership everywhere should be encouraged to educate their seminarians, theological institutions, young pastors, and the laity to study Christianity from a global perspective at the same time that they study their own church history or growth.

  • The last (but not least) challenge I think of is the affordability and accessibility of World Christianity studies and research and the fruits they offer to the wider community. World Christianity as a subject should be available to all students of mission. This will make it simpler to promote World Christianity within academia as well as at the public level better and thereby to take World Christianity to the common people.

I hope these insights will offer fresh perspectives as we progress in appraising the status of World Christianity as an innovative area of study and research and missional application.

Monday, November 26, 2018

Recommended Reading: Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies Papers

This past August was the 14th meeting of the Oxford Institute of Methodist Theological Studies. The theme for the 2018 meeting was "“THY GRACE RESTORE, THY WORK REVIVE”: Revival, Reform, and Revolution in Global Methodism." The meeting brought together scholars of Methodism from around the world, though especially from the British Isles and North America.

Papers from that Institute meeting are now available online.

Papers are grouped into eleven working groups, as follows:
1. Biblical Studies (Hebrew Bible / Old Testament)
2. Biblical Studies (New Testament)
3. Ecumenical Studies
4. Interreligious Studies
5. Methodist History
6. Mission and Evangelism
7. Practical Theology
8. Theological Education
9. Theology and Ethics
10. Wesley Studies
11. Worship and Spirituality

Just over 125 papers are included in the collection. This collection is sure to be a rich resource for those interested in learning more of the current state of academic conversations about various facets of Methodism.

Monday, November 19, 2018

Recommended Readings: Updates on the UMC and injustices in the Philippines

As previously shared on this blog ([1] and [2]), The United Methodist Church in the Philippines is struggling to confront and name injustices in a country with a significant amount of state-sanctioned violence, especially against the poor and indigenous people. The following are three recent stories that continue the tale of the UMC's social engagement in the Philippines.

UMC's Church and Society agency shared a story about a Solidarity Team from the Cal-Pac Annual Conference that traveled to the Philippines over the summer. It includes what the Solidarity Team learning about violence and injustices in the Philippines.

UMNS covered a story about an All Saints' Day service at St. Paul UMC in Manila that lifted up prayers for and shared the experiences of victims of extrajudicial killings and their family members.

UMC Deaconess Norma Dollaga wrote a blog post about what she has learned about the plight of sugarcane workers in the Philippines, especially during the "Time of Death," when lack of income raises the risk of starvation.

Friday, November 16, 2018

New Mission Area: Access to Electronic Information Technology

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Four weeks ago, I raised the question of what features of the world and its various contexts in the 21st century might constitute new areas of mission, in the same way that features of the world 50, 100, or 150 years ago led to areas of mission work that we now consider central: education, poverty relief, healthcare, etc.

This week, I suggest a fourth possible new area of mission work: access to electronic information technology. This area is in part a rethinking of a former area of mission work: paper-based information technology.

Missionaries were a key player in a previous wave of access to printed information. This type of print information technology mission was carried out through translation work, education, and printing. Missionaries were leading figures in promoting the development of written languages for previously oral-only languages. They were leading figures in promoting literacy in many languages, regardless of whether or not they were previously written. Missionaries (especially Methodist missionaries) started printing presses, newspapers, and magazines in many countries around the world, helping to democratize access to print materials.

The incentive for missionaries in promoting literacy was so that converts (and potential converts) could access religious writings--primarily the Bible, but also hymns, devotional texts, and other religious and theological works--and so that native Christians could communicate with missionaries and each other.

For those used to reading, it is easy to overlook the basic fact that literacy is not just a skill, but a skill at using a set of technology--pens, paper, and printing presses are all items of technology. Reading and writing is thus an information technology.

Yet when the phrase "information technology" is used today, it denotes not print material, but electronic communications equipment - cell phones, email, the internet, etc. All of these forms of technology depend upon skills of reading and writing built upon earlier, physical forms of reading and writing technology, but transposed into the medium of electronics.

Missionaries are not the pioneers of contemporary electronic information technology in the same way that they were of paper-based information technology. Businesses, along with education, government, and secular nonprofits lead the way here.

Yet it is worth asking why missionaries are closer to the forefront here. Is access to the Bible and other devotional and theological materials really only best done through paper? Are there no religious (or other missional) benefits to having access to the world of electronic information technology? Certainly many in the West use information technology to access the Bible, to receive daily devotions, to access online resources in theological, ethical, and other church-related materials. Why do we assume these materials are only appropriate or relevant for Western Christians? Is there no benefit to Christians around the world being better able to communicate with each other?

Access to the Internet varies significantly by country. While the average percentage of the population online in the 50 most well-connected countries is 84.4%, in the rest of the world, it's only 31.6%. Cell phones are much more widely available, and SMS messages along with apps like WhatsApp represent a significant, albeit more limited, form of information technology access for many in developing countries. Certainly, though, there is more to be done in providing access to electronic information technology

Moreover, The United Methodist Church is already doing work in this area. It is both distributing new forms of electronic information technology, such as the e-reader program for theological education in the central conferences, and using existing electronic information technology to new missional purposes, such as the use of text messages to combat the spread of Ebola.

These efforts are good starts, but certainly the types of work in this area of mission could be expanded. Thinking of providing access to electronic information technology as a basic form of mission work (and not just a nifty means to an end) would help to further such work. Moreover, seeing this type of mission work as a continuation of a long-standing mission focus gives historic emphasis to the work, even as it brings it into a new era.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

General Conference 2019 and the Null Hypothesis

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

When I taught at Ripon College, I had a colleague in the biology department who would frequently challenge the faculty during our discussions with the following question: "What's the null hypothesis here?"

In statistics, the null hypothesis is an assumed hypothesis set up so that researchers can try to prove it false as part of proving that some other hypothesis is much more likely to be true. Usually, the null hypothesis assumes no correlation between phenomena under study, no impact from experimental interventions, no change under test conditions, or the like.

General Conference 2019 has been presented as an opportunity for delegates to select between three plans: the One Church Plan, the Traditionalist Plan, and the Connectional Conference Plan.

If we were being scientific in our analysis of GC2019, we might call the assumption that the One Church Plan will pass Hypothesis 1, the assumption that the Traditional Plan will pass Hypothesis 2, and the assumption that the Connectional Conference Plan will pass Hypothesis 3. Much has been written about the relatively likelihoods of Hypothesis 1 and Hypothesis 2 being true.

Yet any analysis that is focused solely on these three plans as possible outcomes overlooks the Null Hypothesis in this situation. The Null Hypothesis, at least as I see it, is that no plan will pass GC 2019. No action by GC2019 is the baseline scenario against which the likelihood of other scenarios must be measured.

To prove that any of Hypotheses 1-3 are true, the Null Hypothesis must first be proven false. In other words, to show that GC2019 will adopt a plan, it must first be shown that it will not adopt no plan.

The difference is perhaps subtle, but it changes the analysis if the question is not, "Which plan is more likely to be passed: the One Church Plan or the Traditional Plan?" but instead, "Is it likely that GC 2019 will pass a plan? If so, which plan is most likely to be passed?"

Of course, others have acknowledged that it is a possibility GC2019 could do nothing. Yet most of the conversations I see (on both ends of the spectrum and in the middle) are, "What will you/I/we do if X plan passes?" I have seen a lot less sustained conversation about, "What will you/I/we do if no plan passes?"

Yet it may be worth having those conversations. The Null Hypothesis may well prove to be false, but it may also prove to hold true.

Moreover, the Null Hypothesis does not mean no change in the church. It means no plan, but change will come, with a plan or without one. What could that change look like and how might various actors respond?

Unless one is willing to contemplate the possibility of the Null Hypothesis, one will be unprepared for and surprised by the changes that will come if it is true.

Monday, November 12, 2018

Recommended Reading: Methodist bishops' statements on migration

In light of recent debate about caravans of migrants from Central America traveling through Mexico to the United States, episcopal leaders from several Methodist denominations have issued statements affirming the importance of treating migrants with empathy and dignity and recognizing their full legal rights.

The Methodist Church of Mexico issued a statement on October 20 signed by all six of their bishops. You can find that statement in English and Spanish versions.

The United Methodist Council of Bishops issued a statement on November 7, which was co-signed by the Mexican bishops, the President of the Methodist Church of El Salvador, and the supervising bishop for the United Methodist mission in Honduras.

Friday, November 9, 2018

New Mission Area: Mental Health

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Three weeks ago, I raised the question of what features of the world and its various contexts in the 21st century might constitute new areas of mission, in the same way that features of the world 50, 100, or 150 years ago led to areas of mission work that we now consider central: education, poverty relief, healthcare, etc.

This week, I suggest a third new area of mission work: mental health.

The church has long been involved in health and healing work as a form of mission. In various times and places, this sort of mission work has ranged from faith healing to patient nursing of the sick to the spread of Western medicine. But it has usually focused on physical aliments: sickness, disability, injury.

Mental health has only relatively recently (within the past century or so) been understood as a category of human ailment. And there has often been a good deal of disbelief or shame involved in using the framework of mental health to describe human ailing.

Yet mental health problems are quite common, more so than many diseases. Estimates of the overall incidence of mental health disorders is about 15% globally, and 4% each for depression and anxiety. Overall incidence of cancer, by comparison, is about .2%. Women and people living in Western countries are more likely to experience mental health disorders. In the US, overall prevalence is just over 18%.

Despite the prevalence of mental health disorders, churches have often struggled to know how to respond to mental health, perhaps because of discomfort or difficulty in discerning the line between the cognitive/emotional and the spiritual.

Yet the church has a great potential to treat mental health in holistic ways that include cognitive, emotional, and spiritual components without reducing any of these elements to the others. Indeed, we don't see prayer and medication as mutually exclusive approaches to treating physical disease. Why should we see prayer and counseling (and perhaps medication) as mutually exclusive approaches to mental health?

Since the church proclaims freedom from our burdens, it would seem that mental health care could be a promising new form of mission work. Indeed, since Christianity proclaims joy and peace as among the fruits of the Spirit, it would seem a failure if the church did not address mental health issues that can rob people of these elements of a healthy, holy life.

Moreover, mental health is an area that the church is already engaged in, at least in places. Drawing on his experience of church work with mental health, Peter Bellini wrote a fine three-part series for UM & Global a few years ago on "Global Mental Health and the Church." For those looking to explore this topic further, I commend it to you:

Global Mental Health and the Church, Part I
Global Mental Health and the Church, Part II
Global Mental Health and the Church, Part III

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Recommended Reading: Global Ministries' statement on Sri Lanka

This recommended reading comes courtesy of Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at Global Ministries, regular contributor to UM & Global, and Sri Lankan native. The statement is republished in full below. The original can be found here.

A statement on the current situation in Sri Lanka
By Thomas Kemper

The General Board of Global Ministries of The United Methodist Church is deeply and prayerfully concerned about the current political crisis in Sri Lanka. We extend our pastoral solidarity to all peace-loving communities of all faiths and ethnicities and to our mission partners in the country, an Asian democracy still emerging from civil conflict officially ended in 2009.

The new troubles arise over the office of prime minister. On Oct. 26, 2018, President Maithripala Sirisena named a replacement for Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe in violation, many feel, of the Sri Lankan constitution. The effort to seat Mahinda Rajapaksa as prime minister caused chaos in the country. The resulting political impasse can likely be resolved only by convening Parliament to deal with the matter, an action the president has resisted.

Global Ministries has strong bonds with a range of Christian (Methodist and ecumenical) and other religious communities in Sri Lanka as a result of humanitarian and mission partnerships over the years.

Sri Lanka as a nation suffered 26 years of war due to the ethnic conflict and war that ended about a decade ago. Since then, various peace-loving and democratic movements, including the Christian churches, continue to engage with the people of Sri Lanka in the work of reconciliation, healing and national unity, along with socioeconomic development. The country is working toward a new constitution in which rights of all communities will be safeguarded. The people of Sri Lanka elected a new government in 2015 with the hope of establishing lasting peace, development and protection of the human rights of all.

As steps toward peace in the current crisis, Global Ministries:

• Urges the president and legislative leaders to convene the Parliament and resolve the matter of the prime minister by peaceful means
• Urges the government to respect the mandates of the democratic change enacted in 2015;
• Urges all people of Sri Lanka to affirm their commitment to democracy and justice by peaceful, nonviolent means; and
• Urges responsible authorities to protect the freedom of expression and the media.

We join with colleagues and partners in Sri Lanka as they share the message of Jesus in Matthew 5:9, NRSV, which reads, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.

*Thomas G. Kemper is the General Secretary of Global Ministries.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Recommended Reading: Lisa Beth White on planning a short-term mission trip

Lisa Beth White of Sister of Hope Ministries has put together a helpful step-by-step guide for churches planning short-term mission trips. Lisa Beth's guide is essential reading for any congregation that is interested in going on such a trip while taking into consideration the best of current missiological thinking. Lisa Beth emphasizes the importance of relationship-building and faith-building as goals of the trip that need to be built into the planning.

Planning a Short-Term Mission Trip - Part One: The Destination

Planning a Short-Term Mission Trip - Part Two: The Work Project

Planning a Short-Term Mission Trip - Part Three: Do No Harm

Planning a Short-Term Mission Trip - Part Four: Putting a Team Together

Planning a Short-Term Mission Trip - Post-Mission Trip Retreat

Friday, November 2, 2018

New Mission Area: Climate Refugees

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Two weeks ago, I raised the question of what features of the world and its various contexts in the 21st century might constitute new areas of mission, in the same way that features of the world 50, 100, or 150 years ago led to areas of mission work that we now consider central: education, poverty relief, healthcare, etc.

This week, I suggest a second new area of mission work: climate refugees.

Climate refugees, or environmental migrants, are people who move because their place of residence becomes uninhabitable because of changing climatic conditions. The nature of those changing climatic conditions vary based the locale, from disastrous storms to sinking underwater to thawing permafrost to desertification. While these changes affect countries in different and unequal ways, climate change refugees may come from all over the world, including Western countries such as the United States. Experts warn that such climate changes could generate tens of millions of refugees, creating the "world's biggest refugee crisis." Yet this category of refugee is only just beginning to receive attention.

As the number and perceived significance of climate refugees as a category of displaced people grows, climate change refugees will present a potential new area of mission for Christians.  Of course, this issue is far beyond what Christians can tackle alone, but it should be an issue with which Christians engage, in partnership with others.

In many ways, Christian mission with climate change refugees will be a continuation of previous areas of Christian mission. Christians have been significantly involved in mission with refugees for the last century. Disaster relief and recover, which is related to mission with climate change refugees displaced by catastrophic storms or famine, has been an important area of mission work, especially for The United Methodist Church, over the past fifty years. Mission with migrants is getting increasing attention, and climate change refugees are a form of migrant.

Yet there are reasons why it may behoove the church to think of mission with climate change refugees as being something different that mission with other refugees. Refugees are typically displaced by some catastrophic event - war, a disaster, famine, etc. Some climate change refugees do fall into this category.

Yet for other climate change refugees, becoming a refugee is more akin to how becoming a migrant works. These climate change refugees recognize that the place in which they are living is untenable and decide to move, but there is no single precipitating event that leads to a wave of people making that decision at the same time. The move is necessary, but not forced.

For climate change refugees of either kind - catastrophic or gradual - becoming a refugee because of climate change also has this unique feature: there is no possibility of going home. Many refugees do not want to or are not able to go home because of political and economic conditions in their homeland. But for climate change refugees, home ceases to exist. It is obliterated because of changing climatic conditions.

Here may be a unique opportunity for Christian mission with climate change refugees. What spiritual and psychological resources can Christians, as people who "have no abiding home" and whose message is about new life after death and departure from the old, bring to mission with climate change refugees? How can we not only help care for their physical needs in the process of relocating but also help them make sense of and find hope within this transition where there is no going back?

Mission with climate change refugees with thus be both a continuation of existing areas of mission and a new area of mission in its own right. But we can expect that recognition of this problem and of the church's need to respond will increase as the number of climate change refugees does.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Jerome Sahabandhu: My Neighbor from the Baha'i Faith

Today's post is by Rev. Dr. Jerome Sahabandhu, Mission Theologian in Residence at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Rev. Dr. Sahabandhu's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.


This year Global Ministries headquarters in Atlanta has continued to invite various religious leaders to offer interfaith seminars in our Mission Dialogue Forums. Mr. Harold Edwards, a long-time teacher and practitioner at the Bahá’í Unity Center in Decatur, Georgia was present at Global Ministries office on the August 22, 2018 to lead an educative session for our staff.

There are 6 million Bahá'ís in the world in 235 countries. Around 6,000 live in Britain, and 150,000 live in the US. Each year, around one million people visit the Bahá’í Shrine, terraces, and gardens on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel. In Iran, where the Bahá’í Faith originated, there are now about 300,000 Bahá’ís, constituting the largest religious minority in that country.

Foundation of the Faith
The Bahá’í faith is based on the teachings of Bahá’u’lláh (Glory of God). Bahá’u’lláh, who is seen as a manifestation of God, is the prophet founder of the Bahá’í faith. He was born in 1817 in Tehran, the capital of Persia (now Iran). His coming was heralded by another who was called the Bab. Abdu’l-Bahá, the son and successor of Bahá’u’lláh, was the interpreter of Bahá’u’lláh’s teachings. Abdu’l-Bahá spread Bahá’í teachings in Europe and North America and established the world headquarters of the Bahá’í’ faith in Haifa, Israel. He developed Bahá’í ideas of social reform and international justice and expounded on Bahá’í beliefs through thousands of talks and letters. From 1921, Shoghi Effendi continued the work of Abdu’l-Bahá as head of the Bahá’í faith and developed the administrative structure which currently directs Bahá’ís. Shoghi Effendi was the great-grandson of Bahá’u’lláh.

Fundamental of Bahá’í Faith
Oneness of God - One of the fundamental teachings of the Bahá’í faith is the principle that the universe and all that is within it has been created by one God who has absolute control and knowledge over this creation. Human beings may call God by different names, but the Bahá’ís understand that all are speaking about the same unique being.

Oneness of religion - This fundamental teaching indicates that all the great religions of the world are divine in origin. From time to time in the history of humanity God has sent manifestations of God, who are principally the founders of the major revealed religions, to assist humanity in its collective evolution. These manifestations of God are the educators of humanity who, through their teachings and laws, establish social systems according to human beings’ level of maturity at the time. According to the principle of progressive revelation, Bahá’ís believe that when humanity reaches the next level of growth, God will send another manifestation to educate and guide humanity.

Oneness of humanity - This principle refers to the declaration that the entire human race is one unified species. It implies that everyone has the same basic God-given capacities which are, in essence, noble. The physical appearance of a human being does not make one ethnic group superior to another.

God’s Prophets
Bahá'ís believe that God's prophets or messengers (whom they call manifestations of God) provide the most complete knowledge of God available at their particular given time. The writings associated with these prophets are the means through which an individual can get a deeper knowledge of God. Bahá'ís believe that God reveals his divine purpose through his manifestations. Their writings give guidance for the spiritual progress of individuals and by doing so help to shape society. The Manifestations of God include Adam, Abraham, Moses, Krishna, Zoroaster, Buddha, Jesus Christ, Muhammad, The Báb, Bahá'u'lláh.

Sacred Texts
The Bahá’í scriptures consist of the books, essays and letters written by the Báb, Bahá’u’lláh and Abdu’l-Bahá. The Most Holy Book (Kitab-i-Aqdas) is the book of laws revealed by Bahá’u’lláh. Other well-known writings of Bahá’u’lláh are The Book of Certitude, Gleanings from the Writings of Bahá’u’lláh, The Hidden Words, The Seven Valleys and The Four Valleys.

Structure and Organization
The Bahá’í community has no clergy. Following an administrative framework set down by Bahá’u’lláh, the faith is organized around a set of elected governing councils which operate at the local, national and international levels. Election is by secret ballot. Election campaign is forbidden and there is no system of nominations. As the community grew the Bahá’í administrative institution was established. In 1963 the world governing body of the Bahá’í faith, the Universal House of Justice, was elected. The Universal House of Justice resides in Haifa, Israel and consists of nine members elected every five years from the Bahá’ís of the world through a democratic system.

Prayer Life
Prayer Daily private prayer is a religious obligation for all Bahá’ís from the age of 15. Bahá’ís must recite one of the three daily obligatory prayers in accordance with specific directions. The short obligatory prayer is recited once every 24 hours between noon and sunset. The medium obligatory prayer is recited three times a day, in the morning, at noon and in the evening. The long obligatory prayer is recited once every 24 hours at any time.

The Nineteen Day Feast
The Nineteen Day Feast is the monthly Bahá’í community meeting when followers get together to pray, discuss, consult on social issues and administrative matters, and plan social activities. The Feast is held every nineteen days in each Bahá’í community, usually on the first day of each Bahá’í month. The Nineteen Day Feast is the most important occasion for communication between Bahá’í administrative institutions and members of the faith.

Places of Worship
Most Bahá’í meetings occur in individuals’ homes, local Bahá’í centers or rented facilities. However, there are currently eight Bahá’í Houses of Worship in the world. Each House of Worship has its own distinctive design, but all Bahá’í Houses of Worship have nine sides and doors and a central dome. The number nine is significant in the Bahá’í faith. The Arabic word baha (splendor) has a numerical value of nine. Nine, as the highest single digit number, symbolizes completeness. For Bahá’ís, the number nine symbolizes completeness and fulfilment, concepts which they believe are embodied in their religion. The nine doors signify the faith’s openness to people of all religions.

Work for World Peace
Baha’is believe that peace is the result of determination and attitude. Before there can be world peace there must be a will among all nations to have peace on earth. This will come from spiritual and moral resources. War continues to be a terrible feature of modern times. All nations speak of the longing for peace, but they seem unable to achieve it. Baha’is identify the barriers to world peace as nationalism, racism, poverty, and religious strife. They believe that the Baha’i Faith offers a practical model for breaking down these barriers by working for universal humanity, harmony and justice.

Christian - Bahá’í Dialogue
From a conceptual level ‘Jesus the prophet’ and the ‘oneness of humanity’ offer good basis for dialogue. But I believe the most significant area of cooperation lies in our common challenge: the task of peace-making in the lager society as world faiths in building a better, more humane world and a sustainable environment for all living beings.

Monday, October 29, 2018

Recommended Reading: Taylor Denyer on whether or not to do short-term mission

Although these articles are a few years old at this point, Taylor Walters Denyer, of Friendly Planet Missiology, has written a couple of short pieces to help churches think through the pros and cons of sending mission teams on what have been typically called "short-term mission trips."

In "Should We Send a Team? A Historical Perspective," Taylor investigates the historical background of such trips to develop some criteria for whether such a trip is a good idea.

In "Why I'll Stop Talking about Short-Term Mission Trips," Taylor succinctly presents the need for trips to be part of longer-term relationships.

In "When Short-Term Mission Trips Make a Difference: A Testimonial," Taylor shares her own story of being transformed through mission trips, even as she cautions Americans to be realistic about what the outcomes of such trips are likely to be.

If your church has read through Taylor's material and still thinks a trip is the right thing to do, next week I will share posts from Lisa Beth White of Sister of Hope Ministries on how to go about planning such a trip in an appropriate way.

Friday, October 26, 2018

New Mission Area: Loneliness

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Last week, I raised the question of what features of the world and its various contexts in the 21st century might constitute new areas of mission, in the same way that features of the world 50, 100, or 150 years ago led to areas of mission work that we now consider central: education, poverty relief, healthcare, etc.

This week, I suggest the first new area of mission work: loneliness.

Kurt Vonnegut wrote a book entitled Slapstick, or Lonesome No More! The subtitle and the plot point which it references have stuck with me. In Vonnegut's imagined future, the problem of loneliness in the USA has gotten so bad that the government intervenes by assigning people new middle names that create new families and new kin groups to solve the problem of loneliness.

Even Vonnegut regarded this book as one of his lesser works, but I think the recognition that modern, Western society is incredibly isolating and that this problem might require a solution beyond just telling individuals to try harder to make friends is nevertheless insightful.

Nearly half of all Americans report feeling lonely, a figured that has steadily increased since the 1980s. One survey of the challenges facing the communities around twelve UMC churches in New Jersey found loneliness made the top three on every list. Some experts are asking whether loneliness might constitute a health epidemic. Great Britain has appointed a Minister for Loneliness.

It seems that loneliness is indeed a problem for many in the modern West and an increasing problem at that. Vonnegut doesn't think religion could solve the problem of loneliness, but as Christians, we should be more optimistic about the power of our faith.

Moreover, there are good theological reasons why the problem of loneliness would make sense as a mission area for the church. Not all worldly problems need become areas of mission work, but since the Christian faith is inherently about community and connection with God and one another, loneliness is a problem that Christians should care about and should have some resources to address.

Most Christian churches probably think of themselves as good at community. Yet really, they're good at community for those who are already part of the church. Thinking of loneliness and its solutions of relationship and community as mission areas helps shift the conversation about community from being an internally-focused one to an externally-focused one.

Of course, for Christians, the ultimate form of community is Christian community, so invitation to become part of Christian community through evangelism is one way to address the problem of loneliness. That requires, of course, that our churches actually function as places of community and relationship development so that when we invite others in, we are indeed inviting them into a web of relationships that will actually reduce their loneliness.

Moreover, in our evangelism and invitation to Christian community, we should keep in mind that although Protestants often think of conversion as beginning with believing, which is followed by Christian living and the incorporation into Christian community, there is good evidence that conversion in contemporary America oftentimes follows the opposite trajectory of belong, behave, believe (or belong, believe, become). In other words, it starts with community that includes those not already Christians.

Whether or not connecting with the lonely results in them becoming part of our congregations, there is merit to focusing on loneliness as a mission area. Methodists don't just feed or educate or heal only those who are or become Methodist. We recognize these areas of mission express our convictions about who God is and who God calls us to be. They may result in conversions, or they may not, but either way, God still calls us to do them. Reducing loneliness can be seen in the same way.

Thus, as churches in the US and elsewhere in the modern West consider how they may be in mission to the areas around them, one question they could ask themselves is, "How can we create community and relationships with and among those around us, especially the most lonely?" Churches should push themselves to thinking about how their answers to these questions can go beyond just inviting people to worship and instead seek innovative ways of fostering connection for the lonely within their local areas.

The range of possibilities for this type of mission is wide - from climbing gyms at church to cafes for the elderly to kayaking. Churches with legacy buildings that are larger than current congregational needs can turn these buildings into mission assets by using them as a convening space for community. Indeed, there are many ways the church can help people be lonesome no more.

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Wesley Didn't Say It

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Today, I'm joining in the Methodist blogosphere past-time of debunking John Wesley quotes. Within the last couple of years, I have seen increased used of a quote attributed to John Wesley that reads, “I continue to dream and pray about a revival of holiness in our day that moves forth in mission and creates authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God's creational intentions.” The problem with this quote? Wesley didn't say it.

The quote appears to come from a book entitled, How To Pray: The Best of John Wesley on Prayer, where it is attributed to Wesley. I'm not sure where the editor or compiler of this book came up with this quote, but it is false to say it came from Wesley.

First off, it should be noted that the language of this quote is very modern. This can be documented with Google Books' Ngram tool. According to the Ngram, use of the word "unleashed" doesn't start to grow until the 1900s. The phrase "authentic community" does not start to appear in the English language until the mid-1960s. And the word "empowerment" is even more recent, not catching on until the 1980s. Certainly the language doesn't fit an 18th century Britishman.

Does this quote reflect sentiments in keeping with John Wesley? Yes and no.

Certainly, Wesley did pray for a revival of holiness in his day. In an authentic quote, Wesley mused, "Q. What may we reasonably believe to be God's design in raising up the Preachers called Methodists? A. To reform the nation and, in particular, the Church; to spread scriptural holiness over the land." For Wesley, the whole point of Methodism was a revival of holiness.

As for whether Wesley expected that revival to "move forth in mission," it depends on how one understands mission. Wesley did expect that scriptural holiness would show forth in works of mercy that include caring for the poor, sick, and imprisoned in Methodists' local settings. But as Monday's post on Thomas Coke mentioned, other than his ill-fated trip to Georgia, Wesley wasn't very interested in foreign mission. He was focused on the revival of holiness in the British Isles.

Would Wesley have expected his holiness revival to "create authentic community in which each person can be unleashed through the empowerment of the Spirit to fulfill God's creational intentions"? That's a bit harder to say, because not only is the language contemporary, some of the concepts behind it is as well. Wesley did believe that Christian fellowship, or community, was an necessary means to grow in holiness. His theology did give a significant role to the work of the Spirit in the process of sanctification. Wesley did believe that the process of sanctification, or growth in holiness, restored people to the image of God in which they had been created and allowed them to live in the way that God had created them to do before sin crippled their ability to do so.

At its best, then, this quote is mostly congruent with John Wesley's theology and interests in language that is not at all congruent with his style. Rather than use this quote, Methodists would be better off using Wesley's quote about "spead[ing] scriptural holiness" to talk about Wesley's theology and vision for early Methodism and using Thomas Coke when they want to talk about international mission and the global church.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Recommended Reading: Thomas Coke on Mission

When United Methodists talk about mission, we often use John Wesley's quote about "the world is my parish" as a way of linking mission to Methodist DNA. (The actual quote is "I look upon all the world as my parish.") UM & Global itself has used that sentiment on its social media pages.

The only problem with this use of that quote is that John Wesley wasn't talking about international mission or the global church when he wrote it. He was talking about his right to preach in other people's parishes, with or without their consent. Frankly, other than his ill-fated Georgia expedition, Wesley wasn't that interested in spreading Christianity outside the British Isles. He was more interested in reforming Christianity within them.

The founding Methodist who did care a lot about international mission and the church outside the British Isles is Thomas Coke. Coke was one of the first two bishops of Methodism in America and was involved with spreading Methodism to the Caribbean, Canada, Ireland, France, and Sierra Leone. He died en route to start Methodism in Sri Lanka, with companions headed to South Africa as well. You can learn more about Coke in this short biography and this short video about him.

Coke also wrote the first Methodist mission literature: a pamphlet entitled, "An Address to the pious and benevolent, proposing an annual subscription for the support of missionaries in the Highlands and adjacent islands of Scotland, the isles of Jersey, Guernsey, and Newfoundland, the West Indies, and the provinces of Nova Scotia and Quebec." He wrote it in 1786, over twenty years before William Carey's famous pamphlet, "An Enquiry into the Obligations of Christians to Use Means for the Conversion of the Heathens," which is often credited as kicking Anglo-American mission work into high gear.

Coke's pamphlet is still worth a read. It also contains this lovely affirmation of the global church, which this blog has adopted as its new Methodist mission/worldwide church affirmation: "Oceans are nothing to God, and they should be nothing to his [sic] people, in respect to the affection they bear one another." As United Methodists around the world, may we be affectionate to each other as Thomas Coke envisioned.

Friday, October 19, 2018

New Mission Areas for the 21st Century

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Mission has always been contextual. In part, that means that how mission is done fits (or should fit) the context in which it is done. But it can also be taken to mean that what mission is done must fit (or respond to) the context in which it is done.

A few forms of mission are enduring. Evangelism is a component of mission in all times and places. Mission has always (or almost always) shown concern for the poor. Yet, even within these enduring forms of mission, the activities paired with evangelism and how Christians have shown concern for the poor have varied.

As the Western mission industrial complex was coming into its fullest flowering in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the forms of mission it undertook were shaped significantly by two types of contexts which were the focus of a lot of American and European mission efforts: urban centers in the West and non-modern societies outside of the US. How Western Christians understood and continue to understand the components of mission was significantly shaped by their experiences in each of these two types of contexts.

In non-modern societies outside the West, Christian mission came to include not only evangelism but also medical work, education, women's rights, publishing, famine relief, and economic development. In some of these areas, Christian missionaries were drawing upon longer histories of church expertise and activity (education has been a function of the Western church since the medieval time period, for instance), but in all of these areas, missionaries were also responding to their perceptions of the needs of the mission fields in which they worked.

In urban centers in the West, Christian mission came to include not only evangelism but also medical work, literacy, poverty relief--including food and clothing distribution, temperance, and women's rights. This list overlaps with the list of mission work done outside the West, and there was at the time discussion of the similarities between work among the urban poor in the West and that in non-Western countries.

In the middle of the 20th century, the range of mission work was expanded through interactions with new historical contexts to include refugee relief and resettlement (especially in response to the refugee crises of the world wars), disaster relief (growing out of post-war rebuilding efforts), and social justice advocacy (coming out of post-colonialism and minority rights movements).

For the most part, all of these previous forms of mission continue today (with the possible exception of temperance and publishing as major foci). In part, that is because the perceived issues justifying each of these forms of mission work continue to exist. There is still sickness and poverty in the world. But in part, these areas of mission work continue because the institutional infrastructure created by previous generations was set up in such a way to ensure continued focus on these particular forms of mission.

But what if we were attempting to develop a set of forms of Christian mission that were responding to contexts in the 21st century and not merely continuing the traditions of mission that we have inherited? What issues might we see as critical for the church to address? This is not an attempt to adopt a "needs-based" missiology but instead an attempt to, as J.C. Hoekendijk argued for, put the world and the kingdom of God into conversation. What areas of mission focus would be suggested by the world in 2018 and the kingdom that were not part of previous models of mission? What particular contexts would these types of mission be most relevant to? In short, what might be "new mission areas" for the 21st century?

Over the next several weeks, I will suggest some possible new mission areas that I see - loneliness, climate refugees, mental health, and others. But I would also like to hear from you readers: What do you see as possible new areas for mission focus in the 21st century? Comment below to suggest topics or email me a post with your take on this question.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Tribalism in the American UMC

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

Consider this description of American United Methodists:

"Progressive Activists and Devoted Conservatives together comprise just 14 percent of the American church membership—yet it often feels as if our denominational conversation has become a shouting match between these two groups at the furthest ends of the spectrum. Together with Traditional Conservatives (who share values and tribalism like the Devoted Conservatives, just less intensely), they compose the 33 percent of people in the groups we label the Wings.

"Combined, the members of these three tribes comprise just one-third of the membership, but they often dominate our denominational conversation. Tribalism runs deep in their thinking. Their distrust and fear of the opposing side drives many of the people in these groups, and they have especially negative opinions of each other. When people today speak about how United Methodists seem to hate each other, they're usually talking about the opinions and behaviors of the Wings.

"The Wings are also the most unified internally. On many of the most contentious issues—race, immigration, LGBTQI+ rights—the people in these three tribes express high levels of unanimity. Often more than 90 percent of people in one of these groups holds the same view about a controversial issue, and typically, it will be the reverse of whatever the opposing wing believes. In contrast, the remaining two-thirds of American United Methodists at the center show more diversity in their theological views, express less certainty about them, and are more open to compromise and change—even on issues that we all tend to consider highly polarizing."

Sounds pretty accurate, right? Only here's the catch - this isn't a description of American United Methodists. It's a description of the American electorate from the Hidden Tribes of America project, which I changed slightly to shift references from the nation to the church. The fact that it can be read so easily as a description of the church makes the point that divisions in The United Methodist Church in the United States mirror the divisions within wider society.


Increasingly, scholars and commentators have been referring to US society as becoming more "tribalized" - that is, divided into exclusive and competing groups constructed around communal identities. Amy Chua is perhaps the scholar most associated with this analysis, but it has been adopted by many others. The Hidden Tribes project takes such an approach. The ways in which their description of tribalism in American politics maps so neatly onto the church shows us that the American church has become tribal as well.

For many Americans, thinking of their society as a tribal society is new. During the Enlightenment and colonialism, the West (including the United States) took great pride in its belief that it had advanced beyond a tribal basis for organizing society. Thus, Americans in general may struggle to figure out what a resurgence of tribalism means for American society. Similarly, American Christians may struggle to figure out what a resurgence of tribalism means for the American church.

Yet Americans do have Christian brothers and sisters who have long experience in trying to think through the implications for and intersections of tribalism and the church: African Christians. While the impact of tribalism on and in the church is still a contentious issue that Africans have by no means solved, they do have a long history of trying to bring Christian theological and ethical resources to bear on tribal conflicts in church and society and have acquired a good deal of wisdom in the process.

The debates over homosexuality leading up to the called General Conference in February of next year are perhaps the biggest expression of tribal conflicts in the US UMC today. What if, in the face of these tribal conflicts, American United Methodists were to ask their African sisters and brothers not "Which tribe will you align with?" but "What can you teach us about how to handle tribal conflicts in the church?" It might not end conflicts in the US church, but it might help us to move forward in new ways that transcend rather than merely replicate the conflicts in the broader US society.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Recommended Viewing: Bishop John Yambasu videos

United Methodist Communications has put out a series of six short (1-2 min.) video interviews with Bishop John Yambasu of the Sierra Leone Episcopal Area.

In the videos, Bishop Yambasu discusses divisions in the church over human sexuality. He affirms support for traditional understandings of marriage as between a man and a woman, though he also notes African discomfort with talking about sex in general. He indicates that Africans could support the One Church Plan, since a contextual approach makes sense, but only if they were able to separate support for the One Church Plan and support for homosexuality. He affirms the unity of the church, but also speaks about how Africans are preparing for the implications, including the financial implications, of divisions in the American church that are already apparent. Finally, he calls on the general church to stop "legislating sex" and instead to focus on the church's attention and money on mission to the world, including the hungry, sick, illiterate, and uneducated.

The videos are as follows:

United Methodist bishop: "It is God's church"

United Methodist bishop: "Marriage should be between man and woman"

Bishop discusses One Church Plan implications for Africa

Sierra Leone bishop looks at all three plans for GC2019

United Methodist bishop: What a church split means for Africa

United Methodist bishop: "Rethink our calling as a church"

Friday, October 12, 2018

Mission vs. Pilgrimage

Today's post is by UM & Global blogmaster Dr. David W. Scott, Director of Mission Theology at the General Board of Global Ministries. The opinions and analysis expressed here are Dr. Scott's own and do not reflect in any way the official position of Global Ministries.

A day ago, a friend of mine, Rev. Jeremy Smith, shared on his Facebook page the following interaction with someone:

"Recently I had a conversation with a man who used to be a missions director for an independent church. He left his position over disagreement over the mission of the church. He said to me: 'My church no longer does mission trips, they send people on pilgrimages. We used to do mission trips for communal transformation. Now we do pilgrimages for individual transformation. We will end up with more self-aware people who have had their mountaintop experiences, but at the expense of fewer valleys filled in with service and mission.'"

Rev. Smith then posed these questions about that interaction: "Is this true? Are people choosing to go on pilgrimages instead of missions? And what does that mean for our mission identity if more churches do?"

I'd like to share an expanded version of my response to this interaction and the questions that Rev. Smith poses about it.

I want to address this scenario from the Wesleyan premise that the point of Christianity (including both works of piety, which might include pilgrimage, and works of mercy, which might include short-term mission trips) is to help people grow in holiness, and by this term is meant love for God and for other humans.

Furthermore, I think it is an important Wesleyan assumption that growing in love of other humans cannot be accomplished without interacting with actual other people. It is impossible to grow in love of others in an entirely abstract way. Real love must be embodied. I have been convinced by Dr. David Field that this is the best understanding of John Wesley's oft-cited comment about "social holiness" and "social religion."

Given these Wesleyan premises, there are lots of reasons we could critique short term mission trips as commonly practiced as embodying a deficient understanding of love or failing to actually help those going on them to grow in love of the Other.

Books such as When Helping Hurts have pointed out how short-term mission trips often actually end up harming instead of helping those with less financial resources, especially when conducted in ways that objectify, stereotype, demean, or force into dependency those on the "receiving" end of mission. Obviously, this is a problematic understanding of love.

Furthermore, recent research has shown that there are often no long-term religious or theological effects to the experience of going on a short-term mission trip for the Americans and especially American youth that participate. This would suggest a failure of short-term missions as a way to grow in love and therefore holiness.

But I think there are also many reasons to question whether replacing short-term mission trips with pilgrimages does any more to help people grow in love of others and in particular others who are different from them.

Especially when those pilgrimages are focused on "individual transformation," it is likely that they are merely reinforcing a Western individualism that has problematic interactions with the gospel and replicating current capitalist focus on experiences as a trendy form of personal consumption.

While I don't know exactly what type of pilgrimages the person talking to Rev. Smith was referencing, it is likely that these pilgrimages occur in cultural contexts other than the church's home context. Yet the notion of pilgrimage for the sake of "individual transformation" does not seem to me to lend itself to extensive interaction with locals for the sake of increasing one's understanding of them and growing in love for and compassion towards them. I could be wrong, but I also know the stereotypes of how Americans behave while tourists, and it's easy for pilgrimage to become a form of religious tourism that objectifies, stereotypes, and demeans those in host countries.

Certainly, it's possible that people can form close relationships with other pilgrims and that these relationships can be mutually transformative (the movie The Way is a nice depiction of this), but that's still usually best accomplished by opening oneself up to strangers, not traveling with a group of your friends and acquaintances. Thus, I'm not convinced that sending church groups on pilgrimages is actually a good way to help church members grow in love for others.

Growth in love of God is perhaps an even more important part of growing in holiness, and some might counter that such pilgrimages are about exactly that. Yet it is worth noting that most of the works of piety Wesley commended as means to grow in the love of God still had a communal bent to them - taking communion as part of corporate worship and group study of the Bible, for instance. Thus, as Wesleyans, we should be leery of the notion that focusing on one's self should be a primary means to grow closer to God. Pilgrimage may produce a "mountain-top experience," but does that experience translate into a closer walk with God when back down on the plain?


I think better than either short term mission or pilgrimage is to ask how we as Christian communities may go about forging relationships with others who are different from us so that we may all mutually better understand the good news of God's universal love for us and others and come to more fully embody that love in our own lives.

It is possible to do short-term mission trips or pilgrimages in a way that foregrounds such relationship-building and mutuality. But there are also other good models of what this sort of international travel and connection can look like. A model like the work of Sister Parish that focuses on solidarity, mutual understanding, and mutual learning is one such example. But whatever model a church chooses, it is important to think theologically about the purpose of the trip.