By Keith Boyette –
What follows is an adaptation of the address the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association, delivered at the WCA’s Global Gathering held at Asbury United Methodist Church in Tulsa, Oklahoma, on Saturday, November 9, 2019.
I love the church. We are the body of Christ – poured out in the midst of a broken and troubled world to offer God’s love, his salvation, and his transforming grace to each and every person to become more and more like Jesus. In the words of Peter, we are God’s very own possession so that we can show others the goodness of God who called us out of the darkness into his wonderful light.
God desires for the church – which he called into being – to be one, to be holy, to be catholic in the sense of serving all of his creation, and to be apostolic. The Wesleyan Covenant Association fully embraces God’s call upon the church.
Recently, the words of the prophet Isaiah have come alive for me as the prophet declared God’s message to a people who were traversing troubled times in their relationship with God. Isaiah declares God’s message: “I will lead blind Israel down a new path, guiding them along an unfamiliar way. I will brighten the darkness before them and smooth out the road ahead of them. Yes, I will indeed do these things; I will not forsake them” (Isaiah 42:16). Isaiah continues, “For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland” (43:19).
God is birthing a new Wesleyan movement – rekindling the fires that burned in the hearts of those first Methodists who let no social convention or obstacle stand in the way of their sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with anyone and everyone. There are three movements that are part of God birthing this new thing.
The first movement is extricating the new thing from the old. As it became apparent that The United Methodist Church was being rent asunder by irreconcilable differences, the Wesleyan Covenant Association has worked to ensure traditionalist churches will be able to move from the UM Church to what is next with the resources with which God has blessed them.
Therefore, the WCA supports the adoption of the Indianapolis Plan for Amicable Separation because it creates the best path for entirely separate groups of theologically aligned churches to emerge from the UM Church. It will enable every church and clergyperson to be aligned with others who hold the same core theological and ethical commitments. Every church will have an opportunity to decide about such alignment. Now, not later, is the season for leaders to prepare the local church for the future. To leaders: Educate your people. Define your mission. Draw closer to the Lord. Speak with boldness and love. Engage in the conversations that are necessary.
The second movement is developing the new. As churches and clergy move from the old to the new, what will the new thing look like? The WCA believes the UM Church will come apart, either by an agreed plan of separation enacted by the 2020 General Conference or through local churches deciding to exit the denomination due to a never-ending cycle of conflict, inaction, and dysfunction. We are preparing for the launch of a new Methodist church in the aftermath of GC2020. We see the WCA as the bridge to this new church. We will provide a framework for churches and clergy to move to an interim expression of this church under the auspices of the WCA.
The November WCA assembly in Tulsa voted overwhelming to commend a draft of the WCA’s “Book of Doctrines and Discipline.” This is a working document for local churches, laity, and clergy who long for a warm-hearted, mission driven expression of Wesleyan Christianity. The WCA will continue to refine this document between now and the holding of a convening conference for a new church. Once again, it is a work in progress. Our goal is to help a convening conference to move forward deliberately and expeditiously in creating a healthy and vibrant church.
We envision a leaner, more nimble church which is not top heavy with an institutional bureaucracy that constrains rather than liberates us to share the Good News. This new denomination will exist to serve local congregations – not for local congregations to serve it. There will be no trust clause on the property of churches. We want our movement to be a coalition of the willing, not the constrained.
The structure of this new church will define broad parameters for how local churches will be in connection with one another, but it will grant local churches maximum flexibility to organize for and advance the ministry to which God has called them. As a consequence, more of the tithes and offerings received by local churches will remain with them so they can deploy their resources for reaching the lost, feeding the hungry, and making disciples.
This church will be served by a term-limited episcopacy, elected by – and accountable to – the whole church, not just a college of like-minded bishops. We intend for these episcopal leaders to be apostolic, to promote and defend the church’s teachings, and to act with integrity as they fulfill their duties.
We envision a church which has laser-sharp focus on its mission – to introduce people to Jesus and challenge each person to become his fully devoted follower – which will be our first and foremost priority. Each church will have the freedom to determine how it fulfills this mission, and the expectation will be that every church will bear fruit – making disciples and developing them into disciple-makers.
We envision a church that finds its unity in Christ, and that is fully committed to the great confessions of our faith that we know bring well-being and wholeness to us, both individually and corporately. We truly believe a tenacious commitment to the church universal’s core teachings and beliefs will enable us to identify and deploy faithful, energetic, and effective clergy who are dedicated and excited about practicing, teaching, and proclaiming Scriptural Christianity.
Just as in the early days of the Methodist movement, we envision a church that empowers and releases laity to be leaders of the church. We affirm the priesthood of all believers! In ever more diverse and secular cultures, laity will increasingly find themselves on the frontlines of the church’s great mission to share the Good News with grace and truth. To our great embarrassment, we seem to forget laity are absolutely essential to the church. It is time for each lay person to take their place as persons whom God has called, gifted, and deployed both within and beyond the church.
Following Christ is not a spectator sport. Jesus reminds us that the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Yet Jesus has provided workers sufficient for the task in response to our prayers. We need to get out of the way and release that which God has already called forth.
The third movement involves our seeing the future that God has for this new church he is calling into being. Here are some signposts which we see pointing to where God wants to take us.
God wants every person to encounter Jesus, enter into relationship with him, and receive the salvation which he alone provides. We repent of the lack of fruit produced by a significant part of Methodist churches worldwide, especially in the United States. We cannot talk about being a world-changing movement when our branch of the body of Christ is in precipitous decline. The history of Christianity is the story of how God has used those whom the world regards as being foolish and weak to reach ever-increasing numbers of people for Jesus.
Our hearts are broken for those who do not yet know Jesus or who are indifferent to who he is and what he has done for us. We have no reason to exist apart from the mission of sharing the Gospel with our neighbors – all of them without exception – globally. The preeminent priority in a new Methodist church will be revitalizing existing churches so they become vital, vibrant missional outposts bearing fruit in God’s kingdom, and planting vital, vibrant new churches that advance the historic Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition, especially in communities where the historic Methodist witness is not present. Some of this will occur through the multiplication of existing churches as they open new sites of their church and the expansion of online worshiping communities. This will occur as the Holy Spirit moves through individuals and local churches which reclaim their first love of Jesus, which are broken by the desperate needs which he brings to their attention, and which take initiative not limited by institutional restrictions and efforts to control and micro-manage such initiatives. As a new church, we want to empower, embrace, and unleash such initiatives.
A strength of Methodism in its most fruitful season was ensuring followers of Jesus were connected to small groups where they could celebrate God’s activity in their lives, confess their sins to one another, seek God’s face, and discover how God was empowering them to live out the Christian faith in all of its aspects with authenticity. Unless we reclaim this imperative of discipling people in community and equipping them to be disciples who make disciples, our branch of the church universal will continue to be weak and anemic. We envision vibrant accountability groups in each and every local church.
John Wesley declared, “The world is my parish.” That has never been truer for the people called Methodists than in our day. We are part of a global community. We are called to be a global church. Already God is doing something new, linking together parts of the Wesleyan family of churches around the globe who share the theological commitments of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Part of our vision for the new church God is birthing is for a church that enables significant global missional partnerships. We are committed to developing and deploying effective partnerships for local churches to be in ministry with one another globally across geographic boundaries to advance the Kingdom of God and reach people of diverse cultures with the love of Jesus. Missiologists tell us that one of the largest mission fields for the church is in the United States where more than 180,000,000 are unmoored spiritually.
Methodism has always had a focus on the poor and marginalized. We come by that naturally as that is the heart of our God, reflected in the life and ministry of Jesus. We dream of a church which effectively responds to its calling to be in ministry with the poor, marginalized, addicted, and recovering. Our pursuit of holiness must include being in community with those who have been abandoned by the systems of this world.
We are committed to addressing the challenge for local churches in reaching teens, shepherding them through the transition to adulthood, and engaging those who are navigating further education or entering the workforce so that they continue as committed Christ-followers. We desire to empower local churches to be more effective in their ministry with young people and young adults.
The Bible tells us that at the culmination of history every nation and tribe and people and language will gather around the throne of our God to worship Him. Yet God desires that his church increasingly embody that reality here and now. We envision a church which deals transparently with the sins of racism and prejudice that are still present in our lives today and which increasingly ensures that when we gather, we experience the worship God calls us to with the presence of the full diversity of the communities where we live and serve.
We are a people in need of healing. We do not trust some of our present leaders. We are suspicious and wary of anything that has the slightest hint of what we have endured for too long. Yet this is a catalytic moment. God is doing something new. We are not doing the new thing; God is!
God is looking for a people who will be radically surrendered to his sovereignty. God is looking for a people who joyfully proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. God is looking for a people who will be desperately dependent upon the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit.
On that people God will pour out His rich blessings, and he will use them to reach all nations, races, and peoples with the Good News of Jesus Christ. When we are fully committed to that great vision, in God’s good time, he will claim us as part of his one holy catholic and apostolic church. Let us dare to believe He is bringing that reality to pass in our day.
Keith Boyette is a United Methodist clergyperson and the president of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.