Dear Bishops: Get Real!



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It's not a numbers game

If we just want greater numbers we're just like every other slick megachurch and I'm not interested. What we need to do is defeat the forces of evil in our own denomination, those alled with the conspiritorial Institute for Religion and Democracy (IRD) and similar groups whose primary goal is to denigrate LGBTs and gain power and control for themselves.

George N. Shuler more than 6 years ago

What will bring young people to the church

This is my frequent tag-line on emails:

“Young people have no interest in saving the church; they care about saving the world.
If we can show them that we can help them save the world, they’ll save the church.”
Re David McAllister-Wilson

Anne Ewing more than 6 years ago

A Matter of Life and Death

Cynthia - Thanks for the challenge of this post. Your reflections on the economic realities of ordination and church leadership strike me as particularly relevant. As someone who sits on a conference Board of Ordained Ministry, I know that our processes can sometimes feel arcane, expensive, and pointless. Yet I know that most of the elements of the process have come from attempts to provide the best possible preparation and evaluation for people who serve the church. The political aspect of things is way overrated. But the economic strain and the burden on candidates is real.

But having said that, our leadership has got to help us navigate through a very tricky passage. On the one hand there are ways of doing things that have to die so that a new model of leadership development and church structure can be born that is more open to the gifts and leadership of young people. We need to be following young adults in the footsteps of Jesus, not just trying to attract them to the old methods. On the other hand, we have institutional commitments (let's start with our pension plan) that are a legacy of a time when the church thought it was an institution like GM that could provide a decent middle-class life for its clergy in perpetuity. How do we honor those noble promises and commitments, unrealistic as they seem in this post-industrial economy? In other words, how do we help some things live and other things die?

Alex Joyner more than 6 years ago

Excellent points

Thank you for this thoughtful response, Alex. You raise excellent points that are quite accurate. It seems that some historic commitments such as pensions can change over time, but the demands of the ordination process need to be changed immediately, in my view and that of others. Let's keep thinking and talking about these ideas.
Cynthia Astle

cynthiaadmin (United Methodist Insight) more than 6 years ago


You got it right, Cynthia. I have a friend in Florida who has gone through seminary. The District committee asked him to do CPE. he did CPE. Then they thought he was psychologically unfit, so they asked him to do CPE again and work on some issues. He did that. HE worked on some issues, made tremendous progress. I was in his CPE group. After four five years of shenanegans by the clergy on his district committee, they told him he was being discontinued and no longer a conadidate. This after graduating from seminary and jumping through their ridiculous hoops that they kept changing and making new requirements. So now he is working as Youth Pastor in a Methodist Church. I dare say, this man is more faithful, dedicated and doing the work of Ministry then probably some of the men and women on the committee. If he had been Hispanic, Woman, Black, Jamaican, would he have been pushed through. Our church is sick and many of us, clergy included are sick of it. Community is gone. Clergy don't do their job. People are left to their own devices. Money reigns supreme and Bishops languish without speaking and leading prophetically and by example. I'm glad I'm retired. I am free to really do ministry.

Rev. Thomas L. Shanklin more than 6 years ago

Dear Bishops, Get Real!

As a person in my 50's, a recently retired Methodist minister's wife, and Methodist since I was 11 yrs. old, I have one big criticism against this post. The Methodist denomination USED to be wonderful and still is IF we follow John Wesley's original intentions. Unfortunately, most UMC's do not. The "leadership" frowns upon it.The Methodist church as I now know it (and do not approve of) is nothing but "leadership" trying to protect their turf. It is a religious institution with no substance, conscience, or love of God. And the poor pastors are still trying to do God's work. It is any wonder that ANYONE would continue to have any desire to be a Methodist pastor or remain in the Methodist church. If church members knew what horrible treatment most pastors and people trying to follow God's word get from the "leadership", they would be worse than appalled. I certainly am. I now do most of my worship in small Bible studies and personal study. Don't limit your opinion to bishops because it is District Superintendents, ordination committee members, seminaries, and many others. They are not trying to reach the younger generation or any generation actually. And actually, it is a small number of these types of people who are problematic. Many of the very people dumped into the categories I pinpointed are trying to do the right trying with hands tied by the few who are not. We ALL suffer because of it.

Cathy Hargrave more than 6 years ago

How long oh Lord?

I believe all the issues that the younger generation as asking to be addressed are valid and
must not be ignored. The greater church in the world for decades has been out of
touch,ineffective,and ignorant of what Jesus taught and put into action in his life on earth.
We have had this "Us four and no more" attitude that fosters self centered theological

We have become so we centered, and self important, that anyone who doesn't act like us,
look like us, believe like us may as well not exist.

To be a vibrant church takes risk, moving with the Holy Spirits help to swim up stream in
order to the call of Christ! How much longer will we cling to old ways, unable to catch
the vision that God has for us? God work for us to do, and how we did ten years ago is not
going to work today. We are called by God to be effective! As the culture changes we must
change as well. Make no mistake the truth and principals of the Gospel do not change, but how we
present it and further flesh it out MUST CHANGE according to the culture where we are

Admittedly I have been a United Methodist for only 2 years, But in my 52 years on this planet
I have walked with God for 47 years. I have seen a lagging sleeping church getting
progressively more out of touch over the course of my lifetime. My prayer for the last 13
years has been "GOD MAKE ME EFFECTIVE" "Make me sensitive to those with needs around
me!" My friends if we are spiritually, physically, ineffective how can we say that we follow
Jesus Christ?

How long will we drone on being the laughing stock of our society, who say "why
would I want to be a Christian, when I see such a hateful mis-informed group of people who are
supposed to love like Christ?"

God help us to repent of our spiritual and social deafness!

As for a track to ministry, rest assured if you have received a call to ministry God has already ordained you! Credentials and education are great, but if your not called you will never preach!
If you are called nothing can stop you. Let us rethink what it is that makes one
a minister of the gospel. What makes a missionary ready to serve? Let us get a fast track
that is affordable for those who are called, and are willing to give their live for the service of Christ.

Bryan Burrma more than 6 years ago

military injustice

I keep running into intelligent able young women and on one occasion man that have been physically attacked and or raped while in service to our country . Then the military itself is supposed to explore these cases to the point that victims are told be quiet or leave! These are brave patriotic persons with deep faith in God and country and they are personally torn to psychological messes!

Dixie L. Rhodes more than 6 years ago

I can hear Him singing

Look what they've done to my song, Pa
Look what they've done to my song
Well, it's the only thing I could do half right
And its turning out all wrong, Pa
Look what they've done to my song

I think, somewhere, he's shaking his head over how off the mark many have drifted. Part of what I try to do as an individual is read as many translations of His Word as I can, tease his message out of it all by thinking and kicking it around w/friends, then put on my work gloves and strive w/ others for the common good.

Jim Falls more than 6 years ago

Need to heed your own advice about "getting real"

I agree totally with what you're saying about the economic difficulties in young people becoming ordained pastors - that's 100% on target. But as for your analysis of why young people are typically absent from the pews of most UM churches, I think you need to heed your own advice about "getting real". Do you REALLY think that the reason young people are uninterested in being part of the UMC is because we aren't "liberal" enough and take the right stands on all your favorite political issues? For the last 40 years, that’s ALL we’ve done! Our Book of Resolutions is filled with all our stands on immigration, economic justice, women’s rights, global warming… you name it, we’ve taken a liberal stand on it. And though we haven’t endorsed gay marriage (yet), plenty of other mainline denominations have. By your logic, the Episcopalian, United Church of Christ, and Unitarian churches should be bursting with young people – but they are struggling with the exact same membership declines we are. You’re right – just adding a praise band is not going to bring young people in, but neither is the same old lifeless singing, manuscript preaching, and taking political stands on issues by “demanding” and “pushing” (your words) the government to fix the problems for us. The churches that are truly seeing young adults get involved are the churches that are actually rolling up their sleeves and giving people a chance to BE DISCIPLES and put their faith into action by actually doing something to feel the hungry, shelter the homeless, teach English and job skills to immigrants, and live out the Gospel. Bumper stickers and “taking stands” don’t impress young people any more than praise bands do.

Doug more than 6 years ago

It's not a question of liberal

Dear Doug: Thank you for your comments. As I replied in a previous post, the question is not one of "liberal" or "conservative." The issue is: what did Jesus teach and how well are we following those teachings today. The overarching message of the gospel is one of relationship; first, an individual's relationship to God, and then individuals' relationships with one another, and finally individuals' relationships together as a society. Jesus taught consistently that God's mission is to redeem the entire world, not merely a select few. When we understand this, we come to see that we humans create and perpetuate systems that are totally contrary to the will of God for the salvation of all. Thus, we must be constantly on alert for how we are individually and collectively working against God's intention of love, justice and wholeness for all -- the true meaning of the word "salvation." If this ability to see the full gospel message of Jesus and to think critically about how well our participation in that gospel constitutes "liberalism," then so be it.

Finally, since this article was published on July 31, new research has come to light from the Public Religion Research Institute showing that more and more Americans are being raised in non-religious households, and have no inclination to join any faith. It may well be that the trend away from religion began for the reasons cited long before the church became aware of its context. I suggest you read The Morning Buzz on

Best regards,
Cynthia Astle

cynthiaadmin (United Methodist Insight) more than 6 years ago

Physician, heal thyself

On one hand you say evangelicals are too political, yet your second page is full of the latest left-wing memes and talking points. This is why I can't take people like you or RHE seriously.

Donnie more than 6 years ago

Read your Bible lately?

Dear Donnie, If you view these topics as "left-wing memes," then perhaps you should read your Bible again. Each of them -- as do many others -- come under the heading of loving one's neighbor, particularly in times of crisis. If that be "left wing" as you perceive it, then so be it. For most of the rest of us, these topics represent our contemporary understanding of what it means to follow Jesus in the 21st century. Thank you for writing.

cynthiaadmin (United Methodist Insight) more than 6 years ago

preach it, sister!

Would someone please pass on these wonderful comments, and those of Rachel Held Evans, to Bishop Schnase of Missouri who, ever since his elevation to the eipscopacy, has been obsessed with the age issue? It's not that it's not something to consider; it is. It will be a wonderful thing to have younger clergy. But youth alone means little, and there is so much more that ails the United Methodist Church. He is missing the point. I could go on, but I will not. Suffice to say, THREE CHEERS FOR RACHEL HELD EVANS AND CYNTHIA ASTLE!!

joanne davis more than 6 years ago

This is so true.

I, who am well past 35 (in fact nearly double) agree wholeheartedly with the author. I would add that Methodists - and other denominations and non-denominational churches - seem to focus on membership and attendance numbers like there is some sort of interdenominational contest. (And worse yet, sometimes within the denominations. 5th UMC should not act like it is in competition with 6th UMC.) I do not care which denomination or congregation is biggest. Getting a Baptist to attend a UM church, or an Episcopalian to move to a non-denominational church accomplishes nothing. If the total number of believers is in decline, the growth of an individual church or denomination is irrelevant. Getting non-believers and backsliders to come into any Christian fellowship should be the goal. I an convinced that this can only be accomplished by heeding the writer's advice about where our emphasis should be. Contrary to what some hardliners suggest, making the gospel relevant is not the equivalent to weakening the message, but quite the opposite.

Roger Brunell more than 6 years ago

spot on!

Here we are in the midst of the Second Reformation (or something akin to it). People are searching for meaning & purpose & community in an increasingly hostile world and sadly our leadership is busily re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic! Reality bites but it's the only reality we have.

Lisa Gray-Lion (ordained Deacon) more than 6 years ago

Not my pinnacle

I agree with much of what you wrote here except for one thing: being ordained an elder is a pinnacle. If the church really cared about the issues you listed we would be ordaining more Deacons. We deacons are not a lower level of clergy (even though we are often treated as such). If fact, we are the clergy who often are the ones out in the world living the gospel and fighting for the poor and disenfranchised. Maybe one answer to getting more young adults ordained is actually showing respect to the order that is focused beyond institutional preservation.

Julie more than 6 years ago

Well said! Lead boldly!

Thank you for your thoughts! I was at Annual Conference a couple of years ago and attended a breakout session featuring a panel of young adults, with the goal of helping our churches be more welcoming to young adults. I couldn't believe my eyes or ears as, one after another, the church representatives in the audience stood up to proclaim or lament their own initiatives or failures. "Last year, we tried this. . . ", "They don't even care for pot luck suppers!" The panelists sat silently, partly embarrassed, partly annoyed, and partly bored, as not a single audience member asked them any questions! It was typical of what I've seen and heard so many times. Thank you, again, for your honest and prophetic words.

Ed Priestaf more than 6 years ago

Membership Decline, young adults

I agree with many of Ms. Astle's comments, albeit nothing new is shared. She is absolutely correct, in my opinion, in repeating the oft-heard criticisms of an institutionally-myopic and self-preoccupied church. However, the question that arises for me is why are not all these outwardly-focused young people flocking to those religious communities that have for many years been bastions of support for immigration reform, whose pastors have spoken out for economic justice and full inclusion of LGBTQ persons within the life of the church, and who advocate and practice Jesus-inspired simplicity of life? If this critique is so widespread and deeply-felt, why is there not more support for and participation in those communities that already embody the life and message of Jesus Christ in the way for which they are crying out?

Craig Pesti-Strobel more than 6 years ago

practicing what is preached

In my 1st annual conference as a licensed pastor, post divinity school - the bishop said: "we must invite everyone into our church or some day people will walk by our buildings and say 'that used to be a Methodist Church.'" I took him seriously. In 1 year's time I had 120 new persons attending my church on a day and time when the church had formerly been sealed like a tomb (it also smelled like a tomb and was covered in mold inside). The problem was - those 120 people were not white. And that very bishop - the one who had made the memorable quote - agreed with the white congregation to change the locks on the church door. That church hasn't had a new member in 10 years and the average age is 80. Go figure. // Note - I am no longer a United Methodist. The final straw was a question posed to me by the board of ordination: "Why can't you teach 'those people' in a field? Why do they have to be inside a building?"

Rev. Margaret G. Crandall more than 6 years ago

A needed wake up call!

An excellent wake up call and a needed slap across the face!

It seems to me that part of what many disaffected people are looking for is more Christ-like theology and tangible manifestations of that theology that make a difference in their lives and in the world.

Something that more United Methodists would do well to become aware of is the rise of the phenomenon known as progressive Christianity. Here's a brief summary of it

Whether or not there is a literal heaven, we are Christians not for the sake of some future reward/glory, but rather for the sake of living faithfully to Jesus and his Way here and now -- for the sake of experiencing and partaking in salvation/wholeness and the Kingdom of God here and now. Faith isn't fire insurance to avoid going to "hell." Progressive Christianity seeks to affirm the religion *of* Jesus not the religion *about* him.

Progressive Christians believe that Jesus *is* "the way, the truth, and the life," and we believe that all who follow Jesus' teaching, Way, and example, by whatever name, and even if they've never even hard of Jesus, are fellow brothers and sisters in Christ and his Way.

That said, we're rather enamored by the uniqueness of the Jesus story and we invite others to join us in sharing that specific journey -- even if we feel no dire need to convert them. Peace.

It is this non-exclusive approach to our faith that many young adults find compelling. So we're evangelistic even as we're not. ; )

- Roger Wolsey, author, "Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don't like christianity"

for more about progressive Christianity, see:

Roger Wolsey more than 6 years ago


I like that you wrote it is about building community, something are youth are not taught. We spoil them and expect that they have morals, but we teach them little of the real life as a Christian. We forget about his love for us and our great commission to help the homeless, love the lonely and widows, to welcome strangers into our follow Christ with all our hearts. I am personally sick of big elaborate churches who make God their beautiful buildings and the big worship centers where music is everything, but where is Jesus being Taught...couldn't some of this money spent on concerts, buildings be spent on the community and the destitute, the battered, the unloved? Stand up Christains, where are you with the persecuted church...are you praying? Prayer is what we are not doing or teaching our young to to have a relationship with Jesus...we teach them to fill a pew, but not about how to seek after HIM.

Liz more than 6 years ago

don't forget "shallow"

While I absolutely agree, and commend Rachel's post to the bishops and everyone else, let's not forget one item on that list -- young people also see the church as shallow. And I'm betting that cuts across the line between anti-gay churches and those festooned with rainbow flags.

Paula more than 6 years ago


Thank you, Cynthia. Telling it like it is!

cathy knight more than 6 years ago



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