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The Importance of Connectionalism for Methodists

By Bishop Mark J. Webb

Photo image by Wonderlane.

My mother-in-law loved to do jigsaw puzzles. I did not share that love, because of my deficit in an aspect of the fruit of the spirit – patience. As she began a puzzle, she would spread all the pieces out on a table, place the cover that displayed the picture of what would be in front of her, and (from my viewpoint), painstakingly begin to connect one piece to the next. With each connection she would get closer to the vision that sat before her. It brought her joy!

As Methodist followers of Jesus Christ connection is critical to our vision of the Church God calls us to be. From the beginning of the Methodist movement, connection has been a key value. Connectionalism is the theological and practical understanding of Methodist ecclesiastical polity and is practiced in the Methodist Church in BritainMethodist Church in IrelandUnited Methodist ChurchFree Methodist ChurchAfrican Methodist Episcopal ChurchAfrican Methodist Episcopal Zion ChurchBible Methodist Connection of ChurchesChristian Methodist Episcopal ChurchMethodist Church in the Caribbean and the Americas, The Wesleyan Church, and the Global Methodist Church. It celebrates and gives life to the way congregations work together to support one another, share resources, and carry out mission and ministry.

For John Wesley connection was non-negotiable. His teaching on social holiness called us to the necessity of connection to one another. In 1739 he penned the words, “The gospel of Christ knows of no religion but social; no holiness but social holiness.” For Wesley, a privatized notion of Christian faith was nonsense and unfaithful. Wesley believed that holiness is realized within Christian community as we pray together, worship together, study scripture together, care for one another, confess our sins to one another and serve the world together with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

In addition, for Wesley, this understanding of connection was crucial to the mission of the Church, shared by each congregation. He recognized the need for an organized system of communication and accountability and developed what he called the “connexion,” which was an interlocking system of classes, societies, and annual conferences. Congregations become stronger. Our mission has greater impact because of and through connection.

Over the last few months, I have been visiting with leaders and congregations who are discerning how they will live out God’s call and the Church’s mission in the days ahead. Some have expressed hesitancy about “hitching their wagon” to another denomination. While I respect and honor these wonderings, I have joined other voices in sharing the conviction that to “go it alone” as a congregation may bear fruit for the kingdom of God, but it is not the Methodist way.

Our DNA as Methodists is connectional. We are stronger in our holiness together and we are stronger in our mission together. I don’t blame congregations and leaders for being hesitant about stepping from one connection into another, yet I believe we have a chance to experience unity of mission, doctrine and discipline in a way God calls and we yearn for. Of course, it will only be a reality if we practice in a serious manner a shared covenant and accountability to the way of Christ. Our inability to experience the genius of connection in the past should not preclude us from striving for it in the future.

I know there are risks from trusting a connection again, but I believe the rewards far outweigh those risks. Being a part of a connection continues the unique DNA of being Methodist. It provides a standard of doctrine and theological alignment founded on the tenets of the Christian faith in the Wesleyan tradition. Connection provides a collective missional impact and coordination of ministry to the world that no one church could accomplish alone. A connection allows us to share with one another practical strategies and resources gleaned from our successes as well as our mistakes, to strengthen God’s call upon our lives and further the purpose of the Church. A connection can discover, develop, and deploy Christ-following leaders for the marketplace and the Church that will strengthen local churches, including providing consistency in the pastoral leadership congregations so deeply desire.

Being a part of a connectional church creates an opportunity to partner with, invest in and encourage followers of Jesus Christ around the world, who seek to live the call of the Apostle Paul as shared with the Church at Philippi: “Therefore if there is any encouragement in Christ, if there is any consolation of love, if there is any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and compassion, make my joy complete by being of the same mind, maintaining the same love, united in spirit, intent on one purpose” (Philippians 2.1-2).

Last year, as the Global Methodist Church began, the Rev. Walter Fenton, Deputy Transitional Connectional Officer of the Global Methodist Church, shared some words worth repeating:

“The Global Methodist Church fully embraces the importance of authentic connectionalism, and so it warmly invites individuals and local churches who long for such a connection to join it. Now is the time for people and local churches to pray and work together for a new connection empowered by the Holy Spirit. Now is the time for people and local churches to give of their time, talent, and resources to build an authentically connected church. A church that watches over one another in love, that extends grace, serves others, proclaims the truth, and holds one another accountable to its great calling.”

My mother-in-law believed that spending hours connecting one piece to another in a jigsaw puzzle was worth it. It brought her joy! I believe that being connected to others in the mission and ministry of the Church is worth it. It’s the Methodist way! It’s the DNA upon which the Global Methodist Church is being formed. It can bring us joy!

I pray that we will not abandon the power of connection. I believe God will bless our desire to be a part of a connection and use it to keep us connected to Christ, and one another so that God might use us together to take the light and truth of Jesus into a world where God yearns to move people from darkness to light, from lies to truth, from death to life. I invite you to join us!

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