Let start with the context. I grew up in the United Methodist Church as a pastor’s kid. That came with some perks: an element of celebrity among the other kids (at least in my own mind), a keen sense of where the best hiding spots in the church were during the highly competitive hide-and-go-seek, and a modest dose of Christian education and examples of faith. All this provided a descent foundation for a faith that I would one day recognize in myself. But there was something missing. Maybe I wasn’t listening (that happens with me), but it wasn’t until I started to frequent a “non-Denom” church on the south side of Youngstown that I began to hear this language that I hadn’t noticed in a church before. No, it wasn’t “tongues.” It was that God wanted a relationship with me.
It seems simple enough, maybe too simple to some. I mean, you can almost see that phrase on the cover of a magazine: “God wants a relationship with YOU!” But it’s actually littered all over the Bible. Everything from the Creation Account to the covenants of Noah and Abraham to the way Jesus did his thing, all of it speaks about a relationship between God and God’s people.
But it’s not just the relationship thing I missed out on in the UMC. When college started, I left United Methodism because of greener grass. The denomination had been declining for years. Mark Tooley, president of the Institute on Religion & Democracy and a practicing Methodist, put it this way: “Methodism in the U.S. has lost membership every year since 1964. It has lost over 4.5 million members. There is nothing in its U.S. policies that can or will reverse the decline in the near future.” Part of that decline is its lethargy in moving towards contemporary worship. Hear me carefully, I’m not advocating that one style of worship is better than the other, but that different people prefer different styles. Loads of people have preferred the contemporary style only to be left wanting in their UM congregation…and I was one of them.
So it hit me. I hadn’t gotten this central message of relationship…the decline..the worship…all of it had left me disappointed with the church that I grew up in. So why am I a pastor in the UMC now? There’s lots of good reasons: the focus on social justice, the historical roots, the theology. But the biggest reason is that I’m simply called. So finally…about this revelation: I’m called to lead, but I need to lead out of love, not out of spite. Sure, I am now a pastor in the church that left me disappointed, but a chip on my shoulder isn’t going to get me anywhere. There’s hope for the UMC, by the way…lots of it. And so far that hope, which seems to sneak attack me whenever I start to feel blue, has never disappointed.