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“We Want Out!” (the loudest voice the #UMC isn’t hearing)

September 16, 2019

 

There is an increasingly resonant voice in the United Methodist conflict emerging from both congregations and pastors.

 

It is a voice not being heard.

 

It does not receive invitations to the negotiating table.

 

It is a voice becoming too loud to ignore.

 

“We want out!”

 

As the United Methodist Church continues bent on being a one issue denomination (and that issue is not Jesus Christ); many churches across the theological spectrum have simply had enough.  Exacerbated by the rancorous St. Louis General Conference, fearful of a repeat in 2020 and fueled by decades of decline in the American church, many have lost confidence in a process that can’t seem to right itself and positional leaders who can’t seem to lead.  “Just wait until the next __________ and we will get this all fixed” simply doesn’t ring true anymore. It never gets fixed. In fact, it keeps getting worse.

 

Thousands of individuals have already left the UMC; our collective decline in the American church over a thirty year span is staggering.  In my own conference, weekly worship attendance has declined by 41%; Professions of Faith by 67% and baptisms by 66% since 1992. Confirmation Classes? Down by 71%. Granted, many have died but plenty have walked.  Our most consistent statistical feature in the American portion of the church is that it costs more and more to accomplish less and less each year.  Costs, clergy entitlements and apportionments go up; worship attendance, professions of faith and baptisms go down.  This is unsustainable by any measure and failing the Great Commission by every measure.

 

Many anticipate eventually leaving the UMC but are not going to simply trickle away as others have previously done.  They intend to leave with their pastor, their congregation and their property.  They don’t care about the equitable division of denominational assets and they don’t care about the Boards and Agencies.  They have stopped writing, posting, tweeting and blogging.  They are not mad but they are done.  They have worked through the grieving cycle.

 

Seven Reasons Churches Want Out

 

  1. They are tired of the fight
  2. They see no end in sight
  3. Local congregations are suffering 
  4. Churches no longer wish to fund what negatively impacts their mission
  5. Churches want autonomy over their decreasing resources
  6. They can’t “un-see” the dysfunction manifested in St. Louis
  7. They have seen what has happened to the other Mainline denominations

 

In the aftermath of the debacle that was General Conference 2019, some have been surprised by how few churches have asked to withdraw from the UMC.  I do not find this surprising in the least.  There is really no clear way out.  Many feel trapped. The vast majority will give the 2020 General Conference a chance to play out.

 

Six Reasons Why Churches Have Not Left

 

  1. Church property is held in trust The Trust Clause basically has you forever making automobile payments and the bank still owning your ever aging and unreliable car. For a non-debt strapped church to leave at present probably means to abandon their building.  Most churches are not going to do it. They shouldn’t have to.
  2. There is no clear and standardized exit ramp The now defunct Taylor Plan was not gracious financially and only applied to churches who disagreed with the current denominational stance on human sexuality. Many churches who want out agree with the denominational stance.  The issue for them is not just human sexuality, it is perpetual dysfunction.
  3. Some are hoping for a gracious, clear and standardized exit ramp to come out of GC 2020 I think this is a pipe dream. Farmers don’t just let their milk cows walk out of the barn; denominations don’t either.  I suppose it could happen but I am not counting on it.
  4. Lack of negotiating tools We have learned from other Mainline meltdowns that congregations who have money in the bank, sit on substantial assets, are not in 100% agreement around theology and who do not have long-term pastoral leadership have a much harder time getting out than those who are fiscal liabilities. If there is not an exit ramp; many congregations will make one.  If they make one, litigation may be their only option.
  5. Litigation is a terrible option Mainline denominations have spent millions suing their own churches who want to be shed of them. It is abysmal stewardship.  It is a fool’s play by any measure. Secular courts should not decide the future of the church.
  6. Lack of clarity concerning the “pull” While many feel the “push;” the “pull” seems more ambiguous. Many wish to exit the dysfunction but where would they go? Independent alliances?  Loose associations? Autonomous congregations?  A new denomination?  Some negotiated split of the UMC? And even if they knew where they wanted to go, how would they get there?

 

I do not know anyone who believes the United Methodist Church has a viable future in its present embodiment.  I used to know a lot of folks who believed we could figure this out; then I knew a few and now I don’t know any.  An increasing number of “non-institutional” United Methodists don’t believe the mission of the church is to prop up a flailing denomination.

 

The question entering GC 2019 was, “Can we stay together?”

 

The question entering GC 2020 is, “Can we amicably separate?”

 

But the question for many is, “Who wants to stay in a dysfunctional denomination?”

 

As churches consider their options in 2020, leaving all together will certainly be among them.

 

These voices deserve to be heard.

 

Tie Black and White

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop, a Distinguished Evangelist of the United Methodist Church, has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

26 Comments
  1. The Methodist Episcopal Church split in the 1830’s. The local churches were able to keep their property at that time, as far as I know. If an amicable split can allow churches to keep their property, then the 2020 General Conference will be a good Conference.

    • Darrel Phillips permalink

      If the UMC is dissolved the trust clauses should be invalid. Each church body should be able to move forward in a way that best suits them, be it WCA, UMC Next, independent or what ever they choose. The General Conference should allow the churches to move in whatever direction God is leading them, connectional or independent. Many see the connectional church as dysfunctional since 2019 General Conference and want OUT!

    • Just a note, John Grimm. That split was in 1844, foreshadowing the rupture of our nation along the same lines less than 20 years later. But the difference from today is that both sides agreed to recognize each other as legitimate continuations of the Methodist movement in America. They also reunited 95 years later as The Methodist Church.

  2. There is only one way for those who worship God with all their hearts, their souls, and their lives, God’s Word. All other falls short of the truth in His Word. “Choose you this day whom you will serve,” He says. That’s the bottomline.

  3. Peter Paulson permalink

    Shane, It seems to me, that the Apostle Paul had two major themes in his communication to the churches he helped to nurture: 1) Uplift Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to all persons who earnestly repent of their sins, and have faith in Him, and 2) Correcting grievous errors in those churches who veer, try to alter, and/or try to forget #1. He never gave up! He continually uplifted those who would carry on the TRUE mission of the church until he, himself, was martyred in the name of Jesus Christ the One and only Lord and Savior!

    In ANY battle, whether it’s on the sport field OR in war itself, the fighting (and, this is a battle over Truth), is ALWAYS toughest at the end. This is too large a denomination to walk away from as we see some of the weak hearted drift apart from Christ’s mission which needs to be reestablished within the UMC.

    Yes, 2020 will be a repeat (or at least, we must assume it will be), so it is absolutely necessary to marshal forward, determined to win! Period!

    I think so often of Athanasius of Alexandria in his conflict with Arius who was expelled, at times, and reinstated, and who NEVER quit until the whole of Christendom got it right concerning our Holy Trinity!

    This is just as big from one standpoint. The United Methodist Church IS on the verge of re-establishing orthodox Wesleyan principals which were the the very foundation of the massive growth in the 1800’s (which, really, is not that long ago) because it was founded on faith in Jesus Christ as Lord!

    We are at the very doorstep of that reality! Let’s keep up the good fight!

    Pete

    Sent from my iPhone

    >

    • C A Buster permalink

      I have full confidence in what was written to the church in Ephesus, “I know your deeds and your toil and perseverance, and that you cannot tolerate evil men, and you put to the test those who call themselves apostles, and they are not, and you found them to be false; and you have perseverance and have endured for My name’s sake, and have not grown weary. (Revelation 2:1-3).
      Seems a like-situation exists in today’s UMC.
      Personally, I believe American Methodism is progressing towards its liberal societal bent, but that an orthodox Wesleyan ‘denomination’ will also prevail.

    • Michael W. Duvall permalink

      Amen. Well said!

  4. John Burke permalink

    Good article thanks for speaking out for us.

  5. Regan Woikey permalink

    You’re absolutely right.. enough is enough. If every church who abides by our discipline would withhold apportionment s, I believe “they” would come to the table. Until there is consequence, nothing will change. We’ll just ru”run in place” until we collapse.

  6. You have spoken truth!
    The grieving is over. The chards are too small to pick up, so discard all the remnants. It’s time for a fresh start.
    The institutional, denominational church is not the Bride of Christ.

  7. JIM SCOTT permalink

    I’ve never run from a fight and this is one of the most important fights of my life and the life of my congregation. We’ve already seen what happens to denominations that just give in. I hope the UMC won’t be one of them.

  8. ldcj permalink

    If there’s a clearer and more accurate summary of the thoughts of the laity in many UMCs, I haven’t read it yet. Well done. (Retired UM Clergy)

  9. Linda Ling permalink

    As the Eagles said, “I’m Already Gone.” I thought I had found a place where my lesbian daughter would be equally valued as my straight one, but not so. God and I worked this thing out years ago, but the UMC dropped the ball. Looking for a new church home.

    • Rich permalink

      Was your lesbian daughter not welcome or was she trying to be ordained or have the marriage vow covenant in a homosexual marriage? Big differences! We are VERY Welcoming, but EVERY organization has its limits. If you cannot reconcile with that organization, you did the right thing and thank you for not demanding EVERY Church and Pastor bend to a cultural theological Zeitgeist.

  10. Thank you for speaking on our behalf! Your intro pretty much describes where I am in this. I will continue to show up at my local church through GC2020, but in the meantime I am living my life with the expectation that the UMC will go in the progressive direction for no other reason than rank and file traditionalist laity are tired of all the crap.

    By the way, UMC leadership needs to adopt your logo of ‘Love God, Love People, Don’t Do Dumb Crap”. In trying to be inclusive somehow leadership has left me feeling like I am nothing more than a second citizen standing in the way of progress. The irony is, it was growing up in a series of Methodist/United Methodist Churches that helped shape my traditionalist understanding of Christianity.

  11. Malone Dodson, 240 Stepping Stone Dr. Alpharetta, Georgia 30004 permalink

    WE LOVE OUR CHURCH BUT WE CAN NOT STAND THE CIRCUS NOW!

  12. Gary S permalink

    Great force and clarity for voices unheard. Thank you, Shane. The Trust Clause is the nexus of the predicament for many local churches (though many of these are frogs in a kettle, immobilized in their condition, helpless, dysfunctional, dying). As intractable as the problem is, it may be only through this grief that a way will be opened for what God wants of us.

  13. someonewhocares permalink

    “The battle is the Lord’s, and the victory is ours” as long as we stay in and fight for the UMC. Don’t be like the Israelites that wouldn’t go in and fight for the Promise Land (which God had already “promised and given” to them) because of fear, or of being tired, etc. Because the Israelites didn’t believe and trust in God’s promises that He would fight for them, they ended up wandering in the wilderness for 40 years until those 20 years old and up died because they wouldn’t fight the good fight. I can’t believe how so many say we need to split even after we won the battle in the General Conference vote. We need to put our foot down and tell the progressives that if they don’t like the vote and will follow what the Bible and Discipline say, then they need to just get out, PERIOD!!! Quit letting them run the show.

  14. Frank Holbrook permalink

    The Plain Grace Plan addresses this concern as follows:

    Excerpt from “Answering and Explaining 10 Early Questions and Comments About the Plain Grace Plan”. https://planegrace.com/answering-and-explaining-10-early-questions-and-comments-about-the-plain-grace-plan/

    The Rev. Shane Bishop recently wrote a post elaborating on the sentiment: “We Want Out!” (the loudest voice the #UMC isn’t hearing) found here. The Plain Grace Plan (“PGP”) actually allows “long-suffering Methodist” local churches an almost immediate exit from the denomination if they so choose. The PGP incorporates the “Gracious Exit” formula adopted by GC 2019. The Gracious Exit process is currently in limbo due to questions about a few delegates credentials. The PGP reincorporates the 2019 Gracious Exit provision but it removes the human sexuality limitation on Gracious Exit. ¶2553 It allows a shorter window for any local church to leave on the terms provided under the 2019 Gracious Exit but it speeds up the process of the local church vote. The Gracious Exit retains the two thirds majority required at the local church level. The PGP did not try to do a substantial rewrite of the Gracious Exit provision since it already has been approved by the Judicial Council in decision 1379. It is possible that amendments could be offered to reduce the vote to a simple majority at both the local church and annual conference level to further simplify the process.

  15. Cherie permalink

    First of all, I wish I lived closer to Christ Church. I would love to be able to be a part of your congregation. I live in a rural community and not only attended but was very active in a small UMC church here for 35 years. I feel there will be hard decisions each congregation will have to make that in a small community will cause friendships to split. It has already happened in our church which has caused several longtime members to leave. We have made the decision to leave because of the disrespectful things and unchristian behavior that has been demonstrated globally and locally. That is not what we want to represent our christian beliefs. Your article is spot on.

  16. Brenda permalink

    Personally I think we need to be the church. To live as Jesus taught us to love. Satan lives the bickering and the fighting. Let’s get to the task at hand. Make disciples if Jesus Christ and transformers our world.

  17. Good post.

    “They intend to leave with their pastor, their congregation and their property. They don’t care about the equitable division of denominational assets and they don’t care about the Boards and Agencies.”

    Those pastors are going to have to forget about further pension funding then.

    For the retired pastors, they are going to have to convert their pensions as well. So much for those promises made to them…

    Small churches won’t be able to survive this, only mid-to-large ones will. I’m not surprised to find that the author’s church is a big one, with multiple locations and 3 pastors on staff. That doesn’t invalidate his points, but it complicates things – it’s not just a simple ‘let my people go’ scenario.

  18. Well said.

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