Why I Left the Church of the Nazarene

          Thank you everyone for reading and sharing my story. The reach and response have been absolutely overwhelming! Thank you for all your comments on this page, on Facebook, and through private messages. I read all of them, though I may not be able to respond to all of them. Thank you again. I have also made one correction below: the church that I served and worshipped at while I was in college was an Evangelical Methodist Church, not a Free Methodist Church as I had thought. 
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          About 5 years ago, I left the denomination that introduced me to Jesus. I didn’t walk out of the Church of the Nazarene with fanfare, fireworks or middle fingers. My relationship with the CotN had more of a soft closing. But I did leave. I let my credentials lapse.  I’m currently serving, preaching, and pursuing ordination in the United Methodist Church. When I first left the CotN, I got emails left and right from different pastors and friends wanting to know if it was true that I left, why I left, and if I’ll consider staying. Eventually, those kind of emails stopped. Now, I get emails from young Nazarene ministers asking me why I left, if they should leave, where they could go, and how to leave gracefully. I haven’t been shy about this conversation in person, but I haven’t Facebooked or said anything publicly about leaving the CotN, mostly because I love the CotN and I don’t want to hurt my friends there or somehow appear bitter. But I think it’s time I shared my story because I am entirely uncomfortable caring for so many ministry hopefuls who feel like they can’t serve in a church they love.

         Before I get into my story, let me say a few things. First, I do not think my experience is in anyway normative for young Nazarene ministers. I know plenty of friends who love and effectively serve in the CotN with support, fulfillment, and joy. Secondly, I do not think that my conversations about young ministers leaving are in any way shocking or revelatory. I’m not an alarmist, and this is not ground-breaking news. This is simply my story. I hope it helps. Fair warning: there’s gonna be a lot of Nazarene lingo non-Nancy-Nazzes might not get. Here we go.

Shallow Roots

         My family isn’t Nazarene. My parents experienced Christ and conversion just before and just after I was born. We went to the Church of the Nazarene because it was the closest to our house when I was baby. When our neighborhood church was suffering, we moved to a larger CotN church in town.

         I felt a call to ministry at about the age of 14. A couple years later, I was given a local license by my pastor and church. My pastor instructed me to study Religious Studies at his alma mater, Southern Nazarene University. Because of a regional scholarship, my family and I decided on Northwest Nazarene University. The scholarship worked like this: the local church would scholarship me, and the region would match it 7 times over. My pastor would not scholarship me. However, he allowed my parents to give to the church the amount of the scholarship, and the church would then forward that money onward so that we could receive the regional scholarship.

         After two years at NNU, my home church felt like I should be licensed at the church that I was currently serving and worshiping at. I did not disagree with them, but I was worshiping and serving at an Evangelical Methodist Church at the time. My local license lapsed, which was not a big deal to me. I knew that it would only set me back one year when I entered the process again, which I did in my senior year of college. My parents started worshiping at another church, and by the time I left NNU, I had little to no connection to the CotN church that raised me in my teenage years.

Storming the Ivory Towers

         Something was happening in the church that I was not aware of. I was naive in thinking that the pursuit of more education (especially within the denomination’s own institutions) would always be encouraged and esteemed among church leaders and DS’s. While I was at NNU, I slowly became aware of grumblings about how “liberal” the religious faculty was. People started attacking my Old Testament professor. This professor taught me Hebrew and how to use the Psalms as a pastor. Among the students, he had a reputation for being dry. But I will never forget the day in class when he told us to learn the Psalms because one day, someone will ask us a question that we cannot answer, and all we will be able to say is “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” At that moment, he became too emotional to continue the class and dismissed us. I knew then, that he loved God, loved people, and I wanted to be a pastor like him.

         When I went through a big breakup in college, it was one of my religion professors that cared for me. She welcomed me into a small group that met in her home. She welcomed me into her church family, where I began vocational ministry. She obviously challenged me in the classroom but also walked with me in my faith over the years. She offered premarital counseling for Joanna and me, and she still checks up on our marriage from time to time. My point here is that my religion professors modeled pastoral ministry for me and shaped me as a pastor more so than anyone else. Still, they were constantly under fire from other leaders in their denomination.

         I chose to go to seminary so that I could be a better minister for future congregations. NTS did that for me. Just over 20% of Nazarene pastors attended seminary or have Mdivs. Of course, this does not mean they are ineffective pastors, but I’m sure it plays into the tense relationships between local church governance and the educational institutions. The Concerned Nazarene movement began while I was in seminary. All the institutions (it seemed) were being attacked by the parishioners they committed to serve. Graduates from these institutions, especially the “liberal” institutions (which, of course, weren’t liberal), were often met with skepticism. This was experienced implicitly in local church ministry and expressed explicitly in my interviews for ordination, which I’ll get to.

         While I was in seminary, I served at two different CotN churches, moved my membership with them, and kept my district license in Kansas City. My membership never had a strong “home base.” This is as much my fault as anyone else’s.

My Last Interview

         I think it was my 4th district interview. I had enough work experience to seek ordination that year, but I was in no hurry. The board that interviewed me was comprised of pastors in the area. I didn’t know any of them personally, and I don’t remember any of them now. They described the interview as a test of biblical theology, which is certainly was not. 

         I was excited about biblical theology. I minored in biblical languages in college,  I had scored pretty high on the biblical entrance exam for seminary, and I focused on New Testament interpretation and Greek in seminary. I always felt a strong call to preach and challenged myself to know the Bible well. I was excited to be tested on biblical theology.

         The interview began. The lead pastor on the board said these exact words to start the interview: “Healing. Go.”

         I was confused. I asked, “Healing?”

         “Yes, healing.”

         I asked for clarification. He explained to me a scenario in which a little old lady comes up to me after the service and asks, “Pastor, where in the Bible does it say we should pray for healing?”

         Well no problem, I responded with James chapter 5 and explained the content of that chapter and connected it to the question “why should we pray for healing?” I was pretty sure I nailed it. They were not satisfied.

         “Okay, but not James 5.”

         So I offered John 5, and described how Jesus offers healing to a paralytic man by asking him, “Do you want to get well?” Once again, not good enough.

         “Okay, but not James 5 or any of Jesus’ miracles.”

         To test my biblical theology, I was to answer where in the Bible it says we should pray for healing, but I’m not allowed to use James 5 or any of Jesus’ healings. I did not know what they wanted. So I confessed my ignorance, and without Jesus and James I probably wouldn’t be able to answer the question.

         The board of interviewers gave each other disapproving looks. Then, one spoke up, “Isaiah 53:5, by his stripes we are healed.” This is what they were after: They would throw a word at me, and I was to recite a verse with reference.

         I hope I don’t need to explain why “by his stripes we are healed” is an inappropriate answer to a church member’s questions about praying for healing. This line of questioning was not about biblical theology or pastoral ministry.

         This interview was about shaming a kid who was the product of Nazarene educational institutions.

         They asked me the same with the word “glory” and another word I can’t remember now. I did my best. I quoted verses, albeit the wrong ones for them. My blood boiled, but I wanted to respect my interviewers. I did not challenge their questions.

         At the end of the interview, I received a lecture about how my education has not prepared me for ministry. This lecture is the reason I believe that the purpose of the interview was to shame me and/or attack Nazarene Theological Seminary and/or Northwest Nazarene University. They told me that for all my studying, I had not moved closer to being ordained. They told me that ministry was about more than book-smarts. One minister on the board led the tirade against my education. Other ministers were visibly uncomfortable with what was being said, but they didn’t speak up.

The Soft Closing

         I think I knew that I was leaving the CotN after that interview. I kept my district license for another year.  The next year, I received a call from Boise First United Methodist Church about interviewing for a youth ministry position. Before I applied for the job, I called the assistant DS of the Intermountain District to ask about special assignment and transferring my membership to a church in that district near NNU. The church that held my membership in KC was a new start, with an extremely small attendance, less than 10, and I didn’t think it could hold my membership much longer. I did not hear back from the Assistant DS. I interviewed at Boise First UMC. They offered me the position. We accepted and moved. 6 months after accepting the position at Boise First UMC, the Assistant DS called me back and told me there was no possibility of transferring my membership and serving on a special assignment. So, my credentials lapsed. The church that held my membership disbanded. I left the Church of the Nazarene.

         I assume people think I left over denominational stances on alcohol or LGBTQ inclusion or other theological reasons. Those almost feel like nobler reasons. I left because I had shallow roots. I left because the people who taught me to be a pastor, who were the greatest examples of pastors in my life, seemed to be constantly under fire by the church they were serving. I left because I felt unwanted precisely because I was a product of those educational institutions.

         Finally, I want to stress my feelings. My feelings were hurt. I felt unloved and unwanted. I felt like the family that raised me was now too suspicious of my years in their educational institutions to allow me to serve them. Perhaps if I had deeper roots, I would have endured some of these feelings. As I said above, I don’t think my experiences are normative. I love the CotN. In many ways, they are my first family. I have many friends in the CotN, and I pray for them and the denomination.

         I offer my story in the hopes that it does no harm, that it does some good, and that it moves us all to fall more in love with God and connect people to God.

         Even though this is a ridiculously long post (thanks for reading), this doesn’t cover all the experiences of the years I spent growing and serving in the CotN. I’m more than happy to answer any questions. Blessings.

Peace to your souls †

Ric Shewell

  • Greg Crofford

    Thank you, Ric, for this heartfelt post, and may the Lord richly bless your ministry in the UMC. I will link your post over to NazNet, because I think these kinds of “exit interviews” are important. Should God lead you one day back to the CotN, there are broad-minded places of service on many districts, despite the narrow attitude you encountered. Incidentally, I think you were in my “Intro to Christian Theology” class in the Spring of 2004 at NNU. No doubt we have both grown theologically and in many ways since that time. Congrats to you and your wife on a beautiful daughter! May the Peace of Christ be yours. – Dr Crofford

    • Ric Shewell

      Yes, Dr. Crofford, I was in your Intro to Christian Theology class! As I recall, you were just coming back from the mission field? Thanks for your words. Blessings on your work and ministry!

  • Melissa Tustin

    Thank you for sharing your story. Ironically, it encourages me to write about my own struggles in the UMC. Like you, I have experienced a lack of support and a few vicious attacks at the hands of people within my chosen denomination. I actually found the UMC at the beginning of seminary when I fell in love with its articulation of grace as well as its storied history, both of which I saw lived out in the congregation where I served as intern for three years. Of course, no church is ever like the first one. But I have found over and over again in a variety of places that the battle for institutional survival has taken precedence over God’s call to serve the world. I have watched the most talented and passionate among my colleagues burn out and have to step away from full-time ministry as I did.

    I currently serve as a part-time staff member in a UCC congregation despite being an ordained elder in the UMC. I love, love, love the work I am doing and cannot imagine going back into traditional UM ministry. Every now and then I can feel the tug of my UM roots when talking theology or ecclesiology with UCC folks. I guess I feel like I need to make a clear decision, as though the increasingly shallow connection I have with the UMC cheapens both of the denominations I have called home during my journey. Anyway, that’s what your post sparked for me. I hope you find a place to serve that blesses you and allows you to be a blessing. All it takes is one, right?! And I just cannot believe God gives a #@$* about what denomination is on the sign. Thanks for letting me vent. Peace be with you.

    • Ric Shewell

      Thanks for sharing Melissa. I have another friend that I’m trying to woo into the UMC from the UCC! haha, I have love for both traditions that have and are forming me. Sounds like we have similar stories. Blessings on your ministry!

    • Heather River

      Melissa–I’m quoting your words–” I have found over and over again in a variety of places that the battle for institutional survival has taken precedence over God’s call to serve the world”–because you nailed the problem that EVERY Christian denomination is experiencing right now. Your words sent a chill up my spine. Fill in the denominational blank with what name you will, but I think you’ve just diagnosed North American Christianity’s malaise. We humans seem to do only two things when we are not in the Lord–pander and water down our commitment, or else circle the wagons to the detriment of our Great Commission! You’ve given me much to think about. This ex-Anglican Church of Christ gal appreciates your synopsis!

  • Mark Maddix

    Ric, I appreciate you sharing your story with us. I am sorry that the CoTN wasn’t more supportive and caring of you as you prepared for ministry. I am glad you have found a home in the UMC. In the end what really matters is that we are engaged in God’s redemptive work in the world, and that with what tribe we do that, while important, isn’t the most important. However, we miss not having you in our tribe and wish (selfishly) we could find a way to enfold you back in our tribe. Blessings on you and your ministry. I want you to know that you are valued and respected as a colleague in ministry.

    • Ric Shewell

      Mark, I love you and am so thankful for your ministry and time we spent together, especially in New York. We may not be in the same tribe anymore, but we’re not too far from each other. Thank you for your words here, they mean a lot.

  • Wendy Lewis

    A friend on FB liked this post, and that was how I stumbled upon it. I think I remember your name from my time at NNU. Did you also graduate in 2006?

    I found this very enlightening, and it has now put in check some views of my own. I had a rough time spiritually at NNU, and have taken some bitterness out on the denomination as a whole. I was a lifelong member until last year, but that change was for many other unrelated reasons.

    Thank you for the reminder to not judge the hearts and readiness of ministers in the Nazarene church simply because of others’ views about how liberal it is. I did have a couple amazing professors myself.

    • Ric Shewell

      I did graduate in 2006! I had a good experience at NNU. I also know many fantastic pastors in the CotN who work closely with educational institutions. 2000 words is not enough to capture the scope of this struggle! I hope that you have found a community where you are cared for and can thrive!

  • Tim Swanson

    Ric, thank you for sharing and hopefully challenging other pastors like me to not discourage others who are answering God’s call.

    I am a second career pastor who came into ministry 12 years ago and I serve in the COTN. Thankfully, my experience in my district interviews was quite the opposite of yours. My training and classes were at MVNU and NBC, some of which were online and some on-campus. The district committee affirmed my training, and more importantly affirmed me. I never felt intimidated or put on the spot. I am so sorry your experience was different. Your committee was not helping to build the Kingdom, but instead do just the opposite.

    In February I will serve on the Ministerial Studies board for the first time and will be on the committee interviewing people with their district license. Your post has reaffirmed to me what my role will be on this committee; to be affirming, offering grace, challenging them to embrace their call, and most importantly to let them know that we love them and want them to succeed.

    May the Lord bless you and your ministry wherever you serve.

    • Ric Shewell

      Thank you Tim! I hope my story blesses and not curses. Thank you for your commitment to the CotN and future ministers!

  • thomas jay Oord

    Your letter breaks my heart, Ric! I have this knot in my stomach after having read it. I am SO sorry for the way you were treated. If I in any way contributed to the treatment you were given, I apologize deeply. Although I think God’s kingdom extends far beyond the Church of the Nazarene and I think highly of the UMC, I feel a great loss in your leaving. Please consider yourself welcome to return, should you feel inclined to do so. Know that I and many others love you and wish the very best for you!

    • Ric Shewell

      I hope you do not feel responsible, Tom! Especially, since I worked so hard in undergrad and afterward to argue against you! haha. You know, there might be individuals that we can point to here or there that have been particularly unaware of the pain they cause, but I hope to point to a bigger issue. Maybe “principality” would be an okay word here? There is an unease or distrust that sometimes turns extremely ugly. I pray for reconciliation, for faith, courage, and love to overcome suspicion and bitterness. Thanks for what you do, I disagree with you on some points, of course, but thank you for teaching me how to think theologically so as to disagree! Thanks for always striving to exemplify love.

  • Brad Kochis

    Thanks for taking time to share your experience and doing so without “blatantly bashing” people in the process. I wish your experience would have been different & I’m hopeful this post will resonate for correction where necessary within the “process.”

    I didn’t grow up in a Christian home and was introduced to the CotN at MVNU. My experience wasn’t without frustrations but it also wasn’t like yours. I’m extremely grateful for the CotN. However, I realize that refinement & Kingdom-wise evaluation is necessary for the denomination (the CotN & all denominations for that matter) to move forward faster, for the things that matter most…

    Thanks again for the posture of this post, may God be near to you and your family as you continue in your calling.

    Brad Kochis

  • I ring true to this experience. My call came under the ministry of the CotN. So I was called, educated and processed through ordination, but… serving there was another thing. (Being female was not helpful but that is another story…) I am second-career to ministry (a former business owner) and thus my undergraduate secular/business degree urged me toward NTS. (I took a couple of COS classes and was encouraged to go to seminary by a seminary grad COS teacher.) I did end up teaching a couple of classes on the COS and even taught online for NBC… but one other thing I lacked: long-term Nazarene heritage. Since I was newer to their ranks, I felt as if I was a tad suspect at times. I never served as a lead pastor with CotN… in fact, I never interviewed for that type of role.

    I currently serve as a church planter in the United Methodist Church (and my church planter assessment from the CotN was useful with that). I am grateful for the education I received at NTS, a wonderful foundation. However, my experience with the CotN and the “thanks, but no thanks” took me on a long, painful, and emotional journey. It was a very prayerful and forgiving journey. In the end, God was faithful to honor my call — because what we are talking about here is honoring God’s call in the lives of others regardless of (educational) path. At one point, I did a graveside service for “my call” to ministry, feeling that was the healthy thing to do. God saw fit to resurrect my call and set my feet in a new direction.

    Today I serve in a capacity that probably would not have been open to me (as a female) in the CotN. I might not have gone on to further my education beyond NTS… which enabled me to teach revitalization to area churches through my Conference in addition to serving in the Vital Merger/church plant. In the end, I am most grateful for God’s faithfulness in new ways that help me live out my call in daring ways. The CotN will always hold a special place in my heart… those parts of it that encouraged me along the pathway.

  • J. Thomas Johnson

    This took so much courage to write, Ric (at least, it would have for me). I am, of course, one who believes strongly in arguing for certain foundational doctrinal understandings. But, I am also one who thinks that the majors are few in number (Jesus and Scripture seem the two non-negotiables for me). So, I empathize with the fear that some Nazarenes act out of…fear that we are, in fact, becoming a denomination that doctrinally stands for nothing. You seem to have faced the brunt of that fear head-on. But, I also believe in the freedom to disagree as we wrestle to follow this God Who, when all is said and done, will prove to exist outside of any box which we build to contain Him. What’s the balance? In my experience, you’ll find this same subject raging in the UMC, as well (I did during my years of pastoring in that tradition). What breaks my heart most is that you were attacked in a context in which your gifts of thought, debate, and critical thinking should have been allowed to shine. Fear does that, I suppose…in all of us. In all of our debates, and some of them have been quite heated over the years, I have never questioned your integrity…In fact, our debates have demonstrated your willingness to admit what other try to avoid, to tackle what others try to circumvent, and to give word to what others often pretend does not matter. We are impoverished as a community for your exodus. It seems our desire to be a ‘big tent’ may, in the end, result in so much in-fighting that the most devoted to Jesus may migrate to other pastures. Love you, brother!

    • Ric Shewell

      Thanks for your words, Josh. Yes, I enjoy a healthy debate! Of course, there are times and spaces made for debate and sharpening our theological tools, and you and I mostly crossed paths in those spaces. Thanks for that, and I don’t plan on stopping! Yeah, I am really happy in the UMC, but good friends like you and Tim, and many many UMC colleagues know that we have our own struggles. I don’t mind challenges or accountability in church polity, I just felt a little too hurt in the CotN. Thanks for everything, especially for encouraging me to post this. Everyone, Josh did this! haha. Love you, brother!

  • Steve Malcolm

    Ric, I’m really sorry to hear that this is how and why you left. Of all the people I encountered at seminary, you are one of the first I would want to pastor churches of people I know. This should be a wake up call for district leadership throughout the whole denomination.

  • Pablo Vargas

    Ric , thanks for sharing your story. Like you, I don’t have deep roots in the CotN. I can totally relate, but take your experience and multiply that by 100 because that is the experience of a young educated CotN minister in the only Spanish speaking district in the U. S. At least when you left you received phone calls. When my wife and I left our district that we met in, married in, and were members of for over 20 years, we didn’t receive a single call. Now we find ourselves in the “Bible Belt” of California and a pretty “white” district. But our church is the one everyone feels fond of, but not in any tangible or helpful way. I’m disappointed in the lack of diversity in the COTN, in this part of the country. I’m thankful for the broad perspective I was given by my Point Loma professors followed by my Fuller Seminary professors. I may not get the support from the district or the CotN that I crave, but I have found deeper connections through my local Pastor friends and colleagues. Please keep us in your prayers.
    Pablo Vargas

    • Dale Paul

      Ric, You have ever right to “kick the mother who birthed you”, but I just wonder why you felt it necessary to do so in a public post. Your post is disparaging to the Church of the Nazarene and would make me suspect of you if I were a leader or laymen of the United Methodist Church.

      • Ric Shewell

        Thanks Dale. As I mentioned above, I am coming forward with my story for the sake of many ministry candidates that have asked for guidance in exiting the CotN. I hope my story might shine light on some deficiencies in the system.

        Secondly, I was asked by several Nazarenes to make this public. Specifically Nazarenes who are working in an academic setting and presenting this issue in their areas. There is a discussion thread on a Nazarene Facebook Group that finally convinced me to make it public. Here is a link to that converstation: https://www.facebook.com/groups/wisdomseekingnazarenes/399471903563054/?comment_id=403869206456657&notif_t=like

        Finally, I spoke with close friends and mentors for guidance in moving forward. I believe, as many here believe, that stories like this need to see the light of day for the benefit of all. Friends and mentors agreed that I should share.

        I have tried to share my story with humility and grace. Where I miss the mark, I ask for forgiveness. It is an ugly story, of that there is no doubt. I do not believe that the ugliness of the my journey is a reason to keep it quiet.

        Of those that are posting and sharing this story, the majority of them come from the Church of the Nazarene. Literally thousands of self-identifying Nazarenes have shared this post with other Nazarenes. It seems to me that Nazarenes are the ones that are valuing this post most.

        Thanks for your comment.

        • Eric Aeschliman

          Small world. I went to NNU (’04) and worked at “First United Methodist Cathedral of the Rockies!” with then music directors Steve & Susan Talley! Bless you whatever denomination you serve in, Ric–Seek Him Only! =)

        • Dale Paul

          What ever you think… Both of my grandfathers were Nazarene pastors, my dad was a Nazarene pastor and my only brother was a Nazarene pastor. I am 80 years old and have been a Nazarene for 80 years and 9 months. As a lowly laymen I have served in every position of church leadership and responsibility there is. I have seen it all and done it all and it “ain’t” all been pretty, but it is still my church and running and kicking “ain’t” going to make it better…Best of luck….My last reply…

          • Bonnie Traylor

            This is the kind of thing that can be so frustrating to those of us who are “adopted” into the COTN. It’s like there’s a club that I can never belong to because I wasn’t born into it. It’s wonderful if you have that heritage, but for those of us who don’t, the constant touting of the the “Nazarene pedigree” is very off-putting. I’m a child of God — isn’t that more important? And isn’t serving Christ more important than serving in the COTN? I think if the truth hurts, then it’s still the truth and the truth is, our younger generation is leaving the COTN and the church in general. We have arms cut off and bleeding and many of us who see are crying out for someone to come help, but instead of running to help stop the bleeding, we get criticized for calling out the truth. Nazarene churches on our district are closing. Turn a blind eye, if you wish, but something is wrong.

  • Emma K

    I am saddened about your experience but happy that you have found a place somewhere God can use what you have studied hard to learn. I know what you have said is true and is happening but I truly hope it stops! I love the Church off the Nazarene and have been involved in it my entire life and makes me sad to know there are those like you who have had bad experiences. I also went to MVNU for a degree in church music and actually have lived just minutes from campus my entire life. I went to church nearby too so I was always fostered to go there and was also held up after graduating. All of my experiences weren’t shining and I had my own discouraging ordeal but I have chosen to stay in my home church where I was raised and I do think that was the right choice for me. I pray God continues to use you and that we all can be honest about the good and the bad in our religion and religious schools. Thanks.

  • Nick Briggs

    Thanks for sharing. You made it longer as a pastor in the COtN than I did.

  • Patrick Taylor

    Ric,

    Thank you for this. You articulate exactly what myself and a lot of my peers in ministry are feeling, specifically toward some interview experiences and the divide between the universities and the church. I graduated TNU in 2010, still pursuing Mdiv. I think many people need to hear about experiences like these.

    The way I’ve oftentimes articulated it is, the same church that in university teaches you to think critically and with integrity is the same church that will in the local body seek to crucify you for doing so.

    As to interviews, I’ve been blessed in many of my own, but two of them come to mind, one where the only question I was asked was “Do you believe in hell?” And one (same district) years later where the only two questions were “What do you believe about homosexuality, and drinking?”

    It does me good to hear your story. Being a Nazarene can be hard for people who share your experience. Some days I dream about what it would be like to be Methodist, or Episcopalian. I am glad to be working alongside people who are working to make the Nazarene denomination better, and alongside those who have found a great home elsewhere.

  • Bruce Barnard

    This blog has filled my FB newsfeed today (that’s what happens when you have deep roots in the CotN I guess). I can feel your passion in the concept of shallow roots. And had you written a blog simply about that, I guess I’d agree. But I serve on the Board of Ministry of another District. I can’t speak to yours, though I know some of the members personally and I don’t think your characterization is meant to apply to all of them (perhaps you do – I wouldn’t put words in your mouth if that’s the case). On my district, we interviewed for ordination last year a candidate that seemed to not be prepared for questions about holiness, sin, sanctification, etc. The questioners asked in many ways, and generally it was difficult to get accurate answers as we were translating in Spanish both directions. At the close, the Board asked three of our Spanish pastors to meet with the candidate, and whatever they recommended the BoM would accept. They did, and recommended the candidate for ordination. Several days later the DS and Board received an email from the candidate’s spouse (an ordained elder) telling us it was the most embarrassing and humiliating thing he’d sat through. His long letter characterized a meeting I had not been part of, though I had been in the room all along. His perspective was not one I had experienced, yet I had to some how validate that if in fact he felt that way, there was some amount of reflection for us as a board to consider. Did we miss something? Did we unfairly ask questions that should have been out of bounds? As I reflected on the meeting, I couldn’t help but think, “No…” We ordained her last year.

    Just this week, we received a letter from her pastor husband they were leaving the CotN, starting their own church, and taking the congregation with them. I’m saddened by that, but not totally surprised. I believed then and now we did treat this candidate (and all candidates) with respect, dignity, truthfulness, hopefulness, and compassion. I offer this not to say your experience is invalid, but perhaps there is another side to this that you never received or perceived. At least I hope that’s the case! (though I am in TOTAL agreement about the CN’s!!!!)

    • Ric Shewell

      Bruce, thank you for your reply and perspective from the other side of the table. I’ve been editing this post for a long time before making it public yesterday. The hardest part about editing this was deciding how much interpretation of my experiences I should offer. If I only offer the facts of the experience, it would be left up to the reader to decide the meaning of these experiences (and given the nature of the internet, I’m sure it would be less kind than my own interpretation). On the other hand, if I interpret too much, I am in danger of claiming to know things that I cannot know, like the hearts of people.

      I would agree that there is some room for other interpretations in my story. My take on that interview is undoubtedly different than those who interviewed me. But I offer my interpretations. Those were the questions they asked me, and I do struggle to see them in an affirming light. Thanks again, Bruce. Blessings on your ministry. I know it is not easy.

  • Ric – we’ve met on occasion, and I’ve always enjoyed hanging out. I’m a third gen Nazzy and a pastor’s kid, so while I don’t have the shallow roots that you describe, I completely identify with your experiences. I was on the start up team for Real Life Community Church in Nampa, and we’ve had a pretty good run trying to reach out to people that normally would not fit into the Naz culture. But as many have referenced, the denomination has and will struggle to grow into this new century and remain relevant. I’m glad you’ve found your spot for ministry, and I’m really glad that you’ve been able to articulate yourself so well about your experience with the church.

  • Barry Compton

    Ric,
    I grew up in the parsonage. I went to ENC, married a Naz girl. Raised 6 children in the church now 5th generation. We were very active and still are the only family originally left in the local church here. We have had 4 pastor in the last 40 years that have caused the decline to almost closer but strong laymen grew it back with the next pastor. At one point one convinced the district we needed our membership removed and we had to fight all the way to the general level to be reinstated. My story is a different way of being mislead in mans’ organized authority of the earthly church but praise God we both have stayed true to what God has lead us to do. Your friend Steve has share it with hi FB friends and I will. Prayerfully it will help others to see ho we can stay true to God’s call even if it isn’t in the church we grew up in. I will certainly pray for your family intently , even though we have never met, because I now feel I now you heart and can effectively pray…Blessings to you, famly, and ministry.

  • Laura Travis-Meyer

    I am not a pastor by any means but want to comment…I attended CotN for about 25 years and just drifted away. My husband didn’t attend with me but years later asked if would go to the Episcopal church with him, he was raised in the Episcopal church. Of course I said yes. I love the liturgy, the Book of Common Prayer, the liturgical calendar and they make my spiritual life so rich. I am thankful for the CotN for the rich Bible based faith they gave me it has enriched my liturgical life greatly. thanks for letting me say these things. But I will say if church politics don’t kill your faith then you will be alright because that means you are being led by God.

  • Charles Christian

    Thanks, Ric. That had to be both cathartic and difficult. I even have students who have seen it and are taking note, and I am glad. My response to them is: 1) This shows that we need a better grasp our own theology in the CotN, not just formulaic, one-size-fits-all pop theology (which, sadly, is very prevalent). 2) It demonstrates that we really should do a better job of caring for one another throughout the process of ordination and of ministry in general. I echo Tom Oord’s invitation that, if God nudges you in this direction, it would be great to have you back. However, I have many friends and colleagues in the UMC, and I pray that you grow and thrive wherever God plants you. Blessings!

  • Neil Bob

    Wow. So sad. I have experienced some of the same attacks (and I was not a religion major at NNU) that the school was too liberal. And then there is the whole Concerned Nazarene movement, that seems to oust everyone or every idea that isn’t theirs. Really, if any of them met Wesley, they’d probably want to oust him for being to liberal as well. Though, I would be careful to condem the whole CotN. There are a small minority that are vocal, and it would seem that not being in NNU’s district you ran into pastor’s that hate NNU. 🙁

  • Paul Clark

    Hey Ric,

    Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m saddened to read it.

    Having attended seminary with mostly United Methodist folks I was always shocked to hear their horror stories of interviews with boards, and i was prideful of my little denomination, which kindly welcomed me to ministry. Now that I’ve been around a little longer i know my pride was naive, but I know my good experience isn’t unusual.

    I’m glad you have found a place to fulfill God’s call!

    Peace

  • Ric, Unlike you, I have DEEP roots in the CotN. I was raised in a parsonage and educated at NNC(U). It was there that I found and married the love of my life. Upon graduation I entered the US Navy. During my 23 years career we always sought out, attended and supported a local CotN. (The one exception was Japan where we attended the base chapel.) I even spent eight years as the NNC Registrar.

    Through the years it became apparent that the CotN was a bit schizophrenic. Its’ official theological position was Wesleyan; however, it also has a strong counter folk theology. This folk theology varies from region to region within the US and always seems to be anti-intellectual in nature with strong overtones of fundamentalism and/or legalism.

    It was while serving as Registrar that I observed Godly faculty members’ reputation and spirituality being assaulted by pastors ascribing to the growing anti-intellectual/fundamentalist folk theology. Though not directly a target of this assault, I guess you can say that I was collateral-damage.

    It was at this point of NNC’s history that the Department of Religious Studies was creating the Wesley Center. It was through the Wesley center that I came across the UMC Book of Discipline. While reading it I realized that it described the theology that I learned from my father, religion classes at NNC and my life experience. As a result of this I found that I was much more comfortable in the UMC and am now a member of Southside Blvd, UMC, Nampa, Idaho.

    • Robert Webber’s book Evangelicals on the Canterbury Trail: Why Evangelicals are Attracted to the Liturgical Church. was also influential in my move to the UMC.

  • Tim_Suttle

    Hey Ric, I resonate with your description of the faculty. My professors at NTS lived with such profound faithfulness. I was constantly seeing deep faith, pastoral sensitivity, wisdom, passion, heart, intellect, and integrity. They never dodged a question. Their hearts were broken by injustice and pain. I’m with you. My teachers made me a different person, and still inspire me to this day. Apart from a particularly fearful and craven point of view, I can’t imagine viewing them with suspicion or disrespect. Thanks for telling your story. I think it’s important that you did. Peace to you! ts

  • Christopher Ryan Cole

    Hi Ric. I’ve never come across this blog before, but I resonate with your story so well. At one time I too was a member of the Church of the Nazarene, pursuing ministry within the CoTN, enrolled at Mount Vernon Nazarene University. That was until I had some health issues come up, as well as some things that I could have handled better. I had to leave MVNU in the fall of 2004, where I took a semester off from school, enrolled in community college for a year, and transferred into Houghton College (a Wesleyan school in Upstate New York), where I graduated from in 2008 with a degree in ministry. All that time I had been in contact with my own DS (I still had my membership with the CoTN) and he assured me that Houghton was a fine school and they would consider me for work in the Nazarene church. But when I graduated and sat down to talk with him, it’s like he completely changed his tune. I then went ahead and emailed every DS between the East coast and the Mississippi River, and I only heard back from one of them. After I responded to his email, I never heard from him again. I applied for other jobs from the Nazarene job board, but still nothing. Finally, after some frustration, I went to both the Wesleyan and Free Methodist Churches. The Free Methodist Church was the first to get back to me, and I have been serving as a Free Methodist pastor for almost five years. The thing is though I had deep roots in the Nazarene church. My great grandfather had been a well-known pastor and evangelist. I had two great uncles and a great aunt, all ordained in the Nazarene Church. But I believe I was denied a position because I didn’t graduate from MVNU, and I have to admit there have been times where I’ve been bitter about it. Like you though I have many good friends and pastoral colleagues in the CoTN, and I wish them all well. But I do believe there is something very wrong in the church. I love where I am now, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Yet I wish things had gone better with the church that gave me my start.

  • I was a theology student at SNU in 2004 and heard way too many of these horror stories. I decided pretty quickly that I was not willing to live under the condition that an ignorant board member somewhere could put a swift end to my career. I’m not really one to hold my tongue or give the political answer to a question. I stuck it out as a parishioner in the CotN for 5 years after college, but I grew tired of tip toeing around issues that the rest of the world sees as rather silly. Its still saddens me because I am a 4th generation Nazarene, but I don’t think the church has dealt well with remaining relevant to modern society.

  • George Lyons

    Ric, I’m glad you have found a place of fulfilling ministry in the United Methodist Church. I know enough about the history of the CotN that I have come to believe we are greatly in their debt. Some of our best leaders were Methodists before they became Nazarenes–e.g., P. F. Bresee and W. M. Greathouse. We ought to be mature enough by now to return the favor.

    I did not always feel this way. Sometimes my former students left the denomination for all the wrong reasons. But more often, I think they did so because they were too principled to compromise their integrity. I respect that.

    Of course, I would be pleased for you to come back–shallow root and all. But I am also comfortable with releasing you to serve in the UMC, taking the best of what we taught you along.

    My experience with certain district boards as a student was very much like yours–only 40 years earlier. It was only my stubborn tenacity that kept me coming back for their annual abuse. I was suspect simply because I took my education seriously. Despite my deep Nazarene roots and heavy involvement in my local churches along the way, certain boards seemed intent on putting me in a defensive mode.

    My home district and its superintendent, however, believed in me, and encouraged me to stick with it. I will not go further into the details, since this is not about me.

    Thirty-seven years of teaching in Nazarene institutions of higher education around the world have persuaded me that many district boards need to reimagine their assignment. They are NOTgatekeepers, whose mission is to insure that our brightest and best are made to feel unwelcome. They are NOT combatants, assigned to attack religion professors they dislike vicariously through their students.

  • Scott Marshall

    Ric –
    What a heart-breaking post. As a “product” of the Nazarene Educational system (MNU & NTS) and now a Naz pastor for the last 20 years, I wish someone had told me in my college experience, “Be prepared. The Church will hurt you in many ways and you will be called on as one of her leaders to forgive her.” That would have hopefully helped me know to expect it, but at the same time I realize in retrospect that there aren’t any perfect Churches/Denominations. We’re all broken in so many ways.
    I’m so sorry you came across a couple pastors in those interviews who didn’t know how to coach and weren’t aware of their own biases and so foisted them on you.
    Peace to your journey.

  • SCOTT CARLETON

    Hi Ric,

    I too am a product of the CotN educational system, SNU,
    and while I am not in the ministry field I had a similar upbringing in
    the Cotn and a similar soft exit. My youth pastor was a positive force
    for God in my life as a young man. My memories of listening to God’s teachings by Pastor Terry
    Toler at Oklahoma City as a college student still resonate in my mind
    periodically. It was encouraging to hear your experience. There are
    times I feel I betrayed the church of my youth, but as I grew older the
    stance of the church and mine on so many issues slowly grew into a great
    divide. May God continue to bless you and your ministry regardless of
    your denominational affiliation as we are all children of God regardless
    of the logo on our t-shirts.

  • Ian

    Ric; I obviously don’t know you, but would like to provide some perspective. I also didn’t have roots in the CotN, having come from a non-church background. However, I was saved in a CotN in California and have grown to love the church. Looking back at the journey, it was clear that many Christians from many denominations were part of God’s reaching out to me, so CotN doesn’t have a monopoly on great Christians by any means. I have traveled and lived throughout the United States and several overseas locations, including Germany, United Kingdom and Hawaii (the military considers it outside the continental US). One thing I learned is that, while most of the churches I attended were CotN, there are a variety of local cultures that influence the local churches, congregations and districts. (The culture of the CotN I attended in Hawaii was really different the one I attended in Georgia.) As much as I’d like to say that everyone in every church was an exemplar of holiness, it obviously wasn’t the case. We have to keep reminding ourselves that the church is made up of individuals, often broken people who are not entirely surrendered to the Spirit. That doesn’t make them bad. It just proves that even credential boards comprised of experienced pastors need a refreshing through the Spirit. It’s a shame that the interview you write about seems to have been predetermined not to approve you. However, I’m absolutely sure the Lord will use you in a powerful way in the ministry He’s led you to. As Dr. Crofford says, there are many districts in the CotN that are different than the one you wrote about.

  • Lois Daniel Skipworth

    Ric
    When I read your blog I had a lump come up in my throat. My husband was an active pastor for over 38 years. Neither of us had a background because we weren’t raised in church. My husband was a nightclub singer and I didn’t know John 3:16. Our marriage was struggling because I was raised in a home with an alcoholic father. When I smelled alcohol on my husband’s breath after a night of playing a “gig”, I despised it. One night in 1971, he came home from work and flipped the TV on. Billy Graham was about to preach his sermon for the night. I cannot to this day remember what he preached, but I remember him pointing his finger at the camera at the end and saying these words, “What about you there at home?” My young 21 year old husband hit the floor on his knees with his young wife and we both cried out to God for forgiveness. He immediately quit the nightclub scene and we started to the UMC. During the next few months God started dealing with my husband to answer the call to preach. I wish I had room to tell you some of our experiences that we went through until he said “Yes Lord, I will go.” We moved to our first assignment in June 1972. I guess my concern is “What good did this post do overall?” We pastored five and a half years in the UMC and when the DS in one of the board interviews asked my husband if he believed in sanctification he said yes. He was told that “we don’t preach that junk in the UMC.” We contacted the COTN and spent the other thirty-three years of our ministry in that capacity. I have never wanted to bash the UMC because there is not a “perfect” church. We left quietly and spent almost 26 years at one church. I don’t mean to sound disrespectful but we made the decision but we didn’t feel like we needed to “explain” our exit. With our world in the turmoil it is today I would think our clergy from all denominations would have more important things to worry about than putting down a denomination. I am a Nazarene and I love my church. I wouldn’t bore you with why we left the UMC. I say Praise God for the ones who ARE preaching the Word and their number one goal is soul-winning, no matter what name is above the door. The COTN has loved us for over 40 years. They clothed and fed us. Leave quietly and leave the criticism to those who will have to face God for the hurtful questions that were presented to you. I’m glad I am not depending on a denomination to get me to Heaven. My advice is to get tough because the ministry is not an easy road in any denomination. God bless.

    • Plaza Liz

      I am a neutral party who happened on to this blog looking for something else entirely but was moved by this young man’s post and wanted to continue reading. I belong to neither one of the denominations represented in this discussion, so have zero agenda. Until your comment I was just really blessed by the love and grace extended, characteristics in short supply in the Body of Christ. You did more to bash the UMC in your remarks than he did the CotN in his lengthy post and sadly the discussion took a bit of a nosedive. It’s certainly understandable to feel loyalty toward a denomination that has provided a good church home, but your comments were personal and he did not deserve from you more of what seemed to me the main reason he walked away from the CotN in the first place. It’s so much better to address these things openly than to allow speculation to run rampant. He did a good thing. I have friends and family in both denominations and from what I have learned over the years, each has blessings and annoyances like anywhere else. More than anything glorifying Jesus is our primary purpose. When in doubt, we can’t go wrong to err on the side of grace, mercy and love. We are all undeserving recipients.

  • Stephen S. Knox

    About 5 years ago I had pretty much the same experience, and I too left the CotN having served for some 10 years as local and district licenced minister, with one final interview prior to ordination. I too left quietly, and have never publicly spoke about why I left, so as not to seem to be slandering a church I had loved for many years. I too felt ‘unloved and unwanted’ – even more so when I left, when only one fellow minister contacted me once and hasn’t been in touch since. One of the biggest hurts was being pulled aside before a district licence interview by the DS, and being told to lose weight “in certain faiths gluttony is a sin” were his exact words. Reading your article has brought back so many memories for me, I pray God blesses those within the CotN who read it & pay attention to it! I pray God richly blesses you.

  • Anna Jonesi Nelson

    My heart aches for those that have gone before me, my heart aches for my church that has missed the point, my heart aches for my husband, Lance, who was raised in the CoN, and wants to leave, my heart aches for me, as I must make a choice to go, after accepting my call. Ministry is not a competition, because we should all be working towards the same goal. Sadly, men get in the way of The Word.
    Any advice?

    • Ric Shewell

      Hmmm. You know, reading these comments and the hundreds of comments on many Facebook threads, I see people asking where my local pastor and board was when I went through this interview? A few months before this interview, I transferred to a NewStart church with only 8 members. The senior pastor (great guy and friend) was also going through district interviews. I think he had to go through another church. Anyway, there wasn’t a board, and I was unclear about who my mentoring pastor was. I think we broke the rules a little there. All this is to say that I didn’t have a strong relationship with a lead pastor or mentor as I embarked in the process. That may have made all the difference. In my process now in the UMC (which is not perfect, anyone will tell you that), I’ve been deliberate in latching onto strong leaders and pastors that I trust and can learn from. I am so thankful for them. So, I suppose that’s my advice. I know there are so many strong pastors and leaders in the CotN. Having that relationship, I think will be a big benefit in discerning your direction.

      • Anna Jonesi Nelson

        I don’t have a good local support. We have lost 12 staff in 5 years. What does that say for a medium church with only 5 staff.
        Lance, my husband, has been in the church since birth. I think you know him, Lance Nelson? He is feeling that it is time to go, and for him to feel that way, it says something.

  • Duane Keith

    Ugh, I’m so sorry. District Credential Boards can be insane. I’ve chaired one I won’t name for 4 years and am giving that up because I’m tired of “holding back the crazy” on that Board. I think many young ministers have had their nightmare interviews by poorly prepared Boards that are dominated by someone with an axe to grind. We don’t deserve you! Go in peace…

  • Wenshott

    What a heart wrenching description of your journey. Sadly, such accounts are not limited to one denomination, but are all too common in faith groups. I hope you have found a support cohort. If not, I encourage you to build relationships with others, both clergy and lay, that will not only support you, but also challenge you to grow. Keep those things that have made you who you are in Christ Jesus and learn from the rest.

    Incidentally, I was in Nampa about the same time as you were at NNU. I gained important insights from those Nazarenes. There is much to treasure there.

  • Ric, I appreciate your courage in sharing your story, from the heart, with grace and honesty. I count it a privilege to witness a slice of your journey, and resonate with your experiences of Nazarenes mistrusting higher education. And I still remember the conversation you, Joanna, Nathanael, and I had about your experience. I’m sorry and sad you experienced the pain of feeling unseen, unwanted, and unsupported by some people representing the denomination in which you were serving. Your passion for serving God and loving people is such a part of your identity. I celebrate with you that you have found a spiritual family in which you feel loved, supported, and at home. My hope is that people who interact with you about this will not respond to your vulnerability by adding to your pain. Much love from Nathanael and me.

  • Travis Laird

    Having grown up in the cotn my entire life as well I see a new trend occurring in the attendants of our church that differs from what I have experienced most of my life. It is quite eye opening and has been a great revelation in my walk. I attend mnu in olathe ks right out of high school and currently play in the worship band at a Nazarene Church in Nebraska, but have always had a good “finger on the pulse” of what is occurring in the rest of the world. What I see in the growing congregation of our church is new members who place very little value on the actual “history and politics” of the church and are instead interested primarily in being a part of a caring congregation and learning about Christ’s love and acceptance of who they are. I hope that the only church I’ve attended in my life has the foresight to address the growing needs of a new generation of Christians instead of clinging to politics and policy.

    Ive always said that if you open your mind too much then your brains will fall out, and the bible is not an evolving document. But we as the church in general need to always be concerned about finding a home for everyone who is a non Christian and guiding them in the absolute truth and unconditional love given to us through Christ.

  • David Willcutt

    Thanks for sharing your story. I was serving at a Nazarene church, youth pastor bi-vocationally. I loved the experiences, but I too felt I need to leave the denomination. My wife got sick and need more of my time. People had trouble understanding that. Rumors begin spreading, people were upset with me, etc. The best was that I heard from a parent of one of my teens was that I had had a nervous break down. Miss a lot of my Nazarene friends. Maybe we’ll reconnect some day.

  • Terry Clees

    Ric, as a first generation COTN pastor and a grad from NNU all I can say is “I feel you brother”. It saddens me because your story is all too familiar and the COTN is continually losing bright young minds to other denominations (at least the Kingdom is still blessed!). Thank you so much for sharing!

  • Kathleen Czech

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. As an educator at a Naz university we are currently still facing this issue. I am not in the theology religion department but another humanities related field. Our administration just told us that we are putting too much emphasis on a liberal arts education and we should be focusing more on the biblical tenants our fathers intended for the school to be about. I find this particularly troubling. A lot of excellent faculty have recently left and I am afraid no one else will speak up for the liberal arts and we will become a bible school for Naz world. I am not sure that is what education should be about.

    • Alan

      I am a Full Professor of Philosophy at a state university campus (Wisconsin) who only pursued my career goals because of JW Jones’ excellent instruction in the history of philosophy at NNC from 1971-1975. I left the church and became non-religious in part due to that instruction–but not because Jones taught skepticism about religion; he was devout. But he taught the truth in the best tradition of the liberal arts, and allowed me the privilege to think for myself instead of being browbeaten into submissive epistemic submission to articles of faith. Does NNU wish to become a Bob Jones University? Me gonito as my excellent Greek prof Dr. Weigelt taught me. Drs. Jones, Weigelt, Berg, Bennett, Woodward, Ford, etc. (but not one honorary “Dr.”, mind you–they were uniformly awful) –the best in liberal arts that sone could want. Abandon that for theological purity? Me gonito. Oh, BTW I have been a loyal contributor. No more if NNU turns its back on the liberal arts tradition that it has upheld till now.

  • Jeremy Hugus

    Thanks for sharing your heart, Ric. Your missive was vulnerable, candid, and kind. This generous posture speaks volumes about your character. Libby’s (and indirectly my) experience shares haunting similarities with yours. I hope your willingness to share encourages those who are navigating similar waters within the denomination and evokes discussion that will engender positive, much-needed change within the CotN. I pray your new journey is one that offers personal healing (see, Isaiah 53:5) and ample opportunity to show the love of God to others in desperate need. Godspeed to you and yours.

  • joe mcmahan

    Ric, I am on my wife’s facebook so not sure if her name will appear. I too left, but for other reasons. I left pastoral ministry for chaplaincy ministry because I was tired. Tired of trying to lead congregations that either could not or would not embrace the notion of the ‘world as parish.’ Today, I am working in a place I never dreamed of, with a group of people I never thought I would love as much as I do. So, in the spirit of an open heart, follow God and He will certainly use you no matter the institution or the setting! As one person told me in my journey, “you’ve out-grown your tradition.” it was a painful thing to hear, and I resonate with you and your pain. –Rev Joe McMahan, M.Div., BCC, ACPE Supervisor

  • dekeroth

    Thank you for being one who is starting to bring more awareness of this sad occurrence. Your denomination is not alone is experiencing this. My husband is in leadership in a ministerial organization which offers covering, support and recognition to those in ministry; similar to a denomination, but independent. Though small (under 2000 ministers, evangelists, missionaries) our Fellowship is growing in no small part due to the pastors, missionaries and district officials from well-known denominations who are no longer able to continue or not welcome to continue in the denominations which birthed/educated them. Your story is one that, unfortunately, we’ve heard too often. So many have been rejected by their denomination, but God’s calling is still on their lives. It may be disappointing to us to expect to give in one group and have our efforts rejected, but if God’s calling is on a life, He will continue advancing His kingdom through that calling, denomination or no.

  • Heather Urich

    Ric, As I read your post I had this sad and empty feeling in my heart. I was nodding my head in affirmation of what you shared because I have also let my credentials with the Nazarene church slip away. My story is similar to yours in that I was attacked by many different people about NNU and how they were so “liberal”. Others constantly questioned my choice to receive my undergraduate in Ministry from NNU and I felt belittled and shamed because I bettered myself with some of the most amazing Pastors I have ever known. I have other hurts which have lead me to leave the COTN and I wish that I can say that I left quietly… No matter, I am now at the Assembly of God and just two days ago sent my resume for ordination in. Maybe it is also because of my “shallow roots” but I do wish that as pastors and the ordained that we would be able to support each other in love and fellowship instead of what I see more often than not: shamming, disgracing, condemnation, contempt, and sometimes simple backstabbing. I pray that God blesses you richly on your journey through ministry. My healing process has taken almost two years…and I know that God will do amazing things to finish that healing. Thank you for sharing your story. Heather Urich

  • Carol Hughes

    Your story is very interesting. In many ways, I think that the Church of the Nazarene is committing suicide. My husband and I were lifelong Nazarenes from early childhood until we were in our 70s. Then, the church seemed to change directions and the DS in the district in which we lived in California told the church members, “You may not like what is happening in the church, but this is what we are going to be doing from now on, so get with the program.” We knew then that we had to leave. We visited several denominations before deciding on Presbyterian USA. We were very happy worshipping in that denomination – until the General Assembly met last June and made changes that we cannot live with. Our local church will be voting soon on whether to stay with the denomination or leave. If they vote to stay, then we must leave. Our conscience will not allow us to remain with a denomination that says that marriage is between two people, allows practicing gays to be ordained, does not support Israel, and so much more. Pray for our church to take the course that God would have us to take. I am glad that you have no bitterness toward the church. We feel the same way. We left the Nazarene Church quietly. And although I was the organist, the pastor didn’t realize we were gone for four months. Can you believe that?

  • Susan James

    Their loss is our gain! Pastor Shewell brings new life and vigor to our United Methodist church. His scholarship strengths add new dimensions to our worship services. He and his family are so very welcome and appreciated.

  • Jonathan Privett

    I read your article several times. I thought about your post for quite some time. I have had so many generous moments and grace-filled conversations that I found your story hard to read. I am not sure any one church ‘fits’ every single called person of God. And I am convinced that there are those treasures in jars of clay, of which I am one, that are often mishandled, wounded and broken.

    I went to NNU and NTS and have had the privilege of navigating some of the very issues you faced. I too have had a lousy professor or two and an unsupportive pastor as well as a super weird encounter with a DS years ago.

    And yet, on the other hand, the good outweighs the bad, at least for me and I am sure not for all. I am unworthy of the love and grace and support I have been given by so many. So very sorry for your pain and hurt but happy for your ministry. I am happiest that you are still part of God’s work and Kingdom building, even though in a different stream of God’s river.

    I pray all who read this use the trust given to them wisely. Blessings on you and you future.

  • Chuck Messer

    I’m a grad of TNU and NTS. Had very much the same experience. My family was not raised in TCotN either. I also had a difficult experience in interviewing with DS’s while in seminary. I was told I was way too liberal to pastor a church. I eventually was confirmed and ordained an Episcopal priest. I have nothing but good memories of professors who molded solid pastoral leadership and my NTS experience was transformative. Bless the CotN and my friends who serve God in this particular area of the Lord’s vineyard. Thanks for the article.

  • Thank you, Mr. Shewell, for these words and this article. My wife and I also left the Church of the Nazarene in July this year. The one of the board members and pastor of the local congregation near us had made some decisions that both of us were against, decisions that had gone against not only Biblical principles, but had gone against decisions the board had made four times. It was pretty hard for us to leave, as we are both third generation Nazarenes (the local church in my Grandmother’s hometown literally saved the lives of my Grandmother and her eleven children [and my Dad and brother are both Nazarene ministers] and my wife’s grandfather was one of the founding members of her local church in Korea).

    Our last talk with the pastor explaining why we were leaving didn’t go well. I was personally attacked and accused of giving the church a “bad name” for the decision to leave and one of the board members later called and accused me of not giving time nor being open to his three teenage sons (none of these accusations being true)………this coming after we had informed the pastor of our intentions initially and he going to the District Superintendent of our district and talking to him and others. However, we knew it was time for us to leave the church. And, again, it was hard to do so.

    At any rate, GOD is good. We are part of a Wesleyan Church here in the city where we live, and GOD has richly blessed us. We still keep in contact with many of the people at the local Church of the Nazarene, but we don’t plan to go back so long as we live her in Virginia thanks to our likely now having a “reputation”. At any rate, I do appreciate your words and your thoughts. Your last interview sounds like it was horrific. I, too, love studying the Bible, and have a Seminary Degree myself (not from any Nazarene Seminary, though). We will remember you in our prayers. Be blessed.

    —Jason

    • Mike

      Hi Ric, I know you posted this awhile ago, but I just found it and wanted to thank you for your humility and honesty. As an elder in the church I press my hand to head and want to weep. I weep because sin has found a way to push good people out of a circle that never intended sin to be. I grieve your story, because it’s one of many I have seen in the past decade of ministry within our church. I pray that you find love and acceptance in the UMC and that your ministry sees great days of harvest for the Kingdom of God.

  • Heather River

    Ric, your post moved and chilled me so much that I brought it up to my own extremely small congregation (Church of Christ) as an example of how we profoundly alienate others precisely when we ourselves are feeling the most defensive and vulnerable. Those board reviewers should be thoroughly ashamed of themselves–especially the ones who didn’t speak out, call a meeting pause, or otherwise defuse the situation . Your post underlined so clearly just one aspect of the huge and growing divide between urban centers and Flyover Country. Having been raised in one, and having lived for over 30 years in another, I can see you bore the brunt of it.

    There is NO EXCUSE for entrapment or humiliation of others, and entrapment that awful “interview” was. But Ric, if you can, please know that it obviously wasn’t a personal affront–you were obviously a symbol to those few men, a symbol of the City and its liberal ways, its interference (legal, sexual, social) in all aspects of their ministry. You were just the guy in the chair. They battle a darkness in their minds, the creeping rot of urban relativism. Tragically for your young ministry, I think you could have been ANYBODY. Their loss!

  • simpleminds

    There is an old “secular football” story that might be applicable:

    Vince Lombardi’s team had just gotten “Whupped somethun bad”.

    He stood in front of the team and said:

    “Men – it’s time to get back to the basics! THIS is a football”.

    In my opinion it is time to get back to the basics:

    “This is the Word of God” – not – “This is the tenets of Nazarene Theology”.

    Important and relevant:

    [child-like innocence] vs [child-like understanding]

    The Bible – as we know it – was compiled by command of Emperor Constantine. Over 1800 Christian Bishops were “officially” invited to attend. However, only 100 were allowed to attend.

    Translations also play into the confusion.

    There were about a 1/2 dozen translations before the KJV.

    Then there were the “upgrades” to the KJV.

    I notice that William Greathouse has been mentioned alongside Bresee.

    I use Dr. Greathouse’s old Revised Standard Version – his underlinings and marginal notes give unique perspective.

    Earlier this year I started to “re-read” from cover-to-cover.

    When I read (not having your background in languages) I have to use several different translations, Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance, Webster’s Dictionary, and the .

    I read the same phrase from each of the translations – then look up the definition of each word.

    Dr. Greathouse taught me that “Fundamentalists” believe in a literal 144 hour creation.

    I know that can’t be correct because the English Bible says the earth was void and without form.

    The definition of a day is one complete revolution of the earth.

    {Can’t revolve if there ain’t no form}

    Equipped with this “education” – I started at Genesis 1:1.

    I got as far as:

    “In the beginning God created”

    As it turns out – “created” in the Hebrew is something like “created a picture frame”.

    Now it’s true that the frame didn’t exist prior to the “creator’s” action – but all the raw materials were there – along with the creator’s expertise.

    That’s when I realized that our “Word of God” (even in its abbreviated 66 Book version) is not the totality of God – but rather a “need-to-know” owner/operator’s manual.

    I was once approached by a man who said: “the 1611 King James is the only authorized version” as he waived his Bible at us.

    Then, another man already standing next to me said: “the 1611 King James contained the Apocrypha. What’s in that Bible you’re holding?”

    I just stood there “fat, dumb, and happy”.

    Back to Dr. Greathouse. In 2011 he was diagnosed with congenital heart failure and told he only had a few days left to live. I had the next 72 hours with him all to myself.

    One of the things he told me was that “you know you’re called to the pastorate if God gives you something to tell people that: 1) they don’t already know; 2) you can explain it so that the congregation understands it; and 3) the information is “within season”.

    There is a scene in the movie “Forrest Gump” where Lt. Dan asks Gump if he’s found Jesus. Gump responds: “I didn’t know he was lost”.

    [and the audience roars with laughter]

    The “Good News” is now the punchline in movies.

    Why?

    Because of the “Word of God”?

    or

    Because of our 21st Century Corporate American Religious delivery system?

    The 21st Century Church (supposedly the Body of Christ) bears little resemblance to the 1st Century Church.

    Very little is known about the reasons for the Nazarene split from the Methodists.

    Some of it had to do with corruption and un-Godly influences introduced by “big money”.

    Do you know the same group that funded Lenin’s overthrow of the Czar, the creation of the NAACP, and the resistance to Marcus Garvey, were also associated with the creation of the Methodists Social Services and other related Methodist programs/divisions?

    There were Methodists who felt toward the Methodist Church, just as you feel toward the Nazarene Church.

    Joining with other “likeminded” factions of “The Body of Christ” – they created the original Pentecostal Church of the Nazarene.

    The split between the Pentecostal and the Evangelical/Fundamental Nazarenes is not something people like to talk about.

    In fact, there are a lot of things that high ranking Nazarenes don’t want to talk about. But it’s the same in every major and mid-major denomination.

    There is a big difference between “expelling the immoral brother” and “expelling the immoral visitor”.

    And, the Bible clearly states the procedures for arriving at each conclusive action.

    Back to football analogies:

    “We need to just suck it up and do it right” (regardless of how inconvenient it is).

    Think of all the problems King David would have avoided if he only would have raised his children in “fully correct Biblical” fashion.

    You can name names of Nazarene power-players who stopped (and would have stopped) you from following Biblical mandates.

    I can too.

    But most importantly, every Nazarene pastor and leader knows names as well.

    *last football analogy*

    …perhaps it’s time for the Church of the Nazarene to “back up 15 and punt”.

    It doesn’t mean the game is over – just that the current game plan isn’t working.

  • Janju

    Your post blessed me so much. Although I am not in ministry, my experience resembles your somewhat. I was a third generation Nazarene. In 1975, 30 yrs of age and mother of 3 small children, the Lord pulled me out, kicking and screaming, from the CotN. The church had many problems, and I had to leave. I even counseled with another pastor from my childhood and he agreed I had to leave. My journey, aided by eventual moves due to my husband’s job, took me through several denominations in several states. These included Disciples of Christ, Southern Baptist, Christian & Missionary Alliance, and finally the UMC. I have been in the last one for 23 years. The first thing God taught me was to stop judging others!! That’s a story in itself. The second was He doesn’t live in a box. Third, there are no perfect denominations, churches nor perfect people. Pastors, laymen and laywomen will fail, just as I fail all too often. I thank God for the CotN because it was there I was nurtured, taught, brought to a salvation experience, learned to pray, witnessed divine healing (my mother), and to this day I draw on the things I learned. But I also experienced pain and was wounded by ignorant, self-seeking individuals. I forgave them. The Lord led me to my small United Methodist church where I live now. The first time I sat in the service, it felt like home. I am now 70 yrs old. I see that what “men meant for evil, God meant for good.” It was His Plan to make me a better servant. I feel your experience is similar. You received a good foundation, and now you have your mission where Christ is exalted. Isn’t that why we are here? PTL!!

    • TERRY MATTSON

      Ric… I stumbled onto your blog and was captured by your testimony… I am a Nazarene elder, 63 years of age. I am profoundly saddened for my church in the loss of your heart and gifts and too many others who run into similar walls. I am grateful you have found a communion and home in which to serve. May God surround and bless!

      My own blog: terry mattson musings of a pastor from a place in between

  • Priscella Guerra

    Thank you for sharing this. I’ve never been to a Nazarene church or received any specific Nazarene education; however, God Himself called me to be as a Nazarene when He called me to Him. The Holy Spirit has taught me so many things for which I an eternally grateful. I’ve never been a member of any denomination; however, I have participated in fellowship at various churches. It is so sad when men set standards instead of allowing the Holy Spirit to be in charge. I am often saddened when I read stories such as yours; my spirit weeps. When will we stop grieving the Spirit of the Living God with our foolish human ways? May God bless you with peace, His peace, and with the truth that only comes through His Spirit.

  • one_kender

    I know the bible’s position on necromancy and this is a dead thread. That being said, I do have a few things to say. I left the Nazarene church a long time ago when the introduction to the manual changed. It used to read something like, “We have assembled this book of how we interpret scripture in relation to these key blah, blah, blah…but we realize that we are flawed humans and our interpretation is not necessarily correct. In addition, the same piece of scripture may and often does have multiple applications and interpretations which are equally valid. While a lot of thought has gone into this by a lot of really smart people, we encourage research, discussion and healthy debate over these issues because it often leads not only to a deeper faith, but sometimes to a better understanding.” (the Jason Nichols paraphrase) Like the Republicans have more recently done with their charter, the introduction now reads something like, “a lot of work went into this and we believe that in order to promote unity and agreement in the church, to be a Nazarene you must agree with these doctrial positions that we consider to be core values of the church and key to being a good Christian…because we are a lot smarter than you anf as infalliable as the Pope” (again, a paraphrase). The new manual then goes into what the bible says about a LOT of really complex issues like stem cell research, which the bible never really seems to mention directly for some reason. This serms to be symptoms of the same sort of thing your experiences are also symptomatic of.

    12 years ago however, God put me into a Nazarene church in Phoenix AZ (well Glendale, really). It was one decision I made by closing my eyes and sticking my finger into a phone book. My usual decision-making process involves throwing axes and was not practical here. Nazarene was strike one, the size of the building (huge) strike two. Reverend Hilyard’s sermon that Sunday was a home run. He retired and two other pastors had their turns while I went to that church. Neither were as good as Hilyard, but still good people with their hearts in the right place. When I moved here, to Hampton, VA, I decided to try my luck with the denomination again and the pastor here (a PhD who teaches theology) is also incredible. He agrees that while the church is tasked with many things, it’s primary purpose is to promote growth through fellowship and sharing. By this all shall know that you are my people, and what-not. He encourages thinking and even wants to see my study on tithing. NO ONE who is in church leadership in any denomination that teaches tithing wants that because they all teach it wrong–neglecting Deuteronomy altogethet. He knows it is contrary to his understanding and realizes it will “screw him up”, but he’d rather be biblically correct than doctrinally correct and my point with it is that like people’s misunderstandings and misteachings about the sacrifices in the OT, the truth points to encouraging fellowship, and tithing, an ACTIVE participation in fellowship.

    I guess my point is that things are changing. There are growing pockets of resistance to the old-new way of doing things and it’s exciting. That being said, I don’t fault you one bit for making the decision to get out, nor am I trying to talk you into coming back. This awakening is happening across the board in all denominations, so I wish you luck and I hope this comment finds you growing spiritually in ways this denomination has stifled as God leads you down the road to where HE wants you to be, where ever and with who ever that may be.

  • Doris Barnes

    Ric look up the scripture, pray one for another that you may be healed. Notice healing comes to us when we pray for others.

    • Angela Major

      Get real

  • Angela Major

    I am with you.I was raised in the church.My mom had left the Methodist Church as a young teen and went to the Nazarene church. To make a long story short a few families run the church.We have never had a pastor for very long.I moved away alto as an adult,but my mom went for over 50 years.Well except for a few people she was totally forgotten. Our family were going through some horrible times. My Mom needed support, I did not feel we should call and beg.The church now is to contemporary and all about money.The pastor who was brought to the funeral home by a very good servant, stated to me later ,after I became very angry and did leave some unpleasant messages. He did not know my Mom was a member. Wow I Bet He Knows All The Others!! Of course he has a company to run so his life is not 100 percent to the ministry.I am from the old school and unfortunately the Gainesville church will never be the same.I remember church camps,vacation bible school and all the activities we had.We had s foster child who lived with us for years and no one from the church would take him to camp,so he had to go with another church with people he had never met!!! I was in North Carolina ,It was last minute and my mom could not drive. Needless to say Pepper was hurt.I pray we can find a loving back to the Bible church ,That goes by the Word and not just a speaker.

  • Aram Kim

    “Finally, I want to stress my feelings. My feelings were hurt. I felt unloved and unwanted. I felt like the family that raised me was now too suspicious of my years in their educational institutions to allow me to serve them. Perhaps if I had deeper roots, I would have endured some of these feelings”

    Have you tried communicating with them upon these matters? One thing I learned in my time spent growing is that when we internalize thoughts and feelings without communicating to the other person about it, it can leave scars and wounds and hurt. When we are in a hurt place, we still dwell on the hurt. To get out of that, healthily, its important to conversate with the people who you felt hurt you.

  • Rob Roy Martin

    Were you aware that the UMC is a MILLENNIAL Church?

  • I was lead to the Lord Jesus Christ around late 1969 by an assembly of God Pastor and I know that my sins were/are forgiven and that I’m born again and since then I have gone through some drastic changes in my life because of bad choice’s, but the Lord has still kept His loving hand on my life through my amazement and has always been faithful to me when I wasn’t to Him.
    In saying this, I’ve grown to realize that belonging to any one certain denomination that hold to the true doctrine’s of Jesus Christ and His Apostles does not secure one’s Salvation.
    Salvation is in Jesus Christ and in Him only. I do believe in fellowship with believers of various Christian Churches; But I will not join any denomination because they all initially have had their beginnings/origins by men who have own different views about the Bible and their interpretations of the Holy Scripture, thus this is why we have so many Christian Denominations here in the USA in particular, but the main thing that is common beside doctrinal difference’s is that Jesus Christ is the center of our faith.
    My question is: Which Church Denomination is Jesus coming back for?
    Baptist, Methodist, Assembly Of God, Pentecostal, Lutheran, Nazarene, Catholic, Episcopalian, Presbyterian , Seventh Day Adventists??? (other)

    • Jerry Moyer

      He is coming back for his bride no matter what denomination they are. As long as your born again and Jesus is lord of your life you are part of the body of Christ!

  • leya

    I appologize for switching the subject, but I have a question. What to do if someone working at a local nazarene church elementary school has been hit on, or slyly sexually harressed by the pastor there, and there were for the most part no witnesses of it?

  • Dion

    I left the COTN because they oppresses and subjugated me in “thinking” I had been divorced. I told them many times I had no divorces in my life. Every year at District Meeting, they asked me if I was divorced. I was licensed in the COTN. I never allowed them to ordained me, because I understood them to have hard-hearts; just as the Pharisee’s had. I was a Song Evangelist. I won may souls to Christ. I have planted three churches, but none of them were akin to the COTN. By the way: Divorce is not a sin (Jeremiah 3: 5-9). The COTN believes divorce to be sin (hamartia); therefore, the COTN believes God to be a sinner. I’ll take my chances about getting into Heaven, and I have peace about that. Regardless of the COTN’s excuses, they are prejudice against the Divorced. I suppose that is because they have not performed an exegesis Matthew 19 with an open mind. The Pharisees approached Jesus and asked him “Is it lawful? ……. This pertains to the Law of Moses, which has no footing in Christianity.