“Momma, I was born a Methodist, and I’m gonna die a Methodist!”
I was 11 years old, sitting in my mom’s Town and Country minivan. We had just begun searching for a new church home after our small United Methodist church in a Fort Worth suburb closed its doors. That church meant the world to my family. It was the place where my parents met. They were married there by my late grandfather, a United Methodist pastor. My older sister was baptized there, as was I. And then, after a string of less-than-optimal appointments, financial troubles finally forced Kingswood United Methodist Church to permanently close its doors.
That’s the first time I dealt with denominational discernment. We tried local United Methodist churches, but nothing seemed to feel “just right.” We eventually visited a large Cumberland Presbyterian church just down the road from Kingswood, and we found passionate worship, missional engagement, and a place we could fit in. But it still wasn’t Methodist.
My formative years occurred in that Cumberland Presbyterian church. I got involved in the youth group, eventually leading worship in the praise band. I went to church camp and received God’s undeniable call to ministry. I was a part of our youth leadership team, preached on Wednesday nights, and was a youth delegate to the General Assembly. After graduating high school, I became a certified candidate for ministry in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church while attending Texas A&M.
While at A&M, my wife Alex and I began attending a United Methodist church. There were no Cumberland Presbyterian churches nearby, so I decided to try the denomination of my childhood. Christ United Methodist Church was exactly what we were looking for. They were focused on the Gospel and making disciples of Jesus Christ, and they were missionally focused. Within a few months, they hired us both on staff. I was offered an internship at a fantastic United Methodist church in Richmond, Texas, and was soon accepted at Duke Divinity School, a United Methodist seminary. After months of prayer and fasting, I realized that my 11-year-old self might have been right; maybe I would die a Methodist. I joined the church, became a candidate for ministry, and, fast forward nearly 10 years later, am now the Loft Lead Pastor at The Woodlands Methodist Church.
I tell you that story to tell you this: I have gone through denominational discernment for most of my life. Where do I fit in? What kind of church do I want to be a part of? How can I faithfully proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a world that so desperately needs His message of hope, grace and forgiveness?
The main lesson I’ve learned is that denominations, while important, do not tell the whole story. What matters most is the local congregation. There are plenty of United Methodist churches that I would love to attend — Bible-based, Gospel-focused, missionally-minded. At the same time, there are plenty that I would feel like a fish out of water. Other people might find a home there, but based on my theological understandings and commitments, I would feel uncomfortable.
Again, what matters most is the local congregation. And that’s why I believe fervently and without reservation that it is time for The Woodlands Methodist Church to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. Truth be told, it breaks my heart. As aforementioned, my grandfather was a United Methodist pastor. He faithfully served Tuscola First United Methodist Church for over two decades. He loved The United Methodist Church — its robust Wesleyan theology, focus on discipleship, and desire to transform the world. I love that church too. But unfortunately, I believe The United Methodist Church is no longer that church.
Receiving the opportunity to be part of The Woodlands Methodist Church was a dream come true. Actually, that’s incorrect. It was beyond my wildest dreams that I would be a pastor of this congregation. This church aligns fully with my theological worldview — my passion to win people to Jesus, disciple them in faith, and help those in need. I believe that God is doing something incredible at our church, and it’s still surreal that I get to play a small part in it. It’s because I believe in our local congregation that I believe it is time for us to leave the denomination I have loved.
I’m reminded of the words of President Ronald Reagan when he said, “I didn’t leave the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party left me.” Politics entirely aside, Reagan’s sentiment about the party of his youth perfectly describes my feelings about The United Methodist Church. A church that was once committed to making disciples of Jesus Christ now seems hyper-focused on power, money and a political agenda. I watch countless worship services from other United Methodist congregations each week. What I often see is not a focus on Jesus, a passionate worship of His Name, or a missional focus; instead, I see pastors denying the authority of Scripture. I see churches that see Jesus not as the perfect and sinless Son of God, but as a good person to learn from. I see teachings that run contrary to 2,000 years of orthodox teaching. And it breaks my heart.
Then I look at our church. Remember, what matters most is the local congregation. I love watching the variety of services we offer each week. I hear beautiful Wesleyan hymns sung in our Traditional Service. I see neighbors taking their faith seriously at Woodforest. I sense the Holy Spirit descending and changing lives in Harvest. And I see that 11-year-old boy in a Town and Country minivan preaching the Gospel at Loft.
I’m still that 11-year-old boy. I still believe that I was born a Methodist and will die a Methodist. But in order to faithfully do that, I believe it’s time to disaffiliate from The United Methodist Church. Believe me, I know how difficult denominational discernment is. I’ve been doing it most of my life. But I am confident that in order for our local congregation, The Woodlands Methodist Church, to continue to win people to Jesus Christ, disciple them in faith, and help those in need, the time is now to leave The United Methodist Church and pursue a faithful future elsewhere.