World Mission Philosophy and Global Church Structure

1998 Church of the Brethren Statement

Whereas, the Church of the Brethren has made world mission part of its work for over a century in Denmark, Nigeria, India, China, Ecuador, and more recently in Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Brazil and Korea, guided by biblical and denominational principles of.

  1. the process of “indigenization” in Church of the Brethren world mission adopted in 1955 and reaffirmed in 1989 and again in 1993 by Annual Conference en trusting leadership of Church of the Brethren global mission work to native persons and groups,
  2. the 1989 Annual Conference authorized the establishment of Church of the Brethren congregations in other countries,
  3. the underlying mission philosophy and direction of the Church of the Brethren global denomination appear to remain predicated on the assumption that central responsibility for administration and development remains within the prerogative of North American Brethren, specifically within the boundaries of the continental United States and Puerto Rico,
  4. the 1993 Annual Conference envisioned a coming global denomination that might include a global missions fund, regional conferences and other opportunities for fraternization with global bodies claiming heritage with Alexander Mack and the Schwartzenau Brethren through the heritage of the Church of the Brethren,1 and

Whereas, we, of the Virlina District, have found it extremely difficult to accommodate, in terms of district staff time and funds, interim adjustments in denominational polity with respect to issues of accountability, discipleship and reconciliation which places responsibility for establishment and recognition of new congregations jointly between the General Board, Standing Committee and the district assigned by the Annual Conference officers in consultation with the new Brethren,2

Therefore, we, the Virlina District Board, in regular meeting, July 15, 1995 at Antioch Church of the Brethren, Rocky Mount, Virginia, ask the Annual Conference meeting in Cincinnati, Ohio, July 2-7, 1996 to reformulate current Church of the Brethren World Mission philosophy with particular respect to:

  1. clearer articulation by Annual Conference with regard to district responsibilities and support for new congregations outside the continental United States, and
  2. the definition of an appropriate system of calling, training, recognition and discipline of set-apart ministries in nations beyond district boundaries, and
  3. greater inclusion of our global Brethren in the administration and development of the Church of the Brethren family for worldwide mission and ministry through the Annual Conference or its successor.

1 1993 Annual Conference statement “Structure to Deal Global Church,” Sections 2C and 2E, 1993 Annual Conference Minutes, p. 614.
2 Ibid, p. 613.

Action of the Virlina District Board: The District Board of Virlina District, meeting in regular session on July 15, 1995, passed the query on to District Conference, which will meet November 11, 1995, in Roanoke, Virginia.

Lynn Myers, Chair
David Shumate, Secretary

Action of the Virlina District Conference: Passed on to Annual Conference, Church of tile Brethren, by the Virlina District Conference, meeting November 11, 1995, in Roanoke, Virginia.

R. Douglas Jones, Moderator
Harriet F. Rader, Clerk

Action of the 1996 Annual Conference: Ann Fouts, a Standing Committee member from tile Mid-Atlantic District, presented the recommendation from Standing Committee that a task group be appointed to address the issues raised in the Query: World Mission Philosophy and Global Church Mission Structure, and to bring their report, including any recommended polity changes, to the 1997 Annual Conference. The task group shall be composed of a representative of the Virlina District, Atlantic Southeast District, Atlantic Northeast District, General Board and a representative of the Standing Committee. Each of the listed organizations shall be responsible for making its appointment. The delegate body adopted the recommendation of Standing Committee.

1997 Progress Report

Called together in response to an Annual Conference query, the committee’s task has centered around addressing structural problems related to supervising new congregational starts (hereafter referred to as new congregations) in places outside the United States and Puerto Rico. Current denominational practice, as defined by the Global Structure Paper, places primary responsibility on districts for supervising the calling, training, ordination and mentoring of pastors, and the incorporation and nurture of new congregations.

As districts have attempted to fulfill this charge, various difficulties have emerged. These include: barriers presented by language and cultural differences; demands on the time of district staff-, providing necessary financial support to carry out these responsibilities, which often involve international travel and translation of important materials; the involvement of persons beyond the district in attempting to influence the course of tile new church project; and a variety of other issues related to assisting congregations and set-apart leaders to understand and become integrated into the Brethren family. Additionally, there is the sense that districts have been asked to assume a role in relation to mission abroad that is best cared for by bodies more representative of the entire denomination.

In the initial phase of its work, the committee offers the following observations and questions, grouped under key points of the original query:

Clearer articulation with regard to district responsibilities and support for new congregations:

  • It seems clear that district structures and staffing are not adequately equipped to directly supervise new congregations. Where is this responsibility best lodged? Districts, however, are uniquely equipped for important roles in partnering with new congregations and groups. What is the appropriate nature of such a partnership?
  • Lacking existing regional or global church structures, where will new congregations and new districts best connect with existing district and denominational structures, given possible cultural, language and economic differences?
  • As the denomination considers new methods for starting and maintaining mission projects abroad, will the need arise for guidelines to raise important questions and set key parameters for proposed mission endeavors?
  • When multiple partners initiate and provide support for new congregations, the lines of accountability, communication, and responsibility become confused. How can the denomination work toward a more unified effort in planning, implementing and nurturing mission projects abroad in a time when congregations, clusters of congregations or districts propose or carry out mission projects according to their own sense of calling?

Defining an appropriate system of calling, training, recognition and discipline of set-apart ministries in nations beyond district boundaries:

  • While every cultural setting has its own particular nuances related to calling leadership and forming congregations, there need to be clearer guidelines related to expectations for pastoral calling and training and congregational formation.
  • When there is conflict or the need for disciplinary action in a new congregation, who should address this?

Greater inclusion of our global Brethren in the administration and development of the Church of the Brethren family for worldwide mission and ministry:

  • Contextualizing the Gospel is essential in any mission endeavor. Guidance is nonetheless needed in determining which essential components of the Brethren understanding of the Christian faith should be incorporated into mission efforts.
  • It is crucial that partners from new congregations be included early on in decision-making regarding the Christian community in their nation. What guidelines can help facilitate this?

Important reference materials for the work of the committee have been the 1989 Mission Theology and Guidelines paper, the 1993 Global Structure paper, and the 1994 World Ministries Commission document Global Structure Implementation Recommendations. The committee will continue its work by undertaking historical research, holding conversations with church partners at home and abroad, and consulting with the General Board as it undertakes its redesign.

In light of the complexities of this assignment and the work that remains to be done, the Committee asks the delegate body of the 1997 Annual Conference to accept this progress report. The committee plans to present its final report for delegate deliberation 1-7 and adoption at the 1998 Annual Conference.

Committee members and agencies represented: Charles M. Bieber (Atlantic Northeast District); Berwyn L. Oltman (Atlantic Southeast District); David R. Radcliff (General Board); David K. Shumate (Virlina District); Bonnie K. Smeltzer (Standing Committee).

Action of the 1997 Annual Conference: Charles Bieber, chair of the committee, presented a progress report for the committee preparing the statement for World Mission Philosophy & Global Church Mission Structure. The delegate body received the report on World Mission Philosophy and Global Church Mission Structure and granted the committee an additional year to complete their work. The final report will be presented to the 1998 Annual Conference for action.

Report of the Study Committee

As a people who are committed to “continuing the work of Jesus,” we take seriously these Scriptural directives:

John 20:21 “Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.'”

2 Corinthians 5:19-20a “… that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us.”

Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

Philippians 2:5-7 “Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness.”

We reaffirm the Theology of Mission and the Guidelines for the church’s world mission program which were adopted by the Annual Conference in 1981 (World Mission Philosophy and Program). The principles of indigenization and mutuality which guided the former World Ministries Commission in the past sixteen years helped us redirect our thinking. Church of the Brethren missionaries and former World Ministries staff members have won the love and respect of church leaders in many parts of the world. Encouragement and support is being given to our brothers and sisters as we are learning how to be the church together.

We affirm the challenges to Church of the Brethren congregations in a 1989 Annual Conference statement on “Mission Theology and Guidelines.” We celebrate the fact that many congregations have been in mission in their local area. They joined in ministry with ethnic groups. In partnership with the General Board, young persons and adults have been sent to work beside brothers and sisters in other countries to develop churches and perform deeds of compassionate ministry.


We have reviewed the 1993 Annual Conference paper on “Structure to Deal With Global Church:” The recommendations outlined in that statement related to “Congregations, Districts, and Conferences Outside the United States and Puerto Rico” have been difficult to implement. In light of the problems which districts have experienced in fulfilling assignments related to overseas missions and because of the new structure of the General Board, we are convinced that our global mission strategy and structure must be further developed.

The Committee recommends that the following revisions be made in the section of the Polity Manual which was added by the 1993 Annual Conference (“Chapter VII: Congregations, Districts and Conferences Outside the United States and Puerto Rico”):

    1. The purpose of these polity guidelines is to enable the development of the Church of the Brethren as a global church. By this is meant the extension of the Church of the Brethren witness around the globe and the creation of close partnerships with emerging Brethren groups that enables two-way mission and the mutual challenge and encouragement that this brings. It is assumed that such efforts will lead to the establishment of autonomous Brethren groups in different areas of the world; these should be seen as branches from the same vine whose ultimate rootage is in Christ Jesus our Lord. The polity that follows is intended to provide guidance so that the Brethren witness may be carried out with integrity and accountability, while allowing for a high degree of flexibility to accommodate cultural and social patterns, special needs, and problems not yet identified. It is also intended that there should be active participation by the new Brethren, new congregations and international districts. Covenantal relationships with other church bodies and principles of indigenization, empowerment, and mutuality are to be honored in every situation.
    2. As used in this document, key terms are defined as follows:
      1. New Brethren are persons residing outside the United States and Puerto Rico who wish to be members of the Church of the Brethren. These persons are considered full Brethren, with their membership held in their congregation or fellowship, and eventually in the international district where they are located.
      2. New congregations are congregations of new Brethren outside the United States and Puerto Rico. Such congregations could eventually cluster to form international districts.
      3. International districts are clusters of congregations of new Brethren initially recognized as districts and announced as such by US Annual Conference Standing Committee. International districts will have the same kind of functions and responsibilities in carrying out their ministries as their US counterparts. Relationships with the US Annual Conference will be maintained by exchanges of observers and visitors.
      4. Regional conferences are formed as districts expand their membership and activities and consequently wish to achieve a greater degree of autonomy from the US Annual Conference (itself a “regional conference” according to this terminology). The term “regional conference” is not intended to require that particular name, but is a possible title for the emerging structure. A regional conference might be formed by ail association of districts located in a geographic region outside the US, such as “The Church of the Brethren in the Caribbean” or “The Church of the Brethren in Nigeria.” It might also be formed by association of another Christian body with the Church of the Brethren. A regional conference will organize itself in the way that facilitates its mission and ministry.
      5. Global church means to imply the spiritual community of Brethren regional conferences from different parts of the world. As regional conferences are formed as autonomous bodies, they should aim to: maintain close fraternal relationships with other regional conferences; seek to be of one mind with other regional conferences as to matters of faith and belief, participate in periodic world assemblies of the Church of the Brethren; and, when appropriate, cooperate with other regional conferences for activities and programs such as disaster relief, leadership training, church planting, and ecumenical activities.
    1. When there is a proposal to evangelize or to plant new congregations outside the U.S. and Puerto Rico, those projects not initiated by the General Board shall be directed to the Mission and Ministries Planning Council (M.M.P.C.).
    2. The Church of the Brethren should invest its spiritual and financial resources in mission projects that hold the potential for meaningfully extending the Brethren witness. All relevant data pertaining to the proposal should be considered.
    3. Where the proposal involves an “adoption” of an existing fellowship the following considerations shall also guide:

      1. The compatibility of the group and leadership with the beliefs, ideals and practices of the Church of the Brethren.
      2. Whether there are sufficient number of households and strength of leadership to maintain an ongoing program of worship, nurture, fellowship and service.
    4. Parameters of each mission partnership shall be defined by consultation and covenant prior to any fundraising. All fundraising shall be coordinated by the General Board.
    5. Projects approved by the General Board, including those recommended by the Mission and Ministries Planning Council, shall be reported to Standing Committee at its next meeting. Until such time as these should develop into autonomous national Brethren bodies, they will be reported to Standing Committee on a yearly basis. They shall be listed in the Church of the Brethren Yearbook (in alphabetical order by nation).


  1. Each mission project which is launched should have capable leadership on hand to give direction to work and witness. Ideally this would be indigenous leadership, with a mentor who has knowledge of and commitment to Brethren History, heritage, and polity. The appropriate General Board staff shall provide oversight for the project and facilitate open communication. In cases where there are multiple sponsors supporting a project, it is important that the role of the General Board staff be respected in order to prevent contradictory directions or mixed messages to the new congregations or their leadership.
  2. A plan for calling and recognizing persons who will serve in set-apart ministry in each mission project shall be a part of the final proposal presented to the Mission and Ministries Planning Council and the General Board. This plan shall remain in effect until the time when the mission project shall develop into an autonomous national Brethren body. The following steps shall be taken in granting ministerial status in the Church of the Brethren:
    1. An interview by a committee to be appointed by the Director of Ministry and the Director of Global Mission Partnerships, to be conducted in the language of the candidate. When feasible the committee shall include representation from the mission project. At least one member of this committee shall be an ordained minister of the Church of the Brethren chosen for depth of experience and knowledge of ministerial polity and practice.
    2. Licensing shall be preceded by at least one year of preparation and training except for cases involving transfer of ordination from a recognized denomination.
    3. Ordination or transfer of ordination shall follow the completion of the training course outlined below and shall not occur until at least one year has elapsed since licensing.
    4. A Service of Licensing or Ordination to the Set-apart Ministry shall be conducted by General Board Staff with assistance of others as appropriate.
    5. All licensings and ordinations shall be reported to the General Board and to Standing Committee of Annual Conference.
    6. All ministers, ordained and licensed, shall be listed by Country in the Church of the Brethren Yearbook until such time that indigenous structures are recognized.
  3. Training shall be provided for persons called to set-apart ministry and other leadership positions in the new congregations. The course of study shall include Brethren History, Heritage and Polity. Curriculum materials and instruction shall be offered in the language of the area. The outline and resources for the course of study shall be approved by a committee which shall include the Director of Ministry and the Director of Global Mission Partnerships. This course shall at least approximate the Three Year Reading Course. The cost of the training shall be included in the budget for the mission project. Ordination shall not occur before completion of the prescribed educational program.
  4. Issues of accountability, discipleship and reconciliation shall be handled according to guidelines developed by the Director of Ministry in consultation with the Director of Global Mission Partnerships. These guidelines shall be subject to review by the Standing Committee of Annual Conference which shall be the final arbiter concerning these.
  5. It will be necessary to make provision for variations and exceptions from denominational polity to accommodate special social, cultural and other concerns. However, it is intended that even when exceptions and variations occur, denominational polity should be followed as closely as possible.

Committee members:

Charles M. Bieber (chair)
David K. Shumate
Berwyn L. Oltman
Bonnie Kline Smeltzer
David R. Radcliff

Action of the 1998 Annual Conference: The report of the Study Committee was presented by Charles Bieber, chair of the committee. The delegate body adopted the report by a two-thirds majority with seven amendments which have been incorporated into the wording of the preceding text.