Leadership conference considers evangelism from a Wesleyan perspective


Rev. Heather Heinzman Lear speaks at the 2013 Welseyan Leadership Conference
UMR Photo by Jay Voorhees

“Evangelism is a dirty word in many of our churches,” said the Rev. Heather Heinzman Lear, to a group of church leaders gathered for the annual Wesleyan Leadership Conference sponsored by the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD). Lear, the Director of Evangelism Ministries at GBOD, was a presenter at this year’s conference, which focused on evangelism.

Lear suggested that one of the reasons United Methodists are uncomfortable with evangelism is that many of the approaches they have experienced in the past (usually from other Christian perspectives) are not “Wesleyan” in nature. A Wesleyan approach, Lear said, more closely matches Christ’s specific teaching in the Great Commission. “It’s about initiating people into the Kingdom of God,” Lear said, “and inviting them into a lifetime of discipleship – growing in love of God and neighbor.” Lear said that she believed that evangelism in many of our churches has been focused solely on initiation, (inviting others to participation) without connection to the broader goals of discipleship.

The Wesleyan Leadership Conference was begun 4 years ago by the Rev. Steve Manskar, GBOD Director of Wesleyan Leadership. The goal of the conference, Manskar said, was to connect Wesleyan theology and practice with the practical application of ministry in the local church. Past conferences have featured United Methodist scholars such as Dr. Scott Kisker (author of Mainline or Methodist), Dr. Elaine Heath of the Perkins School of Theology (speaking on new monasticism), and Dr. David Lowes Watson (speaking on accountable discipleship and Christian formation).

“This is an event we want people to come to year after year,” Manskar said, “in the hope that they will form a network of Wesleyan Missional Leaders.”

[dropshadowbox align=”right” effect=”lifted-bottom-right” width=”200px” height=”” background_color=”#ffffff” border_width=”1″ border_color=”#dddddd” ]Powe’s 4 movements for a congregation in carrying out God’s call:

  • It has to begin with prayer. The congregation must be asking God to reveal who God is calling them to be in their community.
  • Once the congregation discern’s God’s call, they need to ask if they are really willing to make space for others to become a part of us. This is more than being polite or friendly. It’s about getting out of the way so that newcomers can experience Christ’s community.
  • If the church is willing to make that space, then comes the work of  intentionally reaching out to others to invited them to join in the journey. How a church does that is dependent upon their context.
  • Finally, people of faith have to take care to not simply invite people and leave them there. The commitment must be to walk with them on their journey as they grow together in the grace and love of Christ.

Dr. F. Douglas Powe Jr., the James C. Logan Professor of Evangelism and Urban Ministry and associate director of the Center for the Missional Church at Wesley Theological Seminary, was the keynote speaker during the event, held on October 17-19, 2013 at the GBOD headquarters in Nashville. Powe began by asking participants to expand the traditional Wesleyan descriptors of grace – prevenient, justifying, and sanctifying – from a focus on individual transformation to congregational (corporate) transformation.

The congregational expression of prevenient grace (the grace that goes before us), Powe said, is seen in a congregation’s being awakened to the possibilities for ministry in their community. “Just as an individual’s heart is awakened to the presence of God,” Powe said, “a congregation likewise needs to be searching for God’s calling for them at this time and place.”

Justifying (transforming) grace Powe believes is connected to the congregation’s identity as the Body of Christ. Just as Christ’s physical body was sacrificed to demonstrate God’s love to the world, the current Body of Christ (the church), Powe suggested, must also be willing to sacrifice itself to bring God’s love to its community. Sanctifying grace then represents the tangible ways that we (as a physical expression of the God’s Spirit) help others to be transformed, with the church as co-participants with God in that transformation.

Powe recognized that not everyone will think that the descriptors of grace can be understood corporately, but he believe that doing so was an important part of taking the church’s mission seriously.

“The Methodist Church in its early days,” Powe said, “was so successful because it truly tried to follow the mission of God. Did it get it right? Sometimes yes and sometimes no, but the goal was to follow God’s call. Getting back to that core way of living will go a long way toward making the United Methodist Church relevant to our world.”

Videos from this year’s presentations will soon be available by visiting http://www.gbod.org/live-the-um-way and clicking on the link to the Wesleyan Leadership Conference. Plans are currently underway for next year’s conference.

Jay Voorhees, Former Executive Editor

The Rev. Jay Voorhees is the Executive Editor of The United Methodist Reporter and the Chief Creative Officer for CircuitWriter Media LLC which operates this site and MethoBlog.com. Jay is an ordained elder in the Tennessee Annual Conference. Jay has written on life and the practice of faith in The United Methodist Church at Only Wonder Understands since 2003.

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