When United Methodist Members Change Churches: One Nazarene’s Response

Our United Methodist (UM) brothers and sisters are splitting over Biblical interpretation and LBGTQ+ related issues. Local congregations must decide if they wish to stay with the denomination or exit. As this occurs, many churches will decide to remain UM (some because they agree with the Biblical interpretation shift and some for economics as the price for exiting is excessively high). In those churches that remain UM, some of their members may decide to leave. Since the Church of the Nazarene (CotN) is in the same theological tree, some may look to a local CotN as a landing place upon their exit. 

What should we offer these people?

1. Give them time. Allow them to grieve. Allow them to mourn the loss of their church home. This is hard. People will be making decisions to leave a church in which they have poured their time and resources. Some have raised their children there and it’s the only church they have known. It’s heartbreaking to leave a church you have loved. It will take time to recover.

2. Give them a space. Following months of heart wrenching decision-making both for themselves and their friends who remain UM, those looking for a church home need to simply worship in peace. Let them enjoy the singing and the Biblical preaching from the pulpit. Let them relax and take a deep breath. Invite them to join small groups, Sunday School classes and for dinner in your home. Make your church warm and hospitable. Pray that God will restore their joy. Like with all who grieve, not everyone will bounce back in the same time and manner. Give them space to move at their own pace.

3. Give them a voice. When those bereaving former UM members are ready, let them speak of their sadness. Empathize with this new reality for them. No need to offer pithy clichés like “It-will-be-ok” or “God-is-in-charge,” they know the “Sunday School” answers. Instead, these heartbroken people just need to have someone sit and listen. They will talk about it when they are ready.

3. Give them a place of service, when the time is right. Eventually, these folk, who in many cases, were the worker bees in their former church, will need a place to serve. Talk to them about their strengths. Ask them where they would like to serve and if they are ready. Then put them to work. Let them use their gifts and talents for the Lord. 

The situation in the UM church is heartbreaking on many levels. It used to be said that the CotN was running 20 years behind the UM in social matters. With the speed of communication these days, it appears that the timeline has shrunk. News travels fast. Attitudes and positions change more quickly. Will the CotN debate Biblical interpretation and LBQTQ+ issues too? Of course. The 2017 General Assembly displayed much unity regarding its statement on human sexuality (97% agreement), but that does not mean the issues contained therein will not be revisited. The CotN is not immune from the tilt of our secularized society. In other words, before casting stones at our UM kinfolks, let’s make sure our house is in order.

In all matters, pray that, like Jesus, we will be full of grace and truth.  Pray that we might fulfill Jesus prayer in John 17 to be one. Pray for God’s intervention with our brothers and sisters in the United Methodist Church. Pray for the new entity, the Global Methodist Church. Pray for a reconciling spirit and the return of the joy of the Lord. No one but our Enemy wins in these types of battles. Pray for God’s peace and mercy to all.