First Global Methodist Church Dallas
By Walter Fenton
September 27, 2023
“God is giving us a great opportunity to start a new church – that goes as much for the whole Global Methodist Church as it does for a new church plant like the one I’m serving,” said the Rev. Jill Jackson Sears, the pastor of the First GMC Dallas. “We’ve been given the gift to ask ourselves two key questions, ‘What does God want for his church?’ And then, ‘How are we going to start living into it?’”
After 29 years of service in the North Texas Annual Conference of The United Methodist Church, Jackson Sears acknowledges the pain of what has been lost while she simultaneously embraces what she regards as a gift given to her and the First GMC Dallas. The pastor at Lake Highlands UMC for nine years, she accepted an invitation from former members to pastor a church plant on the northside of Dallas.
Earlier this year, after 48 percent of Lake Highland’s members voted to disaffiliate from the UM Church, those who knew they could no longer remain in the denomination began exploring whether to start a new church. By March 20, 2023, they launched First GMC Dallas, and then invited Jackson Sears to serve as their pastor. She started on April 1. Her appointment was affirmed by the Transitional Leadership Council and by Bishop Scott Jones, the bishop providing episcopal oversight for her area.
“I did not want people to follow me,” Jackson Sears said, “I wanted them to feel called by God to start a new church. And they did! When you’ve got a church full of people that have made a bold step of faith, you can do a lot!”
Raised in the UM Church, Jackson Sears followed her father into the ministry. She attended the University of Texas in Austin and then headed to Duke Divinity School where she received her Master of Divinity degree. Her clergy colleagues twice elected her to serve as a General Conference delegate in 2012 and 2016. By virtue of her second election, she also represented the North Texas Annual Conference at the special called 2019 General Conference in St. Louis, Missouri.
Jackson Sears believed the 2019 General Conference made it abundantly clear that UM Church needed to find a way to amicably divide the denomination. She was relieved when the leading bishops of the UM Church, along with others, offered the Protocol of Reconciliation and Grace through Separation.
“I was so pleased that bishops like Cynthia Harvey, Thomas Bickerton, and Ken Carter had negotiated a plan for separation, and were warmly encouraging delegates to support it,” she said. “And given that nearly all the advocacy groups, including centrists, progressives, and traditionalists, supported it, I continue to believe that had the General Conference met in May 2020, the Protocol would’ve passed, and an amicable and orderly separation would have followed.”
As a recognized traditionalist leader, Jackson Sears joined nearly 30 leading United Methodist in Atlanta, Georgia, in early March 2020, to prepare for the organization and launch of a theologically conservative Methodist denomination. She also accepted roles in the North Texas Wesleyan Covenant Association focused on the organization of a new denomination, and how to help revitalize congregations as they navigated their way through a major transition.
“I wanted as peaceable a separation as possible,” she said. “So, along with many of my colleagues, I started working for the health and vitality of local churches that I knew would want to join a theologically conservative Methodist denomination.”
However, with the repeated postponements of the 2020 General Conference, and the launch of the Global Methodist Church in May 2022, Jackson Sears believed the members of Lake Highlands UM Church had the right to enter a discernment process and then decide for themselves whether to remain United Methodist or join the GM Church.
“When people realized the church’s vote was essentially split, the news was devastating,” she said. “Some knew they would have to leave and leaving meant giving up the security of a building and the resources necessary for ministry. But as odd as it is to say, they’re now grateful for what happened and how it happened. They’ve all had to dig deep, and ask themselves, ‘What do I believe, and am I willing to stand up for what I believe?’ People who ask and answer those questions can do amazing things through the power of the Holy Spirit!”
The growing congregation currently meets on Sunday afternoons at Fellowship Church on the northside of Dallas as it actively looks for a more permanent location.
“We have all the typical challenges of new church plants, like having enough space, and what’s the best time to meet,” said Jackson Sears. “But what we’re really focused on is creating a new culture. We are committed to being a high expectations church. We worship a God that allows us to have high expectations of him. God is going to change us by his grace, so we have to put ourselves in places where that is going to happen. We expect that members will be involved in worship, in service, in prayer, and that we will all give and fully participate in the life of the church.”
In addition to leading First GMC Dallas, Jackson Sears serves as a presiding elder in the Mid-Texas Provisional Annual Conference with oversight of eight local churches. She and her husband Clay of 24 years are also very involved in the lives of their two daughters who are in college, and a son who is in high school.
“Jill is smart, energetic, passionate, and most importantly, she is a woman of faithful perseverance,” said the Rev. Dr. Leah Hidde-Gregory, the president pro tem of the GM Church’s Mid-Texas Provisional Annual Conference. “And the people at First GMC Dallas are clearly bold believers. Twenty, fifty, and a hundred years from now, people will look back on this congregation and its pastor and give thanks for their faithfulness!”
You can learn more about the Global Methodist Church by exploring its website.
The Rev. Walter Fenton is the Global Methodist Church’s Deputy Connectional Officer.