That the world may know Jesus
Why are two Christchurch Methodist ministers sporting suntans in the middle of a Canterbury
Prior to his confirmation as the new superintendent of the Methodist Evangelical Network last month, Rev Alan Webster (above, kneeling) led a discussion on evangelism and the mission of the church.
The Methodist Church of NZ president Rev Dr John Salmon later led Alan’s induction service at Beckenham Methodist Church in Christchurch, where Alan serves as presbyter.
Members of the Evangelical Network travelled from throughout New Zealand to attend the service, as did a presbyters and lay people from the Church’s Central South Island Synod.
In July Alan and Rev David Bush attended the 8th International Evangelism Seminar of the World Methodist Evangelism Institute in Atlanta.
Because they are recently back from a two week visit to the United States, where they attended the 8th International Evangelism Seminar of the World Methodist Evangelism Institute (WMEI).
NZ Methodist Evangelical Network superintendent Rev Alan K Webster and Central South Island synod superintendent Rev David Bush attended the eight day live-in seminar, which was held at the United Methodist Church’s Simpsonwood Retreat Center near Atlanta, Georgia.
The theme of the conference was ‘that the world may know Jesus Christ’, and it focused on building missional congregations. Topics included methods, experiences, theology, cultural considerations, and opportunities for evangelism.
Alan says those attending received input from a huge variety of fellow Methodists in lectures, sermons, roundtable discussions, and small group prayer sessions.
“The World Methodist Evangelism Institute is not just an American thing. It has held seminars in Cuba, Singapore, Fiji, France, and England, and it holds youth events all over the globe.
“In Atlanta our hosts were really careful to ensure that the weight of the seminar wasn’t USA-centric. Bible teaching came from Brazil, Africa, Chile, England, and Korea.
“We were also led in worship by different cultural groups each time. You haven’t lived until you’ve experienced West Indian singing, or been in a Korean prayer meeting. There was also simultaneous translation into French and Spanish, as well as other languages as needed.”
Alan says he counted representatives from 59 different countries, including such dispersed places as Nepal, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Norway, Latvia, Myanmar and Switzerland.
“As I step into the role of superintendent of the Evangelical Network, it has been superbly timed for me. I have been linked into the wider family of Methodist even more strongly: and caught a glimpse of just how diverse and exciting the church is.
“It was also a reminder of just how vital evangelism is. We exist as a Church to tell the story of Jesus in our own contexts and cultures.
“We heard the Korean story firsthand and the difference that the gospel has made to hierarchical and oppressive power strictures. We heard about the dilemmas faced by Brazilian pastors in drug economies, and about the new congregations in the UK reaching post-moderns.
“Part of my responsibility is to keep on encouraging the initiatives I find, to resource and encourage and remind people that John Wesley’s call wasn’t to committees or institutions, or to structures or edifices. He wanted people to know about Jesus. His life-call was to tell the evangel, the Good News – evangelising.
The roots of WMEI can be traced back to 1979 when general secretary of the World Methodist Council Dr Joe Hale sought to create an institution that would enable leaders around the world to be trained and motivated in evangelism. A pilot seminar was held at Emory University in Atlanta and later the World Methodist Council established a World Methodist Evangelism Division.
“It is based at Emory University and Lake Junaluska, North Carolina, where the World Methodist Council has its headquarters. But board members come from all over the world. Our nearest is an Australian, Rev Ken Anderson from Adelaide. They’re actually holding a committee meeting in Australia in September and some of them are going to pop over and see us,” Alan says.
David agrees that the evangelism conference had a truly international flavour. In his report on the conference he highlights key points made in some of the presentations.
They included observations by Michael Green from the UK who says people in the West have a hunger for real relationships and spirituality and are bored with materialism. At the same time many Christians have become imprisoned in their buildings. They have no message that can change people’s lives because they fear speaking about Jesus or invading people’s private space.
Bishop Lindsey Davis of the USA says many churches are dying because they are in the wrong place or lost their passion. Spiritual seekers see little connection between their spiritual journey and what we do in church.
His words were echoed by Dr Jamal Bryant who used the parable of the Good Samaritan to talk about the Church’s attitude toward young people. The church is passing youth by, leaving them half dead and crossing the street, overwhelmed by the enormity of the situation.
David says it was inspiring, in the face of such reality checks, to see how churches around the world are responding in imaginative ways.
“For me the actual responses were less important than learning how local and regional churches discovered their own solutions. Over and over we heard of groups from across our diverse church meeting together and discerning new ways forward.
“I hope we might be able to replicate such conversations and discover anew for ourselves how to be missional.”
For more information on World Methodist Evangelism visit www.worldmethodist.org.
Alan and David express their thanks to the Methodist Travel and Study Fund and the Central South Island Synod for supporting their trip.