Over the past decade I have had several conversations with United Methodist Church (UMC) leaders. Every time that conversation starts with them emailing or calling me to start a dialog. I always call them back, and even though it is against my better judgment, I listen to what they have to say. You see, I like Wesleyan Theology, and because I attended a UMC Seminary and pastored with them for my first four years in ministry I guess I have a soft spot for the UMC. Unfortunately nothing ever comes of those conversations, no matter what they promise or say, they never live up to anything they seem to share. I don’t know if I am a glutton for punishment or if I am just too trusting – either way, I am the one who gets the business end of the stick. I know, some will say that I cannot judge an entire denomination or leadership of that denomination based on one conversation and I would say they were right. But my relationship with the UMC goes well beyond just one leader – like I mentioned in the opening of this rant, I have had several conversations with District Superintends and Bishops and each one ended the same way.
The conversations always follow the same pattern. I get a message (mostly email, but I did receive a call once) to call a local District Superintendent or Bishop to talk about me coming over to the UMC – They are all excited about the possibilities and they spend hours talking with me about what they are doing and how I would be a great fit in their “different” District or Region. They talk with me about church planting and church rejuvenation. The conversation always ends on a promising note where they will be in touch and we can “get the ball rolling.” That evening I would receive a butt load of forms to fill out, and I would fill them out and send them back – even though I hate filling out forms. A few weeks later, after hearing nothing from them, I call back to see what is happening. I always get the same answer, “We are working on finding you a place. My district is full at this time, but others in the Region are looking for a church for you. I will let you know.” I always wonder why they contacted me in the first place, if their Districts were full – either way, I wait.
The last Superintend that contacted me assured me that he was a very different kind of Superintend, and he was very excited that we could talk. He wanted to bring in new blood, new DNA, so changes could happen in the District. He told me that he had a number of different churches in his area that were dying and could use new ideas from new people to help change the downward clip of the churches in his District. He said that the District and Region too seriously the slogan “Rethink Church.” When I emailed him my resume he was even more excited and emailed me to tell me how excited he was and that he was looking for a place for me. He told me that he would be working with the other District Superintends in the area and he was certain they needed me, and he could find room. In fact, he told me that they needed to find room for me – because they needed me in their Region. Needless to say, that was just smoke going up the place that produces the stuff the stick is used for.
In the developing of a relationship I always do my part. If I do not hear from the District Superintend or Bishop for a while I reach out to them. I call at least once a month to speak with them, just to see what’s happening. Every time I do, they are in a meeting, so I leave a message – and they never call back – NEVER. Needless to say, I stop calling after two messages.
When I speak to my friends who are serving in the UMC about my feelings and frustrations I am usually consoled with one of the following:
District Superintends are required to appoint the UMC Elders in a church first: OK, if that is their rules, I am fine with that, but why try to bring new people in? Why take the time to reach out and bring new DNA into the District or Region if there is no place to put them? Why try to make a change if change is not possible to make? Why take the time to start a conversation with new people, if that conversation is to end with silence?
Relax; you never want to burn bridges. What bridges? There are no bridges. At best there is a small overgrown path leading to a cliff. The idea of a bridge is that there are people on both sides walking back and forth. If there is no movement on one end, there is no bridge. The idea of a bridge is that there is something on each side that the other needs, and to be honest I am not seeing bridges.
They are very busy people and it could take a while. Really? Keep in mind that busy does not excuse neglect or bad manners. Any person who claims they are too busy to return a phone call truly needs to think about what they are doing and reexamine how they are spending their day. I am always amazed at how they are willing to take the time to talk with me (and I am also busy) when they need me, but when I need to talk with them they are always in a meeting and never return my calls. Not returning my calls does not say “busy” it says “as a group, we are uncaring people.”
It could be that there is something wrong with you. I can see that, but I am not sure I would say “wrong.” I would say “different.” But that is why they contacted me in the first place, or the reason I was asked to contact them, because I am different from what they have now. My being different was exciting to them, and they saw possibilities with that difference. But, even if there was something “wrong” with me, or I did not fit, I think a phone call to let me know is much better than not showing the human respect of a returned call.
If God wanted you to serve in the UMC God would open the doors. I don’t buy this; I think it is bad theology. It tells me that I have to excuse the unprofessional, inconsiderate, rude nature of those in leadership of the UMC and put the blame on God – and I am not going there. I see no reason to blame God for the actions, or inactions, of the UMC leadership.
There is an old saying, “Fool me once shame on you; fool me twice shame on me.” I wonder what that saying says about a person (me) who has been fooled several times. Not too long ago I said I would not talk with the UMC ever again, and like a trained monkey I did – I will admit that the last few times are on me – I believed what they were saying and I trusted them. My bad.
It is unfortunate, but my trust level with the UMC is now at ZERO – and I am pretty sure that I will never have a conversation with them again. To be honest, it will take a great deal of action (not words) on the part of the UMC for me to change my mind. I have a hard time dealing with people who say one thing and do another, and every conversation I have had with a UMC leader has ended with that experience.