“I believe God is doing a new thing, and I want to be part of that new thing,” to “take the liberating Gospel of Jesus Christ beyond the walls of the church to our Jerusalem, Samaria, and to the ends of the Earth!” Thus declared the Rev. Dr. Jerry Kulah of Liberia last weekend at the “Beyond These Walls” missions conference. It drew over 600 Global Methodists and other Wesleyan Christians from around the world—including Africa, Latin America, Eastern Europe, and the Philippines—to the Woodlands Methodist Church outside of Houston, Texas. The focus was to “mobilize and equip you and your congregation through the ‘best of the best’ mission practices so you can fulfill your divine calling… making disciples of all the nations.”
The Global Methodist Church was the biggest of the April 27-29 event’s sponsors. Many of the speakers and most (though not all) participants appeared to be Global Methodists or GMC-adjacent. One keynote speaker, prominent megachurch pastor, missions leader, and advocate of “radical” faith David Platt, half-jokingly enthused, “I’m getting close to becoming a Global Methodist myself!”
It might have been understandable if Global Methodist leaders had felt they needed more time to get on their feet before moving into such outward-focused missions. After all, last week, the GMC was then not quite one year old, and the majority of ultimately GMC-bound congregations in the United Methodist Church have not yet transferred. Every week, I hear of heavy-handed United Methodist bishops crossing new lines of aggression to try to hurt and undermine this new denomination from the very beginning. One of the key organizers of “Beyond These Walls” is even a member of one of the North Georgia congregations whose new bishop is dictatorially blocking their explicit “right” to disaffiliate.
But as hard as others try to hold it back, Global Methodism is already moving forward, taking the love of God out to a world in such desperate need.
In refreshing contrast to various United Methodist conferences I have attended over the years, “Beyond These Walls” was devoid of hijacking the church for political agendas, embarrassed avoidance of challenging but clear Scriptural teachings, and unbiblical theology.
The contrast on that last point was particularly clear in differing treatments of Acts 16’s record of Paul casting a demon out of an unnamed slave girl. Years ago, I attended a major national conference of liberal United Methodists where one plenary speaker, a seemingly obscure lesbian activist pastor named Dr. Karen Oliveto, taught on this passage. Oliveto portrayed Paul as lacking compassion for the slave girl, declared that Paul’s liberating her from the demon did not make her life better, and even concluded that on the whole, the exorcism “probably made it worse” for her. Now the no-longer-fringe Oliveto is not only a bishop, but the president of an entire United Methodist jurisdiction’s college of bishops.
At “Beyond These Walls,” Danielle Strickland offered a refreshingly different interpretation. Noting how Scripture actually identifies the demonic oppressor as a “python spirit” (read more about that here and here, as well as in some less-popular English translations), Strickland encouraged us to think of how actual pythons slowly, tortuously “choke the life out of their victims.” She contended that what “annoyed” (or “grieved” in the KJV) Paul was this demon’s hurtful oppression of its victim (about which Oliveto had expressed no concern). Highlighting the social hierarchies of that context, she emphasized how Paul interrupted his preaching to socially elevated men in order to help a “lowest of the low” slave girl on the bottom of society. Like Christian leaders today who have been willing to effectively sacrifice doing right by a lowly victim in seeking to protect “the greater good of the church’s mission and reputation,” Paul “could have sacrificed this girl,” by ignoring her in order to “focus on the greater mission of the Gospel’s spread through Europe.” As the next few verses show, Paul’s choice to instead help the girl immediately became rather costly and painful for him as well as Silas.
As the conference progressed, I realized that something else was missing. So much of what I have experienced at various United Methodist conventions over the years amounts to self-affirmation and self-congratulations. Even celebrating some genuinely good work done by denominational structures, which can be appropriate, can seem to convey an attitude of “aren’t God and the world so lucky to have us?”
In contrast, “Beyond These Walls” focused on the greatness of God rather than on the greatness of any people, and on world’s desperate needs, while also challenging us to recognize our own desperate inadequacy apart from God. Kulah preached powerfully on the power of the Holy Spirit to breathe new life into churches and also restore broken marriages and careers. Exploring the details of the irreverence in the Temple that famously outraged Jesus Christ, Platt warned of how we could also have “all the trappings of religious activity” and seem committed to God in personally comfortable ways, while still “missing God.” We fall into this danger whenever we lack (1) “fear, reverence and awe before God,” (2) “confessing and sorrow over sin,” (3) “faithful and forgiving prayer,” or (4) “love for all nations.” It is easy to feel intimidated by how the conference challenged us to self-sacrificially step beyond our comfort zones for the sake of the Gospel. But as Platt quipped, “If you can trust God for the next 10 trillion years, you can trust Him for the next few.”
There were multiple times where participants got to come together before the Lord to pray for ourselves, each other, and people in different parts of the globe, particularly the persecuted church and the many unreached by the Gospel.
Dr. Krystl Gauld (née Johnson), a UMAction Steering Committee member, taught about how in today’s context, “social media is the new lampstand.” She challenged us to strategically let the light of our lampstands shine before others in sharing the Gospel as well as “communicat[ing] effectively on moral issues of the day.”
Speakers shared about how believers with specialized practical skills, from medicine to American Sign Language, were desperately needed to support cutting-edge ministries around the world.
“Beyond These Walls” also offered a range of workshops of more in-depth equipping for the assembled pastors and church leaders on such topics as church multiplication, addressing pastoral burnout, better connecting our congregations to global missions, “helping without hurting” in partnerships with the Majority World, contextually effective ministry with “Gen Z,” ministry amidst urban poverty (even to the point of uprooting one’s life to live in a depressed big-city neighborhood), and how Wesleyan theology can positively shape our mission and ministry. I attended one workshop about how congregations can partner with a group called Circles USA to get beyond merely managing poverty to overcome poverty and break negative generational cycles, through empowerment and social connection.
In Luke 9:49-50, Jesus rebuked his disciples for blocking good ministry being done in His name by someone they saw as “not one of us.” It appears that most of the UMC bureaucracy will never be interested in ever joining hands with Global Methodism, the Wesleyan Covenant Association, and other evangelical Wesleyans to help sponsor anything like “Beyond These Walls” (as the UMC’s outlier seminary, United, did). But United Methodist leaders could at least stop trying to undermine, block, and greedily extract huge amounts of money from the ministry Global Methodists are now doing in Christ’s name.
In any case, the Global Methodist Church is moving forward in mission, even as it looks forward to being joined by others who have yet to transfer in. At “Beyond These Walls,” it announced the launch of the new Wesleyan Network for Global Mission to equip and connect congregations and ministries around the world in fulfilling the Great Commission. Rather than obsessing over denominational empire-building and excluding those “not of us,” this GMC-initiated network is being made available for brothers and sisters in the entire family of Wesleyan churches. To learn more, visit https://globalmethodist.world/
Comment by Gary Bebop on May 5, 2023 at 2:14 pm
Good work being done in a grassroots way (as well as in denominational formation). The timing is right; the tone is right; the temperature is right. I wish I had been able to attend such a conference.
Comment by Td on May 5, 2023 at 8:10 pm
“God is doing a new thing” must be the most overused and ill used scripture quote these days with Methodists. God is not doing a new thing; he is doing the same thing that he always does. The new thing that the quote refers to is jesus christ, the word becoming flesh.
Comment by James on May 6, 2023 at 9:06 am
This all started way back, when Eve pursuaded Adam to eat the apple………………………..
Comment by Wayne on May 6, 2023 at 9:35 am
Praise God for this! I foresee this church organization growing exponentially, even as the UMC continues in its downward spiral! However, I’m a bit surprised that David Platt was invited to speak, given his questionable and controversial leadership style at McLean Bible Church (ref Capstone Report articles for more info), as well as his “interesting” theological and political ideas. Not my first choice for a speaker, but at least his message seems on point. Again, I look for the Global Church to do much good in the name of Christ!
Comment by Roger on May 6, 2023 at 11:03 am
Doing a New Thing is not the answer. We need to do an old thing. Paul was not a follower of earthly Jesus. He is a follower of the Resurrected Jesus. He was taught by the Resurrected Jesus in Arabia, where the Mountain of God is and where the law was given to Moses at Mt. Sinai. Paul does not call people sheep. Nor does he call Jesus a Shepherd. Nor does Paul quote the earthly Jesus. Paul’s message and doctrines are the Crucified and Resurrected Jesus. One of the early persons to know or saw this was Francis L. Patton at Princeton University in 1888, President Patton said “The only hope of Christianity is in the rehabilitating of the Pauline Theology. It is back, back, back, to an Incarnate Christ and the atoning blood, or it is on, on, on, and on to atheism, and despair. Dr. Louis Sperry Shaffer of Dallas Seminary said, We have nothing in us that energizes us to approach God for salvation on our own. It has to be the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit , convinces, or proves the cosmos world respecting sin, righteousness, and judgement. The Holy Spirit does this. The Global Methodist Church needs to focus on the Pauline Gospel of Grace.
Comment by Steve on May 6, 2023 at 2:01 pm
The problem with the GMC is that its leadership are asking churches to vote to leave the UMC and join them before the GMC’s polity is completely formed. They are asking churches to vote and join first then find out what the GMC believes. It is not right when Democrats in Congress say you have to vote for legislation (such as Obamacare) in order to see what’s in it, it shouldn’t be right for the GMC to do the same.
The GMC has a transitional BOD that has changed several times by a select group on the transitional team. For example, the GMC has told churches that they will have more say in the appointment process but on April 5 they reiterated that the bishop has the final say and the churches are only in an “advisory” position (TBOD 509). That is exactly what the UMC says. The GMC also uses the progressive “inclusiveness” approach to selecting clergy (TBOD 506). And of course the GMC’s TBOD once had a lien on property that retired churches who disaffiliated with the GMC to pay money to the denomination but GMC leadership eventually took that out after being called out on the hypocrisy. The TBOD is not a set doctrine or polity and clearly has been and can be changed after churches join the denomination. Vote and join first then learn what they believe is never a good decision.
Granted there are churches in annual conferences that have until the end of this year to disaffiliate but many annual conferences have already extended the deadline which gives churches the opportunity to wait and see what the UMC and GMC decide about their denominations going forward. Churches in those conferences are blindly following their emotions and making decisions based on contradictory promises. If you have to leave, get out. If you can wait and see what the UMC and GMC’s GC eventually decide on what they believe, then do not allow yourselves to be manipulated by either – trust but verify.
Comment by JoeR on May 8, 2023 at 7:05 pm
Steve, I know what the UMC is doing. It is ugly dirty politics. I will take potential over what I have seen from North Ga any day.
Comment by John on May 8, 2023 at 11:39 pm
When is the GMC going to hold its first general conference? It said the conference would be held sometime between 12-18 months after the denomination launched itself. The 12-month mark has passed. No date, location, or process for delegate election has been announced, so it is highly unlikely the GMC will meet the 18-month deadline.
Comment by George on May 9, 2023 at 8:28 am
You UMC’ers are beginning to panic and have started picking on the very newly formed GMC for anything and everything. Yes, I’m a little apprehensive about our future as a GMC church but not for what you are pointing at. My concern is dealing with, will our church start being like the one we fled from? In the years to come, will we allow a bunch of liberal “wanna be” theologians forget why we fled to begin with. Folks, this is happening. Deal with it. Do it honestly.
Comment by Steve on May 9, 2023 at 9:33 am
The GMC traditional Book of Discipline already says they are using the progressive “inclusiveness” approach (the word they use) to select clergy. (GMC TBOD 506) How long do you think it will take for these hires to control the GMC? Think about it, to be an Elder in the UMC you have to graduate from a UMC seminary and 90% of them are progressive. Now many of those Elders are forming the GMC. The GMC has retired UMC bishops/DS’s who appointed and promoted these progressive clergy.
If you step away from the manipulation of UMC bad and GMC good then you will realize that right now both are bad. The GMC needs a solid BOD to regulate bishops and clergy but they are back peddling on those promises. Now the bishops have all the control in appointments like the UMC and the churches are only in an “advisory” position in choosing their clergy (GMC TBOD 509). That’s the same problem the UMC has.
Also, the GMC says their bishops will have term limits and not be lifetime appointments like the UMC. I like term limits, but the GMC leadership doesn’t tell churches that it is two terms of 8 years each. That’s 16 years. The average appointment for a UMC bishop is 12 years because the UMC has mandatory retirement – the GMC does not.
The GMC is using the progressive bad/ conservative good debate of American politics to manipulate people’s emotions to get them to join their new denomination. All the while they do not have a set BOD and continue to make changes that benefit the leadership. Don’t be fooled. If you need to leave the UMC now then go independent until the GMC gets a solid Book of Discipline.
Comment by George on May 9, 2023 at 2:44 pm
When we picked the builder, he said our new home would be completed in 8 months. It took 11 months with several mistakes that had to be corrected. We are in now and love our home. I am optimistic that our new and unfinished GMC will be the same when completed. That is my hope.
Comment by Steve on May 9, 2023 at 8:24 pm
If we don’t stand up for what is right when the foundation is being laid, then we only have ourselves to blame when it crumbles down.