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Commentary: Sanctification and evangelism in global Methodism

Commentary: Sanctification and evangelism in global Methodism

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Commentary: Sanctification and evangelism in global Methodism

An e-Review commentary by the Rev. Jack Jackson | July 23, 2010 {1200}

NOTE: A headshot of Jackson is available at    
Who would have thought the struggles we face with evangelism in The United Methodist Church in Florida would be similar to those faced by other Wesleyans around the world.

The week after Easter I had the privilege of teaching at the Pastor’s School for the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista de Costa Rica, the primary Methodist denomination in Costa Rica. The president of the main seminary, the Rev. Steve Gober, is a friend from my seminary days with whom I happened to reconnect last year. Upon learning that I’d just finished my doctorate in theology, he and the bishop, Dr. Luis Palomo, asked if I would speak at their annual Pastor’s School.

The working title of the gathering was “Developing A Wesleyan Theology of Evangelism,” which was similar to my doctoral research. Little did I know that as we discussed the joys and challenges of evangelism in Costa Rica, I would face some of the same struggles we face in many of our United Methodist churches in Florida.

Some of those similar struggles include people moving from church to church without fully investing in a community of faith. Like in the United States, some in Costa Rica have a market understanding of Christianity and believe a church is here, first and foremost, to serve them. Additionally, I heard a number of pastors of small churches complain that larger churches were stealing their members. Sometimes these larger churches were Methodist, but often they were Pentecostal. These small church pastors were aware that some people who left were church shopping, but they also acknowledged that some of their churches had shifted from a mission focused on transforming the world to one of maintaining their own church. Incidentally, this seemed to be an issue for some larger churches, as well.

The Rev. Jack Jackson (center), pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Lakeland, visits with the Rev. Steve Gober (left), president of the main seminary in Costa Rica, and Bishop Luis Palomo of the Iglesia Evangelica Metodista de Costa Rica, the primary Methodist denomination in Costa Rica. Photo courtesy of Jack Jackson. Photo #10-1517. View in photo gallery with longer description.

But the biggest similarity I found was a growing concern in Costa Rica that many people “convert” without ever becoming true disciples of Jesus Christ. Some people say the words they are told to say or say a prayer of conversion they are directed to pray, but never mature into a deeper faith. The early Methodists didn’t have this problem.

In early Methodism, people converted, but then kept maturing as disciples. The primary reason for this maturation seems to be that the focus of evangelistic activities was not conversion alone. Rather, the Wesley brothers (John and Charles) and other Methodist leaders, both clergy and lay, believed the Holy Spirit worked through the speaking of the gospel in a variety of ways. First, evangelism served to awaken people to God’s reality. Second, evangelism led to conversion through repentance and faith. Finally, and most importantly, evangelism, the speaking of the gospel, led people to holiness or sanctification.

For the early Methodists, conversion was never the goal of the Christian life in general or evangelism in particular. Conversion was critical, but never as an end in itself. Rather, the end was always sanctification.

Yet as we talked in Costa Rica, there was a growing awareness that Methodist evangelism in Costa Rica mostly focused on conversion. The message was that conversion was the most important aspect of Christian discipleship, and unlike in early Methodism, there was no corresponding call to maturity in holiness.

As we talked through the week, it became clearer and clearer that if we want people to mature as disciples then sanctification, not conversion, must be the focus of our evangelism. For sanctification necessarily includes conversion, but not vice versa.

We all left that conference with an awareness that some of the challenges Methodism faces are global and not reflections of problems limited to our own tradition. Yet we also left with a renewed sense that our Wesleyan tradition offers resources to help make disciples and not just converts as we seek to transform the world.
News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011,, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Jackson is pastor at Christ United Methodist Church in Lakeland, Fla.