Why I’m Leaving the Assemblies of God for the United Methodist Church (Part 1)

 Some decisions are simply more difficult than others. My decision to leave the Assemblies of God for the United Methodist Church seemed like one of the difficult ones for many years. But now that decision is remarkably easy.

At first glance the Assemblies of God (A/G) would seem to have a lot of going for it. They are one of just two major denominations of Christianity that continues to experience year over year growth in the United States. They grant a very high level of autonomy to both their pastors and churches. The spirituality is often life-giving and encourages a deep relationship with God.

The United Methodist Church (UMC) may seem to have as many troubles as the A/G has successes. The UMC has declined in membership every year since its formation in 1968. Every meeting of the governing body is another clash regarding homosexuality with the intermediary years filled with posturing and threats. And submitting one’s self to this system means losing significant control over one’s own ministry career.

The truth is that the most significant reason for me to leave is a completely personal one. My wife is an ordained United Methodist pastor. United Methodists are appointed to their churches by the bishop and the bishop’s staff. In the A/G, there is no such appointment system. So at any point my wife could be reappointed far from my work and I would have a very difficult time finding a meaningful pastoral appointment near her. As I join the UMC, the bishop and the bishop’s cabinet will now be responsible for ensuring that I am gainfully employed in ministry if they want to reappoint Jen to a far away place. I’m thankful that we will now be under one system that will be responsible for us both. It also matters that I have graduated (twice) from a United Methodist seminary, teach and pastor at a United Methodist-related university, and serve regularly in denominational leadership roles within the UMC. I’ve simply grown more close to the UMC than I have the A/G over the last 10 years .

Besides those personal reasons, which are the primary ones for me, there are some theological and ministry reasons as well. These are likely much more interesting to my readers. In my next post I will discuss some of the theological reasons why I’m leaving the A/G for the UMC. But here are some of the ministry reasons that I’m leaving:

  1. The UMC provides space for the ministers to struggle with theology. The A/G has some very strict parameters for thinking about theology and breaking from those parameters can have a very high cost for ministers. If the Church is going to articulate a vision of the Kingdom of God in a postchristian culture, pastors and theologians need the freedom to struggle with the doctrines of our faith without fear. The UMC is a cultural environment where exploring theology openly is encouraged and embraced. The other side of this coin is that the UMC also has lots of ministers who are more theologically progressive than I am. But sometimes it is better to be yoked with someone with whom you disagree greatly but will respect you, than it is to be yoked with someone with whom you disagree a little but has no respect for you.I’m never under an imagination that I will agree entirely with any large group of people on any topic. But what will we be like when we disagree?
  2. The UMC needs persons with gifts in discipleship and organizational leadership. I don’t have a long enough history with the UMC to understand all the reasons why, but many UMC churches have significant need for basic discipleship for their congregations. I am confident that I can contribute well to this need to for discipleship and organizational leadership is an area of gifting for me. If you are a person that also has those gifts, the UMC could also use you!
  3. The UMC better enables persons to actually do ministry. The A/G has many people credentialed, some of which are inadequately trained but still find employment, such that very capable ministers are often passed over. I’ve heard far too many stories of competent pastors either remaining unemployed or being employed at such low wages that they cannot remain in ministry and care for their families. The UMC provides a minimum $40,400 (it varies a little from state to state) salary PLUS provides housing to their ministers. They also “guarantee” appointment as a pastor once you are ordained. Many pastors earn considerably larger salaries. There is a trade off: UMC pastors do not get to choose where they will serve. But personally I find it much more important that I am able to serve somewhere than being able to make all the decisions regarding where.
  4. The UMC fully supports women in ministry. This is a personal commitment to which I am deeply committed. The A/G is officially supportive of women in ministry, which is better than many evangelical denominations. (An example comes from my story of “How I Became An Advocate for Women in Ministry.”) But the free church polity of the A/G combined with many that culturally do not want a woman pastor, means that very few women actually have the opportunity to serve in pastoral leadership. This is not true in the UMC, where women are being cultivated for advanced responsibilities in pastoral leadership with intentionality. The UMC has struggled to appoint women to large churches, for example, but many conferences are working hard to rectify that inequality. The church needs the voices of both men and women in pastoral leadership if she is to fulfill the great calling that God has placed upon her. The work is too important to ignore the leadership gifts of “Half the Church.”
  5. The UMC is supportive of young ministers. This one has as much to do with a lack as it does a gift. The UMC has failed to cultivate young clergy at the rate that they have lost older clergy. It seems that they are also shrinking among the ranks of clergy faster than their total membership. With such a need for young leaders, these leaders are being cultivated intentionally with leadership development opportunities and ministry opportunities that will prepare them well for future ministry. I want this for me. I also want this for the students that I am preparing for ministry at the University of Indianapolis.

I know that these may seem like really “worldly” answers to some of my A/G friends. Don’t worry. I will also give some of the theological reasons in my next post. But I would also caution downplaying these really practical reasons. If you are going to commit to ministry then you need to know how this affects other areas of your life.

I’m thankful that the United Methodist Church affirmed my intention to transfer my orders this week at a meeting of the Board of Ordained Ministry. In June of this year I will be proceeding with that intention.

If you are interested in some of the theological reasons that I am joining the UMC, you can find those here.

Comments

  1. Marilyn Templeton says

    Wonderful message, Jeremiah! We miss you, Jenn, and De! Cannot wait to read your next post!
    The UMC will be blessed to have you!

  2. John says

    I also left the A/G for the UMC about 18 years ago while in Texas. I will say that southern Methodist congregations seem much more evangelical and here in Indiana the church is much more liberal. Having said that, if the UMC changes the Book of Discipline on LGBT elders then I will be moving back to the A/G or another denomination. It saddens me that our Bishop has been appointing LGBT ministers outside of our denominations rules.

  3. Char Allen says

    John, where are you getting your testament that our Bishop Mike Corner is appointing LGBT ministers. In my time in Indiana, I have not met a single Transgender pastor. I believe if it saddens you you had better have evidence to back this as the Bishop understands the Book of Discipline very clearly.

  4. Char Allen says

    And another thing, John. The UMC in Indiana cannot have a blanket statement of being much more liberal. There are pockets in this state that are very conservative and even prefer male pastors over females.

  5. Mark says

    Hi Jeremiah. I have been credentialed with the Assemblies of God for 35 years now. Fortunately, or unfortunately, I am one of the most liberal among the bunch, though few know it since I have pastored rural churches nearly my entire career. If I had the qualifications, I would probably seek credentials in a more “open” church like the UMC, or the Disciples of Christ where I grew up. I agree, I would much rather serve where many may disagree with me, but will still respect my journey. Instead, I have to be careful about sharing my journey from hard right-wing to a much greater grace-filled position. May God be pleased with all you do.

  6. says

    I WAS BORN AND RAISED ASSEMBLY OF GOD. I AM EMPLOYED AS A CUSTODIAN BY A UMC. THEY ARE A GROUP OF FANTASTIC PEOPLE. THEY WORK TOGETHER LIKE NO GROU[P I HAVE EVER SEEN ON CHURCH PROJECTS. THEY HAVE MANY OUTREACH PROGRAMS THAT MANY ARE INVOLVED IN. MY HATS OFF TO THEM AND MY PRAYERS GO FOR THERE COONTINUATION OF THEIR FELLOSHIP WITHIN AND OUT OF THE CHURCH!

  7. Terry RM Roberts says

    I was a member of the Assemblies of God for years. There are differences in each of them. Some are very, very strict, some are not as strict, and some cater too much to universities. The Assembly does not appoint pastors to churches unless that church as had losses of members and asks for help. The one I attended preached the Gospel and preached against sin. There are abominations in the Bible and those are preached. If a person wants to allow all things in, that the Bible teaches against, then they may be happier in a church that does not care what the members do in their life. I believe we are to try to obey HIS Word.

    • Mark says

      Terry, why are you assuming that the reason someone wants to leave the AG is because they want “to allow all things in.” That has not been the statement of anyone here. But, what you just said is actually the reason I have grown uncomfortable in that environment. If you have questions or doubts, or disagree on how certain passages are interpreted, then you are “sugar-coating” the Gospel and want to “let all things in.”

      Those assumptions about someone’s motivation for leaving the AG are simply not the case. Sure, for some, but not for the couple of people that have commented on this post!

  8. Art Good says

    Very interesting read to me personally. I love much about being a part of the Assemblies of God, and while I find our theology to be rich and deeply rooted in God’s Word, I find our worship practices to be superficial and without much depth. I have often thought of exploring another denomination for ministry opportunities.

  9. Robin says

    May God bless you on your Journey. I was a locally licence Nazarene Pastor but God moved me to a Charismatic stream in this season. I long to use my gifts for Pastoral ministry, but am waiting for God to open those doors. Peace and blessings.

  10. Rose says

    AS a Cooperative Baptist who attends a small rural United Methodist Church, I am very impressed with this discussion and reasoning for moving to the UMC. And, I humbly (no theological or seminary training here) see what you are saying about the UMC needing more discipleship and leadership training…. even though our church does a good job with this, thanks to a forward thinking (female) pastor who is pulling and pushing to make things happen.

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