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The Anti-Mission Society Of The United Methodist Church

"Official" Hindrances to Mission by Frank Decker

At an evangelism training conference, I had a conversation with a young pastor whom was sensing a call to serve in full-time foreign missions. After he had shared his heart for seeing the Kingdom of God grow in regions where people had little access to the Gospel, I asked him if he had considered service through the faith mission with which I work, The Mission Society for United Methodists. He replied, "I couldn't do that. Association with the Mission Society is the political kiss of death in my annual conference."

This is a sad but familiar story. Consider the following situations in which an "official" barrier has blocked the advance of missions:

  • In Southeast Asia a district superintendent instructs a missionary that he should not enable the ministries of the non-Methodist pastors in the area, even though they live in very remote areas and are in need of training and materials.
  • In Latin America a bishop declines to direct critically needed medical aid and missionary support to a remote region, simply because he does not want to strengthen the ministry of a political rival who oversees the ministry in that district. Incidentally, while visiting this country I met a former Methodist minister who had been asked to leave the denomination by this same bishop because he was considered to be "too charismatic." After leaving the denomination, the minister started an independent work that has now trained and sent more than 900 indigenous church planters to remote regions of that country.
  • An ordained United Methodist minister must take a leave of absence (maximum length: five years) and an additional sabbatical year as the only way to amicably depart his conference to serve as a missionary to Africa with any hope of returning to serve in his annual conference in the United States. Why? Because his bishop refuses to appoint him to serve under the auspices of an unofficial agency. As a result, the length of his missionary service is limited to six years.
  • A promising missionary candidate who has applied to teach in a seminary in Africa withdraws his application for missionary service after learning that his bishop is unwilling to appoint him to serve through the auspices of an "unofficial" agency. After weighing the impact that pursuance of missionary service would have on his career, he withdraws his application, stating that the consequences are "untenable."

Indeed, when it became known among my peers in 1986 that 1 was planning to leave the pastoral ministry to serve as a missionary with an "unofficial" agency, a number of concerned colleagues advised me that I would be ruining my career. My response was that I didn't enter the ministry to perpetuate a career, and that I believed I was participating in a movement of The Holy Spirit. My sentiment was reflected in a statement that one Mission Society staff member had printed at the top of each of his memo sheets: "Riding God's Avalanche."

Thankfully, there are exceptions to this unfortunate trend. I am grateful for the three bishops who have appointed me to serve under the auspices of the Mission Society over the past seventeen years. And, a number of ordained United Methodist ministers from conferences earlier than my own have enjoyed the blessing of serving under appointment to the Mission Society and other faith ministries. But the prevailing attitude seems to be an enthusiasm to endorse only that which is deemed "official."

In addition to the unfortunate consequences that such attitudes have for our denomination, we should also ask ourselves whether or not this is the model of church polity that should be exported to other countries. Certainly there are standards to insure that a movement is congenial to doctrinal and theological fidelity and issues of missional propriety. And, there are legitimate reasons to avoid partnership with certain ministries. But to dismiss a ministry solely because it is not official implies that one is more concerned with perpetuating his or her denomination rather than the Kingdom of God, and fails to recognize that God is, indeed, also at work outside of one's denomination. There is no room for denominational or organizational pride in the worldwide Christian movement. In the words of one Mission Society' executive, "We don't care who gets the credit, as long as the Kingdom of God advances and people come to know Jesus."

The Sentinel Group (www.sentinelgroup.org) is an organization that has produced two videos called "Transformations" and "Transformations II" documenting a clear movement of God around the world in which whole communities have experienced times of radical renewal and refreshment through the Holy Spirit. In each instance, the period of transformation in the community was preceded by times of concerted intercession and a call to unity in the Spirit. Pulpit exchanges took place as pastors set aside their turf issues and denominational divisions. It is evident that God blesses attitudes such as this.

There are critical times when one must decide whether it is more important to be concerned with that which is official, or that which is anointed. After all, I'd rather make a "bad career move" than miss a ride on God's avalanche.

Source:  Good News Magazine, September/October 2003

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