Wesleyan Covenant Association gathering lifts up God’s power to revitalize UMC

Mount Horeb hosts live simulcast for S.C.

By Jessica Brodie

United Methodists seeking a return to traditional Wesleyan doctrine and an orthodox, Spirit-filled church gathered across the nation Oct. 14 for a meeting of the Wesleyan Covenant Association.

While the live venue was held at The Woodlands United Methodist Church near Houston, South Carolina’s Mount Horeb UMC, Lexington, hosted one of the 64 simulcasts across the United States, drawing a crowd of clergy and laity eager to hear what the WCA had to say regarding the denomination and its future.

Speakers included various leaders in the WCA, from the Rev. Keith Boyette, president of the group, to the Rev. Kenneth Levingston of Houston’s Jones Memorial UMC.

The group, which formed after General Conference 2016 and has stated it is opposed to homosexual marriage and homosexual bishops, did not issue a statement during the meeting. Instead, it filled the day with preaching on hope, unity and God’s awesome power to do the impossible and to revitalize the UMC. It also introduced a new book, “A Firm Foundation: Hope and Vision for a New Methodist Future,” as a way to help congregations revive during unsettling times.

‘Been in Babylon too long’

Levingston kicked off opening worship with a sermon on the valley of the dry bones in Ezekiel 37, equating the current state of the denomination with the death encountered by the prophet.

But just as God did when He brought the dry bones to life, God can do the impossible with the UMC, too.

“We’ve been in Babylon too long … and have made far too little progress,” Levingston said. “But we have a God who can speak to a grave and bring a Lazarus out.”

Levingston said God knows how to help us live again, and when we ask the Holy Spirit to fall upon us and transform us, “He can make us shake, rattle and roll again.”

Stay unified and keep focus on Christ

Boyette followed Levingston, lifting up the more than 2,300 people across the nation gathered for the WCA meeting one year after the group’s official launch. Calling the UMC “a church that is deeply divided” over issues like human sexuality and scriptural authority, he commended the work of the Commission on a Way Forward and noted he prays for them daily. The commission is expected to issue a report to the Council of Bishops in November on how the UMC can remain unified despite divisions over homosexuality.

Boyette said the role of the WCA during these troubled times is to continue to contend for faith above all and refuse to be drawn into debate; to advocate for those committed to traditional, orthodox Methodist beliefs; and to develop a plan for a positive future. He lifted up the “A Firm Foundation” book as a way to craft that plan.

“We find our true unity in our submission to Jesus Christ,” he said.

Don’t let fear paralyze us

The Rev. Jen Cowart, author and executive pastor of Harvest Church in Georgia, spoke next on the need to face our fears and stand up for Jesus. She shared a story of how, despite her major fear, she went with her husband to minster to inmates at a maximum-security prison. One prisoner thanked them and pleaded with them in return.

“He told me, ‘We need more Jesus people to show up in this situation,’” Cowart told the crowd.

She said that man’s words have stuck with her to this day. We are those Jesus people, she said, and today especially, we need to stop letting fear paralyze us and step up to speak about Christian values and take what she called “an unapologetic stand for Christ.”

Too many times, we worry that if we stand up we will lose a member or lose a friend or lose a donation to our church, Cowart said.

“But it’s not new that the people of God have to do difficult things in difficult times.”

A Holy Spirit problem

But those difficult times and challenges today are not about human sexuality, said the Rev. Shane Bishop, speaking next—they are all about Christians’ collective failure of the Great Commandment and Great Commission.

“We don't have an institutional problem; we have a Holy Spirit problem,” said Bishop, pastor of the multi-site Christ Church in Illinois. “When in the world did we lose the idea that the Gospel is Good News?”

He said the church must revive, reboot and get back to the “basics” to see revitalization.

“Revival is not waiting on them—it’s about us.”

Making disciples is key

Cara Nicklas followed, giving a lay perspective on the issues facing the church today.

Nicklas, an attorney and Oklahoma delegate to General Conference, said many laity are content to leave evangelism to pastors.

“I think we all know deep down that’s not how Jesus envisioned the Great Commission,” Nicklas said, noting making disciples of Christ leads to transformation of the world, not the other way around.

Nicklas said Christians, including laity, need to step up their work of helping others become disciples, not just simply know the Good News. When we truly are disciples, she said, the rest will fall into place.

The ‘next Methodism’

After lunch and a collection to help annual conference recovery and relief efforts after the fall’s storms, the Rev. Rob Renfroe, president of Good News and discipleship pastor at The Woodlands, spoke on how we can advance the Kingdom of God globally. Renfroe challenged participants with the question “What do you want?” and said what we truly want determines how we live. Hopefully, he said, we want our lives to count for the glory of God.

Next, the Rev. Forbes Matonga, a WCA member from Zimbabwe, pointed out that having a truly global church is one of United Methodism’s gifts. Matonga said this is particularly appealing to Africans because they tend to think more in terms of the global body of Christ and less in terms of nationalistic churches—a big-picture perspective that could help revive the church.

Dr. Jeff Greenway, chair of the WCA board, spoke next on “Embracing the Next Methodism.” Greenway urged people to have the difficult conversation with their congregations about the current state of the UMC and the possible changes in the near future.

The gathering closed with music from The Mark Swayze Band and an optimistic word from retired Bishop Robert Hayes. Hayes said that while there is always a price to pay, we can always get where we want to go as a church.

The Rev. Drew Martin contributed to this article. For more on the WCA, visit

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