We all know life often throws us curve balls we weren’t expecting, but sometimes those curve balls lead us to make choices that result in us surprising ourselves.
I’ve wrestled with a call to be a pastor for several years now, but I really didn’t think that would wind up with me planting a church in my hometown. But, here we are.
Redeemer Free Methodist Church will be launching in the community of High Springs, Florida with a Thursday evening weekly worship service at some point within, God-willing, the next 2 – 4 months.
There are a lot of reasons why I feel like God has compelled me to start this church. By far the biggest reason is that I’ve felt disillusioned and dissatisfied for a couple decades now with how most Christian churches in America identify themselves and function.
Frankly, we’ve lost touch with most people. We’re often the most politically partisan places you can find, and we often only love and welcome particular kinds of people. Our worship has become about musical spectacle and motivational speaking or like meetings of a local Rotary Club instead of seeking real, tangible spiritual connection with God.
I want to help offer a worship space that reverses those things and works to meet people where they are instead of lamenting the fact that the world has changed. My theology is mostly classically Christian orthodox, but as we see in the person of Jesus within the Gospels, there is room for love and acceptance of every single person without condemning, alienating, or lecturing and belittling within that paradigm.
The elephant in the room for anyone who knows me well is my connection with the United Methodist Church and the ugly schism that is happening within it. I come from a long line of Methodists through my mom’s family, and I’ve spent the vast majority of my life within the UMC.
I absolutely love the denomination, and the wonderful people at my home church of First UMC High Springs have been nothing but patient, forgiving, and loving with me throughout my life – the last thing I want to do is hurt them, cause dissension, or be perceived as trying to weaken that church.
It pains me to step away from the congregation and the denomination, but some personal and private situations I will keep to myself happened with my family that vastly complicate matters. At the end of the day, my breaking point with the denomination comes less from theological differences and more from the fact that its leadership has failed to lead and its governing structure is essentially broken.
All of that is ultimately driven by a denomination consumed by internal politics, something that dates back – at least – to the mid-1800s and has only deteriorated over time: we all wrestle from time to time deciding what we think God’s will is in a given situation, and we often reach different conclusions, but we should never be politically manipulated to feel guilt, belittled, or unloving when we disagree with the position of a denomination.
We should also never be made to think pragmatically about the cost of following what we believe is God’s will: if it’s what God wants, it doesn’t matter what the price to pay is.
The Free Methodist Church was born out of an eerily similar political situation in 1860: the mainline Methodist church at the time had a large internal faction that compromised on tolerating slavery and several other issues in order to maintain financial vitality and social influence. The denomination excommunicated a group of pastors that called for reform and recommitting to the Wesleyan emphases on holy living and social justice. Out of necessity, the exiled pastors would form the Free Methodist Church.
I feel like a majority of American Christianity is in some ways at a similar crossroads today: we’ve lost our way and are often more concerned with our internal politics, business, and perception than we are at doing our best to be faithful to God’s will and be gracious and loving to each other when we disagree.
We need to recommit to seeking connection with God in our worship and in our lives. We need renewed spiritual vitality that radically trusts God over and above pragmatism. And we need to truly and deeply love and welcome every single person into our doors regardless of beliefs, race, identity, sexuality, politics, economic status, social class, or any other identifier we can come up with.
If that’s a vision of Christianity that appeals to you, I hope you’ll consider checking us out at Redeemer in the near future.