By Jeff Finley
UPDATE: Pastor John Hansen has decided to withdraw his name from consideration as a 2023 bishop nominee. We want to thank Pastor Hansen for his continued commitment to God and His people. We pray that his continued work for the Lord will be far-reaching and will remain successful as his passion for sharing the word and work of the Lord is an inspiration to us all.
Although John Hansen has served as the lead pastor of Centerpoint Church — one of the Free Methodist Church USA’s largest and fastest-growing congregations — since 2003, he understands that many Americans are not looking to churches for answers.
“I think we’re at an inflection point in our nation,” Hansen said on a new episode of “The Light + Life Podcast” in response to a question from host Brett Heintzman about the greatest challenge facing the Free Methodist Church as a denomination. “The inflection point that we’re experiencing is one characterized by the abandonment of faith and the church and the rise of the nones. … We see it. We feel it, and it has an impact on us individually, and it has an impact on our denomination. And I think one of the greatest threats — one of the greatest challenges — facing us, whether we can see it right now or not, is the challenge of perceived obsolescence and irrelevance of the church generally and of our church in particular.”
Two decades after coming to the Murrieta, California, congregation, Hansen is now one of the eight Free Methodist Church USA bishop nominees being considered by delegates who will vote during General Conference 2023, which will be held July 25–28 in Orlando, Florida. According to the denomination’s Book of Discipline, “The General Conference shall elect by ballot two or more traveling elders as bishops to serve as the pastoral overseers of various areas of the denomination who shall constitute the Board of Bishops. … The number of bishops to be elected will be established by General Conference action and remains in effect until changed by a subsequent General Conference action.”
“We have a great mission to love God and love people, make disciples, and spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.”
Hansen expressed excitement about the possibility of serving as a bishop “to actually continue the great vision of igniting Spirit-fueled movement that catalyzes the multiplication of leaders and churches. I mean we have a great mission to love God and love people, make disciples, and spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.”
He said that his intention as a bishop “would be to continue to catalyze that Spirit-fueled movement where churches are prioritizing seeing people get saved, Spirit-filled, sanctified and sent because if we think that we can ride on the coattails of an institutional kind of an experience of yesteryear, we’re going to miss everything that Jesus has for us. If we can stay instead on His timeless mission of seeking and saving the lost, then we will not be irrelevant because His mission is never irrelevant.”
He added, “Part of what I would desire to do as a bishop is to inspire our conferences to continue focusing in on reaching people that need Jesus, and I think on a practical level, there’s also many ways in which our attachment to different kinds of denominational bureaucratic structures and processes may need to shift so that we can be a bit more free. I would even say in some ways we need to put the Free back in Free Methodist so that we can gain ground rather than lose it.”
When asked about one of his personal leadership challenges, Hansen shared that his church wasn’t always named Centerpoint, and it wasn’t the large congregation it is today.
“It was a small congregation … 50 or 60 people meeting in a storefront in a strip mall struggling and wondering about closing the doors, and I came along with the calling and the challenge to relaunch the ministry. It was called The Lamb’s Fellowship, and I felt a stirring in my spirit that was from the Lord, that to relaunch this ministry would include a new location and a new statement of our mission as a church and also a new identity,” he said. “At 29 years old, I kind of was a bit of a firebrand and came in guns blazing … and you can imagine how well that went over with everybody.”
Hansen said either “it wasn’t the right time, or I didn’t approach it the right way,” and the board tabled the proposal to rename The Lamb’s Fellowship. As time progressed, however, conversations and relationships led to mutual awareness and greater trust.
“When we did change the name, it was with 100% unanimity in the decision and in the name that we chose,” Hansen said.
“I felt the conviction from God that needed to change in the church that I was leading.”
As the church grew and embarked on building projects, Hansen acknowledged, he “steered clear from some of the things that might have been a little bit more challenging for people in particular.” He added that he “reached a point where I felt that I was making disciples that didn’t really look like the kind of disciple I was as a Spirit-filled believer, and I felt the conviction from God that needed to change in the church that I was leading.”
Some church staff and members questioned the new emphasis on the Holy Spirit that didn’t match with their theological backgrounds.
“I think we lost nearly 1,000 people, and that’s something that I’m not happy about, but it was a decided challenge that this is something that we really are going to embrace deeply,” he said. “I had to bring clear teaching and do workshops, seminars, classes and preaching in our weekend services to help people catch a vision for what it would mean to be Spirit-filled. I’m also glad to say that whatever number of people we lost, we more than doubled in what we gained, and I’m so grateful that God gave the heart to this church body to say, ‘Yes, we will embrace that movement of the things of the Spirit.’”
Truth and Love
Heintzman asked if Hansen is “fully aligned with our traditional sexual ethic — believing that marriage and sexual union are reserved for one man and one woman,” and “how do we learn to really love our neighbor regardless of sexual orientation and yet minister the truth of the gospel?”
“I think it’s also appropriate for us as believers and for us as a church to uphold the views and standards for life and godliness, as we see in the Scriptures as an expression of our faith.”
“I fully agree with our traditional sexual ethic,” Hansen replied. “I believe that our statement on human sexuality in the Book of Discipline is very well-expressed, and I believe that marriage and sexual union are reserved for one man and one woman in marriage. I think there’s a place for us to recognize the validity of non-Christian, non-Bible-believing people coming to different conclusions, and I think it’s also appropriate for us as believers and for us as a church to uphold the views and standards for life and godliness, as we see in the Scriptures as an expression of our faith.
He said we should show love to our neighbors and recognize they may not “hold our views, and that is something that we hold in tension with the revelation of Scripture and the mission of Jesus. I think about the mission of Jesus and His gospel, and I just take note that when He said, ‘For God so loved the world that whosoever believes in Him,’ that there’s no asterisk there where it says ‘except for you if you if you’re gay or except for you if you are transgender.’ I think that we need to minister the truth of the gospel.”
He emphasized the need to listen and show empathy and kindness while our churches should be “clear about what our stance is, even though it’s not necessarily a culturally popular stance. We welcome all with hospitality and love, and we invite all to repent of sin and be transformed.”
Free Methodist Future
When asked about his preferred future for the denomination, Hansen said, “I think that we have a bright future as a denomination so long as we determine to hold to the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost.” He also would like an increase in the “focus on local church health and growth” and “to also elevate the value for experiencing the Holy Spirit in our churches so that our Free Methodist churches across the board are more and more known for a sense of God’s presence and power.”
“We need to make sure that we keep our focus on the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost and to do it in the power of the Holy Spirit and with a faith-filled sense of expectancy about His return.”
As Free Methodists “consider our future, we should safeguard that essence that was birthed in our founding and continue to embrace the freedom in worship, freedom of the movement of the Spirit,” Hansen said. “We need to resist drifting into liberalism. I think we need to be cautious about building our culture on a kind of highbrow intellectualism that’s actually alienating and exclusionary to many people. I think we need to make sure that we keep our focus on the mission of Jesus to seek and save the lost and to do it in the power of the Holy Spirit and with a faith-filled sense of expectancy about His return.”
Heintzman asked about any God-given visions, dreams or words about being a bishop nominee or for the church. Hansen replied, “When I was nominated, I prayed about it. I sensed God saying to me, ‘Give me your yes,’ and I processed with several mentors and friends that I felt God was speaking that to me, and most importantly with my wife, Ann, who is also an ordained Free Methodist elder. We discerned together. Yes, God was speaking to me this word — ‘Give me your yes’ — and so I did.”
Click here to listen to the full podcast, watch a five-minute video featuring Hansen, and learn more about all of the bishop nominees.