Subject Area

Theology/Religious Education


Statement of the Question/Problem

The United Methodist Church is facing a season of incredible struggle. The modern American United Methodist Church is facing a crisis of Division during this season of disaffiliation and restructuring. Division within church is not a new phenomenon. In fact, it is not new in the Methodist tradition. This repeating cycle of denominational fracture begs the question, “why does division in the church happen, and how can we avoid it in the future?” Currently the United Methodist Church is dividing supposedly over the issue of human sexuality. I would argue these divisions do not solely rely on this issue, but instead lie within many cultural diversities which are at odds within the church as they compete for power and control. Unless we are willing to unpack the issues created by the desire for cultural uniformity within our modern society and deal with the evangelical Gnosticism which has seemingly taken over much of the church we will likely continue to fracture as time goes on.

Thus, to face these divisions, this paper will work to provide a practical framework to build unity rather than uniformity within the local church. Our churches are experiencing division around the issue of the loss of uniform beliefs. There is so much fear, anger, anxiety, and hatred being promulgated by ideologues and demagogues who reside at the far extremes of our cultural diaspora particularly in areas of social and political cultural shifts. There are some who are so radically progressive they would like to destroy the very institutions which have created the possibility of free society. There are others who are so radically fundamental in their thinking they would strip freedoms from people under the banner of preservation. This tension is not only being felt in the political spheres of government but has matriculated into the culture of our churches. One of the symptoms of this sickness of division our modern culture is experiencing is the desire to make everything uniform rather than united. It is my assertion this lack of intentional acceptance of others and desire to create unified community hurts the heart of God and has caused deep conflict within the United Methodist Church.

Uniformity has never been the plan of God. In fact, Christianity has never been a uniform movement. Early Christians were a collection of diverse peoples with a wide variety of opinions and values brought together by the communal gift of being called saved by the grace of Jesus. Jesus, in the gospel of John 17: 20-23 when praying for those who have been following him faithful says this,

“I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me” (John 17:20-23, emphasis added).

Notice here that Jesus doesn’t seek uniformity where all people would have the same exact experience or values in life. Just that people would be unified in the glory of God, and that this unifying gift from God (grace) would be the key ethic on which their lives were build. Jesus’ desire for his disciples is unity rather than division.

The apostle Paul further explains this unified community of the faithful when he states,

“For he [Jesus] himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by oneSpirit (Ephesians 2: 14-18, emphasis added).

So, what is required of the church by this scripture? I assert the church is called through this admonishment of Paul to be willing to set aside the worldly barriers we build up between ourselves and other disciples who are on their path to righteousness. We are called to seek Unity with God and with one another. We are to Love the Lord our God with all our hearts and with all our souls and with all our minds, and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves (Matthew 22:37-39). If we are not rooting our faith in the love of God and each other, and instead are building up dividing walls we are allowing nothing short of victory to the evils of the world. Our divisions are the delight of evil in this world as the body of Christ is fractured and made weaker. Instead of seeking Uniformity, the church should seek the unity found within healthy diversity.

Diversity within the church should not be feared. Instead, it should be celebrated as this diversity is what makes it possible for the church to live out the great commission to go and make disciples of all people. One of the most important aspects of the early church was their willingness to reach and accept people who were outside of their social and cultural norms of the church. If the United Methodist Church is going to have a vibrant future, it must reclaim this DNA and be about business of reaching those who are outside the faith.

This goal of creating a vibrant future for the United Methodist Church will not be accomplished by pouring vitriol and hatred on people. Instead, it must be done by intentionally reaching out to the world and inviting those who are on the outside of faith into an accepting and loving community of believers who are all working out their salvation with fear and trembling together.


To approach the issue of division within the church I am going to utilize theological, doctrinal, societal, and historical sources to explore the root causes of division within the United Methodist Church and offer insights into how we might confront the issues surrounding the divisions being lived out in the denomination. These methodologies will help to lay out a timeline of where the church has been and help us to see where the church is going. While the future is not something we can predict, I believe it is completely possible to make some educated prognostications about where the United Methodist Church is likely to be in the next decade. I would argue that, while troubling in the moment, the future for the United Methodist Church in America is very bright.

As our societal culture continues to shift towards a more accepting and affirming place for all people, I do believe we will begin to see the church finally take steps to be a place of reconciliation and hope for people who have been left on the margins of the church and society. To achieve this future, churches will need to adopt a strategy to lead them into building intentional leadership and community which will be capable of navigating the challenges of diverse community building with grace, hope, and love.

I will use the community building strategies and leadership development tools offered by several practical theologians to offer insights into how the United Methodist Church can begin the process of developing communities of faith which seek to be unified in Christ rather than uniform in their cultural comfort zones. In this section I will be using the work of thinkers and pastors such as Dr. Jimmy Dorrell to describe modern approaches to building communities through relationship building models to find the communities on love and respect. Dr. Dorrell’s work addresses, at least in part, the issue of community building within our local churches. Much of what is experienced within the modern church revolves around consumeristic expectations rather than communal life. Putting community and relationships considering the example of Christ helps reframe the doctrinal and social conflict in the church from deep divisions into reasonable disagreements. These disagreements can then be more fruitfully navigated through the lens of community rather than the consumeristic or political lenses which are being employed more frequently by local congregations.

Matthew 22: 36-40 has a disciple come to Jesus and ask a question which leads to the type of community building I am describing. Matthew states, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” This passage of scripture describes the basic normative position Christian society should be in. Division has no place within a community built on love of God and love of each other.

As a United Methodist pastor, I also have personal experience in a church which has become incredibly divided amid disaffiliation discussions. Throughout the chapters I will use different aspects of how the disaffiliation process amongst different church members has caused division and pain within our local congregation. This process will be the backdrop in which this work is created.

Contribution to the Scholarly Field

In the coming years the issue of disaffiliation and the aftermath of church’s decisions will color the future of the UMC. The aim of this work is to offer practical insights and applications for pastors to use in the local church to affect positive change towards unifying congregations and communities.

Degree Date

Spring 5-11-2024

Document Type


Degree Name





Dr. Ted Campbell

Second Advisor

Dr. Hugo Magallanes

Third Advisor

Dr. Elias Lopez

Number of Pages




Creative Commons License

Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 4.0 License