A Question Disaffiliating Churches Should Be Asked

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On Sunday, the General Conference delegation from Mississippi hosted a webinar where they presented the actual facts about disaffiliation and the hopes of those who wish for the UMC’s stance on human sexuality to change, those who want to change our stance to remain the same, and the hopes of those whose intention is to remain United Methodist regardless (a camp that I find myself in). As we were going through all the points presented, I sat with many of my folks from Pleasant Hill and Salem and started pondering questions I believe should be asked of congregations wishing to disaffiliate. David Stotts, Mississippi’s conference treasurer, did an excellent job of presenting subjects that congregations ought to consider as they discern their path forward. However, there was one question that I found myself believing was left out that I really wish disaffiliating churches would be asked:

“If you are not making disciples of Jesus Christ now, what will you do differently that you cannot do now as part of the United Methodist Church?”

I believe this question is especially relevant as a significant percentage, if not the majority, of churches that choose to disaffiliate are small (less than 50 average worship attendance) and, often, have not reported a profession of faith in years, sometimes in a decade or even more. More often than not, I hear people claim that the debate has kept them from focusing on the Great Commission. Every single time I hear or read such statements, I just shake my head. Nothing should keep the church from being the church and doing what Jesus commanded us to do, which is to make disciples. I’ve written before that distraction is a choice. I believe that people are choosing to make the debate over human sexuality the main focus of their church rather than evangelism and mission. I would be very interested to know what disaffiliating congregations and clergy believe will be different for them apart from the United Methodist Church. This is a question that I believe should have to be answered and thought through as part of the disaffiliation process.

I’ll never forget when The Orchard and Getwell Road were trying to leave the Mississippi Annual Conference before a disaffiliation process was codified in our church laws. Brian Collier, the lead pastor of The Orchard, said something to the effect that the debate over human sexuality was a distraction to their mission of being the church. My question back to him would have been: Why? Also, how? How has any of this, other than choosing to be distracted, made bringing people to Jesus harder? How has a debate over human sexuality impeded your ability to conduct missional outreach? Exactly how has a General Conference debate kept you from being the church?

Hot take: It was an excuse then, and it’s an excuse now.

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