Dan Dick’s latest post includes a summary of some of the letters in his files from pastors who quit the ministry for a variety of reasons, but all of them because the ministry in one way or another was destroying their lives. Dick writes:
These are just three of dozens of people who report that the church destroyed their faith. In each case, and in most others, these people faced their torments alone — isolated and feeling cut off and unsupported by the system. Are they weak? Do they lack “real faith?” Are they to blame? I can’t answer that, but my feeling is “no.” The system is designed for the results it gets. If the system chews people up and spits them out, then the system is bad and needs to change.
We Methodists often speak of our connection, but I wonder if it is more than a nice word we toss around.
My life as a lay member was centered largely on my local congregation. Being perhaps a bit more Methodist in my orientation, I considered it an honor to be a delegate to annual conference and from time to time brought up connections to the larger church in local church gatherings and meetings – almost always to be met with dismissive comments or hostility.
Even congregation-to-congregation connections were strained. Two churches in town had as their strongest connection the streams of members who would move from one to the other when a pastoral change or crisis caused turmoil in one of the congregations. When the two talked about sharing a youth minister and combining youth ministry efforts, the idea collapsed in debates about turf and control.
My time as a part-time pastor who lives about an hour from his charge has not given me a fair picture of how elders and residential local pastors experience the connection. I have not seen a lot of evidence of a vital and empowering connection among pastors and the supervising clergy.
If our connection is supposed to be one of the strengths of United Methodist polity, how do we make it so in practice?