KEYNOTE ADDRESS BY THE PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE METHODIST CHURCH GHANA, THE MOST REVEREND PROFESSOR EMMANUEL K. ASANTE TO THE ANNUAL GENERAL MEETING OF THE NORTH AMERICA MISSION OF THE METHODIST CHURCH GHANA. MAY5, 2012
4TH CONFERENCE CENTER, CHEVY CHASE, MARYLAND
“The World is My Parish”: Harnessing Our Diverse Gifts for Mission
One of the notable legacies John Wesley, the founder of Methodism bequeathed to the people called Methodist is his notion on the parish, which is hardly limited to a definable geographical area. For John Wesley, the founding founder of our church:” The World is my Parish”.
A serious reflection on this statement by John Wesley clearly points to a perception of ministry that is hardly parochial in focus. It points to a conception of ministry that has a universal and global thrust.
The expression points to our grand itinerancy the basis of which is the mandate given to us by the Master to make disciples of all nations:” Go ye into all the world and make disciples of all the nations [ta ethne]
At the heart of the Methodist conception of ministry is itinerancy, which finds expression in the statement in question:” The world is my parish,” a statement that also raises the question in respect of the nature and mission of the church.
THE NATURE AND MISSION OF THE CHURCH
It is important for us to understand that the nature of the church is that of ecclesia, that is, a people “called out” in the sense of a people who have woken up to the realities that are already true about the world; people who believed in and experienced the gospel of liberation brought to us by Jesus, the Christ and are committed to bearing witness to Christ and this gospel of liberation.
We are those who through our mutual love, sacrifice, reconciliation and forgiveness of one another point the way to the new Kingdom, that is ours in Christ, revealing to those who still sleep-those who still distrust the light and remain in the darkness of sin and unbelief, that Christ Jesus has won the day.
In this vein Paul, the Apostle wrote,” so then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self controlled…. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our lord Jesus Christ. He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with him. [1Thessalonians 5:6, 9-10].
All of these is to say that the church, understood as ecclesia I also apostolic in the sense of a people who have been called out and sent to proclaim the good news to those who are still sleeping in the darkness of sin. The church has experienced the grace of liberation in Christ and vocation as a result of the experience of this grace of liberation to reach out to the unreached in the world. This calls for a parish that cannot be confined to any definable geographical area. It calls for a parish that extends to the whole world.
So understood, the nature and mission of the church cannot be defined as an “incubator for heaven”. Our calling is not to manage the incubation of the ecclesia in view of its entry to heaven. Our calling is to make disciples of ta ethne[the nations].Our calling then is to be the mission of Christ to the world. The church is intended to be the continuation of Christ's ministry to the world. All of this is to say that the church is not an oasis in the desert of the world. It is not “a place where one can drop an anchor and wait for death secure in the knowledge that they will rise with Christ”. The church is called-out and send-out community.
WHY ARE WE CHRISTIANS?
The question that must engage our attention is: Why are we Christians? As Methodist we strongly believe that the essence of our calling and mission is to facilitate the equipment of our church for ministry and demonstration of faith working through love for holistic liberation of mankind. Central to this is a commitment to make disciples of Jesus Christ of all nations. Our church polity is designed to make our mission possible. It means that all of our rules and structures are in place to help us achieve our desired goal, which is to make disciples of all nations.
In their article:” A Wesleyan vision for Theological Education and leadership Foundation for the 21ST Century,” Kenneth L. Carder and others observed that the church should “support one another in the shared journey of realizing God's love, taking on the mind of Christ, and manifesting the fruit of the spirit. While the possibility of such transformation is grounded solely in God's grace, Wesley recognized that God has chosen to involve humanity cooperatively in the process of salvation. We must put to work what God is working in us. [Phil 2:12-13]
The task of the church is to be created-co-creators in the world. The co-creativity of the church helps to define our primary task of being God's mission to the world. As Paul understood it, nature of the church is literally the body of Christ, with its diversities of members defined in terms of diverse gifts and the manifestation of the Risen Christ in the world.
The Gospel bears witness to the mobility and itinerancy of Jesus. Jesus was always on the move in the cause of the Kingdom of God. Jesus was tireless in his efforts to reveal God to the people. Likewise the church as the body of Christ continues this mission of Christ who was present among the poor, the downtrodden, widowed and the orphaned. If we are the body of Christ who ensures the continuation of Jesus' mission on earth, we must reach out to poor and the nobodies in whom Christ resides. This call for itinerancy, the system by which we declare that the world is our parish. But it also calls for the utilization of our diverse gifts for service [diakonia].
Itinerancy, in our context, is the process whereby ministers are normally posted every year for a defined period of time, usually not exceeding five years or at most seven years.
Born out of Wesley's conception of the parish as involving the whole world, itinerancy reminds us that we have been called to participate in the ministry of Christ, to give the whole of our lives to ministry in the church, and to do so in accordance with the needs of the church and of conference. Itinerancy means that as ordained ministers and indeed as members of the church and we should be more than mere managers of grazing flocks.[ecclesia] Instead we should be leaders who understand that over-grazing in one area leads to dry grass and dead sheep and hence fruitless ministry.
ITINERANCY AND CONNEXTIONALITY
Itinerancy also points to connextionality of our church and for the fact that our ordained ministers are ministers of the connexion and not of any defined section of the connxion .It is important to understand that our episcopacy is defined and informed by the conference, in whose collective oversight of the church we have been graciously elected and appointed participate. Our episcopacy is a connexional episcopacy as opposed to a diocesan episcopacy which has a tendency to destroy connexional itinerancy.
Connexionality is all embracing, uniting and inclusive. Within the concept of connexionality, the people called Methodists express their conception of the church in the conception of connexionality, we see the church as stretching into all countries, race colours and cultures. Although separated by space, culture and different languages, the members of the body of Christ, church unites without exclusion, to speak a common language of redeemed- the language of tried and proven faith; we speak of the language of our experience of faith of God in Christ; the accents differ but the language is the same.
The United Methodist Church retired bishop of Mississippi, Kenneth Carder once observed that “Polity is Ecclesiology”. It simply means that the way we structure our church gives us insight on what we believe the church represents in the world.
Itinerancy as a method of organizing the church points to a real sense of connection between the Methodist Churches in one area because they are all served by the same clergy and because they contribute to the one purpose of making disciples of Jesus Christ.
The point is the concept of the itinerant ministry in the Methodist Church is the Church's recognition that ministry defined in terms diverse service, as a whole is God's gift to the Church and is at the disposal of the entire connexion and not just a part of it. We must understand that the ordained minister is a gift to the church as a whole. The ordained have been called to coordinate the diverse gifts of the church.
Theirs is to coordinate the diverse ministries involving the lay and the clergy. In Methodism, the meaning of ordained is to “set apart” those who are called to the orders of Deacon and Elder to provide for the needs of the connexion and the world. In context of the general ministry of the church, ordination “provides for the continuation of the Christ's ministry, which has been committed to the church as a whole”.
Ordination is a gift from God to the church. As a gift from God to the church, ordination conveys God's grace and love for the world. Ordained ministers are only recipients and conduits of this gift of ordination for the church. The role of ordained then is to give inspiration, education and opportunities to the people of God. The ordained has the responsibility to facilitate and empower a shepherding ministry, which is expressed in diverse ways to the world.
The task of the ordained is also to reach out to those who are not familiar with the good news of God's love and grace for the world. The ordained is called to minister to the world utilizing the gifts one is endowed with.
ITINERANCY AND PARTICULAR CONTEXTS
Itinerancy born out of the conception of the world as our parish does not negate ministry in particular context. Ordination calls the ordained to utilize one's gifts in the service of others. It also calls the ordained to utilize the tools of one's location to re-frame the good news to appeal to a given body of the people. In order words, itinerancy in particular contexts allows for creativity, sensitivity, openness, humility and innovation in ministry. These are all important categories of contextualization of ministry.
ITINERANCY ENRICHES OUR MINISTRY
Itinerancy allows for contextual experiences that add up to the enrichment of our ministry. The unique socio-cultural, religious and differing perspectives of the various societies, circuits and dioceses allows for theological and ministerial enrichment in respect of ministers who approach their postings with openness of mind and heart, humility and desire to learn new things from varied but unique perspectives.
Even though itinerancy has its won challenges, the itinerant system allows churches to benefit from the unique perspectives and differing gifts and graces of ministers who are posted to them.
ITINERANCY AND TEAM WORK
Itinerancy speaks of collective, collaborative and complementary ministry. The point is God's work I the world involves many different individuals with variety of gifts and abilities. There are no superstars in this task, only team mates performing their own special roles enabled by the grace of God. We become useful members of the team as we set aside the egoistic desire that is the desire to be known and receive glory for what we do. The praise that comes from people is comparatively worthless. Invaluable approval comes from God.
Paul speaks of itinerancy informed by team work when he wrote as follows,” what after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who planted and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labour. For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building.” [1Xorinthians 3:5-9]
Itinerant ministry calls for complementarities of ministerial gifts, which are crucial for the work entrusted into the hands of the church. The complementarity of the foundation ministry of planting and nurturing ministry of watering is crucial for the growth of the church. In itinerancy we facilitate a synergy of ministries which allows for the healthy growth of the church.
In this presentation we have sought to bring out the importance of itinerancy in the mission that we are as a church. It has been our contention that the nature and the mission of the church demand that we define the parish in terms of the world and itinerancy which gives expression to this global and universal conceptions of the parish is very crucial in terms of the effective fulfillment of our mission, the essence of which is to make disciples for Christ. To conclude this address let me share with you what Nathan Mattox, a United Methodist minister said about itinerancy;
I have experienced the itinerant system both as a minister and as a son of a minister. As a child of a minister, I was blessed to have a good experience with the moves and transitions that brought into my life. I knew [of others] who weren't so fortunate. As a minister with a family of my own, the itinerant system has been bittersweet. Still there is excitement of going somewhere new, but new are the difficulties of moving just as friendships are beginning to develop…and feeling like our lives and livelihoods are not of our own design. I suppose as a child in a pastor's family, the itinerancy seemed like a fact of life. Now as I choose to follow my own calling into ministry, the ramifications of that choice for my family seem more tangible.
However, I am emboldened by Wesleyan covenant, and the generations of ministries before me who have taken it and the generation with whom I will take.” I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering, Let me be employed for thee, or laid me aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low by thee….”
The collective vision of the Methodist Church Ghana to which you are at different levels related is to build to the glory of God “a vibrant, spirit-filled and spirit-led church at the forefront of holistic evangelism and discipleship drive for the transformation of society”.
In the light of the vision, the Methodist Church Ghana considers her mission as follows;” To equip the church for ministry and demonstration of faith working through love for humankind”.
In the particular context of North American Missions, the missions is to evangelize and plant churches and facilitate pastoral care and fellowship among Ghana Methodist Churches and Ghanaians wherever they may be located in the U.S.A and Canada.
To fulfill this calling, there is the need for unity, inclusivity, and team work. Speaking of team work, Ralph Waldo Emerson noted correctly that “No member of a crew is praised for the rugged individuality of his rowing. Effective teams do not encourage heroes or superstars. They look for ways to maximize their resources and build on other's strength and diversity”.
Turning a group of individuals with diverse thinking, background and styles into a team is one of the biggest challenges leaders face. On the surface, it may seem easier to work with people of similar styles, thinking and background, yet an effective team involve people of diverse backgrounds.
Diversity brings richness to a team so there is a case for encouraging and rewarding team work in the context of diversity, which [diversity] serve as an effective building block for team work.
A team can bring together individuals with backgrounds, different perspectives of life and always of thinking. An outstanding team is the one with no factions. It is the type without subgroups of any type. It is the total lack of a “we” versus” them” attitude.
Three important categories which must be strictly emphasized, and which must be defined and inform our mission here in North America stand out, namely UNITY, INCLUSIVENESS, and TEAM WORK. As I draw the curtain to a close let me cite a line on unity taken from the picture of the Freedom March to Washington in 1963, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ”When one person stands up, he is often not noticed, but when thousands stand together, they cannot be over looked”
Friends united we stand, divided we fall. Be on the side of those want to stand.