By Jeff Finley
A few years ago at some Free Methodist gatherings, The Arbor Church Lead Pastor Kaye Kolde began hearing other people refer her to as a young leader in the room. The comments surprised her because she was in her mid- to late 40s at the time.
“I started to ask, ‘What are the stats on our leadership? How many leaders do we have under the age of 40 in the denomination?’” Kolde 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. She added that she “was very surprised to find that those percentages were very low, and so I think some of our challenge is moving into a new generation of leadership and what the church will look like building on what we have had, but not constricted by what we have had.”
She noted that when a movement begins, “the Holy Spirit is often leading in unexpected and surprising ways.” When the movement formalizes and systems develop, impediments may form. She believes Free Methodists face the challenge “to take our incredible history, which even begins with Wesleyan Methodism and then moves into B.T. Roberts and the founding of the Free Methodist Church, these things that created movement” and “to continue and replicate” with “the things that are distinctive about us as Free Methodists being a basis for freedom to move again.”
Kolde 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.”
When asked what excites her about potentially being elected as a bishop, Kolde replied, “The first thing that comes to my mind with that question is I am excited to work with so many amazing leaders and pastors and people in different aspects of Free Methodist ministry. That is very energizing to me to be working with other leaders and people who are investing themselves so fully in the church.”
She described herself as “a collaborative leader. I like to work in teams of people, and even being with the group during Board of Administration or Superintendent Leadership Team meetings recently was very energizing to me, because I’m encouraged by all those people investing themselves in the denomination.”
When asked about leadership challenges, Kolde said she is “wired as an apostolic leader — meaning I think God leads me and encourages me and empowers me by His Spirit to start new things or take on new challenges, and those new things are always with a vision of kingdom fruitfulness and kingdom expansion in mind.” She added that “many people are not wired that same way, and so I have to be very mindful and sensitive of those who are not seeing that and what they’re feeling is the grief of change, and I am very aware that lots of changes bring people grief to different levels. … I have to be extra sensitive, and I have to be very, very intentional about communicating the vision and keep encouraging people that there is a why behind this that is God-glorifying, and it’s going to be life-giving to us and life-giving to others.”
Truth and Love
Heintzman asked Kolde if she is “fully aligned with our traditional sexual ethic — this believing that marriage and sexual union are reserved for one man and one woman,” and “how do we learn to love our neighbor regardless of sexual orientation and yet minister the truth of the gospel?”
“Our desire for holiness includes a complete sexual ethic.”
“Yes, I fully align with the perspective of the Free Methodist Church, and I have been challenged in this and questioned on this by some of my friends in other denominations and movements, and I feel that I have examined Scripture, I have had relationships, I’ve done other reading, and I still return to the perspective that we hold in the Free Methodist Church defining marriage as a covenant between one man and one woman,” Kolde replied. “Our desire for holiness includes a complete sexual ethic. That’s not just about LGBTQ relationships, but really all parts of human sexuality being submitted to the Lordship of Jesus and seeking holiness and wholeness in that.”
She expects that challenges to the denomination’s stance will increase.
“We know that the gospel will be offensive to some. That call to holiness will be offensive to some, but at the same time, we’ve often failed to be loving. We’ve often failed to understand what celibacy requires of same-sex attracted person to really support them and walk with them,” said Kolde, who noted that different people have different sexual issues. “Sometimes we’re talking about people who would be in this category of LGBTQ or plus, and we’re lumping them in with one group when really there’s a wide variety of people involved, and the church needs to have different responses in that.”
She noted that “those who would consider themselves followers of Jesus and same-sex attracted are making sacrifices for holiness when they commit to celibacy that I will never have to make as someone who is able to be married to the love of my life and have that part of our relationship. … I want to honor and support those folks who are making that kind of sacrificial commitment to Jesus to sacrifice that part of their lives in order to be holy.”
Free Methodist Future
When asked what she sees as the preferred future of the denomination, Kolde said she sees a “Free Methodist Church that begins to represent the kingdom of God with more diversity and not just diversity in ethnicity or race or gender, but also in what our churches look like —the expressions of church and the way that those are contextualized in urban and rural settings and with different ethnic or racial groups. I think that is going to be a beautiful kingdom reflection that we’re growing.”
She does not expect the Free Methodist Church “to look the same and operate the same in all areas and pockets of our country,” but she does “think we’re going to be unified under our distinctive things like The Free Methodist Way, which I really appreciate. Knowing who we are as one with that unity allows us our diversity and the ability to flourish in different places.”
Heintzman asked whether God has given her “visions, dreams or words regarding your call to say yes to being considered as a nominee and for the church in general.” Kolde replied that the phrase “new life” has been on her lips for several years.
“How do we actually lead as people dependent on the Spirit in the larger family of the Free Methodist Church?”
“When people ask me, ‘What can I pray for, for you for your church, for the Free Methodist Church, new life is just always the phrase that’s there,” she said. “For the future of the Free Methodist Church, that Spirit-fueled movement that we hope to catalyze will bring new life in unexpected ways. I think anyone who hopes that they have a five-point plan for catalyzing a Spirit-fueled movement might be getting ahead of the Holy Spirit.”
She noted that she has been praying, “How do we actually lead as people dependent on the Spirit in the larger family of the Free Methodist Church?” She added, “Another thing that I have come back to again and again in times of prayer, where I’m just really listening to the Lord, is the phrase ‘guiding, not guarding.’”
Social and political issues arise that may tempt us to focus on defense rather than offense. While the denomination should “consistently be guiding” local churches “according to our doctrine, our distinctives our grounding, with God-given revelation, and the Word, and the Spirit,” Kolde said, “if we’re continually trying to guard things, I think we impede the movement of the Spirit.”