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

 

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.

The Lost Art of Renegotiation

 

The Lost Art of Renegotiation

life_cycle_of_relationships

A long-term relationship with a church is little different than a long-term relationship with a spouse, friend or an employer.  There are ups and downs.  How healthy people navigate long-term relationships is fairly standardized.  Such navigation has become a lost art.

 

Here is how the process works in the context of a church (but this can be applied to anything):

 

Immature Fusion:

This is the perfect church! There are no perfect churches and if you ever find one, you will ruin the whole thing the moment you show up.  Immature Fusion is temporary in nature because it is essentially based upon an illusion.

 

Confusion:

What, this church isn’t perfect?  When the balloon of our Immature Fusion is popped by reality (and it always will be), we may become temporarily disoriented and stunned.  That this is a surprise when it happens is stunning in itself but it does happen…again and again.   

 

Disenchantment:

This church is terrible… This is point at which people articulate, “I have been hurt or disappointed by the church.”  The church isn’t whatever that person thought it would be or should be and they are thrust into an unsustainable position of inner conflict.

 

Termination or Renegotiation? This is a crisis point.

 

Termination:

I am going to quit this church and look for a perfect church  Sometimes leaving is the best thing to do.  The best reason to quit a church is because you are no longer aligned with the church’s mission.  But if we are too quick to hit the eject button every time the plane ride gets bumpy, we are going crash a lot of planes on one hand and never learn to navigate in bad weather on the other.   People who terminate normally revert to the “Immature Fusion” stage in another church and play the whole cycle out again.

 

Renegotiation:

No church is perfect but I will serve God faithfully right here. Even highly effective churches consist of flawed people, flawed systems and flawed leaders because we live in a flawed and fallen world.  Sometimes termination is the right answer but the more terminations you compile; the more broken things you leave in your wake.  Quitting is always easy and often the path of least resistance but perpetual quitters never grow up. They are doomed to a life lived in a loop film concerning relationship, jobs and churches.  Renegotiation is normally the “grown up” play.

 

Mature Fusion: 

This is an imperfect church.  I will have a great attitude and give it my all.  Those who renegotiate get all the benefits of Immature Fusion but they are now in a sustainable position to serve effectively for the long haul.  They don’t expect that things will be easy, systems will be flawless, things will always go their way and people will never make mistakes.  It was with people like this that Jesus Christ build his “Big C” church and for people like this the Holy Spirit came at Pentecost!

 

Like all pastors and church staff, I have had seasons of discouragement, disappointment and heartache in the context of the church.  But to miss the “priceless treasure” because we are discouraged by the “clay pot” would be like throwing away my 1934 Goudey Dizzy Dean baseball card because one of my grandkids marked up the plastic case encapsulating it with a Sharpie.  What keeps mature people of faith going is a sharp focus on the perfect treasure and not the flawed container.

 

Learning the “Lost Art of Renegotiation” is imperative for any long-term relationship.

Shane Memphis

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop is the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois

 

Preaching the Bible (all of it)

A major failure of modern orthodox Christianity has been an unwillingness to preach and teach the whole of the Bible.  I am as guilty as anyone.  We play the hits over and over but we don’t play the whole album.  As a result, most of the content of the Bible goes unaddressed and unexplored in the life of the church.

Sometimes this happens because the material seems too distant and too dry.  Let’s face it, Leviticus is a tough read but just as often it happens because the material is too difficult (Hebrews) or too controversial (Romans).  It is hard leading these days and many pastors don’t want to invite additional “drama” into the life of their church by wading into “sure to be controversial” material.  They are overwhelmed already. 

As a result, many preachers over the past few decades have simply skipped the tough stuff.  Series preaching makes this very easy to do and many congregations actually appreciate it because they don’t have to work very hard.  As a result, some preaching has digressed into the “hermeneutical fast food” genre.  It tastes good, has a great packaging, can be served quickly but won’t make you strong.  There is just not enough nutritional variety there.

This failure to address the whole of the Bible has produced Christians who believe themselves to have a solid faith but have no idea of what is in the Bible beyond the Old Testament Bible stories and popular New Testament material like the Sermon on the Mount.  This has left good church folks theologically “un-anchored” to the Word and wide open to false teaching.  What is served in many churches is a “soft” Gospel that fails to offend the people in the pews but lacks breadth, depth, clarity and transforming power. Right for attendance and the budget. Wrong for making disciples.

Perhaps we have convinced ourselves there has never been a more difficult time to be ministry.  Perhaps we over-think everything.  Perhaps we tell church “ghost stories” and wonder why we can’t sleep at night.  We read Romans and cringe to think how controversial the material is but fail to realize it was just as controversial in Paul’s day! They ran Paul out of cities, beat him and jailed him time after time. Truth has always comes at a price…it always will. 

Preaching the “greatest hits” of a book like Romans and skipping over the tough stuff is easy to do. You probably won’t get any congregation complaints but selective preaching may be coming at the expense of making well-grounded disciples.

The challenge with Biblical truth is that it takes effort, hurts our ears, flies in the face of our sensibilities and puts us on a collision course with culture (and possibly each other).  Rough air makes us nervous that the plane is going to crash so we simply take the plane to a different altitude to avoid turbulence. 

Preaching then becomes an exercise in a cycle of “ever improving our grasp of the obvious.” We teach what people already know. So we work on better metaphors and illustrations and design slick sermon packages that keep us on trendy but safe cultural ground. I get it. 

But…

I am convinced that it is the collision of the way we think with what the Bible clearly says that produces true spiritual movement in us. Without the irritant, we don’t get the pearl. We have to get our folks reading the Bible, hearing the Bible, studying the Bible and living the Bible.

I don’t mean this in a caustic way but the Bible doesn’t really care what we think of it. When the sensibilities of our modern age are long forgotten, Biblical truth will still be shining like a new dime.  It is not the task of the church to make the Bible more palatable to our culture; it our task to speak Biblical truth in love.

And to do that, we have to preach the Bible…

All of it.

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

The Heart of a Pastor

(Few know the heart of a pastor.  We hide such things well.  This is for pastors everywhere.)

   

Today I was informed that a beloved family of this church will be leaving us. Not because they are moving but because they have lost a connection here and feel called to another congregation.

 

I picked up the phone and called because I had some things I wanted to say. I wanted them to know what an honor it has been to speak into their lives over these years and how grateful I am for their service here. I wanted to offer my blessing as they go, let them know they will be missed and let them know they need not hide if they ever run into me at a restaurant. I also offered to call their new pastor to say what an incredible family they are getting if that would ever be of help.

 

I was thanked for calling and so glad that I did so. When I hung up, I wiped the tears from my eyes, took a short walk to compose myself and went back to work.

 

That is what I do, I go back to work.

 

So you think people are just numbers?

They are not to this pastor…

Shane Preaching

-Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

 

Don’t Be Like “Them”

Don’t be like them.

People are rude.

Don’t be rude.

People treat others poorly.

Don’t treat others poorly.

People don’t have filters.

Have filters.

People are not generous.

Be generous.

People are unforgiving.

Be forgiving.

People have no moral compass.

Have a moral compass.

People break promises.

Don’t break promises.

People run when things get tough.

Don’t run when things get tough.

People give up on the verge of their victory.

Don’t give up in the verge of your victory.

People lose faith and stop dreaming.

Don’t lose faith and stop dreaming.

Like I said, don’t be like them.

Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

Rethinking Happiness

If things ways need to go “your way” to be happy, you will never be happy. And when you are happy, you won’t be happy for very long.

Let’s face it, we live in a fallen world, control is an illusion and things are sometimes really hard. People do dumb crap, bad things happen, relationships get cross threaded and folks seldom do what you want them to do.

The key to happiness is to lay aside immature and unrealistic aspirations for your life and simple learn to love, enjoy and find meaning in what is in front of you.

Happy people focus on what they have. Unhappy people obsess about what they don’t have.

So be happy today!

Count your blessings!

Lean into what is beautiful, good and life giving.

There simply is no downside…

Rev. Shane L. Bishop has been the Sr. Pastor of Christ Church in Fairview Heights, Illinois since 1997.

Post Annual Conference Advice (To Traditional United Methodists)

 

In the aftermath of General Conference 2019, many Progressives were reeling.

 

In the aftermath of recent Annual Conference elections, many Traditionalists are reeling.

 

In many conferences, Progressives have posted significant gains concerning 2020 General and Jurisdictional Conference delegates.  In these areas, supporters of current church teaching are now woefully underrepresented by their delegations or not represented at all.  Some conferences and clergy sessions formally voted to ignore church teaching on the issues upon which they disagree all together.  I honestly didn’t know you could do that.  If Progressives get control in 2020, they will overturn church teaching on human sexuality and quite possibly close the exit ramp out of the denomination.  If they get control of the United Methodist Church, I am convinced they will immediately demand conformity to the new Discipline.  Obeying church law will suddenly become the most important thing in the world.  For many conservatives, this prospect is untenable.

 

Many traditionalists are smarting.  I didn’t personally run but I completely get it.  It never feels good to lose but we must separate our bruised egos and hurt feelings from our collective reality.  The United Methodist Discipline is still in force and our denominational positions have changed on nothing.  That some bishops and conferences will not uphold the Discipline is not new either.  That being said, recent elections have left many wondering if the future United Methodist church can still be a home for warm hearted, orthodox Methodists with traditional beliefs.

 

Here is the deal: We don’t know yet.    

 

I went into my Annual Conference with a simple prayer for clarity.  I didn’t pray to win or to lose; I just prayed for clarity.  Our WCA delegates were defeated.  Not by much in terms of votes but defeated by a well-organized effort that essentially ran the table.  As I write, things seem most clear.  My conference has made a sharp turn left.  I grieve on one hand but on the other, God has answered my prayer.  Thanks be to God!

 

At present, I am being bombarded by two important questions:   1) How do we respond?  2) What is the plan?  

 

Let’s begin with the first:

 

1) How do we respond?  We must be realistic about what we are feeling but we can’t go squirting weak sauce everywhere.  If we must mourn, we must mourn among friends.  If we must process, we must process among friends.  If we must vent, we must vent among friends.  Public space isn’t safe.  Never has been.  Let’s face it, almost no one wants to hear it and those who do will be glad we are miserable.  We do best to keep to ourselves what we can.

When my elementary aged grandsons take a whooping in baseball, I tell them:

 

  1. Stop crying
  2. Don’t whine about the umpire
  3. Get your chin up
  4. Realize losing is a part of life
  5. Don’t get used to losing
  6. Put a smile on your face
  7. Be better prepared next time

 

I would offer the same advice to my disappointed colleagues.

We got beat.

Shake it off.

We will be just fine.

God is still on the throne.

 

2) What is the plan?

 

Here are my thoughts in the short term:

 

  1. Control your impulses We do well to associate frustration with silence.
  2. Join the Wesleyan Covenant Association (WCA) or Good News or the Confessing Movement Go to their websites. Read their stuff for yourself.  Look at the quality and integrity of their leadership.  If you resonate; join.  If you don’t; don’t join.  It is a good time to network.  It is a good time to find a “herd.”  It is a bad time to be playing “Lone Ranger.”
  3. Wait to get accurate information We don’t have the “big picture” as of yet. There are people who are “counting the votes” and assessing things.  Give them time and hang tight.  We will get information soon enough.  There WILL be a plan.
  4. Don’t make long-term decisions based on short-term emotion You can turn in your orders, transfer to another denomination, retire early, withhold apportionments or lead your church out of the dysfunction but such decisions are not to be made lightly. And there will be ramifications.  Make no mistake about that.  Such weighty decisions require data, well conceived strategy, discernment, networking, fasting and prayer.  Seek the heart of God for a long time before you quickly do something you may live to regret.
  5. Stick together I am on record supporting a strategic separation of the United Methodist Church: (https://revshanebishop.com/2019/05/23/shaking-hands-while-we-still-can-umc/). We need to shake hands and go our separate ways while we can still shake hands.  These recent elections have widened our divide, exacerbated the tension and fried our trust receptors.  2020 may be our last shot at still shaking hands.  For the sake of our mission, traditionalists can not long remain in this climate…and we shouldn’t.   Whatever we do, we need to do together.  Where ever we go, we need to go together.  Whatever we form, we need to form together.  We sons and daughters of John Wesley are sticky by nature.  Always have been.
  6. Get back to work Don’t let this stuff consume you.  There is nothing going on in the United Methodist Church that can keep you from telling people about Jesus, proclaiming the Gospel or making disciples.  I know many of our churches are deeply divided and tired of the scrap and others are entrenched.  I know many pastors are feeling beat up and discouraged.  That being said, there is no down side to re-focusing on your mission and doing effective ministry in your local context.

 

Courageous people know they may die for their convictions but cowards die a thousand deaths.  If we are called to sacrifice and suffer persecution for the historic Christian faith; we must be ready to do so.  Joyfully.  If God calls us to a new collective future, we must stand ready to embrace it.  But until we have all the facts, hear God clearly and are ready to move collectively; we do well to, “Wait upon the Lord.”  And let’s face it, we could all use a renewing of our strength right now!

Take a breath.

Exhale.

God has this.

Always has.

Always will.

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-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.  Christ Church was featured as one of Outreach Magazine’s Fastest Growing 100 Churches in America in 2018.