By Michelle Scott Okabayashi
June 14, 2019 | ATLANTA

When The United Methodist Church in Nigeria sought to develop a strategic plan that would be effective in the current political and socio-economic climate, a mission roundtable helped more than 50 stakeholders from Nigeria and the United States to cast the vision and coordinate resources. The resulting six-year plan gave the church a clear mission statement and goals to propel them into their next phase of mission.

Mission roundtables are gatherings that bring together people from a variety of roles and contexts within the church to live out mutuality in mission. Working together to find new ways forward, participants can range from bishops, church and agency leaders to pastors, lay people and community members. Global Ministries U.S. Regional Office on Multicultural Ministries, based in Atlanta, has developed a Mission Roundtable Program, which trains facilitators to guide a group in dialogue that crosses the boundaries of identity, theology and worldview. “Even though not everyone agrees, we are all coming together from various backgrounds to address needs,” explains Joy McLeod, a Mission Roundtable facilitator from Atlanta who has been involved in roundtables in the Philippines and Mozambique.

Joy McLeod and Barbara Oppliger (pictured in the black and orange shirts in the upper right-hand corner of the photo) take part in a singing exercise at a learning retreat for facilitators in Atlanta, March 2018. PHOTO CREDIT: ANDREAS STÄMPFL 

A mission roundtable can be formed to create a long-range plan for an episcopal area, such as Nigeria, or to overcome a conflict or barrier in a ministry. The facilitators work to create a safe space and ensure all parties are heard. They work to build bridges across boundaries within the group and cultivate a sense of common mission and purpose. “Roundtables are all about mutuality, respect and listening to one another. And as a facilitator, I am responsible for creating a space in which these things can happen,” explains Barbara Oppliger, a Mission Roundtable facilitator from Switzerland who has been involved in roundtables in South America.

Two Mission Roundtable facilitators help keep these two- to three-day gatherings on track and ensure that every voice is heard. “Participants partake in visioning together,” says Paul Kong, Asia regional representative for Global Ministries, who has attended two roundtables in the Philippines and has helped bring training to Asia to increase the pool of facilitators available in the region. He notes that at the heart of any mission roundtable is the question: “How do we continue and progress and build up the body of Christ?”

Kong has seen how the quadrennial plan forged during the mission roundtable held with the Davao Episcopal Area of the Philippines in early 2019 is now shaping nearly every part of the church’s work. The strong investment of people involved in all different aspects of the church has made this possible. “It’s not just one person’s vision. I think that’s the beauty of this,” reflects Kong.

Another result of the Davao Mission Roundtable was an effort to better coordinate and strengthen sustainable livelihood programs throughout the region. Later in 2019, the three Philippine episcopal areas will meet in Manila. They are inviting nongovernmental institutions, United Methodist agency personnel, local business owners in related fields and individuals who participate in this ministry from each episcopal area. They will survey existing programs, look at best practices and find new ways to work together to improve ministries that serve the poor throughout the country.

Participants of the Libera Mission Roundtable engage in learning and partnership-building exercises, April 2018. PHOTO CREDIT: COURTESY OF GARY HENDERSON

The Mission Roundtable Program is available to all levels of The United Methodist connection through Global Ministries’ regional offices. This resource gathers people with diverse thoughts and ideas and creates a sacred space to discover new ways of being the church in the world. Together.

Invitation-only facilitator trainings help continue and grow the program, with the next training taking place November 2019 in Atlanta, Georgia. A facilitators’ summit will immediately follow the training to further equip new and experienced facilitators. The summit is organized in partnership with the Mission Roundtable training team, Global Ministries’ U.S. Regional Office on Multicultural Ministries, the General Commission on Religion and Race and the Circle Process Program at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology.

Okabayashi is a freelance writer for Global Ministries.

If your church, conference or district is interested in hosting a mission roundtable or if you would like more information on the upcoming facilitators’ summit, contact