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Dynamics of international mission in the Methodist Church Ghana

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Kirk Sims

This book assesses the conceptualisation of international mission in the Methodist Church Ghana. It demonstrates that Ghanaian Methodists possess a robust ecclesiology with roots in the Akan concept of «abusua» and an evangelical theology rooted in John Wesley. The author gives interpretations to the ways mission takes place and proposes twelve models of mission whereby members of diasporic communities are agents of mission. As mission is seen a responsibility of the whole church, mission is a common theme related to the migration of Ghanaian Methodists to other contexts, often understood in terms of in the global North. The church’s presence in North America and Europe presents challenges and opportunities that must be negotiated in a broader Methodist mainline milieu.

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9. Conclusion

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9. Conclusion

Discreetly, the current generation has witnessed a monumental transition in the demographics of World Christianity. The significance of the shift in the centre of gravity from what was until recently a mostly northern church to what is now a faith predominately found in the majority world must not be underestimated. For the better part of this burgeoning century, academics, church leaders, and mission influencers will be grappling with the implications of this nascent reality.

One area worthy of interrogation related to this transformation is how mission is conceptualized in the new heartlands of Christianity in Asia, Latin America, and Africa. The first chapter showed that as mission emanates from the majority world, some are hinting at the emergence of a new paradigm based in the epistemologies of the global South. For the most part, many of the conversations about international mission on the world stage over the last few centuries have been entrenched in the perspectives of the global North. Around the time of the 1910 Edinburgh conference, a moment when the modern missionary movement was arguably at its zenith, the world church was optimistic about the future, saw the world in dichotomized terms of evangelized and unevangelized sectors with uni-directional mission flows to the latter, was favourable about the role of technology, often relied on political influence and power to exert a Christian presence, and made use of a financially supported professionalized mission force organized and sent out by missionary agencies and boards.

However, much has changed over the last century. Whereas the church in Europe has proportionally waned, Christianity in Africa has been on the rise, and this now predominately southern faith has been expanding and engaging in mission. In what could be seen as a contrasting and emerging mission paradigm, African Christianity is spreading naturally through networks, relying heavily on the laity and not so much through a professionalized missionary force, and is predominately being manifest through the migration of its members while being rooted in the spiritual perspectives of African Christianity.

As one of the most established and pervasive denominations in Ghana, the Methodist Church Ghana has served this study well as an intriguing case that elucidates a more contextualized scenario of how perspectives are being sorted out in the majority world. Now, I return to the primary research question. How does the Methodist Church Ghana understand and engage in international mission, and to what extent does it place priority on international mission? To answer the second half of this question through the bulk of writings assessing mission from the majority world over the last six decades, one would probably have to answer negatively. As was shown in the first chapter, many of the writers on the subject have pointed to the employment of professional missionaries mobilized through missionary societies as the demonstrative proof of mission strength from the majority world. A number of the studies have looked at these numbers to quantify the reality. It must be noted ← 285 | 286 → that for the most part, these studies were written from perspectives rooted in the paradigmatic thinking of the MMM. However, if one takes an empathetic research approach to explore how people in and from the South see the matter, one may come to different conclusions. After going through a rigorous regimen of interviews and applying fuzzy set valuations, it became clear that the perception at least among a diverse set of interviewees is that the MCG does indeed place priority on international mission, though not at a fully convinced level.

The interviews indicated a generally positive view of the MCG’s priority and emphasis on international mission. With a mean score of 0.651 on a scale from 0.0 to 1.0 with 1.0 being fully ‘unreserved about the priority the MCG places on international mission’ and 0.0 being ‘fully pessimistic or ignorant of the priority the MCG places on international mission’, the body of interviews scored between ‘more or less positive’ and ‘mostly positive about the priority the MCG places on international mission.’ Likewise, the same respondents were slightly more positive with a score of 0.7178 in looking at the future prospects of these mission efforts in the MCG.

With an absence of a formal mission sending structure such as a mission board or missionary society, the MCG stands at odds with its own heritage in the BMC and the MMM. First formally organized into a church under the Wesleyan Methodists by missionaries sent by the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, the MCG has neither seen a sustainable missionary society come to fruition nor has any other sodality emerged with the aim of supplying international missionaries.

However, the MCG has seen its mission occurring along the lines of the modality where the primary efforts in mission are entrusted to the church as a whole, and this is indicative of a ‘missional church’ theology identifiable in the denomination. With traditional values common in the cultures of Ghana where collective responsibility is embraced as being part of a community, a missional church perspective gives helpful interpretation for the ecclesiology that is present. A shared responsibility of the entire membership of a church to be engaged in mission to the broader community weds cultural perspectives endemic to Ghana with a missional church theology based on the modality of the whole church.

Yet, the interviewees gave responses that could be interpreted as being in contradiction to an egalitarian sense of the priesthood of all believers. They indicated an ecclesiological view that the MCG has a manifest missional presence when ministers are actually posted to a mission area. Though it could be argued that this corresponds to a professionalized mission force, and thus indicative of the MMM, what is known is that the presence of ministers actually validates the reality that the MCG is officially represented in an overseas location. And standing in contrast with the MMM, the ministers are not fully funded by the mother church, but rather are financially supported locally.

By working through the centrality of the modality, the MCG has six identifiable expressions of using its existing polity to engage in international mission. The first is Ghanaian affiliation, ministering to locals, and this is present in places such as the cross-border church plants in Côte d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso where the recipients of the mission are Ivoirians and Burkinabes, but with denominational ties directly ← 286 | 287 → with the MCG. A second is Ghanaian affiliation, ministering to Ghanaians, which occurs primarily among diaspora communities in the global North1 where the work falls under the umbrella of the MCG. Local affiliation, ministering to Ghanaians also occurs among certain migrant communities in Europe and North America where the efforts fall under the jurisdiction of a sister Methodist denomination, but the local church is given a degree of autonomy to organize itself by Ghanaian customs. A fourth approach is local affiliation, ministering to locals, and in this scenario, Ghanaians work with a sister denomination in the local mission of that body. This is particularly seen in Sierra Leone and the Caribbean. In Britain and Italy, local affiliation, dual-purpose ministry is an expression of the international mission efforts of the MCG. Ghanaians are expected to be involved in multicultural local churches but are permitted to have Ghanaian fellowships as activities allowed outside the confines of times local congregations typically meet, and some of the ministers posted to these places have professional responsibilities in such dual-purpose ministry that fall under the local Methodist denomination. A sixth expression of international mission of the MCG is independent affiliation, ministering to Ghanaians, which reflects the chaordic nature of spontaneous expansion of mission through the migration of members and lay (and occasionally clergy) initiative. However, this form has rapidly been falling into disfavour in the MCG with the reunion of the breakaway congregation in Germany and with the formation of the eponymous mission in North America to coordinate the work there.

The interviews, which were fortified with ephemera, statements by leaders, and reports, demonstrate how an evangelical theology is present and very strong in the MCG. Though not necessarily the causation of the theology, but no doubt a theme that has entered into the parlance of the MCG, Ghanaian Methodists ascribe to the maxim of a ‘world parish’ with its roots in the father of Methodism, John Wesley. The nature of this phrase is based on Wesley’s brazen attitude in preaching the Gospel and organizing Methodist groups in the geographical bounds of the parishes of other Anglican clergy members.

I look upon all the world as my parish; thus far I mean, that, in whatever part of it I am, I judge it meet, right, and my bounden duty, to declare unto all that are willing to hear, the glad tidings of salvation.2

This type of attitude rooted in an evangelical theology seems pervasive in the MCG, and it appears to have influenced a drive toward evangelism and church planting, particularly in terms of international mission. However, the MCG and its members have a level of deference to the geographical jurisdiction of the sister denominations typical of the territorial Christianity Wesley brazenly disregarded in the early Methodist movement. In contexts with established local Methodist denominations, ← 287 | 288 → Ghanaian Methodists are often expected to conform to the other denominations’ polities. This expected deference often occurs where ecclesial bodies are in places where the conferences or denominations are either in steep numerical decline or have existed in the shadows of a much larger state or national church structure. This interplay with other bodies is one major issue the MCG and its members have to navigate. Despite the fact that the MCG is nearly twice the size of all of the Methodist bodies in Europe combined,3 the dynamics of Christendom are present for this mainline denomination as its members come in contact with their sisters and brothers in their broader Methodist family. This is one major dynamic at play that a mainline denomination that is part of a broader theological communion (the World Methodist Council) that many other African-based churches do not have to negotiate as they expand beyond their home countries and especially into the global North. The MCG lives with a seemingly paradoxical tension between unashamed evangelicalism and territorial Christianity.

Yet, one of the central attributes of international mission typical of the nascent trends coming out of the majority world is very much present in the conceptualisation of such mission in the MCG. This aspect is found in mission through the means of migration of its members. As indicated in the interviews and reinforced by church documents and Ghanaian narratives, many people long to migrate to the global North as a place of great opportunity. The South-North flow appears as if it will continue in the future.

Among the ethnic groups of Ghana are narratives of migration in many of their origin myths, and migration has continued to be pervasive in Ghanaian thinking and its way-of-life. Very few Ghanaians do not know someone from their village or extended family who has moved either to Europe or North America. As Ghanaians migrate, they often take their culture, their values, and their faith, and they tend to gather together. Thus, church is often a rallying point for re-constituting community in diasporic situations. Ghanaian Methodists are no exception to this rule, and in regards to Hanciles’s typology of church planting among African migrant communities, evidence shows that Ghanaian Methodists have been sowing their faith abroad in all of these categories. Ghanaian Methodists have been known to engage in the Abrahamic model when long-term migrants form a faith community around them. Also known is the Macedonia model. This is when a community of people call back to the homeland for workers to come and serve among them, usually in the form of ← 288 | 289 → ordained ministers. Common in conjunction with local Methodist denominations in other countries is the Jerusalem approach where we see room made for certain ethnic congregations or fellowships in the polity of other ecclesial bodies. In some settings, the Samuel-Eli model is expressed as some local congregations are infused with a sizable Ghanaian Methodist presence.4 Particularly with the establishment of the North America Mission, I see the need in adding an additional pattern emerging out of the MCG experience, the Nehemiah approach. The Supervising Missions Coordinator of the NAM is charged with directing the mission efforts, especially by sanctioning and strategizing the planting of new diaspora congregations. As a Ghanaian leader, in a sense, the SMC is like the biblical Nehemiah who comes from the outside, knows his people, and organizes them for a common cause. With more direction, this Nehemiah approach could move the MCG more in the mould of the MMM.

Because of its diversity of approaches, the nature of diaspora ministry of the MCG can serve as a context from which models of diaspora mission can be explored. Looking primarily at the ways in which Ghanaian Methodists are the actual agents of mission in diaspora situations, twelve models of diaspora mission were proposed based on whether the ministry is intra-cultural, cross-cultural, or inter-cultural, whether the mission takes place within the church or beyond a church context, and whether or not it takes place in the first diasporic nation, one beyond, or in a means of returning to the country of origin. At the moment, much of the efforts of the MCG are involved in mission to the diaspora, but definitely present in the MCG is a desire to increase its activity in mission through and beyond its diaspora communities.

As we look to the future, the trends indicate that the church will continue to be strong in places like Africa, and the MCG will be no exception. Ghanaians will also continue to pursue different pastures abroad, and as they do, Ghanaian Methodists, with their evangelical theology, will continue to make their presence known as lay people and clergy engage in mission in new contexts. However, they will have to navigate the relationships in their universal Methodist family, something for which the communal cultures of Ghana have already prepared and sensitized them to their responsibilities within their broader communities. Mission may not always be intentionally cross-cultural, but if one looks at the macro-trends of World Christianity in this century, the indicators show that the MCG is and will continue to be an agent involved in mission.


1 One exception is the small community of Ghanaian Methodists in Ouagadougou. Otherwise, this is known in the global North.

2 Wesley, The Journal of the Reverend John Wesley [Emory], p. 138.

3 The MCG claims over 600,000 members, and by Bishop Walter Klaiber’s count of all professing Methodist members in all churches in all countries, the total Methodist population in Europe is around 315,520. Methodist Church Ghana, ‘Beginning of Methodism in Ghana’, <http://www.methodistchurch-gh.org/index.php/the-church/beginning-of-methodism>, accessed 26 November 2015, archived at http://www.pdf-archive.com/2016/04/16/beginning-of-methodism-methodist-chuch/, verified active 16 April 2016; cf.: Walter Klaiber, ‘Methodism in Europe’, in Klaus Ulrich Ruof (ed.), Council of Bishops: Berlin: May 1–7 2015 (Frankfurt am Main: Evangelisch-Methodistische Kirche Deutschland, 2015), 14–27.

4 Hanciles, Beyond Christendom.