Why are they staying?

January 3rd, 2023

My friend Adam Hamilton recently urged us to stop fretting over all those who haven’t showed up in our churches, post-pandemic, and celebrate those who have. Ask them, “Why are you here?” and you may find fresh rationale for the church. Adam has a wonderful gift for focusing upon the positives of life in the body of Christ. Anybody can point to instances of broken promises in the church; resurrection induced hopefulness is required to see and to celebrate fidelity.

Since my book Don’t Look Back: Methodist Hope for What Comes Next appeared, it has been my delight to be in dozens of United Methodist congregations where I listened to scores of United Methodists, clergy and lay. As promised, the Holy Spirit has showed up in these conversations, moving me from lament and grief over our losses and separations toward Adam’s positivity. 

It’s easy to come up with reasons for displeasure with the state of the church. Low hanging fruit. Only Christ gives us the inspiration and chutzpa to stick with the beleaguered body of Christ. I confess that I’ve been guilty of allowing the separationists to capture my imagination, dwelling too much on their questionable self-justifications for division of our church. Adam prompts me to celebrate the marvel of all those United Methodists who’ve stayed. Many more are deciding to continue to meet and to serve Christ through the UMC. Here are some of their reasons:

  • “What the Methodist church taught me to believe about God is true. Christ really is the world’s redeemer and reconciler who isn’t done with us yet.”
  • “There’s nothing that any bishop or General Conference can do to greatly aid or to seriously damage the good that is being done in our congregation right here, right now.”
  • “Maybe my Wesleyanism is showing, but there’s no such thing as an ‘independent’ congregation. Scripture and church history show that, from the start, churches work alongside churches, strengthening and encouraging one another, and holding one another accountable. Connectionalism is a scriptural way of organizing the Body of Christ to keep it a body in motion. It’s how Jesus works.”
  • “Be wary of clergy who shun collegiality. Effective clergy welcome collegial oversight and accountability. Bad things happen when clergy become free agents, unaccountable to anyone but the laity within their congregations.”
  • “When Christians label themselves ‘traditionalist,’ it’s an indication that they’ve allowed internal church/clergy concerns to subsume the external, evangelical mission of the church. Narcissism. We’re to be evangelistic, talking to everybody, no matter what, not to hunker down and check out each other on the purity of our doctrine.”
  • “All this energy expended arguing about who can be and can’t be clergy, what’s correct and incorrect belief is a wasteful distraction from Christ’s command to be his witnesses in the world.”
  • “When our church chooses up sides and divides along left/right, liberal/conservative political divides, we tell American secular, politically obsessed culture, ‘We’re no better than you. Jesus Christ gives us no means of overcoming worldly political divides.’”
  • “People leaving a denomination because of the denomination’s statements about social issues is cultural accommodation at its worst, a sign that passion about social issues, right or left, has displaced worship of Jesus.”
  • “The GMC is a product of a ‘preacher fight,’ driven by a bunch of disaffected clergy who’ve been frustrated by their lack of recognition and advancement in the UMC.”
  • “Our church is aging out of ministry, can’t attract a new generation of Christians, and your big idea is to start another mainline denomination?”
  • “Sexuality issues, whether seen from the right or the left, ought not to be allowed to be more important than the commands, the person, and the mission of Jesus Christ.”
  • “Leave my church because some people refuse to stop talking about things I don’t want to talk about? Judging from our congregation, Jesus loves to put people together who don’t agree, and sometimes don’t like each other.”
  • “It’s sinful to take a vote and let the majority drive fellow Christians out of the church who see the mission of the church differently than the majority.”
  • “If people are wrong in what they think or do, Wesleyans believe they ought to be persuaded, converted, not separated.”
  • “They say they’re big on ‘biblical authority’ but they refuse to leave and say they can’t be the church they want to be without taking the church building and its contents with them. Where’s their ‘biblical authority’ for that?”
  • “Do you really want to be a denomination that’s led by people who, while working for and being paid by the UMC they vowed to support, worked to dismantle the UMC?”
  • “There are probably good reasons for leaving a church – the theology is unbiblical, the creeds have been replaced by heresies, or it’s led by demagogic, toxic clergy. Haven’t heard any of those reasons given by those who want to leave.”
  • “I’m staying because, on most Sundays, this is where Jesus Christ shows up and where I first heard him call my name. That’s as church as church ever gets.”
  • “While I don’t agree with everybody who sits next to me on Sundays, I do believe Christ has called them just like he called me and that he works through us, just like he promised. Togetherness is the way he saves us. I’d never listen to anyone urging me to break these bonds.”
  • “Why am I not separating? I promised.”

 I hope, like me, that you find encouragement in these words, for the work you are leading in the churches where God has sent you.


If you haven’t yet seen Will’s well-received book, Don’t Look Back: Methodist Hope for What Comes Next, check it out. You’ll find it to be a hopeful, helpful, biblical call to reclaim the mission of the church in the present time.

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