Many pastors who are considering leaving the United Methodist Church think the trust clause is a set-in-stone rule that can’t be beat – and that’s simply not true! I hope this blog helps provide a bit more understanding about how the law around it works – and how it might work in your favor. There is a lot of misinformation out there, and the trust clause has survived on confidentiality agreements, secrets and fear. I want to break down 5 myths you might have heard about the UMC trust clause – and why it might not be as scary as you think.
Myth #1: The UMC always wins.
If you search for stories of other churches who have successfully left the UMC, you might be hard pressed to find them. The UMC would like you to believe that it’s because the trust clause can’t be beat – but this is simply not true.
The reason you don’t hear more success stories from churches is because we’ve never had a case go to litigation, so we don’t have legal precedent. Most of these cases are settled outside of court, and they almost always come with a confidentiality agreement, meaning a church can’t share if things go in their favor. Without a case on public record and without freedom to talk, it’s no wonder all you hear are horror stories.
The truth is that churches ARE settling and winning – the UMC just doesn’t want you know about it.
Myth #2: This isn’t a local church issue.
We get it – you signed up to share God’s love and minister to people in your community, not to fight legal battles with the Church. Many pastors feel the best approach is to pour their energy into shepherding their local congregation and not worry about global issues.
But whether you like it or not, this IS a local church issue. As a member of the UMC, your bishop has complete control over whether you continue to pastor your church or whether your church even continues to operate. We’ve seen shocking instances where a church’s doors were shut overnight – because they challenged the bishop or just because the Conference needed money.
So, whether or not you choose to leave now, there is wisdom in knowing what your options are if your church is threatened. In fact, it might be the best way to protect your people.
Myth #3: It’s better to wait and see what happens than create division.
Things are uncertain in the United Methodist Church right now. With each General Conference, there is the hope that things will change and that a plan will be put in place to allow churches to keep their properties – and then that hope is dashed as things continue to stay the same or the proposals on the table don’t provide a clean path toward independence. With so much up in the air, many churches choose to wait and see what happens at the next General Conference (and the next…and the next…), hoping things will resolve themselves. And we get why – everyone would rather have a peaceful resolution than a legal challenge.
But, if there’s one thing that we’ve seen over and over, it’s that the sooner churches leave, the better things turn out for them. Like we mentioned, every case is different and there are no guarantees – but what we do know is that as more churches leave and the UMC gets more pressed financially, bishops are clinging tighter to the churches they have. The sooner a church leaves, the more willing the UMC has been to work with them – meaning it’s cheaper, easier and more likely it is that the case will rule in the church’s favor.
Myth #4: If I lose my building, it’s the end of my church.
While our goal is always to help you keep your church, it’s not a death sentence if the case doesn’t go your way. Your church building carries memories, meaning and a sense of home for your people – but it’s just a building. The heart of your church is you, your congregation and the Spirit of God in your community.
In fact, we’ve seen churches who have lost their buildings grow and thrive after leaving the denomination. They are able to find more affordable properties. They can move to areas of the community that are growing and full of life. They get a breath of fresh energy that comes with a new name and a new space. In fact, it’s occasionally in the church’s best interest to move.
If the only reason you’re not leaving is the risk of losing your building, it might not be as much of a risk as you think. What matters more: the four walls you worship in or the freedom to worship how you want? Preserving a building or preserving the truth of God’s Word? The love of your property or the love of people?
Myth #5: I have to go at it alone.
While this journey can feel very lonely, we are with you each step of the way. We go beyond providing just legal services and help you with how to structure your church during the lawsuit, how to message the change to your congregation and how to work with large donors during the transition. We can even refer you to friends of ours who can help with other aspects of a church transition, such as hiring, branding and more.
There are many, many other pastors who have gone through this same process – and come out better on the other side. Their voices might be quiet because of confidentiality agreements, but they are out there – and you’ll be surprised by the community that’s will be there for you when you need it.
I hope this helps shed some light on the trust clause – what it is and more importantly what it’s not. Now that you know that the trust clause isn’t impossible to overcome, you might be wondering what it actually looks like to leave the United Methodist Church.
I understand that the thought of litigation and forming a new church can be daunting, so tomorrow, I’ll be sharing more about what you can expect each step of the way. I want to help you understand exactly what the process is, so you can decide if it’s something your church is ready for. Please contact Dan Dalton to help guide you through the disaffiliation process.