Time to Leave the Church?

 

 

The burning question among religious folks these days is: “Should I stay or should I go?”

We’re torn between the institutional church and … something else.

Should we stay in the institutional church, with its homophobia, its unfaithfulness to Scripture, its laborious decision-making processes, its committees, its politics, its hierarchy, its this and its that?

Or should we make a run for it, and break away toward the emerging, the missional, the unknown and the unnamed? Should we join a different denomination, or start our own, or simply enjoy our Sundays again?

In the United Methodist Church, this question has raised its ugly head again after General Conference 2012. Andy Langford argues that churches should stay and resist by withholding its giving to the general church. Bishop Will Willimon is leaving to retirement and waved a happy goodbye to “the most expensive ($1,500 per minute!), least productive, most fatuous assemblage in the history of Methodism.”

And then noted emergent blogger/theologian Tony Jones waded into the debate by urging young Methodist clergy to get out now, while the gettin’s good: “Of all the screwed up denominational systems, the UMC is the most screwed up … I just hope that enough of you young UMC clergy have the temerity to stand up and walk out of that system. Trust me, what you’re putting up with is not worth the health insurance — you’re getting the raw end of that deal.”

Nobody is particularly happy about the United Methodist Church right now. It is in a mess. But the question of staying or going is not something for bloggers or bishops to decide … at least not for me.

The truth is that I can see the validity in each side of the argument. I agree with Tony Jones and Langford and Willimon to the extent that I could see myself walking away from the denomination, giving up my credentials, and finding a way to do church in either another denomination or by starting my own church.

On the other hand, I can also make a case for staying in the UMC, putting down my head in my local church and getting back to work. There is tons of valuable work going on in UM churches all over the world, and I could argue that, by staying, I could continue to work for positive, vital change right where I am.

And yet, the only way to answer the question, “Should I stay or should I go?” is with Jesus’ own words: “Not my will but yours be done.”

We United Methodists believe that pastors are “called,” meaning that, as clergy, we become pastors, not as a result of our own career choices, but as the response to God’s call. We aren’t persuaded by attractive occupational brochures or shiny salary packages. We become preachers and pastors because we honestly believe that God wants us to become preachers and pastors.

Likewise, we are called into a particular faith tradition – whether Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, or some other community of faith. I didn’t grow up Methodist, but certainly felt God beckoning me at a certain time in my life.

So when I ask myself the burning question, “Should I stay or should I go?,” my first response is, “Well, what does God want?” I don’t care what Tony Jones says. I won’t leave just because it’s not the trendy place to be anymore.

And I don’t care what my Methodist colleagues say. I won’t stay just because they give me some kind of claptrap about staying faithful to the “connection” or “staying together” through the tough times.

I will only stay if God continues to ask me to stay. Even if I have to grit my teeth continually.

I will only go if God asks me to set out in a new direction. Even if it means leaving my health insurance behind.

Each one of us must continually return to the deep waters of our soul and look for God’s direction. And all I know so far is that God is asking me to stick around.

So back to work …

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4 comments

  1. Holly Boardman (@halehawk)

    My feelings EXACTLY! The only difference is that I retired 9 years ago, after 24 years of service. I didn’t feel like I could continue working within “the system” and continue to follow Jesus. I have tried my hand at teaching in the public school as a second career. But frankly, it hasn’t worked out too well. I have been an unemployed teacher for 2 years. I know that am still called to preach; but now I have no pulpit. I have been attending a UMC megachurch since I retired, but I really don’t feel like I have a place in it. The capable staff does all the stuff I used to do. I tried my hand at reforming “the system” by submitting a petition to General Conference. My petition did not make it to the plenary floor, but I believe I planted some seeds for reform in 2016.

    I wish God would tell me clearly what to do now. The UMC doesn’t seem to want or need me; but I don’t know where else to go. I am waiting and listening. “Here I am, send me, Lord.” continues to be my prayer. I’m glad to find someone else who understands this waiting on the Lord.

  2. Preacher-lady

    Your words resonate with me – I feel torn between going and staying as well. My call has not waned. Since I also was raised in a different denomination, I have been considering returning to that denomination. Would it truly be different? I suspect all of the ‘institutional’ (mainline) churches struggle with institutionalism to some extent. I have heard pastors from other denominations talk about some of the same kind of politics we experience in the appointment system in their call system. In most of the mainlines (excluding southern baptist) – the bishop or equivalent leader has significant influence over which pastors’ resumes are sent to a church getting ready to call a new pastor. Most mainlines have some form of apportionments – although the churches and clergy aren’t necessarily penalized if they don’t pay. Many mainlines hold the equivalent of the UMC’s General Conference and there are politics involved in who gets elected as delegates. I’m not sure any other denomination would be altogether different. It would be highly unlikely to be called to a lead pastoral job in a non-denominational church because most are being served by the founding pastor or his son/grandson or a designee the founding pastor has ‘groomed.’ My choice may be made for me since the UMC bishops can put a clergyperson on 2 years’ Transitional Leave by simply saying there’s no appointment that ‘matches this person’s gifts and graces.’ As a woman serving in a state where most churches are rural, there’s many a church that would turn down a woman pastor in a heartbeat! So, like you, I continue to ask, seek and knock – hoping and praying that I will have some clarity about where God is calling me next.

  3. Pat Boyack

    “Trust me, what you’re putting up with is not worth the health insurance — you’re getting the raw end of that deal.”

    It’s not even worth that. The church only pays for the employee and not the family and that amount is through the roof. No dental for anybody either. Its sad when there are corporations out there who treat their employees better.

  4. Will

    Your comments are enlightening because I’m going through the same similar experience. In the end it is about what God wants you to do…not our church. There seems to be an understanding of “end all” when we are ordained…like we have reached the pinnacle of our connection to God. This conflicts with our understanding of Christian Perfection. So, a call can change and sometimes it changes quickly…sometimes at a slower pace.

    I love the UM Church even with all its faults. However, I love God more.

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