Every North American General Conference of The Wesleyan Church (TWC) elects 24 representatives — half laity, half clergy — to form the voting members of the General Board (GB).

The GB also includes non-voting members, who contribute their voices to General Board conversations, just not their vote. Those non-voting members include the four division executive directors, the General Treasurer/Chief Financial Officer, the chief executive officer of The Wesleyan Investment Foundation and Wesleyan Pension Fund, and our Wesleyan universities and seminary presidents.

Just as every church has a local board of administration, which executes the business of the local conference, and each district has a district board of administration, which executes the business of the district conference, the GB executes the business of the General Conference, promotes TWC’s interests and serves as TWC’s chief governing body between General Conferences.

“The ultimate authority of The Wesleyan Church is the General Conference; but in between, at that higher level, the GB must act to protect the mission, distinguish between what things are eternal and unchanging, and what other things are methods or traditions that can and should be changed in order to adapt to the needs of the church in the present,” reflected Mr. Carl Shepherd, who has served on the GB for over 15 years.

Each member brings their expertise to bear on stewarding the denomination’s theology, structures and practices. The diversity in skills on the GB — in matters ranging from pastoral leadership, to theology, to business, to global impact — helps TWC take a proactive posture toward our future instead of a reactive one.

“The hope is that those on the GB should have the farthest and most aggressive vision for The Wesleyan Church,” said Reverend Steve DeNeff, current GB member. “Ideally, the conference chooses members who can carry the denomination into the future — the ones who can see the farthest, can anticipate obstacles and see opportunities — in ways that keep our church responsive to the place we find ourselves and faithful to the things that bring us together.”

That forecasting function has been especially important in post-pandemic recovery, as every part of the denomination has had to regroup. One of the greatest denominational challenges right now is relational tension from within; different constituents within our denomination have varying visions for the future, and differing perceptions of the opportunities and threats that our church family needs to think about.

The GB is intentional in stewarding Wesleyan commitments to Scripture and whole-life transformation, mindful of the polarized moment we live in. “The implications of COVID, the political divisions, and varying opinions about social issues … everyone is suspicious of everybody else,” reflected Mr. Shepherd. “Those things have impacted culture, but also have had a major impact on the church. Part of the GB’s role is to convince our people that the uniting factor of our denomination is the message of holiness.”

“We cannot deny that we are facing a storm of cultural challenges that resist holiness. It is time to unite, stand firm in our faith, pray and seek God to lead the way to transformation, which is the ONLY way forward,” said Dr. Wafaa Hanna, GB member.

Between General Conferences, it can be easy for most Wesleyans to forget about the GB’s work until the next General Conference; but the GB’s influence ends up impacting the local church in ways that are sometimes implicit.

“People often miss how much what people hear every Sunday revolves around a missional core and a theological core that is stewarded by the General Board,” said Rev. Steve DeNeff, who has been on the board for 12 years during three different terms. “Most people in the pew think, ‘The mission of this church comes from the staff in this church,’ and the staff may think the same thing — but I don’t think they realize the degree to which their minds have already been shaped by the home to which they belong.”

Rev. Ethan Linder is the pastor of discipleship at College Wesleyan Church in Marion, Indiana, and contributing editor at The Wesleyan Church’s Education and Clergy Development Division.