The Faith That Compels Us The first decade of the Mission Society

by H.T. Maclin


In 1974 I was nominated by the General Board of Global Ministries (GBGM) as the field representative for Mission Development in the Southeastern Jurisdiction.

I had been on the Board staff for only a short time when I heard that a group of United Methodists known as the Evangelical Missions Council (EMC) had started meeting with certain top executives of the Board and some bishops in 1974 in an effort to come to a mutual understanding about world missions. But as a mid-level executive, I was neither involved in the conversations nor were any of us ever told about the dialogues. Only much later did I learn that the EMC had its beginnings in the fall of 1973 when an invitation was sent to some 80 pastors across the nation who were known to have strong missions programs in their churches. They met in early February, 1974, at the Sharon Lake Retreat Center owned by the Highland Park UM Church of Dallas, Texas.

Following three days of prayer and discussion about what they might do about the mission situation in the church, the Evangelical Missions Council was formed. For two years it functioned out of the busy office of Dr. David Seamands, then pastor of the Wilmore UM Church in Wilmore, Kentucky. By 1976, however, Virgil E. Maybray, pastor of the First UM Church in Irwin, Pennsylvania, was invited to become the first executive director, and the EMC became a program arm of Good News, an evangelical renewal movement and forum for Scriptural Christianity within The United Methodist Church.

Because of the dialogues the EMC had been having with GBGM regarding the need for more emphasis on evangelism, Dr. Malcolm McVeigh was appointed by the Board in 1976 to the executive staff of the World Division as Functional Secretary for Church Development and Renewal. He had been a missionary in Africa and had, in fact, overlapped with us a bit in Kenya before we left. After two years on the Board staff, however, he resigned in 1978 in utter frustration when he concluded that the Board had no intention of permitting him to carry out a Christ-centered program of church growth and evangelism. Now a member of the board of directors of the Mission Society, Malcolm recalls his experience with the World Division:

"The reason my position was frustrating was that its real purpose was window dressing. It was set up to say that we were doing something when it was obvious that there was no real intention of doing anything. My major job there was to try to persuade people who weren’t interested that we ought to do something… You could refer the issue of ‘unreached peoples’ to the World Division one hundred times a year, and at the end of ten years, you would be exactly where you were at the start. That is true because the staff of the World Division (with a few non-vocal exceptions) are simply not interested."

New Leadership of World Division

When the head of the World Division announced her retirement in 1982, an interim Deputy General Secretary was appointed. Many of us hoped that the Board would now appoint someone to this position who would at least be open to the concerns of evangelicals. Such a person could bring a new vision for Christian world missions to the agency. The search was on, but some observers believed the choice had already been made.

By the early summer of 1983, rumors were circulating that the candidates for the new head of the World Division had been narrowed down to three persons, one of them, Ms. Peggy Billings, a radical feminist on the Women’s Division staff who headed their Social Concerns section. Initially, I dismissed the idea that she had any chance of being elected. After all, why would the World Division deliberately "shoot itself in the foot" by putting such a controversial person in this prominent position?

One of the many concerned pastors across the nation in 1983 was Dr. L.D. (Bill) Thomas Jr., senior minister at First UM Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Bill had a real heart for mission. He believed the major purpose of the church was to give priority to mission outreach, and he himself became personally involved.

Disturbed by the rumors they too were hearing, Dr. Ira Gallaway and his wife Sally went to Tulsa in August to talk with Dr. Thomas and his wife Harriet about the troubling news. After several hours of conversation followed by a lengthy period of prayer for the leadership of the World Division, they made a covenant: if the General Board did not elect someone who would uphold the historic Christian faith as outlined in the Discipline, a new missions sending agency would be founded.

Growing Consensus for Alternative Sending Agency

Dr. Gerald H. Anderson had been invited to deliver a lecture in Dallas, Texas, before United Methodist ministers from the area on October 6, 1983. I knew him by name only. He had been a GBGM missionary and served with his family in the Philippines for 10 years. He was professor of church history and ecumenics as well as the academic dean of Union Theological Seminary in Manila. Upon returning to the United States, he was elected president of Scarritt College in Nashville and was also professor of world Christianity there. In 1976 he became editor of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research and the director of the Overseas Ministries Study Center (OMSC), now located in New Haven, Connecticut.

Regarded by many as one of Methodism’s foremost church historians and missiologists, Dr. Anderson had finally decided that change was impossible in United Methodism’s structure at that time. He had no contact or connection with the Evangelical Missions Council of Good News but had spent nearly a decade of private protest and consultations with colleagues both within the Board and in the wider church. Deciding to go public in Dallas as an act of conscience, he chose "Why We Need a Second Mission Agency" as his topic.

News of Dr. Anderson’s address in Dallas came at a time when the Evangelical Missions Council of Good News was already finalizing plans for a second missions agency. These plans were put aside when the Mission Society for United Methodists came into being. At the same time, growing numbers of pastors were coming to the same conclusion after more than 10 years of discussion and dialogue. But the defining moment was yet to come.

Although The United Methodist Reporter in Dallas headlined Dr. Anderson’s address, it apparently had no effect on events later that month when Ms. Peggy Billings was indeed confirmed to head the World Division.

Over the next several weeks I talked personally with seven of the eleven bishops in the Southeastern Jurisdiction. Each without exception expressed concern over the appointment of Ms. Billings. Like many of the other bishops, however, and in spite of their personal feelings about this matter, not one was sufficiently disturbed to speak out or do anything about it, either as individuals or as a college.

Evangelicals Meet in St. Louis to Plan New Agency

The election of Ms. Billings quickly set in motion the covenant Ira Gallaway and Bill Thomas had made nearly two months earlier: to create a second missions sending agency. Such an agency would represent a broad-based coalition of evangelicals across the church. They contacted and invited 57 friends of like mind and set November 28, 1983, to meet at the Rodeway Inn near the St. Louis airport.

Of the 57 people invited from all five jurisdictions of the United Methodist Church, 34 persons, paying their own air travel, participated in the meeting. One of those persons was Dr. Gerald Anderson, who was asked to give a summary of the address he had given in Dallas the previous month. The Minutes of this historic meeting state that Dr. Anderson had a basic concern about the World Division: that it was "difficult to discern that those who are now responsible really believe that it makes any difference whether or not one believes in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord. Further, that their programs do not reflect this belief."

Dr. David Seamands, then pastor of Wilmore UM Church, presented a summary of the nearly 10 years of attempted dialogue between the Evangelical Missions Council (EMC) and the Board of Global Ministries and gave two reasons for establishing a second missions sending agency:

1. The 10 years of attempted dialogue have been a failure. Dialogue has been attempted up front and behind the scenes. From the lack of response and the reactions of the Board there is reasonable doubt if the Board had ever seriously dialogued with the EMC. The recent staff elections are a direct signal that the dialogue has completely failed.

2. Now is the time for setting up an alternative sending agency due to a great fear of division in the church. A parallel agency is the only way to prevent a split in the church, as well as an essential necessity to preserve the mission of the church and the unity of the church in diversity.

After considerable discussion followed by prayer, Dr. David Seamands, with a second by Dr. Clarence Yates, presented the following resolution, which was carried unanimously:

"Therefore, be it resolved that we United Methodists here assembled vote to establish a supplemental mission agency."

A twelve-member steering committee was established, which elected Dr. L.D. Thomas as chairman and Dr. Ira Gallaway as secretary. Twenty of the pastors present made a promise in faith to raise $130,000 to establish the new missions agency. The major question was whom they could find to help organize it and provide the basic leadership. All agreed to pray that the Lord would guide them in this crucial decision.

Ira Gallaway came to Atlanta in early December to see Alice and me. Because we had been friends for many years from our North Texas Conference days, Ira felt he could talk openly and confidentially about the decision to organize a new Mission Society for United Methodists. Knowing nothing of the decision I had come to weeks before to resign from the Board, Ira asked if we knew someone whom we could recommend to help them organize the new agency and provide the basic leadership. I glanced quickly at Alice and said to Ira, "How about me?" There was a moment of stunned silence. Ira could not believe what he had heard. Knowing of my lengthy tenure with the Board both as a missionary and an executive staff member, he had assumed I would stay there until I retired. Ira, Alice, and I talked until well after midnight about how such a new agency might be organized.

The next week I flew to Tulsa to meet with Bill Thomas for a few hours. Following a few telephone calls to members of the ad hoc committee, Bill asked me to become the first executive director of The Mission Society for United Methodists. I replied, "Yes!" without hesitation. The decision would be formalized at a meeting planned in Atlanta on December 29, 1983.

Mission Society for United Methodists Formed in 1984

The Mission Society for United Methodists was formed and incorporated in the State of Georgia on January 6, 1984. Since the news about it had leaked out even before the formal announcement, the president of the Board of Global Ministries, Bishop Jesse R. DeWitt, had sent a letter on December 21, 1983, to each jurisdictional College of Bishops entitled, "An Outline for Discussion," stating that "we fail to find anything that would now commend the establishment of another mission society—especially one standing outside the established lines of accountability of the connectional system."

The Southeastern Jurisdictional College of Bishops responded with four of five points expressing concern about the current direction of the Board of Global Ministries. They wrote:

1. We believe that this proposed second mission agency reflects the deep and long-standing concerns of many United Methodist people about parts of the philosophy, policy, and program, and some of the personnel of the GBGM, some of which concerns we ourselves share.

2. We would call attention to the prolonged effort which many United Methodists have made to get the Board to hear their questions and their concerns and to demonstrate by its responses a clear and honest desire to consider these concerns seriously and to make changes where careful objective reflection and evaluation indicate they should be made.

3. We strongly urge the Board to take a long look at its current philosophy of missions and attempt to understand what honest critics are saying about it, and why. This observation is not intended to reflect negatively upon the Board’s well-conceived policy of indigenization. However, it is our hope the Board will find ways to increase its deployment of missionaries.

4. We are of the opinion that the present crisis is very serious, that it represents a far wider base of concern than any one segment of our church’s membership and that it should be addressed with integrity by the Board before critical deterioration of denominational support occurs.

5. We are opposed to the formation of a second agency but deplore the circumstances which have made some of our people feel this to be necessary.

The Mission Society had no sooner started than we began to hear from church leaders such as Dr. Jacob Stephens, the president-elect at that time of The Methodist Church of Ghana; Bishop Roberto Diaz of The Evangelical Methodist Church of Costa Rica; and Sister Cecilia Hernandez of the Methodist Church of Colombia, all of them wanting to join with us in a new partnership. Since then, the Society has extended its outreach to 25 other nations with at least 25 percent of our missionaries assigned to work in areas of the world where the Gospel has been little heard or heeded.

Ten Years of Ministry Celebrated

"Celebrating a Decade of Miracles" was the theme of the tenth anniversary celebration of the Mission Society, held at First United Methodist Church in Decatur, Georgia, on October 28, 1994. We did indeed have much to celebrate! We celebrated the life and effective ministry of Julia Williams who served the Society so well the previous two years as its president. And we officially welcomed Dr. Alvern Vom Steeg as our new president who, with his wife, Jane, had come from Fresno, California, where Al had been the senior minister for the previous 14 years at St. Luke’s UM Church. The Vom Steegs had also served as missionaries with the General Board of Global Ministries for 7 years in Brazil and bring to the Society their invaluable experience in both world missions and the local church ministry.

Since the first ten missionaries were commissioned and sent forth from the Highland Park UM Church in Dallas, Texas, in 1985, an additional 185 men and women have been confirmed to serve Christ in 28 countries around the world. Some have completed their terms of service; at present there are 114 currently on the field, on furlough, or raising their support to go out.

Another 113 persons are classified as Missionary Associates. These are United Methodist laity and clergy who serve a variety of other Christian mission organizations and receive their personal and ministry support through their respective organizations. With the approval of their primary agency, they are officially registered with the Mission Society as their link to The United Methodist Church. Although we provide no financial support for these persons, we are committed to pray for them and, when requested, provide them with contacts in United Methodist churches.

We began in January, 1984, with the promise in faith of $130,000 from just twenty of the nearly 38,000 United Methodist congregations in the United States to support the Mission Society, a small fraction of one percent of the existing churches. But God honored our commitment to go forward in faith, believing he would supply all our needs. When the first year ended in December, 1984, we had actually received more than $238,000. Today, nearly 3,400 churches and thousands of individuals, families, and local church groups provide an annual budget in excess of $4,000,000. As the opportunities to develop exciting new ministries in the world have been presented to us, God has raised up both the people and supplied the necessary funds to support them.

H.T. Maclin is the founding president of the Mission Society and now President Emeritus of the organization. Dr. Maclin and his wife, Alice, were accepted as missionaries in 1952 by the then Board of Missions of The Methodist Church and served 20 years in Africa, in the Central Congo and then in Nairobi, Kenya. This article is an excerpt from his book The Faith that Compels Us from Bristol House.


The Mission Society For United Methodists
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