by Bob Phillips
Yes, typically articles like this highlight the “seven top” this or that. Sometimes seven isn’t enough. In any event, the health and integrity of the question of possible disaffiliation offers a gift to every church willing to do the work. As you will see, the answer for any one church is not the answer for all. Amid the multiple challenges of the denomination’s “wicked problem,” a crucial initial response is to drill down and determine the spiritual DNA of the congregation. How does the congregation understand the gospel, the Great Commission, the Great Commandment, the person and work of Christ? What does it mean to “make disciples of Jesus Christ?” The answer to that question must precede any healthy follow-up questions of stay or go. In that spirit, and flowing from that core conviction, consider the following eight points. Yep, the first two are simple restatements of this introduction!
God’s will cannot be cut into a ‘one size fits all’ approach. He will lead some churches/individuals to stay UMC, some to depart for the new GMC or to move to other expressions of their Wesleyan Christianity. Yes, really to all outcomes!
The most important first task is defining the church’s identity, passion, and mission. Until you know who you are you cannot know where God wants you to go. No time demand ever outraces the need to define yourself before God.
Think direction and not simply location. The UMC train has left the station; if you like its future direction (reflected in such as recent North Central Jurisdictional statements on “BeLoved” church priorities), remain with the church. If GMC or other trains are headed in directions more consistent with your answer to (2), consider making a switch.
Affirm and critique. You will know you are ready to make serious informed decisions when you can affirm and critique all the potential options in ways that those who support the UMC or the GMC or other options would say fairly expresses their points of view. Those who watch only MSNBC or only Fox News do so to seek affirmation, not information. Seek information as the raw material the Spirit can mold for His purpose.
Speak the truth in love. How we as believers discuss, disagree and decide is as powerful a witness to the secular world as what we decide. Don’t win a battle and lose the war.
Affirm Bishops when deserved. Some US bishops uphold the Book of Discipline. Some have vowed that any church believing God is calling them to leave will be treated fairly, and mean it; paralyzing financial demands will not be placed on them. They also, understandably, want churches that are discerning their future to be clear about the positives of remaining in the conference. See (4) above! And yes, such bishops are not permanent, so consider what sort of successor you will get, with Jurisdictional delegation statements as Exhibit A. Think (3) above. Some annual conferences use intimidation on traditionalist concerns. Affirm your bishop when possible; pray for your bishop always.
Trust but verify. This saying from US military diplomacy is relevant. If the process in any church or for any conference turns vindictive or unfair, alternatives exist. Conferences/bishops who clearly repudiate the spirit and the Spirit behind the Protocol for Grace and Reconciliation (often while in open disobedience to parts of the Discipline they don’t like) embody an attitude with no redemptive Kingdom future. Legal alternatives are a reluctant last resort but do exist and can help deal with bullies.
Consider conference WCA leadership a resource (especially if one approaches the issues as a ‘self-avowed practicing evangelical’ or theological centrist). As a resource, the WCA can offer information and perspective. The WCA comes to no church for the purpose of starting fights by talking that happy church into leaving the UMC. A WCA presence can offer the congregation insight, information and perspective in the discernment process one cannot fairly expect UMC leadership to offer. The WCA keeps church and clergy names and communication confidential, while assuming the local DS is kept in the loop in appropriate ways by pastors and churches. And WCA leadership is happy to have public dialogues with churches and groups with very different views. See #4 and #5 above!
Chair WCA, Illinois Great Rivers Conference
Degrees from University of Illinois, Asbury and Princeton Seminaries, University of St. Andrews
Graduate of Senior Executive Seminar on Morality, Ethics and Public Policy, Brookings Institution
Captain, Chaplain Corps, US Navy (ret)
See Bob’s work on Methodist Mitosis in Methodist Review.
“A WCA presence can offer the congregation insight, information and perspective in the discernment process one cannot fairly expect UMC leadership to offer. ” What a sad, divisive statement. WCA’s president is an elder in the GMC, spawned by the WCA. Why should we expect a WCA presence to be any more fair than UMC leadership?
I expect a discerning church should weigh both perspectives. It is not divisive to admit that the UMC system is biased toward the UMC.
And vice versa re: the WCA.
“Fair” means it is unreasonable to expect a bishop or DS to offer reasons to consider disaffiliation. It is not a personal ding at any who serve those roles. I can see how my wording could be misunderstood!
Daring to set forth disaffiliation considerations (as Bob Phillips posts here) may be unpopular among aficionados of the UMC, but it’s more courageous than pretending there’s nothing to discuss. We are at a rich moment of a revolutionary type. Be discerning and don’t quench the Spirit.