Reflections on Statistics for Mission

The following reflections were offered by the Revd CanonGareth J Powell, Secretary of the Conference, after the Conferencehad received the Statistics for Mission triennial report, as anintroduction to discussions that were held by district groups aboutthe report and its implications for the state of the work of God inthe Connexion.

  • For the audio of the reflection clickhere
  • For the video of the reflection clickhere

"Do not talk much; neither long at a time. Few can converseproperly for above an hour. Keep at the utmost distance from piouschit-chat, from religious gossiping"- John Wesley.[1]

We are addressing this report because we have staked our liveson the fact that God was in Christ, making our life's work to helppeople to experience the world from a new perspective.

We are not addressing this report because we enjoy counting.

We are addressing the state of the work of God (to use a veryMethodist phrase) because God was in Christ reconciling himself tothe world (to use a very Pauline phrase).

We are not addressing this report because we enjoy talking aboutdoing things.

This is a report about a disparate body of God's people who havetheir common identity in Christ, and therefore redefine everythingthey do in light of the cross, in light of the resurrection, inlight of Pentecost, in light of the Ascension.

It paints a picture not of what W E Sangster might have called"a heaping together of unrelated trifles" but rather a picture ofhow, to varying degrees, the Methodist people are being faithful inthe call to proclaim the gospel. It is about us - what we are andwhat we are not doing faithfully.

The Standing Orders tell me that as the Secretary I "shall playa principal part in the oversight and leadership of the Church, andin particular shall be responsible for ensuring that the Church hasin place structures and processes that enable the Conference, otherconnexional bodies, Districts, Circuits, and Local Churches, inaccordance with their respective natures, purposes, functions andresponsibilities and acting collaboratively wheneverappropriate:

(i) to develop the Church's vision of unity, mission, evangelismand worship;

(ii) to develop the strategic management of the Church'saffairs;

(iii) to give effect to the vision and strategy of the Church asso developed."[2]

I need a bit of help in doing that - so that is why we areexploring this report in this way. And it is in light of myresponsibilities that I want to make a few remarks about our dutyto be responsive to God.

We are about the mission of God and our task is to proclaim thegospel.

We must not become so consumed by the numbers that we fail to bea community fashioned by prevenient grace; so obsessed by theMethodist accountancy of it all that we fail to be jolted out ofcomplacency by the activity of the Holy Spirit; so concerned fororder that we become ordinary - when in fact Methodists orderthemselves to be channels of God's grace, knowing their place inthe wider body of Christ.

John Wesley was nothing if not adaptable - not a trait oftenassociated with Methodists, but that has more to do with amisreading of history. Wesley was prepared to innovate andexperiment in the service of the gospel. A former President of thisConference, John Newton, points out, "This is the true Wesleyantradition, rather than slavish attempts to preserve the eighteenthcentury pattern given on the Mount." It is such an openness to theprompting of God that enables and allows new patterns of ministryto develop.[3]

We must, with some urgency, address:

1. Vocational development and Christian formation- our patternsof formation and training need to be of high quality so that we areindeed equipped for the tasks of engaging with a complex world. TheStrategy and Resources Committee has a major task before it inevaluating the Review of Training and ensuring that the Council andthe Conference has before it some concrete, sustainable and robustproposals that see us developing ever more theologically groundedpatterns for vocational discernment and formation.

 2. Mission and evangelism- how we develop a range of waysby which we proclaim God's love - which in turn demands that wetreat God's good creation with holy reverence. The Central FinanceBoard, Action for Children, MHA, Methodist Schools and All We Canare all part of this - how to live in the light of Christ. Ourtheological breadth should enable us to have a range ofinterpretations of how to proclaim the gospel - some of them willinclude words! I sense the Connexion needs to be better at sharingexamples - and it needs the Connexional Team to be more able tooffer ideas and support for the task.

3. Sharing as if we are a Connexion- where trusteeship shouldreside, how we develop local, circuit and district priorities, andhow we share our financial and physical resources: I keep beingtold that this work needs to be done - and the agenda of theCouncil and the Conference is full of attempts - but not muchconsensus on the how. I think we must address it again - and bebold - but I need you to tell me if that is what you want me todo.

4. Be disciplined about what the Conference does- we should notseek to be a group of 306 Conference aficionados (we can get verycarried away about our own process and structure) - but agitatorsfor the gospel.

At the heart of this report, there is a challenge. Not thestatistics, but the nature of our being - that we must takeseriously our responsibility for being an evangelistic community oflove which leads people to Christ.

God in Christ redefines love as a profound giving of attentionto another person - only in that regard is this report aboutnumbers. Only in that regard is our work about counting.

Ultimately our work is about God.


The Revd Canon Gareth J Powell - Secretary of the Conference

28th June 2017


[1] FromA Plain Account of Christian Perfection,quoted inThrough the Year with Wesley: An Anthology, compiled andedited by Frederick C Gill (London: The Epworth Press).

[2] SO 114(1A).

[3] FromThe Wesleys for Today, p. 45.