The burning question among religious folks these days is: “Should I stay or should I go?”
We’re torn between the institutional church and … something else.
Should we stay in the institutional church, with its homophobia, its unfaithfulness to Scripture, its laborious decision-making processes, its committees, its politics, its hierarchy, its this and its that?
Or should we make a run for it, and break away toward the emerging, the missional, the unknown and the unnamed? Should we join a different denomination, or start our own, or simply enjoy our Sundays again?
In the United Methodist Church, this question has raised its ugly head again after General Conference 2012. Andy Langford argues that churches should stay and resist by withholding its giving to the general church. Bishop Will Willimon is leaving to retirement and waved a happy goodbye to “the most expensive ($1,500 per minute!), least productive, most fatuous assemblage in the history of Methodism.”
And then noted emergent blogger/theologian Tony Jones waded into the debate by urging young Methodist clergy to get out now, while the gettin’s good: “Of all the screwed up denominational systems, the UMC is the most screwed up … I just hope that enough of you young UMC clergy have the temerity to stand up and walk out of that system. Trust me, what you’re putting up with is not worth the health insurance — you’re getting the raw end of that deal.”
Nobody is particularly happy about the United Methodist Church right now. It is in a mess. But the question of staying or going is not something for bloggers or bishops to decide … at least not for me.
The truth is that I can see the validity in each side of the argument. I agree with Tony Jones and Langford and Willimon to the extent that I could see myself walking away from the denomination, giving up my credentials, and finding a way to do church in either another denomination or by starting my own church.
On the other hand, I can also make a case for staying in the UMC, putting down my head in my local church and getting back to work. There is tons of valuable work going on in UM churches all over the world, and I could argue that, by staying, I could continue to work for positive, vital change right where I am.
And yet, the only way to answer the question, “Should I stay or should I go?” is with Jesus’ own words: “Not my will but yours be done.”
We United Methodists believe that pastors are “called,” meaning that, as clergy, we become pastors, not as a result of our own career choices, but as the response to God’s call. We aren’t persuaded by attractive occupational brochures or shiny salary packages. We become preachers and pastors because we honestly believe that God wants us to become preachers and pastors.
Likewise, we are called into a particular faith tradition – whether Baptist, Presbyterian, Catholic, or some other community of faith. I didn’t grow up Methodist, but certainly felt God beckoning me at a certain time in my life.
So when I ask myself the burning question, “Should I stay or should I go?,” my first response is, “Well, what does God want?” I don’t care what Tony Jones says. I won’t leave just because it’s not the trendy place to be anymore.
And I don’t care what my Methodist colleagues say. I won’t stay just because they give me some kind of claptrap about staying faithful to the “connection” or “staying together” through the tough times.
I will only stay if God continues to ask me to stay. Even if I have to grit my teeth continually.
I will only go if God asks me to set out in a new direction. Even if it means leaving my health insurance behind.
Each one of us must continually return to the deep waters of our soul and look for God’s direction. And all I know so far is that God is asking me to stick around.
So back to work …