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 Monster.com or Indeed.com. Of course, you can check out ChurchJobs.com, 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…
2 thoughts on “Let the Contract Negotiations Begin…”
Good thoughts, Lynn!
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