“I am not afraid, that the people called Methodists, should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid, lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case, unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out.”
Religion without power. What a prophetic word, so accurately penned by Methodism’s founder, John Wesley, nearly 236 years ago. Written in the twilight of ministry, it’s a passage from his Thoughts Upon Methodism — an essay on the stewardship of finances as an act of Christian discipleship.
Today, I consider this a fitting commentary on the general state of Christian discipleship among United Methodists. It pains me greatly to think how much the modern-day denomination has drifted from its historic mission to “spread scriptural holiness across the land,” as Wesley passionately described at the height of his Methodist renewal movement within the Church of England.
Fast-forward to today, and I am sad to say the United Methodist denomination I was ordained into has undergone extraordinary change to the point of being hardly recognizable.
Over the past 54 years, the UMC’s bureaucracy has significantly grown while its membership has been in steady decline — from approximately 11 million members at inception in 1968 to approximately 6 million members today. That’s a 45% decrease!
How did this happen?
The entire system has become top-heavy and out of sync with local churches. It has been my experience that for far too long, the local UMC church has existed to serve the national boards and agencies rather than assisting the local churches in their mission.
I find it strange to have a United Methodist Board of Global Ministries that at some point ceased to be effective in sharing the Good News of Jesus with those who have not yet heard it. This is why, today, we have TMS Global (formerly, The Mission Society) to share the love and message of Christ across world cultures.
As you may know, there have been longstanding differences among clergy and seminary scholars regarding the interpretation of Holy Scriptures — to the point where in 1978 my father, Edmund W. Robb II, along with Dr. Albert C. Outler, a prominent Wesleyan scholar at Southern Methodist University’s Perkins School of Theology, founded AFTE — A Foundation for Theological Education — for the purpose of raising up a new generation of professors who were and are committed to the historic Christian faith.
Today AFTE remains committed to supporting young women and men at our 13 United Methodist seminaries who are often belittled and ostracized for taking a traditional stance on Christian theology. This practice hits a little too close to home, as I can recall being the senior pastor of the second largest church in the denomination and yet systematically sidelined; passed over and left out of consideration for national leadership roles for not adopting the progressive “party line.” This didn’t happen just once or twice. It took place over decades. But what is especially disturbing to me, and what brings us to the present moment of crisis, is the blatant and widespread disobedience among our official boards and agencies, including the Council of Bishops — despite the General Conference repeatedly affirming the long-standing, traditional, United Methodist Discipline regarding human sexuality.
Please understand The Woodlands Methodist Church has ALWAYS complied with the United Methodist Book of Discipline. We have never wandered nor waivered from it. And yet, herein lies the grand irony: Those who have violated the Discipline are the very ones who are now taking firm control of the continuing United Methodist Church.
For all these reasons, it is time to acknowledge what we’ve known and worked to avoid for a very long time. We’ve come to a point that unity is no longer possible. Pretending we are all one family is no longer sustainable.
The traditionalists are not leaving The United Methodist Church. Actually, The United Methodist Church has indeed left us.
This is why, I believe, disaffiliation is our only choice. We must hold fast to the doctrine, spirit, and discipline as Wesley described.
My dear friends, I share this reflection now, not in a spirit of bitterness — no. I offer this insight for those who may be unfamiliar with our journey and who seek to understand. I truly hope this perspective will compel you to join us in moving to a new expression of Methodism, whatever that may be, outside the continuing UMC.
I share with a profound sense of joy and gratitude in my heart, for the blessing and provision God provided us all through each stage of my ministry as your founding pastor, and for the ministry to come under the immensely capable and inspired leadership of Mark Sorensen.
As of this month, our ministry together includes 14,034 members across four worship communities on two campuses. Our church is home to the thriving K-8 Woodlands Methodist School and a unique Special Needs ministry to children and adults. With your generous donations of time, effort and financial donations, our church supports Christian missions outreach throughout the greater Houston region and in 62 countries around the world.
What a truly remarkable church we have created together. I say “we,” as in, all of us. No one person can take credit for its success; neither I, nor Mark can take any pride of ownership. Instead, I simply point to the Cornerstone — Jesus Christ — as the firm foundation upon whom our church is built.
Never could I have imagined Bev and I would share in such a strong, Christ-centered community when we first arrived to plant The Woodlands Methodist Church in 1978. As a young seminary graduate, I lacked practical experience of pastoring a local church, so I repeated daily one of the only things I was sure of: leaning on the Lord to guide and to provide.
It’s the ageless rhythm of God’s people, from the Old Testament to today: Move forward in faith, even when the future seems unclear. It is in our precise moment of yielding, at the time of obedient action, when He leads us to something even greater than we could ever ask or imagine.
This is our time. Our moment is here — to reaffirm who we’ve always been as a church. Personally, I hope and pray that you and the other members of TWMC will faithfully continue to Win People to Jesus Christ, Disciple Them in Faith, and Help Those in Need.
With your help, I firmly believe the next four decades of ministry at The Woodlands Methodist Church will be as rich and fruitful as the last four decades. Who among us, or among our children and grandchildren, will be the standard-bearers and the leaders to “spread scriptural holiness across the land”?