Making a New Connection…

It’s official now. 95 congregations disaffiliated from the Louisiana Annual Conference on May 27, 2023. That number is in addition to 67 congregations that disaffiliated at previous sessions of the Annual Conference. If my math is correct, that’s 162 congregations now separated from the UMC in Louisiana. According to the denominational website, the Louisiana Annual Conference had 438 congregations is 2020. Again, if my math is correct, that means 36.98% of the congregations chose to disaffiliate. Honestly, that’s a whole lot more congregations than I ever anticipated would depart, but then again, what do I know? I left before the divorce, so…

Why am I writing about it if I left before it all started? I’m writing because there are now 162 congregations that have to chart a new future and I have something I want to say to them–JOIN ANOTHER DENOMINATION! That advice can’t be emphasized enough. I’ve already offered that advice in a previous blog, but I want to expand on the thought more broadly here.

Reasons for Joining a Denomination

It’s Biblical

I am thoroughly convinced the early leaders of the Christian Church foresaw the congregations connected to one another. Yes, the “house” churches and other groups that met were independent of one another with their own deacons and elders, but they were clearly overseen by bishops. Deacons, elders and bishops are the three offices mentioned in scripture as necessary for the functioning of the local church. The Apostle Paul, writing to his young protege Timothy, stipulates the requirements of two of the offices in 1 Timothy 3: 1 – 13, and the Apostle Peter writes concerning elders in the church in 1 Peter 5: 1 – 4. Overseers (or bishops) oversaw more than one local congregation as the church grew.

The Apostle Peter demonstrated this type of leadership very early in the church’s life. In Acts 15, we find the account of the Jerusalem Council where Peter addresses the church on the issue of Gentiles being allowed to join the church and what they must do before being allowed to join. The precedent is clear that the early church fathers and mothers demonstrated the connectional nature of the church. It is incumbent upon us, as we seek to be faithful, to join our local congregations to the larger body of Christ through a denomination.

It Promotes Accountability

Joining ourselves to a denomination promotes accountability in two primary ways. First, there is accountability to doctrine that is outside ourselves. Independent congregations are free to formulate their own doctrine and can sometimes go off the rail in its teachings unless there is considered doctrine developed over time and with the debate and input of centuries of theological reflection. Imagine for a moment, an independent local congregation whose theological foundations could change on the whims of a new pastor who was not sufficiently vetted (more on this later).

Secondly, joining a congregation lends accountability to clergy through credentialing, training, relationships and more. Almost all denomination have a vetting process for its ministerial candidates, and required continuing education for ordained and licensed clergy. Have those processes always worked out as desired? Of course not! People lie. People change. Systems break down. Loopholes develop. Leaders don’t do their work. There are many reasons bad clergy “slip through the crack,” but that doesn’t mean that a system in place is better than not having a means to hold clergy accountable and help them grow in the knowledge and wisdom of Jesus.

Sure, an independent congregation can hold their pastor accountable by firing them, but it can too easily happen a second time or a third time without the broader process of clergy training and credentialing that most denominations offer. That system is firmly rooted in the doctrines and beliefs expressed in the denomination’s published catechism. It is the most beneficial way to insure that a local congregation is led by competent, trained clergy.

It’s Wesleyan

Every one of the disaffiliating congregations has a rich history in the Wesleyan tradition. John Wesley could never have imagined a time when his churches were not connected in some way. Don’t think for one moment that the United Methodist Church has the market cornered on Wesleyan connectionalism, though. There are a large number of denominations that find their roots in the Wesleyan movement. The Wesleyan Church, The Free Methodist Church, The Church of the Nazarene, The Salvation Army, the newly formed Global Methodist Church and my chosen home, The Evangelical Methodist Church, are among them. Each of these denominations are firmly rooted in Wesleyan-Arminian theology and operate with a “connectional” polity, much as the United Methodist Church does.

Additionally, there is the Congregational Methodist Church and the Association of Independent Methodists, although I find it a bit of an oxymoron to say “independent” Methodist or “congregational” Methodist. That just seems to be outside the vision John Wesley had for the movement from its infancy. That fact notwithstanding, it is important for a congregation to consider its rich history as it charts its path forward. How will that history be preserved in the best possible manner? By joining itself to another Wesleyan denomination.

For broader research on denominations rooted in the Wesleyan tradition, please take the time to check out the Global Wesleyan Alliance and also the World Methodist Council. Their lists of member denominations and associations will give any congregation a starting point in choosing a new place to connect like a true Wesleyan.

Pastoral Succession

As I’ve previously written, it’s not a matter of if a congregation will need a new pastor, but when will a congregation need a new pastor. Every congregation will go through a pastoral transition (some former UM congregations will do so sooner rather than later). When that transition occurs, being part of a denomination will provide a process and a network for new pastoral selection. A process and a network are what is important. Having a formal process in place will not guarantee a congregation a new pastor, but it certainly gives a congregation a tremendous advantage in identifying and calling competent and trained clergy.

Don’t Be a Loner

So, there are my four reasons for former UM congregations to join themselves to another denomination. There are others, for sure, but these are sufficient for consideration as a congregation moves forward into its new reality, and here’s the reality: Who you are is not who you were. The question is: Who will you be?

As each of the 162 disaffiliated congregations from the Louisiana Annual Conference went through an established discernment process to reach that point, a subsequent discernment process is necessary to determine how they will live in the future. I know some have already chosen their new home. Wonderful! For others, they are choosing to remain independent for now. Let me encourage those congregations to only let it be so for a season. It is not unwise to do so, but to do so for more than a year is to run the risk of losing the rich Wesleyan heritage of the local congregation. That would be a tragic result, indeed!

Questions or concerns? Don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’ll be happy to share about my experience with the Evangelical Methodist Church, and to help you discern if this might be where God is calling your congregation to connect. In a future post, I’ll be sharing the reasons I chose the Evangelical Methodist Church as my new home. Hope you’ll come back and read again.

Until next time, keep looking up…

Oh, I Want to Go to Church…

Church. It is a changin’! So say the statistics published recently by the Gallup organization and reported on According to Churchtrac, attendance at regular weekly religious services has fallen consistently in the 21st century, from 32% in 2000 to 20% in 2022 (view chart here). That’s a fairly precipitous decline in such a short period of time. Yes, I know, Covid-19 happened (and the pandemic may have accelerated the decline), but the decline started long before the pandemic, so let’s not blame it all on that.

And, we wonder why our culture is in decline! Yes, the culture is in decline. I invite you to change my mind. When I say the culture, I mean the American culture. Seriously, can any of us say we are better off than a generation ago? It has always been the desire of one generation to leave a better world for the next generation (you know, your children and grandchildren). I’m not so sure that we ( I mean my generation–I was born the last year of the “boomer” generation) will be leaving our progeny a better world. I think the decline in church attendance is one of the primary reasons why. What do I mean?

We haven’t passed on the faith to the next generation. We (I mean my generation) have lost our perspective when it comes to faith formation. According to Barna Research, Boomers had the highest drop off rate in returning to worship post-Covid at 22%. I don’t mean to bore you with numbers, but research shows our failure in passing on the faith. I can hear the words of Deuteronomy 6 in my ear:

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heartand with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

The primary place of faith formation is in the home, but we need the church (and we need to go to church) to be reminded of who we are and Whose we are. We need to go to church to remind us that we are connected to something greater than ourselves, to remind us that we are not the center of the universe (and neither are our children or grandchildren). We need to go to church to experience the transcendent nature of the Almighty, to remind us that morality matters and why it matters. We need a church family (yes, I said need!) for connection and community.

I know the argument that community is found in so many other places nowadays, but too many of the places people are finding community are in places where connection and community can happen without any moral compass. Yes, people have ethics and each of those communities have boundaries that define them, but too often those boundaries are rooted in activities rather than in any type of moral foundation. The morals and ethics brought to those communities come from outside those communities (generally), and my point is that the more we move away from the place that we find a moral compass, the further we drift from a firm foundation. The church, with all its faults and failures, is STILL the place we will find a moral compass and a firm foundation.

But, the Church is a mess, right? Of course it is! Guess what? It always has been. There have been (and there will always be) times when Christians individually, and the Church corporately, have failed to live up the standards set by Jesus and the Apostles (man! Am I living proof of that fact!). The Church has sometimes failed to embody its own values. Here’s the thing, though: the values survive the failures! That’s why there’s hope, and that’s why I want to go to church.

I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew:

Now I say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. Matthew 16: 18

I take this as Jesus’ promise that the Church will not go so far astray that it becomes something it was never meant to be. Though the Church may not be perfect does not mean that Jesus is not perfectly faithful in keeping His promises. Otherwise, hell would win, and well, that’s just not going to happen!

The Church is rooted not in the failures of individuals or institutions, but in its creeds, doctrines and sacraments. These give the Church anchor, and they give we who attend regularly anchor in our lives. When we miss church (and the more we miss church) we lose a little bit of our anchor…our foundation. The more un-moored we become from the church the more the culture will drift from any firm foundation holding it together.

I believe there is still time, though, to recover our foundations. How will it happen? Not by waiting on bishops or clergy to change the world. It will happen when we look in the mirror. You and I are the Church. You and I must to be connected to one another with a common thread of faith because whatever the Church is going to be or whatever the Church is going to do, it will be or do because you and I step up and participate. You and I, as imperfect as we are, are perfectly suited to be vessels the Holy Spirit can use to change the world. It won’t happen if we’re not connected to each other.

Maybe I had to write this today because I’ve been singing this song all week:

Let’s all go to church!

Until next time, keep looking up…

Let the Contract Negotiations Begin…

Judging by the volume of phone calls I’m receiving, I’d say more than a few former United Methodist churches are in for a rude awakening.

For readers who may not know (and if you’re reading this blog, you probably know), the United Methodist Church has been in a season of “disaffiliation.” What is disaffiliation, you ask? The special session of General Conference in 2019 created a path (para. 2553) for a congregation to exit the denomination if the congregation was not in agreement with the Church’s position on the issues of gay marriage and the ordination of homosexuals, and that path is called disaffiliation.

By the time the disaffiliation process is complete (December 31, 2023), as many as 15% of the congregations could be disaffiliated across the denomination. That’s a lot of congregations by any stretch. In 2020, there were over 30,000 congregations in the United States alone. You can do the math.

It is not for me to say much about the process of disaffiliation. After all, I left the United Methodist Church in 2019, so I don’t have a dog in the hunt. But, as a person who was a life-long United Methodist, I have followed the process with curiosity and interest. What I will say is that I’ve seen some questionable integrity (there–I said it!) along the way.

First, the process has not been evenly applied from Annual Conference to Annual Conference. Some bishops and Conference Boards of Trustees have been fair in applying the provisions of para. 2553, and other bishops and Conference Boards of Trustees have been punitive in its application, but this isn’t a post about that.

Second, an overwhelming majority of the congregations who have or will be disaffiliating, are actually in agreement with the Church’s official position on the issue para. 2553 addresses, which means they had to fib (wink, wink) in order to utilize para. 2553 to depart the denomination, but this is not a post about that, either.

Suffice it to say, the process (as much as I agree with congregations wanting out) is giving the United Methodist Church, and by extension, the larger Body of Christ a black eye. Church can just be messy, can’t it? And please, don’t take my forgoing reflections as if I’m a “holier-than-thou” commentator. Let me say again, there’s a reason that I’m not the perfect pastor.

What this is a post about is the number of former UM congregations that will soon discover there was a great advantage to being UM, namely pastoral leadership. As a UM congregation, there were few congregations that ever had to worry about pastoral leadership (other than if they were going to get a “good” one). One Sunday the congregation had this pastor and the next Sunday they had that pastor. The congregation may have loved this pastor and simply tolerated that pastor, but they didn’t have to worry about whether they would spend a season searching for a pastor. The appointive process of the UMC generally took care of that problem for them. It worked well for a long time. As a former District Superintendent in the UMC, I can honestly say in more recent years, maybe not quite so well. There are a number of reasons for that, but this isn’t a post about that.

So, for all you former United Methodists out there, get ready. You’re about to embark on your first pastoral search, especially if your current pastor is remaining UMC. Some of you have chosen to affiliate with another denomination in the Wesleyan tradition. Good for you! After all, we Wesleyans are a connectional lot. Not only that, but other denominations at least have a process in place to aid in the pastoral search process. It won’t guarantee that you find a pastor, but at least you’re ahead of the game with a defined process.

If you’ve chosen to remain independent, well now, that’s another issue all together. I hope you find someone on or Of course, you can check out, or one of the other Christian job websites. Based on my experience as a Senior pastor whose primary responsibility was looking for the “next” staff person, you’ll post on one of the sites for a pastor, you’ll receive 80 resumes or applications, weed it down to two or three that are actually legitimate, and pray (really pray) that at least one of those applicants becomes your next pastor. Probably not, but hey, prayer works, so you never know.

The most likely scenario is that a congregation will go for a period with no pastoral leadership when it comes time for that pastor change. Some smaller congregations, even in the UMC, have experienced that before, so it won’t be new to them. The vast majority, however, have never been without pastoral leadership (okay…define “leadership”). One great concern I have is that too many former UM congregations will settle for the first warm body they find (even if that warm body is me!), or will go outside the Wesleyan tradition to find their next pastor. Do that and you will lose your history, tradition and (dare I say?) your identity. Okay, I confess that leaving the UMC changes your identity, but again, you know what I mean.

Let an old man offer a little advice to all these disaffiliating congregations. First, don’t settle because you’re anxious about finding a new pastor. Anxiety causes us to make bad decisions. It’s not fair to your congregation and it’s not fair to a pastor to invite him/her to come to the congregation only to ask her/him to depart a year later. Develop a process for advertising and interviewing potential candidates. Develop a network with other congregations and share information and applicants. One person might not be right for one congregation, but he/she might be perfect for yours. Use the “search season” to develop leaders within the congregation for preaching and teaching. Perhaps you’ll discover your next pastor sitting in one of your pews (or chairs, as the case may be).

And pastors, if you’re leaving the UMC with your congregation, part of your primary responsibility in the process should be to help your congregation put a plan in place for identifying your replacement. It’s not a matter of if you’ll leave, but a matter of when you’ll leave. The average pastoral tenure across denominations is less than four years. You will leave, and when you do, if you haven’t prepared the congregation for it, you have failed as a leader. Get to it! Today! Yes, there is much to tackle as a disaffiliating congregation, but you chose it, so do the work. You owe it to the congregation.

Oh, and pastors…I’d go for the three-year guaranteed contract. If a congregation is going to ask you to move potentially across the country, they should be financially committed to making the appointment work. You are, more or less (depending on the region of the country) in the driver’s seat. I know, it’s not about money, but you do have to eat and live indoors.

One last bit of advice for congregations: There may be some wisdom in remaining independent for a season, but use that season to identify where the Lord is leading you to connect. There are more advantages than disadvantages to being affiliated with a denomination. Use the season of independence to discover those advantages.

One of the places I would invite you to consider is the Evangelical Methodist Church. This is where I’ve found my new home as a disciple in the Wesleyan tradition. I would be honored to share with your congregation about the Evangelical Methodist Church. If you’re within driving distance, I’d be happy to come to you. If there is distance involved, then Zoom offers a great way to connect to share information. I’m at your disposal! Comment below for more information, or find me on Facebook and send me a message.

There are other places you can consider, as well. Here are a few: The Global Methodist Church, The Free Methodist Church, The Wesleyan Church, The Association of Independent Methodists, The Congregational Methodist Church and the Church of the Nazarene. There are others, too. Do your homework, but connect somewhere.

So, let the negotiations begin. I’ll be praying for all of you…both pastors and congregations. You’re in a new season of life.

Until next time, keep looking up…

Where Have You Been So Long?

It’s been nearly two years since I’ve written a blog post. There are several excuses I can make for that being the case. First, Vanessa and I bought a business and, believe it or not, it is time consuming. Second, the title of my webpage is “Not the Perfect Pastor,” and I’m not a pastor anymore, so there’s that. Third, leaving the United Methodist Church was painful. It would have been too easy to process my pain and grief by expressing anger and bitterness about the state of the United Methodist Church. I didn’t want that to happen, so I refrained from posting anything here.

So, you might be wondering (you might not) why are you posting now? Honestly? Because I got an email last week from WordPress that included an invoice for the webpage. I figured if I was going to pay for a website I might as well use it. That, and I need to reestablish writing as a discipline. I’ve developed other disciplines over the past couple of years, but writing is one that I actually enjoy, so I need to do more of it. I’m also not preaching as much so even writing sermon manuscripts has been lacking as a discipline. So, I’m paying for it. Might as well use it. I enjoy writing. Why not write more? Maybe when I do preach again, my sermons will be better because I wrote as a discipline. Anyway…

A New Beginning

Today is a new beginning in writing for me. I don’t know what this post (or this page, for that matter) is likely to become. I mean, really, Not the Perfect Pastor doesn’t really fit anymore. Though I’m still FAR from perfect, wearing the pastor title is no longer appropriate, but this is the webpage I’ve paid for, so I’ll use it anyway. Even though I’m no longer a pastor, I believe I still have a pastor’s heart. I see it everyday in the work I do with the general public and with my staff. And, though I’m no longer a pastor, I’m still called to ministry. The ministry I’m called to now is not vocational in nature. Actually, it’s quite freeing to not be dependent on the church for a living. It frees a person (or at least it’s freed me) to be less subtle in speaking to the body of Christ. The love for the body of Christ still runs as deep, but with God’s provision coming from outside the Church allows one to speak more prophetically, perhaps.

Speaking prophetically. I’m certain that is one of the great needs of the body of Christ in this day and age. I don’t fancy myself a prophet, but if I sense a word from the Lord to the Church, I’m bound to speak it. It might be the only gift I have to offer the Church at this point in life. Perhaps that is how the Lord is still “calling” me to ministry. My prayer is that if the Lord is calling me to a prophetic ministry, that He will give me grace to speak in helpful ways that grow the Kingdom. I know how some (all) of the Old Testament prophets were received. If it still works the same way, I’m not relishing the call.

Oh, I’m open to being a pastor if that’s where the Lord is still calling. I’ve been in conversations with a number of churches that have disaffiliated from the United Methodist Church about serving as their pastor. Vanessa and I haven’t yet sensed the need in answering that call, but we’re open and those kinds of conversations will continue, so I’ve learned to never say never where God is concerned.

I’ve also been blessed to serve my new tribe (the Evangelical Methodist Church) by preparing informational literature for the denomination to share with UM churches that have reached out to the denomination asking questions about their future. It’s a small thing, no doubt, but it has helped to affirm the Lord’s continuing call in my life. I pray it has been helpful to others, as well. I also have the privilege of serving the EMC as a member of the Mission Status Board for a small church in West Virginia. What is that, you ask? It is a board established by the denominational leadership to give guidance to a local congregation in determining its future. Yes, those kinds of things can be done via Zoom. We do live in a changing world.

So, ministry opportunities abound, but writing needs to be part and parcel of all of them. So, I start writing again. Forgive me when I vent. Be patient when I share what I believe to be a prophetic word from the Lord. Be kind in your rebukes and rebuttals. More than anything, be strong in the Lord. He is our Rock and our Salvation. Join me in this new journey, won’t you?

Until next time, keep looking up…