The Church’s Call to Ministry with Marginalized People

By Walter Fenton

January 22, 2021

Photo by Brandon Green on Unsplash

“In a new global Methodist church it simply won’t do for local churches to evaluate themselves when it comes to ministry with marginalized people,” said the Rev. Erik Grayson, lead pastor at Aldersgate United Methodist Church in North Charleston, South Carolina. “To determine our effectiveness we’ll have to go to our communities and ask them what kind of impact – if any – we’ve made in the lives of the poor, the homeless, the addict, and the prisoner. And I’m afraid many of us won’t like what they tell us.”


Grayson shared his remark during a presentation he recently made to the Wesleyan Covenant Association’s Global Council. Tapped to lead a task force on ministry with marginalized peoples, Grayson gave an overview of an extensive report he delivered to the council on behalf of the report’s 30 contributors. The report is now being finalized based on the council’s input before it will be released publicly.


In the report’s executive summary the contributors wrote, “We urge congregations to ask the question, ‘who in our local community is isolated and living on the margins?’ Jesus doesn’t provide us with a tidy category for determining marginalized peoples. Rather, he provides us with a model to care for the outcast and stranger, the hurting and the sick, and the overlooked and the despised.”


The task force group is just one of several the WCA’s 226 Global Legislative Assembly delegates authorized at its second gathering in November 2019 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. The WCA created the groups believing the separation of The United Methodist Church was highly likely, and therefore it was imperative to address critical ministry areas well before the formation of a new denomination. The WCA has since joined with allies in Africa, Europe, Eurasia, and the Philippines to plan for creation of a new global Methodist church.


“If we are truly going to be the body of Jesus Christ in the world, then we have to do the things Jesus did,” said the Rev. Dr. Carolyn Moore, chairwoman of the WCA Council and lead pastor at Mosaic Church in Evans, Georgia. “He didn’t set-up a shop in Jerusalem and tell people to come see him with their problems; he went out to the last, the least and the lost. He touched and healed the sick and diseased. He met with tax collectors, prostitutes, and Roman soldiers. And by being in their midst he brought them Good News. He brought them hope and changed their lives. That’s what we’re supposed to be doing as the church.”


The report on ministry with the marginalized highlighted a number of recommendations for local churches. It calls on them to engage with relevant study materials so they are constantly learning new and effective ways to be in ministry with marginalized peoples. It includes an extensive section of resources and recommendations of its own and then challenges the new church to create a robust and easily accessible website where local churches can learn more about being in ministry with the marginalized. Finally, the report calls for the disciplined, regular, and intentional evaluation of local churches’ ministries with the marginalized.


“Every sub-group of the task force worked tirelessly to produce a heartfelt and practical guide to help churches begin or retool missional work to various communities,” said Grayson. “The challenge is to realize that every church has a unique ministry to offer the kingdom of God that no one else can do. And every church, no matter it’s size, age, or resources, is not only called by God, but will be equipped to carry out the mission before them.”


The WCA Council commended Grayson and his team for the time and talent they dedicated to producing the report. The WCA looks forward to sharing it publicly so it helps a new global Methodist church clarify its mission and equip its local churches for effective ministry with the marginalized.


“There should be no confusing local churches with social service agencies,” said the Rev. Dr. Jeff Greenway, senior pastor as Reynoldsburg United Methodist Church in Reynoldsburg, Ohio and vice-chairman of the WCA Council. “Social service agencies certainly have their place and local churches often work closely with them. But our work in our communities, our societies is completely motivated by our call to be like Jesus. We are called to share the Good News in word and deed so the whole person is saved and transformed by the power of Christ’s cross and resurrection.”


The WCA Council authorized the task force group to explore creating a pilot program that local churches could join even before the creation of a new global Methodist church. Grayson and other leaders will begin laying the groundwork for the program.


“The passion for ministry with marginalized people comes shining through on every page of this report,” said the Rev. Keith Boyette, WCA President. “I am humbled by the task force group members’ dedication and willingness to so freely give of their time and talent. This report is from people who are fully engaged with ministry with marginalized people and their work inspires all of us.”


The Rev. Walter Fenton is Vice President for Strategic Engagement for the Wesleyan Covenant Association and is an elder in the Greater New Jersey Annual Conference.


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