Jumpstarting a New Methodism

Nov 4, 2022

By Jeff Greenway and Mike Lowry —

In our recently published book Multiplying Methodism, we discuss in detail why we separated from our present denomination and helped form the Global Methodist Church. The weight and history of this moment is not lost on us.

We’re reminded of a powerful scene from The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien. Early in the story, the good wizard, Gandalf, explains the history of the Ring to the young hobbit, Frodo Baggins. This mystical ring has been lost to the world of men for centuries, until it’s found by Gollum – a strange creature whose entire appearance was transformed by the ugliness that comes with trying to hold onto power (which the Ring symbolizes). The rediscovery of the Ring also corresponds with the rise of the dark wizard, Sauron – and the advance of evil on Middle Earth. As he comes to grips with the weight of this moment in time, Frodo – the most unlikely of heroes – laments: “I wish it need not have happened in my time.” 

Frodo knows something he can’t not know and feels the weight of responsibility to do something. The good wizard Gandalf speaks a word of wisdom in response to Frodo and to us: “So do I, and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

We can totally relate. We wish this season in the life of The United Methodist Church hadn’t happened in our time, but here we are. We have decided what to do with the time that’s been given to us. The words of Mordecai to Esther reverberate in our hearts and minds. “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this” (Esther 4:14). We have come to believe that God is calling us to spend a portion of that time here at the dawn of the New Methodism to state clearly why we believe it’s time to leave The United Methodist Church and join the newly formed Global Methodist Church. 

The foundational framework of the local church in the Next Methodism will have at a minimum four essential pillars. Vibrant faithful local congregations will exhibit qualities of being:

• Genuinely orthodox – a relearning and re-commitment to the historic theological core of the Christian faith;

• Truly Wesleyan – key Wesleyan distinctives will be taught, embraced, and lived out in practice;

• Unashamedly Evangelistic – we will engage in the making of disciples of Jesus Christ in answer to the Great Commission given by the risen Christ without apology or pause. Sharing the good news (gospel) of salvation in and through Christ will once again be at the essence of who we are in both thought and action;

• Passionately Missional – a renewed Methodism in the local church will be committed and actively engaged in combating injustice and oppression living out the great commandment to love God and love our neighbor as we love ourselves.

Friends, the time has come for us to reclaim our theological roots, rediscover the practices that fueled the Methodist revival, and stop fighting so we can beat our swords into plowshares and start planting the seeds for a new expression of Methodism. We can live into a new and renewed future – to reclaim and live out the powerful DNA that propelled John Wesley and the first Methodists to take the gospel to the world and spread scriptural holiness across the land. We know that no great movement of God has come without great sacrifice, determination, and faith from God’s people – and that will likely be the case for us. Salvation is free – but discipleship is costly.

Here are our top ten reasons we recommend you consider joining the Global Methodist Church.

1. Consistent Faithfulness in Doctrine. What we believe matters. It was with great intention we named our new book of order The Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline. We wanted to move our basic beliefs from being merely historic and suggestive documents – to authoritative standards that are a source of doctrinal authority and spiritual integrity. Our doctrinal beliefs and practice are rooted in historic Christianity and will keep us connected and in step with the global big “C” Church of Jesus Christ. Rather than continuing to approach Scripture, doctrine, and practice from a place of skepticism and syncretism, we look forward to working with people who hold the same view of Scripture, doctrine, and practice.

2. Reclaim Accountable Discipleship. When Methodism was sweeping across the United States, and where it is currently sweeping across countries and regions, it’s often rooted in small groups exercising accountable discipleship. Many of the United Methodist churches located across the United States today were class meetings formed when the Methodists were adding “a church a day” in the 1840s. One of the things that slowed our prior growth was the establishment of the Sunday school – a more informational model of discipleship – instead of the class meeting, which was a more transformational model. 

3. Church Planting. The Transitional Leadership Council of the Global Methodist Church has embraced the goal of launching 3,500 new communities of faith in the next seven years. This will not be generated out of District or Conference offices, but rather out of local churches. This is already taking place in parts of the Methodist movement which are going on outside North America. In the United States, new church starts will learn from places like the Philippines and Africa. These new communities of faith will not likely be parachute drops or start with a large investment of resources. Instead, they will use early Methodist DNA and some of the house church and micro-church models developed by organizations like Exponential and Fresh Expressions. We will be launching churches that look more like class meetings than brick and mortar edifices reflecting the past. 

4. Mission Driven Rather than Structurally Bound. Purposeful systems and structures are important ways we move forward, but The United Methodist Church presently has 13 General Boards and Agencies that are drowning in their bureaucracy. 

In contrast, during the last five years, over 1,000 volunteers have worked with the Wesleyan Covenant Association to put together recommendations on mission partnerships, accountable discipleship, church multiplication, ministry in the margins, and a host of other initiatives – without the encumbrance of a bloated structure. 

We believe the Global Methodist Church will resist bureaucracy and organize itself in flexible, fluid commissions that will do most of their work virtually using the technologies we all learned to use through the recent pandemic – which will enable much more diverse, creative, and economically viable participation in the denomination’s system while keeping it lean and nimble.

5. Term-Limited Episcopacy. Historically, Methodist bishops were never intended to be a class of “super-elders,” but the reality is the Council of Bishops of The United Methodist Church has acted as such. We (Bishop Mike Lowry and Jeff Greenway) have different views of what the episcopacy should look like, views anchored in the biblical and early Christian model of the episcopacy.

I (Jeff Greenway) chaired the initial task team that developed the first draft of the Doctrines and Discipline, and one of the early conversations we had was whether to eliminate the episcopacy. We decided we believe having bishops is historically important but have made some recommended changes that will need to be affirmed by the convening Conference of the Global Methodist Church. We recommend the elimination of jurisdictional conferences (which are the residue of institutional racism and the source of the move to regionalized expressions of faith in the UM Church), and that bishops be elected at the General Conference. We recommend bishops be elected for a maximum 12-year term, and if the bishop is not of retirement age, their title is “Bishop Emeritus” when their term ends, and they return to serve a local church. 

We’ve also separated the spiritual and temporal responsibilities of United Methodist bishops. The role of the bishop in the Global Methodist Church will be primarily spiritual – teaching the faith, ordaining clergy, and fixing appointments – but the operational leadership of the more temporal affairs will be delegated to a Connectional Operating Officer. This person will be hired by and accountable to the bishops but will provide day-to-day leadership to the temporal operations of the denomination. I (Jeff Greenway) use a model like this in the local church I serve. 

I (Bishop Lowry) believe it is time to lay aside the Judicial Council structure and ask bishops to once again lead the church and not simply manage (and protect) the institution. Bishops are to be “overseers.” Bishops would have the responsibility to rule on church discipline. A simple review could be instituted to check any attempt at abuses of power.

As you can see, while a few of the details are still to be decided by the convening conference of the Global Methodist Church, the proposals being placed before it call for a redefined episcopacy. The two of us have our own differences about the future shape of the episcopacy. This will be a time of discernment and learning for all as we seek the will and guidance of the Holy Spirit. What we are firmly united in is a yearning for the day when our bishops are servants committed to guarding and defending the faith rather than institutional bureaucrats leading us away from it.

6. Systemic Accountability. The Global Methodist Church is committed to systemic accountability. When I (Jeff Greenway) was leading the team that drafted the first proposal for the Doctrines and Discipline, there was a short time when we were attempting to write a polity that was reacting to everything we were experiencing in The United Methodist Church. We quickly got bogged down and could have easily spent so much time articulating what we’re against or moving from – that we would lose sight of what we’re being called to. We finally decided we can’t build a system that prevents bad actors or ineffectiveness, but we could build one that makes it easy to remove them.

We believe one of the reasons The United Methodist Church is in a constitutional crisis is because those who were charged with guarding and defending the faith and holding us accountable to our common covenant are not accountable themselves. The Global Methodist Church will exhibit covenantal accountability at every level – including an accountability system for bishops that is not controlled by bishops.

7. Lean Bureaucracy, Lower Costs, No Trust Clause. While there needs to be some systemic structure to the new denomination, those planning for the launch of the Global Methodist Church have been intentional in planning for a lean bureaucracy. We don’t envision a top-heavy, centrally controlled denominational system that gets hung up in survival. We dream of a church that is a movement and gives permission for multiple structures, systems, and mission partners.

We will have a convening conference in the near future which will likely be followed by another General Conference in short order. 

We don’t envision General Boards and Agencies populated and controlled by ministry insiders, but rather Commissions served primarily by volunteers who use the technology we’ve discovered during the pandemic to provide policy leadership to the initiatives of the church. One result of this leaner structure will be lower denominational costs. While most United Methodist congregations currently contribute up to 15 percent of their income (minus mortgage and mission-related funds) for apportionments, the Global Methodist Church will begin with a shared ministry of 2 percent of their income (minus mortgage and mission-related expenses) with a maximum of 6.5 percent – which can only be changed by a super-majority of the General Conference. The goal is to keep more resources in the local church for mission and ministry. 

The Global Methodist Church will not have a trust clause. While the history of the trust clause was to maintain sound doctrine, our recent history in The United Methodist Church is the trust clause was used to keep a dysfunctional church together. 

8. More Congregational Input on Clergy Selection. Gone will be the days when churches and pastors are not consulted and engaged in the clergy selection and assignment process. A major step in developing a system of clergy deployment that has significant input from the laity in churches receiving a pastor and clergy accepting a new assignment will be the abolition of the “guaranteed appointment.” In truth, the guaranteed appointment is, in Bishop Lowry’s terms, a “dead-man walking,” in both The United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church. It is simply no longer financially sustainable. 

Furthermore, the abolition of the guaranteed appointment will, we believe, be a significant move in the direction of developing effective clergy. One of the most distasteful aspects of my (Bishop Lowry) work as a UM bishop was the need to appoint people to local churches who were not effective or competent. It is time for the clergy union as a protective association to end. Simultaneously, the GMC must and will be dedicated to putting in place systems that protect and enhance appointment making across gender and ethnic lines. 

The convening conference of the GMC will be considering a modified call system for clergy deployment. While neither of us knows the final shape that modified call system will take, we can imagine a system where Presiding Elders will work with the lay leadership of a church to put together a short list of recommended possibilities. The laity will have the ability to add to that list if desired. The final appointment placement will evolve by common agreement between the Presiding Elder, pastor, and congregation with the bishop retaining a veto in unusual situations. 

9. Easier Path to Ordination. The present path to ordination in the UM Church is a long one. It is often not attained until long after a person has invested up to ten years and thousands of dollars in educational training. To that end, we envision a much more careful system of local church examination and endorsement of someone as a candidate for ordained ministry. 

Yoked with the abolition of the “guaranteed appointment,” we seek close cooperation between conferences and seminaries. With strong local church endorsement of candidates for ordination, it is possible to move towards a system of clergy training and development which simultaneously does not leave seminary graduates with excessive debt and renders a much higher ability and spiritual development for new clergy seeking pastoral assignments. 

10. Global from Day One. The next few years will see the churches and pastors migrate from the UMC to the GMC in successive waves. The first wave of existing and new churches has come during this last Annual Conference season, and we believe waves will come in December of 2022, the summer of 2023, December of 2023, and if/when the UM General Conference makes a pathway to amicable separation possible when the proposed General Conference meets in April of 2024.

That said, the initial wave of churches and clergy joining the GMC is coming from around the world – the Bulgaria Annual Conference, groups of newly forming churches from regions in Africa, existing congregations in the Philippines, existing congregations from various conferences in the U.S., new church starts, and networks of house churches in regions of the U.S.

We’ve also been in regular communication with existing Wesleyan denominations from around the world who are interested in exploring how we may be able to partner in mutually beneficial ways.

As we work together with the Transitional Leadership Council, we are impressed with the strength and contributions of our global partners in vision-casting and decision-making. 

We wish to strongly reiterate that the Global Methodist Church will not be United Methodism 2.0. We issue this invitation to prayerfully consider joining a dynamic movement of like-minded, warm-hearted, Jesus-loving, Wesleyan, evangelical, orthodox, and covenant-keeping Christians who are connected in mission. United in Christ, we are committed to sharing the gospel in both word and deed for the sake of the bruised and battered world our Lord came to save. 

Jeff Greenway and Mike Lowry are committed to seeing the emergence of a new and fresh expression of Methodism around the globe. Greenway is the Lead Pastor of the Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church near Columbus, Ohio. Prior to that appointment, he served as the president of Asbury Theological Seminary and was a district superintendent in the Western Pennsylvania Conference. Lowry was elected to the episcopacy of the United Methodist Church in 2008. He served as the Resident Bishop of the Central Texas Conference. He has joined the Global Methodist Church as its inception as Bishop Emeritus. This excerpt is adapted from Multiplying Methodism: A Bold Witness of Wesleyan Faith at the Dawn of the Global Methodist Church (2022).   Photo: Shutterstock. 

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