On March 5-8, 2020 the third MTSE student conference on the topic of Church Planting and Discipleship was held at Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary.
MTSE was created 21 years ago as a Methodist educational network. It currently includes 15 seminaries. MTSE helps leaders of schools to collaborate in training, student exchange and simply make friends. Since 2017 MTSE has periodically held student conferences.
This was a historic opportunity to gather in Tallinn for the 2020 conference. Only thirty years ago it was not possible for Methodists to meet across Europe. Historical changes like the fall of the Berlin wall 30 years ago made communication possible. God had to change the politics, moved around powers and issued new maps for this to become possible.
Conference total number of participants was 84. There were participants from the following eight countries: Estonia 53, Finland 15, United Kingdom 9, Germany 2, Poland 2, Republic of Ireland 1, Norway 1, Denmark 1.
There were 45 participants from six theological schools:
Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary 31,
Cliff College 6
Edgehill Theological College 2
The Queen's Foundation 2
Theologische Hochschule Reutlingen 2
Chrześcijańska Akademia Teologiczna 1
Jan Laski Methodist Theological Seminary in Warsaw 1
The conference began with worship. In her message “Call to become like Jeremiah” (Jer 1:4-10) BMTS Rector Külli Tõniste described the current fractured and shrinking state of Methodism in Europe as “A Jeremiah moment for the Methodist Church.“ She drew three lessons from the life of Jeremiah: 1) God values Jeremiah. God’s value of us should call us to value both ourselves and others; 2) When God calls you, your task is to be faithful. Let God be the judge of your success; 3) God calls you to be a leader that gives hope through your actions. The illustration for this hope is Jeremiah who purchased land when others were selling. Jeremiah acted in hope when nobody else saw any hope.
Phil Meadows, The Sundo Kim Professor of Evangelism from Asbury Theological Seminary focused on the topic of discipleship, growing and multiplying disciples through Fellowship Bands. He reminded us that the great commission was “not to plant churches, but to make disciples” and we should not confuse the two. Jesus ministered to the crowds, but he preferred to work in small groups.
Trevor Hutton, lecturer in Practical Theology and Missiology from Nazarene Theological College in Manchester, focused on church planting. He spoke about laying healthy foundations and healthy processes from the start. He warned not to postpone what is essential practices for the church. We start with discipleship when the church is in its embryonic state, not some day in the future.
Douglas Childress from Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary spoke about historical models of discipleship, especially of the practice of the Cathecumenate in making disciples. He warned that disciple training should take time. And all people have a right to know what the church believes. Every Church should use a catechism.
Bishop Christian Alsted offered 15 lessons that we may learn from his 25 years of Church Planting in Baltic-Nordic Area. He encouraged church planters to try and fail and keep on trying. Bishop encouraged: “Let us fail our way forward.”
Along the same theme, Hindrek Taavet Taimla from Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary interviewed local church planters and gathered practical experience for church planting. Some of these lectures were also recorded on video and will be made available.
Meeli Tankler facilitated a section for student papers. Four students presented on the topic “My Church and My Context” What church growth can mean in your context. Students drew on the best practices of church growth that they have experienced. The contexts ranged from house churches in rural Ireland to urban neighbourhoods in Germany. One common theme was that people in Western societies experience loneliness. Different activities are used to help people to connect. The theme of economic inequality also emerged. Churches often notice and facilitate distribution of aid to those in need. Presenters emphasized the importance of sharing the good news about Jesus.
Two students presented on the topic „Defining Discipleship in 21st cent.“ Papers highlighted that discipleship is a relational process. There is a person in your life who provides spiritual guidance and accountability. Personal example and friendship are essential in discipleship.
The conference also included a sight-seeing tour of Tallinn and a lecture to honor Estonia’s 100 years, Hope Against No Hope - The Story of Estonia by Trivimi Velliste, Honorary Chairman of the Estonian Heritage Society, offered some local context. Velliste greeted the conference participants and helped all to understand recent history from Estonia’s perspective. He highlighted the role of church in resistance that lead to the freedom of Estonia and enabled Europe to unite.
MTSE student reception at the end was a relaxed time of games, cake, and fellowship. Students used the open microphone to share what they appreciated about their schools. This cordial evening on the last day of the conference allowed us to truly connect with each other and actualize the purpose and meaning of MTSE.
We are most grateful for all who envisioned, organized, supported and participated this memorable event. Thanks to all partners who supported materially (including sending faculty): General Board of Higher Education, Global Ministries of United Methodist Church and National Foundation of Civil Society, Asbury Theological Seminary, Nazarene Theological College, and Baltic Methodist Theological Seminary.