Seven pieces of institutional clutter the UMC needs to leave behind

Gulliver with his hair tied down
Gulliver, tied to the ground. Photo Credit: The British Library via VisualHunt.com / No known copyright restrictions

Right now, the UMC, bound by institutional clutter, is unfree, rigid, divisive and has regulated creativity out of the system.


I’m a sucker for the “25 things you need to get rid of” article. Clutter drives me crazy.

I used to watch those hoarding TV shows. In so doing, I became aware of the ease of slipping into patterns like that. It takes constant effort to stay on top of it.

I’ve developed a habit of daily “tidying” to maintain control over the pervasiveness of clutter. And yes, I’m entranced by Marie Kondo’s book,  The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing. Her basic philosophy: toss any item that does not give joy when touching it.

No question about it: the decluttered life is freer, flexible, more creative and unquestionably more joyful.

It continues to fascinate me that a church, based on the intentional, ecclesiastically awful, rule-breaking methods of John Wesley, now has elevated rule-keeping to the status of holiness.

Rules always beget more rules. They are worse than wire closet hangers. We have an overstuffed closet of rules. It is time for a ream-out.

Seven pieces of institutional clutter to discard

So, camping on these ideas plus my quirks, here are seven pieces of institutional clutter the UMC needs to leave behind.

One: The idea that relying on the Bible alone can answer all questions of theology, doctrine and church structure.

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  • P J Evans

    Those seven rules sound like they came in from the Southern Baptists or the Pentecostals. They aren’t the Methodist rules I grew up with, and I wouldn’t join any church that thought those were even reasonable rules to live by.

  • Bob M

    Well, my thoughts run the same as yours. I am a baptized and confirmed UMC who was the first youth person on our Administrative Board way back when the Methodists became “United” (yes, I am old…) I am also an out gay man, and am no longer UMC, but not for that reason. I found a home with the Presbyterians (PC-USA)Yes, we have and are traveling down many of the same roads you talk about although we do meet on the top denominational level every two years. WE also have people saying the very same things, doctrinal purity, everybody abiding by the “rules” WE do have an interesting history of division, we seem to have done it a lot over the years.

    This morning I had a thought come to mind. People want nice neat boxes (rules, consensus, doctrine, neat Bible verses) while the Holy Spirit is more of a coloring out side the lines kind a person.

    Will the future be uncertain, probably. Will it be what we want, maybe not. If I remember many of the same things were said about women in ministry…we seemed to have survived that, I think we will survive this, too.

    A favorite quote.. ”

    When you come to the end of all
    the light you have

    and take that first step into the
    darkness of the unknown,

    you must believe, one of two
    things will happen

    there will be something solid to
    stand upon

    or you will be taught
    how to fly.

    • http://www.christythomas.com Rev. Christy Thomas

      I love what you said about the Holy Spirit is more of a cooring outside the lines type! Exactly. Whenever the fresh winds of the Spirit blow through, all the tight little boxes get blown wide open.

      • Guthrum

        There indeed needs to be a time of fellowship, talking informally, and uplifting times. Just enjoy the company of others. Don’t get caught up in strictness, formalities, and separating out. Maybe there is too much beauracracy.

    • Guthrum

      The Episcopal Church – US, Presbyterian Church – USA, and the ELCA are denominations that are in a state of total collapse.

  • Linda Coleman Allen

    In 1962 I left the Southern Baptist Church because of this kind of behavior. I went to the UMC and found a healthy and kind environment. So sad to read this now.

    • http://www.christythomas.com Rev. Christy Thomas

      I also found the wonderful environment of the UMC after years in Baptist/Independent Bible churches. I ache to see what is happening with us.

  • George Waite

    Church is boring.

    • http://www.christythomas.com Rev. Christy Thomas

      Sometimes it is. Sometimes we need to have our souls bored into. Sometimes we need stillness and others to discover the presence of God.

      • George Waite

        Wow, if that isn’t pseudo-profound, I don’t know what is!

  • Guthrum

    Majority: okay, but the views and opinions of the church members need to be listened to. Decisions should not be made by a small block of people with an agenda. The Episcopal Church – US and the ELCA made decisions in stacked voting assemblies that ignored the members. Social statements and policies were approved that have proven disastrous for both denominations: losses of millions of members and thousands of churches. Decisions that went against Biblical teachings.
    Look at this: Episcopal diocese of Atlanta offers communion to non-Christians ! Are they kidding ? Apostate!

    • Pastor Kimberly A Rapczak

      I am not sure what you mean by “stacked voting assemblies.” In the ELCA, every congregation is entitled to a minimum of two voting members at synod assembly. As congregations become larger, they are entitled to additional voting members. At synod assemblies, people are chosen from among those attending to become voting members at Churchwide assemblies. It is completely democratic. I have often struggled to get people from my congregation to attend synod assemblies. ‘It’s boring.” “I only get so many vacation days.” “Who cares about what happens at synod assemblies?” When people then complain about what is passed, I remind them that they chose not to participate in the process. An additional fact: According to the ELCA constitutions, synod assemblies must be composed of 60% lay people. Should they choose to do so, they could outvote clergy every time. If anything, small congregations have greater power because a congregation of 20 people can have two voting members at synod assembly, the same as a congregation of 100 people. So, I really don’t understand what you mean by “stacked voting assemblies.”

  • http://toholdsway.blogspot.com/ Jamie Carter

    It seems to me that #1 fails to recognize the Wesleyan Quadrilateral – experience can be used to interpret the Bible and that’s why women are allowed to preach in Methodism. The Southern Baptists always considered it a slippery slope: if you let women preach, then the LGBTQ community will want to preach … Like it or not, you can’t grant freedom for one group to preach and use the same logic to deny freedom to another group to preach. At least the SBC is consistent in not allowing either group to preach.