By Keith Boyette
The new traditional Methodist denomination that will be launched in September 2021 will be global in character. We fully embrace Jesus’ directive: “You will be my witnesses, telling people about me everywhere – in Jerusalem, throughout Judea, in Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” The Great Commission compels us to “make disciples of all nations.” John Wesley, the father of the Methodist movement, captures the heart of Jesus’ words when he wrote in his journal on June 11, 1739, “I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.”
We will only be the church Jesus is building if we are truly global in every way. Being a global church is not simply about having churches around the world and members from every nation. That is rudimentary. Being a global church is a mindset – a lifestyle. It is not easy. It requires humility, surrender, investment in others, generosity of spirit, and an unrelenting commitment to exalt Jesus.
Each of us serves the Lord Jesus in a local context. Not surprisingly, we often see the world through our local lens. As we engage matters beyond our local church our first question is how a circumstance will impact us personally and the church of which we are a part. This is natural and in some sense necessary, but as followers of Jesus we are called to a Kingdom perspective in all things. Paul, in his letter to the Philippians urges us, “Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.”
Rather than shaping the word of God to conform to the cultures in which we live, a truly global church will find itself shaped by the word of God which is not bound by geography, time, language, or culture. The ideologies and “isms” of this world will succumb to the truth of the Gospel.
Becoming a truly global church means we recognize and highly value the gifts, abilities, and contributions of each part of the movement, and we work intentionally to identify and deploy those gifts, abilities, and contributions to make an impact beyond the limitations of country, culture, or context. We hold resources – gifts, abilities, and material resources – in common as stewards of God for the good of the entire church. God’s word reminds us that we are not citizens of this world, but rather we are citizens of another kingdom. In truth, we wrestle with having a foot in two worlds – our local context and the Kingdom of God. Only the Holy Spirit can help us properly discern the appropriate investment we must make in our local churches, and then challenge us with that greater and wider vision where we join with brothers and sisters all around the world for the glory of God’s Kingdom.
I marvel at the way the Apostle Paul navigated diverse cultures and contexts to advance the Kingdom of God. Paul faced local idiosyncrasies, myopic visions, and efforts to shape the gospel to accommodate a particular setting. He responded by being unwavering in his call for all of us to be under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. He overcame regional prejudices, ethnic tensions, economic differences, and social distinctions to mold the early church into a cohesive body that enveloped and impacted the world of Paul’s day. Paul expresses the essence of God’s call upon the church when he writes, “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one Christ Jesus.”
As we move into the future God has prepared for us, we pray for and long to experience the mystery of being the body of Christ wonderfully woven together in a unity that overcomes that which would separate us by nationality, ethnicity, race, class, economic standing, or gender. Instead of contending for hegemony on the global stage, may we daily aspire to be servants of one another, working together as partners in the gospel with equal voice and shared leadership. As we are blessed by God, may we seek to richly bless others. And when we are blessed with material possessions, let us remember that these blessings come with the holy obligation to share them with the whole body of Christ.
One of the blessings I have experienced as President of the Wesleyan Covenant Association has been the opportunity to be present in communities across our connection. I have met with Methodists in the Philippines, in countries across the continent of Africa, and in Europe and Eurasia. We have much to learn from each other. I am humbled by the vibrant ministries which are thriving and straining to flourish freed of a conflict that has beset us for too long. And I am excited by the numerous conversations I have had with leaders in the wider Methodist movement around the world. They are eager to be a part of a new, global Methodist church, committed to the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition. I am grateful that my walk with Christ is being shaped by those from other parts of the world.
The spread of the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated how interdependent our world is. That interdependence can be a weakness or it can be a strength. A global church recognizes the strength that is derived from interdependence. Ultimately, Paul says the day will come when “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the God the Father.” The church, at the culmination of history, will be a global church under the Lordship of Jesus Christ. Let us fix our eyes on that church now, and serve faithfully and joyfully as we approach that great day.
Keith Boyette is president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association and an elder in the Virginia Conference of The United Methodist Church.