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.
As indicated previously, I had the honor of preparing a document for the Commission on a Way Forward for use in developing their Missional Framework. This is the fifth and final post in a series explaining what I sent to the Commission and why. In these posts, I speak about my own writing and am not commenting on how the Commission used that writing or the final Missional Framework they developed.
The document I prepared is structured into three sections: a set of affirmations about mission, a set of affirmations about the church, and a set of values flowing from these two sets of affirmations. Especially in the original long version of my document, I attempted to draw connections between specific values and specific affirmations about mission and the church. In this post, I want to reflect on these values.
As noted in the introduction to this series, presenting the conclusions of my document as a set of values reflects my conviction that the issues facing The United Methodist Church are primarily matters of the heart, not of polity. Thus, I did not want to suggest specific polity formulations as part of a missional ecclesiology. Moreover, I did not know what directions the Commission’s work was going to go and wanted my offering to be useful in any instance.
Additionally, because of the breadth and diversity of God’s mission and the ever-changing forms it takes, I cannot pretend to know what arrangements would adequately enable the church to live into that mission. I am a straight, white, north American male living in the early 21st century. I am limited by that social and cultural location, and others will certainly have a different understanding of how best to organize as a church for the sake of God’s mission than I.
Hence, I instead wanted to highlight spiritual dispositions I thought could fit with a variety of ecclesiological arrangements and indeed would be necessary to focus on mission in any of them. I thought this focus on spiritual dispositions would also be a very Methodist approach, since the cultivation of proper spiritual dispositions was central to how Wesley understood sanctification.
I thought it essential to begin with faithfulness as a value, both our faithfulness to God and our faithfulness to our calling into God’s mission. Ideally, we do what we do as a church in mission because we are people of faith driven by our faith. If faith is not at the center of our efforts to be the church and to be in mission, then the rest is all for naught.
The next two values – humility and contextuality – emphasize our limits. Part of our faithfulness involves understanding that we are not God. We are humans, created by God, and our knowledge of God and God’s mission is always incomplete, limited, and partial. That is not a problem we can overcome; that is part of how God designed us as humans. Recognizing and accepting these limitations frees us for more faithful service in God’s mission.
The next two values – creativity and flexibility – fit with the theme that runs throughout the document of accepting change for the sake of being part of God’s mission. The distinction between creativity and flexibility, which is not clear in the shorter document, is intended to recognize that some Christians are innovators in mission, which is good, and other Christians must give those innovators some space in which to work if those innovations are to lead to successful new ministries.
The final two values – mutuality and generosity – are intended to further characterize how we relate to each other as fellow limited humans who are alike part of God’s church and God’s mission. I hope they convey some of the love that Jesus instructs us to show to each other as fellow Christians and to the whole world.
Indeed, this love is the reason why mission and the church exist – our acting out the love we have received from God through Christ, sharing it with the world, and inviting others to partake in God’s love in Christ. Whatever comes in the future of The United Methodist Church, may we continue to focus on and live out this love.
Given the spiritual nature of these values, I thought it appropriate to conclude the document with a prayer, which I offer here as a conclusion to this series as well: “We pray that these principles may guide us in a way forward that leads to deeper discipleship of Jesus Christ, more faithful service in the transformation of the world, and a more unified practice of being the church of Jesus Christ, sent by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit in mission for all the world. Amen.”