I’m having a hard time writing this blog, because I have not yet talked to people involved in what I am about to cover. If you’re familiar with Kansas United Methodism, you’ve probably heard about the pastor, staff and bulk of the membership of a new church – GracePoint – leaving The UMC. The pastor turned in his credentials and took, according to Sunday’s Wichita Eagle, about 3/4 of the congregation to form a new church.
So, now there are two GracePoints: GracePoint Community Church and GracePoint United Methodist Church. There is a lot of hearsay about why the leaders and members did what they did. I have some ideas (that I think are pretty sound), but I’ll forgo that speculation and get to what I think needs attention.
I should also say that I have some extra-strong feelings about this matter because recently I have become interim pastor for two small congregations in Arkansas City, Kansas. Most of one congregation and about half of the other one left their UMC congregations in anger over perceived mistreatment of their pastor (who had been removed by official denominational action) and the annual conference’s lack of concern for these two congregations. I am witness to the fallout from church splits. That said, here are my thoughts:
1. Nobody wins in a church split. Nobody is helped. The Body of Christ is depleted and demoralized, period.
2. The people who leave think they’re leaving problems behind. They aren’t. Inevitably, every congregation has conflict and when that happens, the folks who left won’t be able to blame the United Methodist Church, the annual conference, the bishop, some board, or anybody else. I hope, when that moment comes, that the leavers will be able to look themselves in the eye and consider their ways. It is the only way they’ll grow.
3. When people leave, they leave behind wounded, confused friends. They leave their friends! How people leave makes all the difference in the world. If you’re going to leave, talk to your friends and authority figures before you do. Have some courage. Be honest. Take care for the Body of Christ, even if you think God is calling you to leave and especially if you think the other parties (including the bishop, the annual conference, et. al.) are at fault. Let me repeat: how people leave makes all the difference.
3.a. Years ago, while in graduate school, I was on staff of a UM Church in a Chicago suburb. Some of the younger leaders were having trouble with the senior pastor and one by one, couple by couple, they began leaving. I had poured my heart into some of those people. When one more of them threatened to leave, I shouted (yes, I shouted), “You’re not just leaving ______ (the pastor’s name and the object of their anger). You’re leaving us!” Do relationships matter any more?
3.b. People who think of themselves as biblical Christians better pay attention to the whole Bible when deciding whether or not to leave. Have I said this already? How you leave matters. My biggest concern right now, given the fact that the recent split made the front page of the Sunday Wichita Eagle, is that we Christians are offering a bad witness to the world. Our words about unity and love are hollow, hypocritical. Shame on us.
4. People who leave angry need to check, double-check and check again the status and condition of their hearts. Bitterness is self-destructive and will affect the quality of their spiritual lives, their lives in Christ. If they harbor anger, pride, arrogance or any other unholy affection, they will pay a spiritual price for the way they have handled this matter. God is not mocked.
Oh, Lord, by your mercy, heal the broken hearts.