Dreaming For Better Days in the CotN: Why I Stay

I have to confess that I write this as a completely biased observer. I write
this as a 5th generation part of the Church of the Nazarene. I grew up in a
Nazarene church, attended a Nazarene University and graduate school and
even taught as an adjunct professor at that school. All of my ministry
experience (minus one summer in Tennessee at a Ranch for kids from troubled
homes) has been in Nazarene churches. At first glance it would seem that I
love the system as is and all that it represents, but that probably isn’t
true.

I have a strong belief in the Wesleyan tradition, a strong belief in
education, and a strong belief that God is redeeming the world and using the
local church as the instrument to do so. The Church of the Nazarene has a
theology that is rooted in the belief that God redeems us so fully that we
can be made holy. This is not something that the CotN has the market on, but
it is something that we believe impacts all of life and hopefully spills
over into the world around us. It is no secret that early Nazarene churches
began in inner cities, that we were agents for social change. The CotN was
the first church in America to offer a place for single moms. We began in a
grace-filled way that at times has been lost.

I stay in the CotN because of this message, because of our founding. I stay
in spite of some of the broken systems that I see. I stay in spite of the
fact that often we reward (using this term loosely) the “good ol’
boy network”(which most organizations of any kind do) and experience often trumps gifts and graces. I stay in spite of the confusion on some of our central
doctrines (namely the defining of entire sanctification). I stay in spite of
what I sometimes observe as a desire to go backward and not see what God
wants to do in the future (hint: it is not to go back to some type of “glory
days”).

When I was going through the ordination process there were several
things that stood out to me. The first year I experienced a group of people, from a place that is traditionally super-conservative in the CotN (that is saying
something), that listened to my story, asked thoughtful questions and
encouraged me. The second year, I was on a different district, serving as a
full-time youth pastor, and experienced a quick “Good to see you, see you
next year.” I walked into year three expecting to see the same thing…I
didn’t. My experience this year was not unlike some of what Ric shares
here (http://ricshewell.com/why-i-left-the-church-of-the-nazarene/). I
walked into a room that in many ways was fighting over what some in the room
perceived as a fight worth having over whether sanctification was a process
or instantaneous. In my naive 25-year-old mind I decided to take on one of
the antagonists in the room. Dumb move. Moments later the room was
unbelievably tense. What started as a desire to be on the same team turned
into a locker room fight. I tried to bring the moment back around with an
apology and to share my love for Christ and His Church, my love for the
tradition I came out of and my belief that God had called me to
ministry and that I believed it was within the crazy tribe of Nazarenes.

I thought that would have sufficed for an apology and recovery, but one
gentlemen in the room disagreed. He stated “This isn’t about whether or not
you love Jesus or the church, this is about our recognition of whether or
not you should be entrusted to be an ordained elder in the church.” Frankly,
I agree with him. However, what should have been said to me in that moment
was, “We have been trying to provoke you (that’s a longer story). We want to
see if you can have the head knowledge and at the same time be humble enough
to know that this whole process is about accountability. You see we don’t
want to ever be a part of taking your credentials. We want to cheer for you,
and watch God use you to further His Kingdom. We want to be a part of the
same team, not one that fights.” That wasn’t the case that day. In fact, a
former professor of mine went to bat for me when I left the room.

Two years later I was in my final ordination interview and I was nervous. I
am married to a beautiful woman who is artistic, and talented. She loves
Jesus, but isn’t so sure of all the polity, and “business” parts of the
church and this whole thing was a stretch for her. I was scared of how it
would go. Thankfully, all went well. I know it doesn’t always.

Fast forward a couple years and I found myself frustrated with various
things in the CotN. I started looking for open positions in
non-denominational churches, Wesleyan Churches, and anything else that came
from our theological tradition. I still loved the message, but did not love
some of the things I saw and did not see them as sustainable. I was at a
crossroads. Stay or go?

I made a decision over months in prayer and conversation to stay. I know
some will make the decision to go and I respect that. I decided the CotN
began in ways that were life-changing and I believe God wants to continue to
use this ragtag group of laity and clergy to impact the world.

I stay now not just because my livelihood comes from a Nazarene church, nor
because I probably have no other marketable skills and don’t know what I
would do, but because I do believe the best days are still to come. There
will need to be major structural changes, there will need to be major
financial changes, there will need to be more conversations about
graciousness in the way we train up leaders. I stay because I want be a part
of the solution, not the problem. I stay because I don’t want to keep
hearing the stories about those leaving because they were not encouraged or
equipped. I stay because I believe if all those who see a need for change
leave, then better days will not come. I stay because I don’t want Ric’s
story to be normative and I want to help mentor and encourage and invite
others to be a part of the team. I stay because I want see God use this
small denomination, which I love, be a part of bringing Heaven to earth.
Will you join me?

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