Challenge for a New Year: Will we be healthy or stagnant?

Dear Partners in the Ministry of Jesus,

Happy New Year!

I spent time recently to reflect on all God has done in our common ministry during the last year.  A year ago, the second wave of churches were just beginning to migrate from our former denomination into the Global Methodist Church.  We had less than 100 churches, and the Allegheny West Conference was still in formation.  There was much uncertainty and more questions than answers.

Today, we have over 580 churches and over 420 pastors. We’ve held our first Annual Conference, ordained 143 clergy, organized 23 circuits, introduced clergy to nearly 100 appointments, organized eight new church starts, and are beginning to get our legs underneath us as an Annual Conference.  We are still searching for answers to some questions, but God has been so good!  Let’s rejoice at what has been—and claim the promise that the best is yet to come!

We must grow and stretch our faith

Here at the dawn of 2024, I write to caution us against becoming so comfortable that we fail to lean into the healthy future to which God is calling us—and to caution us against becoming so comfortable that we begin to stagnate.  For us to realize that promise—we must keep doing the things that grow and stretch our faith.

I’ve been privileged to lead pilgrims to Israel on eight different occasions.  I’ve been blessed to be exposed to great preaching and teaching my entire life, but nothing has helped me understand the Bible and grow my faith more than going to the place where 90% of the scriptures took place.  It’s one of my favorite places on earth.

One of my favorite journeys is the 65-mile drive along the Jordan River from the Sea of Galilee in the north—descending over 800 feet to the lowest place in earth—the Dead Sea.  Galilee is amazingly beautiful.  The harp-shaped freshwater lake is located almost 700 feet below Sea level in the shadow of snow-capped Mount Hermon.  Its waters teem with fish and provide the source of life for the entire region. It’s a living lake—because it’s filled with the waters generated from Mount Hermon which form the Jordan River from the north—and the Jordan flows out to the south watering the valley as it descends south.

The Dead Sea is also beautiful in its own way.  The contrast of deep blue waters, salt deposits, wadis (canyons that only fill with water when rain forms in the Judean mountains), and the surrounding desert form a stark landscape.  But the Dead Sea sustains no life.  Why?  Because everything flows into the Dead Sea—and nothing flows out.  The result is the salinity of the Dead Sea is 34%–ten times the salinity of the ocean.  Nothing lives in its toxic waters.

There’s an important lesson in the contrast between the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea for churches and conferences.  If we take resources in—and allow resources to flow out—we will be healthy and life giving.  If all we do is take resources in—and we never let anything flow out to water others—we will become stagnant and die. This principle applies to evangelism—missions—outreach—and giving.  Will we be healthy and life-giving or stagnant and life-sapping?

Many of us spent the last several years focusing our time, energy, and considerable resources on doing what was necessary to preserve our congregations and lead them into a hopeful and fruitful future.  Now that we are on the other side of disaffiliation and are largely recovered from the spiritual and economic toll the process took on us—it’s important that we begin to look forward and outward with our time, energy, and resources.  One way to do this is by partnering with other Global Methodists in our common mission here in Allegheny West and around the world.  It’s one way to keep us from growing stagnant.

Let me talk about connectional funding for a few moments

Gone are the days of bloated administrative structures and 16% apportionments of our former connection. Our commitment is to have a lean and supple structure that supports the local church in their efforts to fulfill our mission of “making disciples of Jesus Christ who worship passionately, love extravagantly, and witness boldly.”

The funding model for the Global Methodist Church can be found in paragraph 349 of the Transitional Book of Doctrines and Discipline.  The General Church Connectional Funding rate is currently at 1% of adjusted gross revenue. The Allegheny West Connectional Funding rate is currently at 3%.  This means the total Connectional Funding rate is 4% or ¼ of our former connection.  Any church that chooses to pay its full year of Annual Conference Connectional Funding by March 15 will get a 5% discount for the year.  You can find the 2024 Connectional Funding calculation form here and will be able to submit payments online via our website in late January/early February.

During 2023, over 460 of our 580+congregations participated in Connectional Funding.  We were able to finish the year with our bills paid and sufficient funds to move us forward.  However, for us to be and do all God is asking us to be and do—like planting 15 churches a year, partnering with the Kenya Provisional Conference, and providing a bare bones staff to support our churches and circuits—we need the rest of our churches to begin engaging in Connectional Funding.

We also need to find ways to repurpose the nearly 12% of savings in the apportionments of our former denomination and begin to refocus it in mission and ministry in our communities, region and world.  Last month, I challenged our Conference to begin planning to help support a Conference Mission Partnership with Kenya.  I’m please to share some folks are beginning to catch a vision of what that can look like.  I received a note from one congregation that said:

“A few newsletters ago, Rev Greenway, made a comment (and I’m paraphrasing) ‘…do you know how many people a pastor in Africa can reach on a motorcycle?!’ Our little country church gets it! We have worshiped continuously since 1847 and were part of a 6-point charge during the Civil War. We want to buy a motorcycle for a pastor in Africa! We need a little time to get the money together, but will you please tell me how we should proceed?”

May their tribe increase!  May all of us catch a glimpse of what it means to be healthy—allowing God’s resources to flow into and out of our churches—so we and others might live!  And may we guard ourselves from becoming spiritually stagnant and dying.

I’m blessed and honored to serve with you!