Thomas G. Kemper: Worldwide Nature of the Church
Word definitions can become stumbling blocks in our deliberations on the worldwide, global, or international nature of The United Methodist Church. Are we talking about structure, geography, or vision? I find it a daily challenge to know in what context to use which of these overlapping terms. In my work as General Secretary of Global Ministries I have come up with a functional delineation: Our worldwide, our global, nature as a church is in our mission, ministries and vision, not in our structures, where we are at most international—the United States, continental Europe, parts of Africa and the Philippines. But vast areas of Asia, Africa and almost or all of Latin America and the Caribbean are incorporated into our work, our vision of God’s mission—the missio Dei, but not our structure, which is defined by membership in the General Conference.
We as a church and through Global Ministries have personnel, projects, and active mission partnerships in more than 125 countries of the earth. That is still not “global” in a literal sense but it is worldwide. In mission we work with autonomous Methodist, united, and ecumenical partners with as much commitment as we do with the annual conferences that send delegates to the General Conference.
We have recent mission initiatives, for example, in Southeast Asia that may eventually become annual conferences and others that will become autonomous, self-governing churches. We are as committed to one as to another. “Each” and “all” are “us,” just as the Korean Methodist Church or the Methodist Church of Brazil, which both have been independent since 1930. They are “us,” even though they send only fraternal, non-voting delegates to annual conference.
Our structure discussions are primarily considerations of how we arrange the internal, international aspects of one part of worldwide Methodism. It is connectional in a limited way, while our mission is essentially connected in Jesus Christ and secondarily linked in the Wesleyan tradition. Our structure is about power politics and funding, about voting majorities, committee organization, and intercultural negotiations.
Our mission is about the steadfast, redeeming love of God that enlivens and sustains us through the Holy Spirit. Our mission is to show Jesus Christ to the world, and let us pray that our structures do the same.