A Pastoral Reflection on the United Methodist Church and Thoughts on Disaffiliation

24 10 2022

I have wrestled with how to best communicate the information contained in this reflection. After much prayer, I’ve felt God’s nudge to share this in its entirety. Warning: It’s long! It is primarily intended for those I pastor at Troy United Methodist Church although others may find it helpful. If you would like to interact about what’s written here, please contact me directly as I have turned off comments. I am an elder in the United Methodist Church and I’m simply reflecting on some of my experiences and how those bear upon questions surrounding disaffiliation.


In June, 22 lay members from our church council and transition team voted unanimously to begin the formal inquiry process to disaffiliate from the United Methodist Church (UMC) and pursue eventual affiliation with the Global Methodist Church (GMC). Since that time, our transition team has provided responses to frequently asked questions for our congregation to better understand our rationale for each decision. We have waited to host congregation wide informational meetings until we finalize negotiations with our conference to determine the parameters for such a disaffiliation. However, that process has been extremely slow, and we still do not know when the conference will schedule our first meeting. We learned last week that due to the number of churches seeking disaffiliation they are revising their process. As of today, 44 churches within our conference are at some point of the current process. As we wait, we will do all we can to answer questions, so our members have complete and accurate information before being asked to vote on disaffiliation from the UMC and, (if that vote passes by a 2/3rds majority) affiliation with the GMC. In this season of waiting, I have observed the anxiety level rise for several members of our church. Here’s my summary of what I’m hearing and perceiving:

Most people are just curious when we’ll have the vote. I wish I knew! Some others have felt that they are only hearing “one side of the story” and believe it may be a mistake to disaffiliate from the UMC. Certainly, there are various opinions about the issues at hand. Those in the broader church advocating for disaffiliation see things one way. Those in the broader church trying to persuade churches to stay UMC see things another way. Our leadership has shared (in the previously mentioned FAQs) their understanding of the issues and a hope-filled vision for the future.

What follows is some of my personal experience of the United Methodist Church. It is my hope that it will help you sort through a few key issues while also answering some of the commonly asked questions I’ve been hearing.


I hope you know how much I love the United Methodist Church (UMC). I was not raised in any church, but as God was wooing my heart as a 5th grader, I began attending a UMC where my best friend’s dad was the pastor. I found a loving and welcoming church community. My memories of the people and ministries of that church are forever part of my story. In fact, tears are coming to my eyes as I remember some of my Sunday school teachers and memories of a vibrant church. Sadly, last June, that church permanently closed its doors a mere 30 years after making such an impact on my life.

God worked through the UMC to bless me and grow me! I went through confirmation and was baptized in May of 1990 but didn’t understand the gospel message until July of 1990 when I attended a United Methodist Church camp. There I surrendered my heart to Jesus and began a personal relationship with him. My early life nourishment came primarily through my local church youth Sunday School as well as UMC summer camp where I connected with many UMC pastors who became influential in my life. In early college my life was further impacted by the UMC through a spiritual retreat weekend for students called Chrysalis (not officially UM, but a movement of renewal that many UMs participated in). That community blessed me throughout the years as I participated in many teams, grew as a leader, and learned the power of prayer and evangelism. Simultaneously, I got connected with a brand new UMC where I attended college and was hired to lead their youth ministry. It was through this church where I participated in a yearlong Disciple Bible Study class and responded to a call to ministry. Through that new church I got a glimpse of what a church could be – a community where lives were transformed by the gospel. I also met my wife in that church!

When I went to seminary, my UMC district and local church helped support me financially through scholarships. UM pastors from my conference visited me at seminary and encouraged me. While at seminary I fell in love with Methodist theology and believed God wanted me in the UMC. When I felt a call to be a church planter and began preparing myself for that eventual possibility, the UMC invested in me and gave me an opportunity to live out that call. The UMC provided a network for mission partnerships in Appalachia and Liberia that have been a rich blessing in my life. I cannot overemphasize how much I love the UMC, in large part because the UMC has loved me.


I remember the first time I felt awkward about being part of the UMC. While I was in college, a spiritual mentor and friend of mine questioned my involvement in and commitment to the UMC. I didn’t understand it then, but I later came to understand why when I learned that not everyone in the UMC believed the same gospel I was taught. I remember the first time a UM pastor told me that some UM pastors don’t believe in the literal resurrection of Jesus and that some seminaries teach that the Bible can’t be trusted. I didn’t believe it until I met such a pastor. It blew my mind. Really. It rocked my world. I didn’t understand how it was possible to be a pastor of a church and not believe Jesus rose from the dead or needed to die on the cross for our sins. This pastor later became a district superintendent.

Maybe that was an isolated incident I told myself. But as I rubbed shoulders with more and more clergy my own age, I realized this was not isolated. I remember having a conversation with one pastor I really liked personally. He lamented the fact that we sang a song at Annual Conference (yearly gathering of clergy and lay representatives of churches in our conference – the southern 2/3rds of Illinois) that spoke about the blood of Jesus paying for our sin. He referred to the atonement and the wrath of God as “divine child abuse” and that he preferred songs that didn’t speak of Jesus as our substitute. I had another conversation with a pastor friend who was involved in interfaith groups. It was a joy to hear about the common ground we could find in working with other religions to promote the well-being of society, but I was surprised when she told me that she didn’t believe Jesus was the only way to the Father. Others in our young clergy group agreed. Not only are these beliefs contrary to the Scriptures, but they are also contrary to our Methodist doctrine.

Later when I served on the Board of Ordained Ministry (the group that approves clergy for ordination), I had had a role in evaluating the doctrinal beliefs of candidates. I can confidently say that over 50% of the candidates openly disagreed with parts of our church’s doctrine.  Despite several board members raising significant questions we approved each of them for ordination. Here’s a sample of what I encountered (beyond the beliefs that I already noted above that were also represented in some of our newer clergy):

  • Some candidates refused to ever use the word sin. They believed that humanity only needs God’s grace to recognize their God given potential, not for forgiveness for sin. They did not understand repentance to be necessary for salvation. 
  • Many candidates denied the existence of Satan, the enemy of our soul.
  • Several candidates denied the existence of hell. (I also encountered this belief in a senior pastor of a large UMC in our conference!)
  • There were some candidates that would refuse to refer to the “Kingdom” of God or the “Lordship” of Jesus Christ because they believed those were harmful terms.
  • I recall at least one candidate who challenged Jesus’ virgin birth.
  • All candidates acknowledged that Scripture should be primary in developing our theology, but many acknowledged that where reason or experience seemed to contradict Scripture that it shows us we are likely interpreting it incorrectly.

I have connections with a relatively new church start (a missional congregation) in our conference. It has been substantially funded through congregational development dollars that come from your apportionments. This particular church is an LGBTQIA+ affirming congregation and employed (as an associate pastor) the self-proclaimed “first Drag Queen in the world to become a Certified Candidate for Ordination within the United Methodist Church.” This pastor recently preached at a UMC in Florida in drag including a children’s sermon. On this person’s website they share a video of their belief about the Bible – that it is “nothing”. This young person was certified by a district in our conference with full knowledge of their style of ministry. This certification makes this person eligible for financial support from apportioned funds that our church pays into.

If you speak with other UM pastors, they will each have their stories. These are not uncommon teachings or beliefs. They can all be lumped together in a broad category called “Progressive Christianity”. Although there isn’t one comprehensive definition for progressive Christianity, the basic underlying tenant is that the Bible isn’t authoritative in the same way as Christians have understood it throughout history. I and others have warned that progressive Christianity is becoming more and more pervasive in United Methodism. Some may question how pervasive it really is. I can only share from my experience that it is VERY pervasive some places and becoming more pervasive everywhere else. If your experience is only at the local church level, then it primarily depends on your pastor whether you are exposed regularly to these teachings. But a bigger question may be gnawing at you: How is this diversity of theology (called theological “pluralism”) even possible in the UMC?

REASON #1: The “Big Tent” and a Lack of Accountability

The United Methodist Church was founded in 1968 when the Evangelical United Brethren Church and the Methodist Church merged. Each of those denominations had merged with others in the decades leading up to the 1968 merger. There was certainly common ground, but it also provided a level of theological diversity – creating a “big tent”. However, within that diversity there was unity around our “Doctrinal Standards” found in our Book of Discipline. You can see a summary of those core beliefs on our website. Agreement on those standards was supposed to provide the borders for the big tent. However, throughout the 54-year life of the UMC, those doctrinal borders have been repeatedly crossed without recourse. How is that possible? The short answer is our system allows for it in a few ways:

  • Guaranteed Appointment – Ordained Elders (I was ordained elder in 2007) in good standing are guaranteed a job in the UMC with a decent minimum salary, money for health insurance, and housing among other benefits. An elder remains in good standing unless he or she is found guilty of a chargeable offense. Although “dissemination of doctrines contrary to the established standards of doctrine of the United Methodist Church” is a chargeable offense, it is rarely, if ever brought up, let alone enforced. Therefore, pastors whose teachings go beyond the big tent borders will always have a job.
  • Lifetime Bishops – Bishops, once they are elected from the ordained clergy, are bishops forever in the UMC. Bishops have significant authority in the UMC and are the chief shepherds of each annual conference with the power to make appointments of clergy to serve in churches. If a bishop is ineffective or teaches beyond the big tent borders, there is little recourse since the bishop never has to face re-election.
  • Bishop Accountability – Bishops CAN be brought up on charges. However, bishops are ultimately only accountable to other bishops within their jurisdiction (regional groupings of annual conferences). So, if enough bishops agree on false teaching, they can protect one another from removal from office. One such example was the election of bishop Karen Oliveto in the Western Jurisdiction. Rev. Oliveto is an openly partnered lesbian who was elected as bishop in 2016. Despite judicial council (the supreme court of United Methodism) rulings that her election was out of order because of our church discipline, she remains a bishop. Why? Because her fellow bishops won’t follow through on the chargeable offenses brought against her which the judicial council has already ruled on.

Our system of governance in the UMC is broken and it allows for teaching beyond the borders of our big tent. Some people love the big tent of United Methodism. Others, including me, prefer a tent that is only as wide as our doctrinal standards allow.

REASON #2: Theological Education

The second reason theological diversity (beyond our official big tent borders) is so prevalent, comes from the training our pastors receive. The UMC has 13 official seminaries. I am not personally familiar with the inner workings of those seminaries. My information comes from friends who have attended them, and from online research. This article from last month is an accounting of the theological progressivism rampant in at least 12 of our 13 official seminaries. It is very disturbing. As a trained ministry placement supervisor for Eden Theological Seminary near St. Louis, I am not surprised by what I read about our UM seminaries. Although Eden is not an official UM seminary (it is affiliated with the United Church of Christ), it does train many pastors in our conference. Eden Seminary describes itself as part of the Progressive Christian Movement and has the objective of creating progressive Christian leaders. It is rare, if not impossible to find a professor at Eden who fits within the borders of the tent of United Methodism’s doctrinal standards. From what I’ve heard from friends, this is also the case in almost all our official United Methodist seminaries. For comparison’s sake, the seminary I attended, Asbury Theological Seminary, which is not an official UM seminary but is thoroughly Methodist, has the following as its missional objective: to prepare theologically educated, sanctified, Spirit-filled men and women to evangelize and to spread scriptural holiness throughout the world through the love of Jesus Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit and to the glory of God the Father.

What’s important to note here is that all United Methodist Churches that pay apportionments (we paid almost $120,000 over the last 12 months) support these official UM seminaries. They receive funds from the Methodist Education Fund (MEF) for each UM seminary student that pays their tuition and supports the seminary. Some of your apportionments fund these scholarships to the tune of nearly $27M annually.

Unfortunately (from my perspective at least) the lack of accountability within our system and the type of education many of our pastors receive means that the theological diversity within our UMC is being pushed far beyond the borders our big tent was ever meant to hold.


United Methodism has always had a big tent (since its forming in 1968), and there have always been those whose theology has pressed beyond the borders of our doctrinal standards. There have also been movements within the UMC to make sure our tent doesn’t extend beyond those standards. If you’re interested in a thorough history of these ongoing challenges, I highly recommend James Heidinger’s book, The Rise of Theological Liberalism and The Decline of American Methodism. I have only personally witnessed the challenges in the last decade, but those ten years have been filled with significant conflict.

Since 2012 I have been elected and served as a delegate from our conference (called the Illinois Great Rivers Conference – IGRC) to three General Conferences (2012, 2016, 2019) and four Jurisdictional Conferences (2012, 2016, 2021, November 2022). General Conference is a global gathering and the highest decision-making body of the UMC. It is supposed to be the only group that can officially speak for the UMC primarily through the creation of the church’s guiding covenant called The Book of Discipline. The Jurisdictional Conference is a regional gathering (we are part of the North Central Jurisdiction) where bishops for that region are elected and appointed to serve within that region. I will not rehash everything that has transpired over that time period. Instead, I recommend you read this brief summary by my friend and colleague, Rev. Chris Ritter. I will simply offer a few of my experiences.

I went into GC2012 with the understanding that the UMC was in decline and that many of our systems and structures were outdated and top heavy. I was also aware of growing pressure for the UMC to change its sexual ethic to become affirming of some same-sex sexual practice. I left disillusioned as I learned the problems were much deeper. It began with an opening worship service where a UM Seminary professor led us in a prayer to mother earth and the ancestors of indigenous people while waving a smoking urn. It was so outside our doctrinal standards that one of our conference’s lay delegates quit and flew home early, resigning her membership in the UMC. I was also disturbed that as we progressed through the book of Mark in daily scripture and preaching throughout the 10 days, we skipped right past the cross. We moved from Jesus’ baptism to his miracles to the last supper to the resurrection. I remember tweeting at the time that to ignore the cross is to ignore the central, saving act of God in human history.

My experiences at GC2016 and GC2019 were even more heart-wrenching. Rev. Ritter’s post gives the summary timeline but being there in person was surreal. It was clear at both conferences that there were not enough votes to overturn our historically orthodox views on human sexuality. It also became perfectly clear that it didn’t matter what the GC decided on paper. In practice, UMs would continue to defy the will of the GC. Furthermore, from the stage of GC2019, a well-known “centrist” pastor who is currently running for bishop compared our stance on human sexuality to a virus like Ebola – this in a room filled with delegates from Africa who just experienced an outbreak of the deadly disease on their continent. Another bishop prayed for God to smite those who believed the Bible teaches a traditional view of marriage. From these comments and others like it, it became clear to me that there would never be peace in our denomination as long as our big tent continued to expand beyond our doctrinal standards and our shared covenant, the Book of Discipline, as established by the General Conference.

My hope for some sort of resolution picked up some steam in 2020 when a negotiated separation was agreed upon by leaders of widely diverse theological viewpoints in the UMC. Supporting legislation (The Protocol) was crafted for the May 2020 GC. However, the pandemic delayed that gathering and much political posturing has occurred since then. Again, I refer you to the brief summary by Rev. Chris Ritter. In a nutshell, currently the Protocol is dead in the water having lost its support from those wishing to remain United Methodist, General Conference has been further delayed, and traditionalists have launched the Global Methodist Church – the denomination that would have been formed if the Protocol would have been passed. The GMC’s tent would be constrained to upholding our current doctrinal standards.


There are a few options for current United Methodist Churches and members. What follows are the options currently before our congregation. I hope you find it helpful in answering some of the prevalent questions I’ve been hearing lately.

Remain in the Continuing UMC – this option generally appeals to three different groups of United Methodists.

  1. Those who currently disagree with the denomination’s stance on human sexuality (that all people are welcome in our churches and loved by God but that same-sex sexual practice is sinful) and would like to stick around the UMC in the hopes that it will be officially changed – a very real possibility at the next General Conference in 2024.
  2. Those who value and appreciate the big tent of the UMC and are okay with the borders of that tent extending beyond our doctrinal standards.
  3. Those who simply don’t know about or don’t believe the movement toward theological progressivism that is taking place in the broader UMC.

I do not expect to change any minds of those who are in camp #1 above. I do love you and assure you that even if Troy UMC disaffiliates, this congregation will continue its ongoing ministry of welcoming ALL people, offering opportunities for membership and ministry for ALL people, while also remaining true to a historically Christian understanding of human sexuality. There is still a place for you in the future of our church even if we disaffiliate.

But what about those in camps #2 and #3 above? It is my hope that some of my experiences will help you sort through your discernment. If you want our church, Troy UMC, to continue its ministry the way you’ve experienced it for the last 30+ years, I believe you’ll be disappointed by remaining in the UMC for the following reasons.

  • The borders of the theological tent will continue to expand far beyond our doctrinal standards. Although the United Methodist Church will NEVER officially change its doctrinal standards (it’s nearly impossible to do so as since it is part of the constitution of The Book of Discipline), in practice, pastors who adhere to our theological standards will become fewer and fewer. Since very few have been entering the UMC over the last decade, and now that there is a denomination that does adhere to their theological beliefs (the GMC), fewer and fewer will be available to appoint to our church if it remains UMC. This is one big reason our church’s leadership has moved toward disaffiliation – because they are thinking about the next generation of ministry in our congregation.
  • With several other large, theologically conservative congregations in our conference disaffiliating (at this time at least five of our twelve largest churches are at some stage of the process), the financial burden to support the bloated infrastructure of the UMC will fall to those who remain – particularly the large churches like us.
  • Based on multiple conversations I’ve had with numerous members of our church, if our congregation chooses to remain UMC, a very substantial core of our church membership and staff will individually choose to leave the UMC. Certainly, no matter what happens, some of our members will choose to leave. That is inevitable. However, our leadership proceeded toward disaffiliation, in part because of the belief that far more will leave if we stay UMC than if we disaffiliate from the UMC.

I want to be clear. No one is forcing anyone out of the UMC. In fact, at least one prominent UMC pastor (who plans to stay UMC) has gone on record to say that there will always be a place for traditionalists in the continuing UMC and that the UMC won’t be changing its doctrine. It is true that the doctrine will not change on paper, but as I’ve tried to articulate, it is already being ignored more and more in practice, and our theological education and governance systems ensure that this will continue. Furthermore, it’s important to note that NOT ALL pastors choosing to remain UMC want there to be a place for traditionalists. This is part of our problem in the UMC – there is no one person or group that speaks for everyone. If you want “the other side of the story” please know that there are MANY other sides than the direction our leadership is advocating. The only group that can officially speak for the UMC is the General Conference, and their voice has been silenced through delay or ignored through defiance.

Here’s an example of a leading United Methodist pastor (who plans to stay UMC) from West Ohio (our jurisdiction) who doesn’t want any traditionalist pastors to remain in the continuing UMC. In a recent discussion on his vision of the future UMC, he strongly expressed a desire to block any graduate from Asbury Theological Seminary (where I received my training). He said, “We won’t take one of them after the split if I have any say about it.” He has tried to make that a reality through the board of ordained ministry in his annual conference. When a member of our church who doesn’t see eye to eye with me on human sexuality found this pastor’s statements online, he said to me, “I get it now, Andy. Even if I am comfortable with a big tent on human sexuality, I understand that there may not be a place in the future UMC for you or for our church.” That leads us to our second option.

Disaffiliate from the UMC – this option generally appeals to the following groups of people:

  1. Those who agree with our denomination’s current stance and prefer to have uniform practice across the denomination on issues of human sexuality.
  2. Those who don’t want to see the “big tent” of the denomination extend beyond the borders of our doctrinal standards and want a system of governance that holds pastors and churches accountable to those standards.
  3. Those who may disagree with one or more aspects of #1 and #2 but want to see the mission and ministry of Troy UMC continue as it has for the last several decades.

**NOTE – I am not including ANYTHING about the positive vision of the Global Methodist Church that our leadership is excited about. You can read about that in the FAQs. In this write-up I am simply addressing my mixed feelings about the past, present, and future UMC.**

A few things that disaffiliation doesn’t mean.

  • Disaffiliation doesn’t mean that we give up the good things about United Methodism. Many of our partnerships through UMCOR, the Midwest Mission Distribution Center, Red Bird Mission, Lessie Bates-Davis Neighborhood House, individual churches, and others can continue! Currently our Mission Team fosters partnerships with UM ministries and non-UM ministries. There is no reason we can’t continue in positive partnerships with UM ministries!
  • Disaffiliation doesn’t mean we cease to be Methodist or give up our heritage. You may not know, but Troy UMC has not always been UMC. Our church was founded in 1843 and has been part of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Church before being United Methodist. Our leadership intends for us to remain Methodist!
  • Disaffiliation doesn’t mean that we won’t care for our members who want to remain United Methodist. If we disaffiliate and you choose to remain United Methodist, our leadership will help you get connected with one of the TEN other United Methodist Churches within TWELVE miles of our church building in Troy.
  • Disaffiliation doesn’t mean we hate the LGBTQIA+ community or will turn them away from our church. I am aware of at least a handful of members (or attenders) of our church who identify as LGBTQIA+. At least some of them are active in our ministries, understand both our denomination’s stance and my stance on human sexuality (that any same sex sexual activity is sin and that marriage is between a man and a woman), and still choose to worship and be active here because they are welcomed, loved, included, and challenged as they sort out their understanding of what it means to be faithful to follow Jesus. That will never change. What will change if we disaffiliate is that we will no longer be part of a denomination that does harm by sending mixed signals.
  • Disaffiliation does not mean we lose our building. Our leadership has been assured by our conference that Troy UMC can negotiate a way to disaffiliate with its property and assets for an exit fee. We are waiting for our conference to begin that process, and you will hear more about it if and when it progresses.
  • Disaffiliation does not mean Troy UMC will be bankrupt. The costs to leave the UMC are approximated in our FAQs and will be formalized in the near future. Our leadership will have a plan for repayment of those expenses and believe those costs will be recouped within a decade or less. Furthermore, the church building will no longer be owned by the conference (as it currently is) but by our local church.
  • Disaffiliation doesn’t mean everything will be perfect. Our leadership believes it is the best course of action for our church’s future, but it doesn’t mean it will be easy. We will still have the mandate to share the gospel with others and to grow as disciples. This is not easy work in our world today, but it is worth sacrificing for. And it’s my hope that we will do that together.


As I bring this long message to a conclusion, I want to express my grief one final time. I love the United Methodist Church. God has worked through the UMC to bless my life in countless ways. As a pastor over the last 20 years I’ve baptized hundreds of people and welcomed nearly 1,000 people into membership within the UMC. I love our doctrine and our heritage. I love the people of the UMC. I’ve given the best years of my life to ministry in the UMC. The pain and the struggles our denomination has gone through have nearly derailed me. They’ve made me question everything. Honestly, that’s not all bad though, because it’s forced me to the Scriptures time and time again and deepened my understanding and love for Jesus and his gospel as well as the beauty of the church. More importantly to me has been my growing awareness of my desperate need for Jesus and his grace. There is no manual to follow to lead a church through the discernment process we’ve been going through in some capacity over the last 4 years. I know the process has been painful for some of you. It certainly has been for me. I have been doing my best, but I can confidently say that I would do some things differently based on what I’ve learned along the way. For my missteps I apologize and ask your forgiveness. I try to extend the grace that I hope to receive. Regardless, I believe our leadership has prayerfully arrived at a way forward for Troy UMC after thorough investigation and months of discernment. The story isn’t finished. The disaffiliation team still needs to negotiate exit terms, our congregation needs to have informative talkback sessions, and our membership still needs to vote. I hope that will occur in the very near future. But more than anything, I ask you to pray for our church, assume the best in each other, speak with me if you have problems or questions, and give the grace you hope to receive. If we do that, we can embrace as brothers and sisters in Christ even if we disagree.

Faithfully, Pastor Andy

P.S. I can provide names and links for a variety of the items I mention here. I kept names out for the sake of decency. Let me know if you feel you need more specific information.

P.P.S. As I was mulling over how to organize my thoughts, I came across this pastoral letter from a UM pastor in Texas. It captured MANY of my thoughts and experiences. He was more concise than I have been too! I commend it to you if you’re interested in reading another letter. And by the way, it includes many more examples of the theological challenges in the UMC. If you are someone who thinks the problems are not prevalent, his experience added to mine may make you reconsider.



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