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:
- 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?
- 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!
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.