On Dissafilating Well

January 13, 2023

Several preachers have reached out to me to inquire about my church’s process for leaving the United Methodist Church. I have six tips on dissafilating well for pastors whether they plan to go or to stay. Hear my disclaimer first. This is what worked for me in my context. Your mileage may vary.

Here are my six basic tips on dissafilating well.

#1 Be as Clear as Possible 

Andy Stanley in Next Generation Leader has an entire chapter on “Leading in the Shadow of Uncertainty”. 

Stanley argues, “Uncertainty is not an indication of poor leadership; it underscores the need for leadership… The art of clarity involves giving explicit and precise direction in spite of limited information and unpredictable outcomes.” 1

The disaffiliation process is long and confusing. One of the ways a preacher can help their church is by clearly explaining the process many times to the church in appropriate context (see #6 below). Be clear on everything you know. Be clear on what you do not know. Just be clear as you can in all areas possible.

#2 Be Openly Bias

I have a hard time believing when someone claims to be an unbiased source or participant. Instead take some time to disclose your biases. For me, this meant I was up front during this process with my church about what I cared about. 

I made it clear I was biased in the process to do what was best for my family. I was biased to be a traditional Wesleyan. I was biased to being connected to other clergy. I was biased toward having meaningful credentialing.  

Then at the conclusion of my disclosed list of biases I would say, “And these are only my known biases. I am sure I have many more unknown ones that I am not even aware of.”

This builds integrity with your listeners and helps them to understand the lens you are sharing from.

#3 Be as Charitable as Possible

There are ample opportunities to cast your opponents on dissafilation in the worst possible light. Resist the urge to do this. Plenty of moments will arise where you have to firmly push back and say, “I disagree with your conclusion” and that is fine. 

One of my practices is to try to “steel man” the other sides argument. Steel man means to try to think about the strongest point of the other sides argument. 

There are several lazy arguments against the Global Methodist Church such as “it’s only a website”, “it does not exist yet”, or “they are a bunch of bigots”. There have been lazy arguments and uncharitable attacks on those who want to remain.

Rev. Dr. James Howell has a powerful story where he talks about how someone he ministered to emailed him and said, “We thought you were a believer who preached the word and accepted Jesus as the divine son of God. But after learning you’re still in the United Methodist Church, we are shocked that you now believe Scripture is not the Word of God.” 

This would not demonstrate being as charitable as possible. 

Towards the end of Howell’s reflection he says, “Our sisters and brothers who are disaffiliating are more like us than we realize: operating out of hidden fears, we all rush to judgment against those who aren’t us.”

#4 Empower the Church to Decide

One of the beautiful parts of the process is that it gives an opportunity to have their voice heard. They can be heard through their elected members of the administrative board or by the entire church vote. 

Either way, their voices will be heard. They are the ones making the decision and the pastor does not even vote. The church decides on the future. 

It is important to consistently remind the church it is their responsibility to figure out who it is God is calling them to be. It will be their theological task to decide what the next steps are.

#5 Go Along on the Journey with Your Leaders

I truly felt I was along the journey with my church. This meant we were discerning and learning together. The situation for leaving the United Methodist Church is fluid. It changes when bishops set new precedents by acting in bad faith. The situation is altered when conference trustees meet to work on the dissafilation policy. The environment shifts when the judicial council has a ruling.

For us this meant taking 5-10 minutes in our administrative board meeting giving updates and pondering how this may shift our discussion or timeline for who we are called to be.

As you can imagine this has taken enormous amounts of general church energy. However, I am afraid there are few faithful alternatives that I have found. The sands on the shore of Methodism are shifting as much as the tide on St. Simons Island.

Important Note: All of your key leaders need to be a part of these conversations. One of the most important people to have involved is legal counsel as a part of your discussions. I highly recommend having a lawyer early in your process.

#6 Keep Your In-house Conversations In-house

Finally, limit the conversation as much as possible on Sunday morning. We had said early on that having these conversations in worship was the equivalent of having guests over for supper then pulling out the budget and going over expenses.

We tried our best to educate our church with around twelve different in person opportunities to hear, discuss, and learn from bishops, district superintendents, and other pastors. However, these were not part of Sunday morning worship. Announce the opportunity then move on to other elements of your worship service.

Concluding Thought

Pastor friends, please know I am praying for you. This is an incredibly hard season to be in ministry. 

There are no perfect answers or flawless playbooks. At the end of the day you can only do your best to serve the Lord. 

Please feel free to reach out to me if you have any questions or if you believe I can help elevate your church’s conversation during this season.

Sources:

1 – Stanley, Andy Next Generation Leader Page 79-80