By Rob Renfroe —

When it comes to how to handle our time together leading up to General Conference, we United Methodists need to do better. As those presently remaining in the UM Church research which option forward suits them best, our conversations seem to be led by persons who are committed to accusations and outrage. Some are committed to portraying those on the other side as possessing the worst possible motives. Others are always deeply offended, actually indignant, because someone has dared to criticize the denomination they have chosen for themselves. It has been wisely stated, “No one can think clearly with their fists clenched.” And right now, we have a lot of clenched fists in the UM Church.

How might we do better? First, let’s focus on what the leaders of the various movements say and write. Everyone in the UM Church may and should have a voice about the future of the church. But it’s foolish and counterproductive to be outraged about something said by a person who is not particularly knowledgeable about the issues and who has very little influence with others.

I often read that traditionalists have said that the UM Church will change its core doctrines. Maybe some have, but not any traditional leader I have spoken with or whose writings I have read. To attack traditionalists for statements made by persons who are not in places of leadership, who are not thought leaders in our movement, or for that matter not even privy to our thinking – well, that is a waste of time.

I have come across statements made by some “uber-progressive” United Methodists who seemingly want to gain notoriety by being provocative on Twitter or Facebook. If after being in literally scores of meetings with progressive and centrist leaders over the last two decades, I don’t know this person’s name and a little research does not reveal that he or she has any following or influence, rather than being outraged with what he or she has written, I move on and think, “Well, the remaining UM Church is going to have fun with that one.” Every voice has every right to speak. But not every voice needs to be engaged, “exposed,” or criticized. We would do better to see the views of the leading thinkers of each movement within the UM Church as being representative of that movement. And we would do better interacting with those views. It’s likely to be a more civil, thoughtful, and healthy conversation.

Another way we can do better is to lessen the usage of the term “misinformation.” At present, labeling something as “misinformation” is often nothing more than a lazy way of not engaging with someone who thinks differently than we do. And to be clear, an opinion that differs from ours is not misinformation. It’s a different belief, a different way of seeing reality than we do. Those who throw that term around would do well first to think, “Hmm, there just might be another side to this issue. And, horrors, I could be wrong.”

I have been accused of misinforming many times. When I ask for specifics, few are forthcoming. Or after the offense has been spelled out, it’s simply that I believe differently about an issue than my accuser does. Once I was charged with giving out misinformation because I said I believed the decline in the membership and attendance of the UM Church would be even more rapid after it decides to marry and ordain partnered gay persons. That’s not misinformation. I may be right, or I may be wrong. But it’s an opinion based on the pattern we see in every other mainline church that has made that change. The right response would be to make a case for why the UM Church will be different than the Episcopalians (ECUSA), Presbyterians (PCUSA), the Lutherans (ELCA), or the United Church of Christ (UCC). That would have been a worthwhile conversation and my accuser might have convinced me that I’m wrong. Instead, because he went to the misinformation trope, I went away thinking he wasn’t a serious person and he cared much less about the future of the UM Church than he claimed. I think the same thing when bishops and others dismiss everyone who criticizes their actions as being the purveyors of misinformation.

Traditionalists should be just as careful to engage with what they believe are false statements made by progressives and centrists. Blanket dismissals and catch phrases such as “misinformation” do not help us understand those with whom we disagree or motivate us to correct what we believe they have misrepresented. United Methodists of all theological persuasions are sufficiently intelligent to follow thoughtful debates and determine for themselves what is their best course forward. Those of us in positions of leadership owe it to them to do better than dismiss each other’s views as “misinformation.”

Here’s something else we need to do better. Church. The UM Church has declined every year since its origin in 1968. There are some bright spots, but most serious United Methodists, regardless of theology, agree that the UM Church is top-heavy, institutional, and stymied by bureaucrats who do not want the budgets of their favorite board or agency to be cut. The UM Church needs to do church better.

But so does the Global Methodist Church. The GMC simply cannot be UMC 2.0. It cannot do ministry the way the UM Church has done it and believe the results will be different simply because we have the right theology. Too many of our heroes from the past two generations have fought, suffered, and been vilified to provide us with the opportunity the GMC now possesses. We must seek God, pray for the guidance and the power of the Holy Spirit, and commit ourselves to existing for those who do not yet know Christ. Getting out of the UM Church was never the point. Being in a place where we can fully devote ourselves to spreading the Gospel was always the goal.

I am happy that early indications are that the GMC will be different. The first three convening annual conferences of the GMC were held in January and February, and none of them felt like “business as usual.”

The Mid-Texas Annual Conference held the GMC’s first-ever convening conference. Was it different, even better, from a typical United Methodist annual conference? You decide. It had one business meeting lasting an hour and a half. The rest of the time was spent in worship, preaching, and Bible study. The altar was opened, and people flooded to pray for the GMC and to pray over each other. Tears were common and the power of the Holy Spirit was present. The Conference ordained 28 persons. The first person ordained in the GMC was an African American woman. The second was a Hispanic man. The third was a 20-something mother of a newborn. At the same time, a youth convocation was held where dozens of young people gave their lives to Christ. You can decide if that’s better than the typical UM annual conference. But it’s a great start for those who want to do church differently.

The following week the West Plains Annual Conference gathered to celebrate its new beginning in the GMC. Nearly 75 percent of the churches in the Northwest Texas Annual Conference have disaffiliated and most have joined the West Plains Annual Conference of the Global Methodist Church. Business as usual? No, there was little “business” at all – about an hour’s worth. The remainder of the conference was spent in worship, Bible study,  and vision casting, highlighted by a final commissioning service that sent pastors and laypersons into the mission field that is the world to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

The next week the East Texas Annual Conference held its convening conference. Two hours were utilized for business. The rest of the time was spent in worship and in workshops that focused on doctrine, evangelism, discipleship, worship, and effective social witness. Ninety persons were ordained either as deacons or elders. And seven new, start-up churches were received into the fellowship of the Global Methodist Church. Again, not bad for Methodists who want a different way of doing church together.

I am encouraged by what I see in these first three convening annual conferences. This is not business as usual. I want to believe that God has given GMC leaders a vision for a different way of being church. That is what I and many others for decades have worked for and prayed for – a Christ-centered church that is awakened to the will of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the needs of a lost world.

We can do better. All of us. In how we end our time together and in how we live into the future. We must do better.

Rob Renfroe is the president of Good News.


  1. My Church is now discerning whether we should go through a discernment process right now in SC. I understand that Good News can send me some quotes by Bishops and clergy that deny the authority of Scripture and question the deity of Jesus. It seems that most people believe the reason people are trying to separate and disaffiliate from the UMC is because of sexuality and same sex marriages. I know it is more than that. Please send the quotes to my email below. Thank you So much!

  2. Rob,
    In the last issue you said now is the time to leave the UMC. Why are you still a UMC clergy person?

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