Monday, September 30, 2019

Defining Mission: Crossing Boundaries

The following post is based on excerpts from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

In Crossing Boundaries, I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news.

While a full understanding of that definition and its practical implications for mission work in congregations is best grasped by reading the book, this series of blog posts briefly examines the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation. This post will examine the component of crossing boundaries.

Last week’s post in this series described the importance of relationship for mission. Yet mission involves something more than just relating to those we already know who are like us in almost every way. It involves being sent across human boundaries to form relationships with those who are different from us.

To the extent that we have relationships, they are probably with people who are similar to us: people of our same race, same social class, same religious beliefs, same political views, etc. Research has shown that people even tend to form friendships with people who have a similar level of attractiveness!

For Americans, the trend to surrounding ourselves with people who are predominantly like us has increased in recent decades, driven by increased mobility, among other factors. New technologies have reinforced our tendencies toward self-selection and self-segmentation. We now use social media to surround ourselves with only the voices and views of those who are like us.

Yet Jesus makes it clear that we must love more than just the members of our own in-group. In the Sermon on the Mount, he says, “If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete” (Matthew 5:46-48). Those who are like us, those who already love us, certainly deserve our love, but our love must not stop there.

The last verse, rendered in the King James Version as “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect,” was foundational for Wesley’s theology of sanctification. For Wesley, developing spiritually meant not only growing in love for others, but growing in love for others who are different from you.

There are many types of boundaries that Christians can cross in mission nowadays. Those boundaries include cultural, economic, racial, gender, ethnic, political, linguistic, religious, and more types. These boundaries operate on a variety of geographic scales. We can cross these boundaries locally, within our home countries, or internationally. Although the set of boundaries might be different in each setting, boundaries exist in every setting. Whether we are engaged in local, domestic, or international mission, it is clear we must be crossing boundaries for the sake of mission.

When we cross boundaries in mission, we must be prepared to take both similarities and differences seriously. We must always affirm the core similarity of our common humanity with those among whom we are in mission. At the same time, we must take differences seriously, be mindful of them, and reflect on how they shape the nature of our relationships and each partner’s perception of God’s good news.

Here, I am not saying that we should stereotype people based on the differences we first perceive between them and us. The goal of relationship is to move beyond stereotyped and overly simplified understandings of other people. Such understandings are not helpful to true relationship and are instead harmful.

I am, however, saying that we shouldn’t just dismiss the ways in which people are different from us with an attitude of “everyone is the same deep down, so differences don’t really matter.” This approach downplays the significance of real differences in favor of emphasizing projected similarities.

Such an attitude may at times be well-intentioned, but it can prevent us from really understanding others. We impose on them our way of seeing the world instead of trying to understand them on their own terms. Moreover, such an attitude can be perceived as quite offensive by others when we tell them that core parts of their identity “don’t really matter.”

Part of being human is being different from others. These differences come in many forms. Whatever their nature, our differences from other people are part of what makes us who we are. We cannot understand other people without understanding their unique backgrounds, experiences, and situations in life that help make them who they are.

There is a word that describes the setting in life from which people come: context. Context can be defined as the world people inhabit. There are many elements to context: social context, including gender, age, race, ethnicity, and class; cultural context, including language, worldview, and shared references; economic context, including income level, line of work, and economic system; political context, including political affiliations and form of government; family context; and historical context. Additional elements of context could probably be added to this list. My point here is not to be comprehensive but to suggest the complexity of context.

It is important to understand what a context is because contexts matter to mission in at least two ways. First, contexts impact how we develop missional relationships with others. It is impossible to really know and understand someone unless we can understand them as part of their contexts. It is furthermore impossible to have a good relationship with someone whom we do not really know or understand. Therefore, if we want to develop good missional relationships with others, we must understand their contexts.

In Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission, Chapter 5, I describe steps that individuals and congregations can take to better understand their own contexts, the contexts of others, and how those contexts shape our understandings of God’s good news. This chapter aims to help individuals and congregations cross boundaries of difference with greater comfort and confidence, setting them up for successful conversations, the subject of next week’s post.

Friday, September 27, 2019

Will Filipinos Resolve the UMC’s Three-Way Standoff?

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 I explained in a post last week, the UMC is currently locked in a three-way standoff among US centrists and progressives, US traditionalists, and Africans, in which none of the parties is able to achieve their goals in the church, but none of the parties is willing to walk away. Since a standoff is a deadlocked state, it is not clear how this conflict will be resolved at GC2020 or beyond.

There are perhaps four possibilities for how this conflict will develop:

1. The situation isn’t resolved. The conflict and the deadlock continue, at least for the near-term future. Perhaps in another 4-8 years, the situation will have changed such that the situation will be resolved, but until then, the conflict will simply continue, likely escalating in the meantime.

In many ways, because of the deadlocked nature of a three-way standoff, this is actually the most likely scenario. A standoff will only be resolved if the goals of one party significantly changes, if one party is able to gain a tactical advantage, or if something disrupts the system from outside. In all other scenarios, the standoff simply continues.

Of course, there are costs to continuing the standoff: both US parties lose members and financial support in greater numbers because of the conflict, and the conflict guts the boards and agencies, which Africans would like to preserve.

Yet since these costs will come in incremental amounts, it is possible that incremental losses will be more acceptable to all parties than accepting a sudden and total loss.

2. The outcome of GC2020 changes the calculus for one (or more) parties, leading them to decide that they are actually willing to walk away from the UMC. This is more likely if some sort of exit provision is available to whatever party decides they’re willing to leave.

Practically, this is likely to be US centrists or US traditionalists, who may decide that they are better off walking away, even with some sort of loss, than they are continuing in an unwinnable conflict. Indeed, there are some within both the centrist/progressive camp and the traditionalist camp that have already indicated their willingness to walk away from the current system. Those voices are likely to grow louder and more numerous if GC2020 does not resolve the conflict in some way.

Africans, by contrast, have an added incentive to stay at the table in that their position politically in the denomination is strengthened every quadrennium with the addition of more General Conference votes. Thus, if no party leaves the UMC, Africans gradually realize their goal of greater voice in the denomination, though it would still be a long-term process to translate more votes into more control over agenda-setting.

3. US centrists and US traditionalists come to agreement on dividing the church and join forces to do so over African objections. There is a sense among US centrists as well as US traditionalists that the current conflict in the church cannot continue. Thus, it is possible that these two groups could unite around a plan of division.

The current US delegate majority means that such a plan could be passed despite strong objection from the central conferences IF US delegates were overwhelmingly in favor of it AND it required no constitutional amendments.

However, given the low level of trust between US traditionalists and centrists and the multiplicity of plans for division out there, getting overwhelming consensus among US delegates seems highly unlikely. Far more likely is that Americans are unable to agree about which division plan to support.

Moreover, while most plans are trying to accomplish the division of the church without constitutional amendments, Africans could with just their own votes call for judicial review of any plan by having at least 30% of delegates ask for it.

It is hard to say what Judicial Council would make of any of these plans, but in general, Judicial Council has been resistant to major changes in the system of the UMC, making it possible that such a plan for division could be voided by the Judicial Council, even if supported by an overwhelming majority of US Americans.

4. Perhaps the most intriguing possibility is that the Filipinos determine the outcome by successfully advocating for a regional restructuring of the church.

While Filipinos are often lumped in with Africans and Eastern Europeans in terms of UMC sexuality politics, the Filipinos are don’t have quite the same set of goals or reasons to not walk away as Africans or Eastern Europeans, thus making them somewhat of a wildcard.

There are a wider range of opinions on sexuality in the Philippines, and the issue plays differently in Filipino secular society, even as the majority in the Filipino church remains traditionalist in their understanding of sexuality.

Moreover, the church in the Philippines is less financially dependent on the current structures of the UMC than the church in Africa or Eastern Europe. While I’m sure they would like to continue the boards and agencies, they may be more open to structural changes.

And with 52 votes, they may have a large enough block to swing a vote by siding with one of the three other blocs.

The Filipino bishops have issued their own statement, praising the unity of the church as an important goal. But even while they call for continued unity, they also advocate for a changing of structure into regional conferences that would maintain authority over “witness, mission and ministry” in their own contexts. It’s not clear what exactly this means, but it is possibly an indication that Filipino bishops are willing to grant US centrists and progressives their wishes on LGBTQ inclusion within the US.

If so, then Filipino bishops might be able to unite both Africans, because of their shared concerns for church unity and similar views on sexuality, and US centrists and progressives, because of their desire for unity and their willingness to allow regional adaptation, behind the Filipino plan. In short, they may be able to serve as an intermediary between the deadlocked parties that provides a new option.

Of course, the Filipino bishops’ statement is short on details, and it is remains to be seen whether US Americans or Africans take it seriously, since it will come from outside of both of those contexts. But the Filipino bishops’ plan may just be the best chance for resolving the UMC’s three-way standoff that doesn’t involve one or more of the parties slowing bleeding away.

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Matt Lacey: Theology of Mission and Voluntourism

Today’s post is by Rev. Matt Lacey. Rev. Lacey is the UMVIM Coordinator for the Southeast Jurisdiction. This post is the fourth in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.
Voluntourism is a word that has been getting some buzz in the last several years. If you haven’t heard it before, type it into your favorite search engine. Some use it as a pejorative to describe Christians who go on “mission” trips as an excuse to add another stamp in their passport books. I myself have been guilty of that motivation, as well as guilty of thinking that travel makes you a more interesting person.

Critics who use the term to describe mission trips—and some critics of mission trips in general—have rightly pointed out that sometimes the most economically effective way to help a community in need would be to take all that money you pour into a plane ticket, visas, travel adapters, etc. and instead use it to make a long-term impact: pay for community based medical staff, make a donation to an already established and trusted NGO, or designate it for training for community members.

Economically speaking, they are correct. Most of the time the expense of getting on a plane, getting a visa, and making a mission trip t-shirt with your church’s logo on it pales in comparison to the cost of community-based sustainable aid.

I have led mission teams that seemed more interested in taking photos than serving with those they came to visit. I’ve seen team members rushed to foreign clinics and given treatment for dehydration while a pregnant woman who was afraid she would lose her baby continued to wait in line. We should never prioritize our experience at the expense of another person.

All of us do need to ask: why are we going and what do we hope to get out of it?

My very first international mission trip was when I was 20. My primary motivators were the romanticism of a foreign country, the great photos I would take, and the cute girls on the team I wanted to talk to. Oh, and because I wanted to evangelize. I went for almost all the wrong reasons.

God took my flawed and arrogant motivations and turned them into something else: a life-changing experience. Some of us go on mission trips expecting to “save souls,” and in reality the only soul that gets saved is our own. I know from experience. God really messed up my life because of that trip. I started understanding a little more of what it meant to serve (I still haven’t fully figured it out). After returning home, I started noticing needs and opportunities all around me that I hadn’t seen—or that I had ignored—before. I started reading scripture in a different way, and I started to feel God calling me to do more.

Mission trips may not be economically effective, but this trip was effective in starting to shift how I understand the message of Jesus. Much like farmland that has to be scorched in order to set the stage for future growth, God sees right through our misguided intentions and completely destroys them in order to make way for growth in one’s faith journey.

Yes, mission trips are still worth going on, because no matter where we go or why we go, we will eventually see God in a new way, and learn that the trip really isn’t about us but instead about how we see and interact with the rest of God’s children. However, we should not learn that lesson at the expense of those we are serving with.

To all the friends I have met all over the world during a mission journey: thank you for putting up with my arrogant intentions and expectations in order to let God work in my life.

May we all go forth and serve one another by listening more than we talk, learning more than we teach, and seeing God in each and every person we meet.

Monday, September 23, 2019

Defining Mission: Relationship

The following post is based on excerpts from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

In Crossing Boundaries, I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news.

While a full understanding of that definition and its practical implications for mission work in congregations is best grasped by reading the book, this series of blog posts briefly examines the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation. This post will examine the component of relationship.

As the previous post in this series explained, mission is about good news. Restored relationships is one form of good news discussed extensively in the New Testament. If our mission is to be about good news, then it cannot avoid being about relationship as an end of mission and not merely a means.

If we attempt to practice mission without valuing relationship, we have already cut ourselves off from the fullness of God’s good news. As those sent by God in mission, we must cultivate the restored relationships that God desires with humanity and that God desires humans to have with each other.

Moreover, attention to the connection between mission and love helps us further see the relational nature of mission. Mission is an expression of love, both God’s love for us and our love for God and for others. Love certainly involves actions — love that is not expressed is not love—but it is primarily about a relationship, not a task list.

We love our family not just because they’re people for whom we did something nice once, but because we have an ongoing pattern of interactions, emotional attachments, and reciprocal care. In other words, we love our families as part of ongoing relationships, not as a series of separate actions. Moreover, while there is room for intentionality and regularity in our relationships with our family, it would feel unnatural to confine our love for our family to a particular program of actions, say, perhaps serving them dinner (but not eating with them) every other Tuesday evening.

Another Wesleyan theological insight here tempers Wesley’s emphasis on our active response to God’s love. For Wesley, one of the primary ways in which his followers lived out their responsive love and grew in love for God and others was through their relationships with others. Wesley famously wrote, “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion, but social; no holiness but social holiness. Faith working by love, is the length and breadth and depth and height of Christian perfection.”[1]

When Wesley wrote about “social holiness,” he wasn’t referring primarily to social justice or to small-group devotional practices, important as those may be. He was referring to the importance of practicing love in relationships with real, concrete people.[2] It is impossible to love people in the abstract. One can only truly love specific people with whom one interacts.

Thus, when we think about our church’s mission efforts, the first question we ask ourselves should not be “What should we do for mission in our church?” It should be “Whom should we relate to in mission at our church?” This shift from program-based mission thinking to relationship-based mission thinking is one of the most fundamentally important changes a congregation can make in its approach to mission.

It is even better if your church can ask not merely, “What individuals should the individuals in our church related to?” but “What other communities should the community of our church relate to?” Missional relationships are most transformative (for us and others) when they occur not just with individuals but with entire networks.

This notion that mission is first and foremost about relationships may be challenging, especially to Americans. While individuals may differ, American culture often does not value relationships as much as it does other things. It values money; it values material possessions; it values independence; it values achievement. Yet each of these stands in tension with and can undercut relationships. Relationships take time and attention, and often, we find ourselves short of both. This relational understanding of mission highlights just how countercultural God’s mission can be.

Americans’ lack of relationships also points to another truth about mission— our participation in mission is not just how we share God’s good news; it is how we receive God’s good news, too. Thinking about the story of the good Samaritan, often we are the traveler, and allowing ourselves to be befriended by others is how we receive healing and life.

Chapter 4 of Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission includes practical steps that congregations can take as they seek to build mission relationships with others. It also outlines relational pitfalls to avoid in the process, especially pitfalls that arise in building relationships that cross boundaries, the subject of next week’s post.

[1] John Wesley, Hymns and Sacred Poems (1739), Preface, page viii, quoted in Steve Manskar, “No Holiness but Social Holiness,” Equipping Disciples,, accessed July 24, 2018.

[2] See chapter 2 of David Field, Bid Our Jarring Conflicts Cease: A Wesleyan Theology and Praxis of Church Unity (Nashville, TN: Wesley’s Foundery Books, 2017), for a good argument about the essentially relational nature of Wesley’s concept of social holiness/social religion.

Friday, September 20, 2019

The Current Three-Way Standoff in the 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.

As The United Methodist Church continues to react to GC2019, plan for GC2020, and try to come to grips with the all-consuming debate over gay ordination and gay marriage in the church, it seems that the church may be settling into a three-way standoff between US (and Western European) centrists and progressives, US traditionalists, and African (and Eastern European) leaders.

In technical terms, a three-way standoff is a conflict in which none of the parties can achieve their goals, nor can they retreat from the conflict. Thus, the parties remain in a deadlocked state. Armed three-way (or more) standoffs are a trope in movies such as "The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly."

Here’s a run-down of the parties in the current UMC three-way standoff, why they can’t achieve what they want, and why they are not willing to retreat.

US Centrists and (some) Progressives
The goal of US centrists and progressives, along with progressives in Western Europe, is clear: to remove what they see as discriminatory language against LGBTQ persons in the Book of Discipline, enabling United Methodist in those contexts to ordain LGBTQ persons and to perform gay weddings.

Yet as has been shown repeatedly, US & European centrists and progressives do not have enough GC votes to accomplish this goal, since both US traditionalists and Africans, Eastern Europeans, and many Filipinos are opposed to such changes.

Yet at the same time, US centrists and some US progressives have also indicated that they are not willing to walk away from the UMC. The UMC Next plan that is being advanced to GC2020 essentially calls for US traditionalists to leave the church instead of centrists and progressives.

Some US progressives (especially those associated with UM Forward and the Western Jurisdiction) have indicated a willingness to leave the conflict, but this appears to still be a minority opinion among centrists and progressives as a bloc.

Motivations vary, but a sense of ownership of the UMC, commitment to current structures, including the boards and agencies, and a sense of having the direction of history on their side have made most centrists and progressives unwilling to leave the denomination en masse.

US Traditionalists
The goal of US traditionalists is to be part of a church that does not ordain queer people or perform gay weddings. While they have up until GC2019 tried to accomplish this goal through GC legislation, the way events have unfolded since then seems to have shown them that they cannot easily achieve that goal through this strategy. UMC polity allows too many ways for centrists and progressives to stay and resist.

While it is possible that traditionalists could win a long-term legislative war of closing loopholes, most traditionalists seem to have concluded that they best way to achieve the goal of being in a church without gay ministers or gay weddings is to split the denomination.

Yet African bishops have indicated that, while they support traditionalists’ understanding of marriage, they do not support traditionalists’ goal to split the church. Without the support of that bloc, US traditionalists have a relatively small bloc of votes themselves and cannot advance any agenda.

At the same time, US traditionalists overall seem unwilling to walk away from the UMC. Certainly, there have been individual traditionalist congregations here and there that have left or are leaving, but leaders of Good News have been vocal about their intention to stay in the UMC.

In large part, this seems to be because traditionalists are unwilling to accept anything that could look like a defeat, and they believe that leaving the denomination after “winning” the GC2019 vote would look like a defeat. Much of the motivating energy of US traditionalists seems to come from a sense of being a successful insurgency. Leaving does not fit with that narrative.

African Bishops (and Eastern Europeans)
The African bishops recently met and reiterated their traditional understanding of marriage and their unwillingness to split the denomination. This statement is consistent with earlier statements. Yet reading between the lines of the bishops’ statement, the overall political goals of African leaders seem to be two-fold: to be included as central players in the UMC decision-making process and to preserve the current agency structure.

One of the African bishops’ main objections to all of the division proposals was that they were developed without African input. For a major group in the denomination, Africans are given relatively little say in determining the agenda and possible futures of the denomination, and they would like more.

In addition to that goal is support for the boards and agencies and the financial and technical support they provide for ministries in Africa. In this regard, Eastern Europeans find themselves in a similar place – maintain a strongly traditionalist stance on marriage but opposed to dividing the church.

Yet American control of agenda-setting is deeply ingrained in the UMC and reinforced by a variety of linguistic, procedural, administrative, financial, and practical considerations, and neither US traditionalists nor US centrists and progressives seem interested in making major changes to the denomination that would give Africans a greater voice, as evidenced by the division plans developed without any African input.

Moreover, US United Methodists very clearly control the purse strings both of the boards and agencies and of annual conference- and church-based partnerships. Thus, Africans can ask for the boards and agencies to continue and continue their funding, but since Americans provide that funding and can withhold it, it is beyond Africans’ power to determine the future of the boards and agencies.

At the same time, Africans, or at least the African bishops, have indicated that they are unwilling to walk away from the UMC. The name of United Methodist has strong “brand equity” on the continent of Africa, and Africans are deeply committed to the name because of what it says to the societies in which African United Methodists operate. Moreover, Africans feel like they should not have to leave their church because of fights that others have caused and are mostly occurring among others.

And thus we arrive at the current three-way standoff in the UMC: US centrists and progressives, US traditionalists, and Africans, none able to achieve their goals in the church, but none willing to walk away, deadlocked in conflict.

Editor's note: The original version of this post referred to the UMC's situation as a "Mexican standoff." The name was changed in response to readers who raised concerns that this term implied negative ethnic stereotypes. While this was certainly not my intent, I sincerely apologize to any who may have been offended by the use of this term.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Tom Lank: UMVIM Values and Best Practices

Today’s post is by Rev. Tom Lank. Rev. Lank is the UMVIM Coordinator for the Northeastern Jurisdiction. This post is the third in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.
Over its more than four decades of experience organizing short-term mission, UMVIM has tried to learn from its own mistakes. In what we call the “Big Manual,” originally developed in 2005, we made the following statement of Guidelines for United Methodist Volunteer In Mission Teams:

“A United Methodist Volunteers In Mission (UMVIM) team is one that serves locally, nationally, or internationally where it is invited; works in a ministry endorsed by the host Methodist church, partner church or agency, or nongovernment organization (NGO); and serves in cooperation with the local host group. The intent of these guidelines is to ensure that the presence of the team will not interfere with the authority and integrity of the church leadership, thereby strengthening and upholding the local church. The team will have an UMVIM trained leader who provides training for the team, ensures completion of proper forms and insurance coverage, and is in communication with annual conference and jurisdictional UMVIM leadership.”

Since that time, the Mission Theology statement of Global Ministries has helped us reflect upon these guidelines and our practice of ministry such that we have also developed core values and best practices.

In 2016 in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, we passed a Call to Action on Systemic  Racism which called on every annual conference and affiliated agency in the jurisdiction to evaluate and adjust its programs and training with an eye to dismantling systemic racism, white privilege, and white supremacy.  I asked for the help of the General Commission on Religion and Race to help me evaluate our Team Leader handbook with that in mind.  One of the suggestions I received was that we make a statement of core values that make our commitment to intercultural competency explicit and prominent.

So in the Northeastern Jurisdiction, we ended up identifying these five core values:

1.  Missio Dei - It’s God’s mission, not our mission
This takes us out of the driver’s seat and helps loosen our need to control and opens us up to practice ministry WITH.

2.  Radical DiscipleshipFollowing Jesus, our mission relationships are meant to be incarnational, relational, humble, based in service, justice-seeking, and intentionally and radically inclusive.

3.  Partnership / Mutuality

4.  Relationships over Projects
We say that projects are secondary. Relationships are primary. Mission relationships are built over time by accompaniment. As we share life with one another, listen to one another, and learn about one another, we also discover how to serve alongside one another with dignity, respect, and mutual accountability.

5.  Intercultural Competency & Self-Awareness
In mission, we recognize that God’s image is reflected in our diversity. As we honestly engage, respect, and create space for this diversity, we honor God. To understand ourselves and the ways we affect (and are affected by) others requires time for reflection, prayer, and honest conversation.

Additionally, the five jurisdictions have shared the following best practices in trainings and training materials for several years.

1.  Have a trained team leader through your annual conference.
Our hosts have reflected to us that they appreciate the teams with trained leaders because they can expect that they have prepared their teams well.

2.  Comply with the Safe Sanctuaries policy of your annual conference.

3.  Serve with an UMVIM project.
This helps ensure both minimum standards for volunteers and that the area bishop or judicatory head has knowledge and gives permission to the work. It builds the connection.

4.  Register your team.
When the earthquake hit Haiti in 2010, there were more than a dozen teams from United Methodist churches on the island. UMVIM knew about two or three. Registration helps us coordinate resources to assist you and communicate with your annual conference and loved ones. It also gives us a birds-eye view so that we can help connect teams and churches that are working in the same area or doing the same kind of ministry.

5. Take insurance through UMVIM.
This is often an afterthought, but the consequences of not taking insurance can be disastrous.

6. Spiritual Formation.
 We stress to team leaders that they must pay attention to the spiritual formation of their team members before, during, and after the mission journey and that worshiping in the community where you are serving is vital for respecting your hosts, understanding the culture, and creating partnership. 

7. Commitment to Intercultural Competence.
Each of us approaches the world with implicit assumptions, stereotypes, and prejudices about other people.  We have knee-jerk reactions. It is vital that you do the hard work with your team before, during, and after your mission experience to critically examine your own biases, stereotypes, and prejudices. Honestly acknowledge them, allow God to transform them and to redeem you. In many cases we enter a mission relationship carrying privileges that we do not understand fully, due to our nationality, relative wealth, or even race. While we may have been born into some of these privileges, what we do with them now is our responsibility so that, as far as possible, we can “Do No Harm.”

These are the foundation from which we train team leaders to engage in mission responsibly. We look forward to a day when every mission team is trained and connected for more effective ministry as we discover the Kingdom of God in our midst.

Monday, September 16, 2019

Defining Mission: Good News

The following post is based on excerpts from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

In Crossing Boundaries, I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news.

While a full understanding of that definition and its practical implications for mission work in congregations is best grasped by reading the book, this series of blog posts briefly examines the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation. This post will examine the component of good news.

Good news is at the heart of Christianity and at the heart of Christian mission. Mark identifies his account of the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus as “the good news about Jesus Christ, God’s Son.” Indeed, the term “gospel,” the name usually given to the biblical books written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, literally means “good news.” Christians believe that the story of Jesus is good news!

For early Christians, this concept was central to how they understood what it meant to be a Christian. Throughout the Acts of the Apostles, there are numerous references to Christians preaching “the good news,” and the apostle Paul refers to himself as one who has been “set apart for God’s good news” (Romans 1:1).

Mission is about God sending good news to the world. Mission begins with God (what missiologists refer to as the missio Dei, the mission of God) and God’s love for the world. The message of God’s love for the world is conveyed by God sending Jesus, God and Jesus sending the Holy Spirit, Jesus sending his disciples, and the triune God sending the church in mission.

Those who are sent by God in mission are sent with a message. Mission is grounded in this message of love that God sends to the world. And this message is not bad news to the world; God is sending good news! We should treat it as such and present it with joy.

Note that it’s not just evangelism that involves good news. All forms of mission should have a component of good news to them. They should be both good and involve something new or not present in that situation before. Thus, good news is not just a narrow formulation of theology but includes the full breadth of God’s loving actions in the world.

Mission thus is centrally about the good news, which is basic to Christianity. Without it, not only would there be no mission; there would be no Christianity. Being a Christian is about claiming the story of God’s good news as the story of our lives as well. It’s about finding our place in the conversation of the saints of all times and places. And it’s about the God who loves us and who, because of that love, came down to earth in the person of Jesus to set us free, heal our wounds, forgive our sins, renew the world in which we live, and restore our relationships.

Methodism has always been clear that while being a Christian involves finding our place in the story of God’s good news, that place is never a solitary one. When we become Christians, when we recognize and respond to God’s gracious love, we are connected to other Christians. We become part of the ongoing conversation of the Christian faith, a conversation in which Christians throughout the world and throughout the ages share their understanding of God’s good news.

Furthermore, when we experience the good news of God’s love, we are compelled to share God’s love with everyone, Christian or not. When we truly experience the good news of God’s love, we want to talk with others about it! We want to know if they, too, have experienced this love, to learn from them if they have, and to encourage them to look for it if they haven’t. Moreover, we want to demonstrate God’s love for others in our actions as well as our conversations. In short, when we truly experience God’s love, we want to engage in mission. Good news is thus both the message of, and the motivation for, mission.

In Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission, Chapter 3 explores the nature of this good news in greater detail. As Christians, we may think we know the good news about which God wants us to engage the world in mission, but the gospel writers don’t precisely clarify what they mean by “good news.”

This chapter looks at four different senses in which the terms “good news” and “gospel” are used in the New Testament: as the Kingdom of God, as freedom from sin, as resurrection, and as restoration of relationship. The chapter then lays out how these different dimensions of good news connect to different dimensions of mission work and why thinking of the breadth of good news requires us to engage in relationships with others as part of our mission work, the topic of next week’s post.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Plan Now: Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20th

Environmental activist and United Methodist Sunday School teacher Bill McKibben of is among those calling for a "global climate strike" next week on Friday, Sept. 20th. McKibben explains his reasoning in an article for YES Magazine. The strike is intended to draw attention to the pressing nature of the problems associated with climate change.

For why care for creation is a religious, theological and missiological issues, see this pastoral letter from UMC bishops, these previous posts from UM & Global, this UMW webpage highlighting their work in the area, and this Church & Society webpage highlighting their work in the area.

If you participate in the climate strike, here are some things you can do that day:

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Ronda Cordill: How UMVIM Disaster Response Teams Work

Today’s post is by Ronda Cordill. Ms. Cordill is the UMVIM Coordinator for the Western Jurisdiction. This post is the second in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.

There are many ways Volunteer in Mission (VIM) teams serve.  They:
  •  Construct of homes, churches, schools and clinics worldwide.
  •  Serve in outreach ministries to people who are homeless, hunger, or in poverty.
  •  Provide medical and dental needs.
  •  Assist with programs for children and youth.
  •  Teach vocational skills or children’s education.
  •  Help in disasters both through Early Response Teams (ERT) and Long-Term Recovery (LTR) Teams

After Hurricane Katrina, leaders in The United Methodist Church saw all the devastation caused by the hurricane, but they did not see the church being involved in the disaster response. At that time, each type of disaster response by churches was specialized. For example, the Baptist are known for feeding programs, the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) do donations management, and the United Methodist were best known for their Case Management.

In response to the church’s request to do more, the leaders of UMCOR and UMVIM met together at Mr. Sequoyah in Arkansas. There, they developed and signed a covenant on how they would work together. At that time, UMVIM teams served hurricane recovery sites to assist with rebuilding homes. Through this new collaboration, the Early Response Team was developed as a specialized UMVIM team.

So how does this all fit into disaster response ministry? There are 5 phases of a disaster. They are:  Readiness, Rescue, Relief, Recovery, and then Review. These phases are related by the “Rule of 10.” If a disaster lasts 1 day, the rescue phase is 10 times longer, or 10 days, and the recovery phase is 10 times that, or 100 days. Readiness describes preparations before a disaster, and review happens at the end of the disaster response.

How does the church response in a disaster? During the readiness phase, UMCOR has developed the Connecting Neighbors program, which teaches individuals, churches, and communities how to be ready to work together in the event of a disaster. They develop disaster plans.

During the rescue phase, churches can set up shelters or feeding of survivors and volunteers.

Early Response Teams serve primarily in the relief phase, assisting survivors to start recover to a new life.

The recovery phase is the longest phase.  For example, in a flood where water has been in place for 30 days, this relief phase will last 300 days, and the recovery phase is 3000 days or more than 8 years.  This is where the Long-Term Recovery Teams work and will be there until recovery is completed.

The review phase is taking lessons learned and preparing for the next time. 

ERT Teams work with Disaster Response Coordinators of the Annual Conference where the disaster is located. They are trained by UMCOR, and after a disaster the ERT Teams primary role is to make the survivor’s home safe, secure, and sanitary. This is done through removing debris, tarping roofs after a hurricane or tornado, mucking out after flooding, and sifting ash after a fire, all with a listening presence as the survivors start to heal and rebuild their lives.

Long Term Recovery UMVIM Teams do rebuilding ministry, working on individual’s homes, churches, or schools that were damaged by disaster. They work with the Long-Term Recovery Organization of that community to assist with unmet needs. They also provide a caring ministry as the survivors continue to heal. Often there is a special connection with those families. As the team tells their story, they connect their church with the family. As the house gets completed, you will see the church gathering new furnishing and giving a “welcome home” celebration for that family. 

Disaster Response teams create networking between Conference Disaster Response Coordinators and UMVIM and other organizations such as VOAD (Volunteer Organizations Active in Disasters).  There is a strong connection between the survivors and the teams. Almost anyone can be a part of Disaster Ministry through so many ways.  One of my favorite sayings is for my UMVIM teams is “Bringing Love and Leaving Hope”

Monday, September 9, 2019

Defining Mission: Not Just Helping Programs

The following post is based on an excerpt from UM & Global blogmaster David W. Scott's book, Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

Christians often interpret mission as helping in programmatic ways. While helping and formal programs are necessarily and always bad, this understanding of mission is limited and potentially problematic.

Thinking of mission as helping programs is limited, because it makes us miss the breadth of God’s mission in the world and the full spiritual significance of joining in that mission. Many Christians would say that we should help others because God calls us to love others. That is true: God does call us to love others. Yet to equate helping and love is to dramatically misunderstand love, both God’s and ours. Helping may be part of love, but it cannot be the entirety of love.

Take as an illustration love as expressed in a marriage. One of my “love languages” in my marriage is doing things for my wife—in other words, helping. Sometimes she really appreciates my help. When she comes home from a work trip and the house is picked up, the laundry put away, the kids have both been bathed, and the lawn is mowed, that can be a big relief for her.

Other times, I think I get more out of doing the helping than she does being helped. That experience also has mission parallels—oftentimes our mission is more about how we feel than the impact on our mission partners.

Yet even when my wife appreciates my help, if helping was the only way I ever showed my love to her, if I never said I loved her, never spent time with her, never gave her gifts, never touched her, I would be more like a handyman and maid than a husband to her. I know that she would not find that a satisfying expression of love and, ultimately, I know I would not either. While I enjoy doing acts of service for her, I know there’s more to the relationship than that, and I want there to be more to the relationship than that.

While marriage is a special relationship, I think this insight applies to other forms of love as well. Others know that we love them not only because we serve them but because we spend time with them, share our treasures with them, and tell them how much they mean to us. Indeed, the ways we can show love to others go well beyond this list of “love languages” for romantic relationships.

Love expressed through service is good, but it is not a complete love. To confine love to helping is a limited understanding of love. In the same way, seeing mission as helping gives a limited understanding of the love God has for us and the love God calls us to share with the world.

Our understanding of mission is especially limited if we think of helping only in programmatic terms. When we see mission as a program, then we limit it to only those times and those places where such programs occur. If mission is a program, then it cannot be a way of life. A way of life happens at all times and in any place.

When we limit mission to specific programs, then it becomes easier to see mission as a small or optional component of the Christian faith and not a central aspect of how we live out our Christian calling. Yet, mission properly understood should be central to how we understand and practice our faith.

An understanding of mission as helping programs is not only limited but actually harmful at times. Such an understanding is especially problematic when we see helping as always flowing from the “haves” (the Christians in our congregation or group) to the “have-nots” (everybody else).

As books such as When Helping Hurts by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert and Toxic Charity by Robert Lupton show, it is quite possible to set out to help others but to actually have the opposite effect, if we do so with improper understandings and attitudes. As Corbett and Fikkert explain, when we combine a material definition of poverty with a sense of the superiority of the materially nonpoor and a sense of the inferiority of the materially poor, then we end up doing harm—spiritually, emotionally, economically, and/or socially—to both the materially poor and the materially nonpoor.

Because this definition of mission as helping programs is limited and potentially harmful, it is important to develop a fuller and more robust understanding of mission. That is what I do in Crossing Boundaries: Sharing God's Good News Through Mission.

By exploring the biblical basis of mission (in Chapters 1 and 2), I lay out a new definition of mission: Mission is cultivating relationships across boundaries for the sake of fostering conversations in word and deed about the nature of God’s good news. The book uses this definition to help churches rethink their own mission work, employing clear language, engaging writing, practical strategies, discussion questions, and additional resources.

While a full understanding of that definition of mission and how it can shape local churches’ engagement in mission is best grasped by reading the book, I will examine the four components of this definition – good news, relationships, crossing boundaries, and conversation – in an upcoming series of blog posts.

Friday, September 6, 2019

Recommended Readings: Central and Southern Europe Study Group Process

Previous UM & Global updates on United Methodist in Europe after General Conference 2019 have omitted the situation in the Central and Southern Europe Central Conference. Here's a quick rundown of how things have unfolded there:

At a meeting of the Executive Committee of the Central Conference in March, there were tense discussions about the widely varying opinions about gay marriage and gay ordination held by leaders within the Central Conference. In the light of this division, the Executive Committee approved the formation of a study group to investigate possible scenarios for future relations among the constituent annual conference.

A press release issued just prior to the second meeting of the study group last week (the first meeting was in June) clarified the stakes for the central conference of the possibility of structural changes. As the press release stated, "If positions within the Central Conference remain as they currently stand, a separation would be inevitable. However, each of the resulting sub-entities would no longer be big enough to be organized as a full standing central conference with the right to elect a bishop. This was a new discovery also for Bishop Streiff. In light of the planned election of his successor in 2021, it attracted attention and threw a spotlight on the importance of the pending decisions."

The process remains on-going, with a final report by the study group expected to be delivered to the Central Conference Executive Committee next March.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

Tammy Kuntz: A Brief History of United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (UMVIM)

Today’s post is by Rev. Tammy Kuntz. Rev. Kuntz is the UMVIM Coordinator for the North Central Jurisdiction. This post is the first in a series about short-term mission in The United Methodist Church.

My job, and the jobs of the other UMVIM jurisdictional coordinators, includes encouraging and empowering individuals, teams, team leaders, churches, district, conferences, and projects in all things mission by providing resources and training opportunities. We maintain the US project list and the international project list. We work with Una Jones of Global Ministries to recruit and train Mission Volunteers and promote Primetimers journeys.

My fellow UMVIM coordinators and I will be sharing more about the UMVIM program in this and a series of posts to follow. I will begin by telling a bit about the history of UMVIM, drawing on the book From the Grassroots: A History of the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission by Thomas L. Curtis.

UMVIM began as a grassroots effort led by laity in the Southeast Jurisdiction. The idea of Christian love in action which motivated its development came from 1 John 3:18: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”

By 1972, a steering committee was formed and, two year later, Rev. David and Sue Lowry were named the first Southeast Jurisdiction coordinators. They encouraged cooperative relationships as teams served and the locations and types of service expanded. They established the cooperative nature of mission, that the request should come from the mission field rather than the sending church, and that volunteers should experience training prior to serving.

In 1976, The Lowrys returned to the mission field in what was then Rhodesia, and Tom and Margaret Curtis succeeded them as UMVIM coordinators. That same year, UMVIM became part of the Fellowship of Conference Mission Secretaries of the SEJ.

Good things were happening in the mission field with these amateur missionaries. They were sharing skills and teaching sewing classes and Vacation Bible School, helping with agriculture projects, reroofing houses and building school desks, providing medical and dental care and digging wells. Missioners were having life-changing experiences as they completed tasks and connected with the families with whom they served.

In 1980, a petition was passed at General Conference that admitted UMVIM as part of the structure of the global church. The legislation stated, “To affirm the concept of volunteers in mission (short-term) as an authentic form of personal missionary involvement, and to devise appropriate structures to interpret and implement such opportunities for short term volunteers in the global community.”

Yet there were still many concerns with the idea of amateur missionaries. There was not a lot of confidence in what they were doing nor how they were doing it. There was no funding made available for the program.

Through the early 80’s, each jurisdiction named an UMVIM coordinator to connect with and resource annual conferences. Coordinators’ responsibilities expanded to include travel beyond the US to “explain our program and outline operational styles so that those overseas could understand this new tool for our working together.” Remember, at this point, there was still no support from the General Board of Global Ministries.

Bill Rollins was appointed by Global Ministries to head up a new Mission Volunteer unit with a VIM office and a couple field representatives to facilitate engagement of conferences in this mission movement. This lasted just a few years before Global Ministries discontinued this support. Basically, information about the needs of projects and finding mission teams to serve was too slow or not provided to VIM coordinators.  The promise of “an abundance of opportunities” just didn’t happen.

The Board still considered missionary service to be something for professionals. The challenge for local churches became finding a way to engage “the church’s divine mandate to be engaged in mission.” With no funding from GBGM, local churches sought ways to be in mission and were making their own connections with projects domestically and internationally.

The SEJ and Global Ministries struggled for control of UMVIM. General Conference provided GBGM “support” for VIM, yet there was a clear attempt to take over. This struggle for leadership by the bureaucracy of the church caused great conflict and hindered expansion of the movement.

By the mid-1980’s, thousands of people in the SEJ were sharing in mission opportunities. Yet there was recognition of the exclusion of youth in the data. In 1985, Beverly Nolte, the North Central Jurisdiction coordinator, created Mission Discovery, a program specifically for teens and young adults.

In 1988, General Conference suggested that every conference have an UMVIM coordinator to work cooperatively with the General Board of Global Ministries and the jurisdictional UMVIM offices. These collaborations between conferences and jurisdictions were very important.

It was not until 1996 that the Mission Volunteers Program Area became an official part of Global Ministries. This program area was ordered “to enable the participation of Methodists from throughout the world in global mission volunteer programs so that affirming, empowering, and trusting relationships would be established.”

Financial support for jurisdiction UMVIM coordinators became a line item in 2000, and the reporting of teams as data collected on annual reports began in 2004. This important data became a way to reflect the strength of the VIM program, the diversity of missioners in the field, and the variety of the places where they serve.

Finally, in 2016, General Conference approved UMVIM Awareness Sunday to be observed annually on a date determined by each annual conference. The phrase "there may be a jurisdictional volunteer-in-mission (UMVIM) coordinator" was added to the tasks described in the Jurisdictional Conference section. Both these pieces are now part of the Book of Discipline.

And that’s how we got to this point in time. As the jurisdictional coordinators, our work continues. We collaborate on trainings, projects, and programs as we work to resource the church in all aspects of mission service.