Unity for the Sake of Mission

September 19th, 2018

Whenever I pause to reflect on how I and so many African men and women are products of God’s mission through The United Methodist Church, I am amazed. I think back to my days at Africa University, where James Salley (Africa University’s Associate Vice Chancellor) still likes to remind graduates that we are the fruit of missional investments of fellow United Methodists locally and around the globe. We are among those who could not afford to have meals on the table or go to school if not for the generosity of countless other United Methodists. As a member of Africa University’s touring choir, I was able to visit many of these supporting congregations as we met and expressed our gratitude to those who had invested in us. I cannot say thank you enough for this great work.

During my time on staff at the General Board of Global Ministries, I had the opportunity to witness God’s mission through various projects undertaken by United Methodists across the globe. From Malawi to Cambodia, and from Argentina to the Philippines, I experienced firsthand transformation through vital missional programs in congregational development, health, food security, disaster response, agriculture, and leadership development. At stake in our decisions in 2019 and 2020 is whether this Wesleyan missional movement will continue for the next fifty years and more in new places, such as Tanzania and Southeast Asia, where I have witnessed the thirst for the gospel and the need for missional engagement.

For us to be faithful to God’s mission around the world as United Methodists, we seek to develop a sense of mutual accountability with one another. Drawing from his experience as the current General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (an ecumenical body composed of many member churches with diverse theological statements), Olav Fykse Tveit suggests that “mutual accountability refers to the quality of relations between and among people in the community. It refers to an attitude of active responsibility that must characterize any authentic relationship, the profoundly moral dimension of life together. . . . Mutual accountability is a matter of how we seek the truth together by sharing insights into the truth we carry.”[1]

Peter, James, and John wrestled with Paul concerning the introduction of Gentiles in the Christian community. As followers of Christ, regardless of their disagreement on the topic, they developed strong relationships with each other while sustaining a unified mission between the communities of Jerusalem and that of Antioch, and eventually the other places where God’s mission led Paul with their support through significant risks. The saints outside Jerusalem continued to support, without failure, God’s mission in Jerusalem. For instance, Paul collected offerings to support the poor in Jerusalem.

While the proposed approaches for Christian unity of the United Methodist kind may fall short of perfection, like those outside Jerusalem, I believe that God’s Spirit can lead us into God’s mission, which is strengthened through authentic relationships. Many communities around the globe need to hear the gospel, the message of hope coming from United Methodists, other denominations, and even other faith traditions. As I visit people in North Katanga, Tanganyika, and Tanzania, I still see saints who are in need of food, shelter, healthcare, education, justice, and peace. In every community, young men and women share with me that they are seeking opportunities to study and be meaningful in their communities. Furthermore, I continue to see communities that need access to drinkable water and to be freed from cholera and other diseases. These human beings are seeking signs of God’s kingdom through the good news of Jesus Christ manifested in mission built on authentic relationships and mutual accountability.

“The truth of the gospel can only be sought in a sense of accountability to what is given to us as the faith through the ages, and in a sense of accountability to those whom the gospel addresses today, in their context, in their time, in their search for hope.”[2]

Young Christian leaders, millennials, and their communities seek hope for the future. They are looking for a church that will pass the torch for generations to come, as a church that values God’s mission.

The Commission on a Way Forward and the Council of Bishops gave significant consideration to mission and context as critical elements to be considered for a way forward for The United Methodist Church. In the ecumenical world, mission and service has become a critical element in cementing the unity of church and interchurch relationships. God’s Spirit drives a mission that continues to surprise by taking us on some challenging journeys, which sometimes encounter uncomfortably different views than our signature doctrinal and theological positions. God’s Spirit surprised Peter, John, and James by introducing them to a self-proclaimed apostle of Christ, who claimed to have seen the risen Christ on his way to Damascus. In the same way, God’s Spirit continues to surprise communities around the world, even in America, who learn that women are equal and that we recognize their contributions to the church.

Some years ago, I lost a daughter to malaria. I believe that in a sense her resurrection is meaningful on earth as it is in heaven through the Imagine No Malaria program and subsequent health initiatives that United Methodists have invested in. We are in this mission together. Because we are better and more effective together than we are alone, I desire a United Methodist Church that will tackle together the issues of global migration and refugees around the world. I want to see a United Methodist Church that will continue to invest in planting new faith communities around the world, and I still want to see a United Methodist Church that will continue raising up new Christian, principled leaders through global education initiatives.

[1] Olav Fykse Tveit, The Truth We Owe Each Other: Mutual Accountability in the Ecumenical Movement (Geneva: WCC Publications, 2016), vii.

[2] Ibid.

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