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May 24, 2010

Comments

Cookie Santiago

There is a lot of mediocrity among our clergy. I personally know some of these. There are currently a lot of Methodist ministries out there that are out of touch and disconnected from their surrounding communities. Can we find a way to do better at understanding other cultures, languages, styles of living, social and economic realities and needs beyond what is familiar to our comfortable lives?

If the world is our parish, then it goes outside of the church walls. We must EXIT the doors leading into our sanctuaries, not stand behind our pulpits and wait for the world to find its way to us. One, it's not going to happen. And two, even if it did happen... by the time they "find" the dim light on the hill, it's probably going to be too late to recover many valuable ministry moments and opportunities... I thought that was what "transformation of the world" meant. The world and its people are out there ~ why aren't we?

A good shepherd walks among the sheep and is sure they are rescued, fed, cared for, and loved. Less than that is complacency and a failure to be a minister. I think it's a valid concern and should be acknowledged. If we're not being complacent... if we are doing relevant ministry and leading individuals to the discovery of God's love for them... then what are we worried about? Should we honestly be freaking out about not having a guaranteed appointment? The only guarantee Jesus Christ had when he walked this same earth was death. Our guarantee is life, eternally in Christ. If that's not enough, maybe we need to consider and meditate upon a deeper theological understanding of who we are.

Do we trust God to provide our needs and to lead our steps, or do we just say that we do? I would opt for depending on God to provide, and not on a guaranteed appointment. The only job I know of that does that in the "real" world is the military. That's a lot of P.T. (physical traning), guys! Well, that would resolve some of the health issues among our clergy. Maybe we could offer one in exchange for the other?

Sometimes it's not hard for me to picture our "shepherds" sitting inside at their own kitchen table, feasting as they look out the window and observe a hungry flock that is lost, confused, disillusioned and disappointed in the church that claims to love God and declares love for the sheep. Part of what I hear from young adults that are leaving or have left the church is that we keep acting like the rest of the world. Why should they come to us when they can get that anywhere?

And when will we look at the reality of Local Pastors that are doing amazing and effective ministry and have no guarantee? An effective Local Pastor will lose his appointment while an ineffective ordained minister will not. Seems a strong contradiction of many things. Ah... I better just stop now. Keep praying... we just keep praying...but when the prayer is answered and we are called and led to act... well...

Forgive the rant, but it's starting to get a little old... I KNOW that as people of God, we can do better.

Andrew Conard

Mark - Thank you for your series of Methodist Monday posts. I believe that the best days of the UMC are ahead and every day that I go to work, I pray for renewal within the denomination.
I believe that doing away with guaranteed appointments is the one change that could have the greatest potential positive impact for the denomination. It is a long term change toward good. There would not be much of a discernable impact in the first few years after the change. However, ten to fifteen years after the change the quality of United Methodist elders serving across the denomination would be notably increased. This would lead to better leadership, better outcomes and healthier congregations.
I will be ordained at the Kansas West Annual Conference this week as an elder. As a young adult with over 35 years to serve as a United Methodist elder, I am not concerned about being guaranteed an appointment. The United Methodist Church would be able to more capably fulfill her mission without guaranteed appointments.

Randy Willis

I believe the UMC will benefit if guaranteed appointments are removed because it will challenge the culture of mediocrity and will force pastors to focus on the true mission of the church.

I imagine there will be a lot of fear (how will effectiveness be determined or measured?) and disillusionment (who changed the mission?).

But the bigger task will be training new pastors and retooling existing ones to be transformational leaders (instead of chaplains who do ministry for the people in the church and managers who maintain the institution). If the expectations are changing, our training had better change as well!

FWIW, my wife and I are both pastors. We came to the UMC in 1998 with M.Div. degrees and we've been in the ordination process ever since (mainly because we learned a few years into the process that our degrees came from a school that was ATS-accredited but not on the University Senate list; we completed D.Mins. in 2008). We're on track for ordination in 2011. We want to be pastors in the UMC because our ministries bear fruit, not because of the word "shall."

Mark, thanks for this series of Methodist Mondays. It's been very challenging, and I look forward to what it produces!

UM Pastor's Wife

As a pastor's wife, I would happily give up guaranteed appt if it meant no more itineracy. The appointment/itineracy system does not work for modern families, it causes ill-fitting pastorates, and creates a feeling of transience that hinders real investment in growing that community.

The one "pro" for appointments is that there are many congregations who would never choose a female or minority elder who are forced to broaden their horizons. I imagine this is the reason that the CT wants to hang onto top-down appointments even if guaranteed appointments are abolished. A noble reason, I suppose, but there has got to be a better way to encourage diverse pastorates that doesn't make everyone less effective!

Jeff Slater

I've got to chime in with a "con" argument here... One of the theologies I've had to wrestle with is our belief that ordination is a life commitment. I struggled with that when I first heard my call, but came to realize that it is true, at least for me. That said, ending guaranteed appointments would cheapen what it means to be an ordained Elder and it would greatly cheapen the ordination process.

I also fear that, without checks and balances, ending guaranteed appointements gives too much power to Bishops. The power to effectively end, or at best put on hold, a divinely-ordained career shouldn't rest in the hand of any one person, no matter how good or holy they are! At the very least I think the Board of Ordained Ministry would have to sign off on an Elder not receiving an appointment along with an appeal process.

I suppose my true fear, though, is that this whole discussion comes not from a spirit of discernement but from fear of numerical decline. I'm not saying there aren't bad pastors out there, but scapegoating might be even more harmful to our collective soul than the least effective of all pastors.

David

The question was once raised that, "why would a christian organization or company need a time clock. Two reasons, it keeps people accountable and keeps them honest.
I don't think that it would be too much to ask for elders the keep their accountability. I would also look for those eager to stand up for this as elders. I would if I were an elder.
I am a leader in my company and in charge of everyone's accountability. Wage reviews and raises. But I refuse to give myself a raise so as to remain accountable to someone else.
I believe its part of stepping into any leadership role.

John Beavers

Personally, I don't have too much of a problem with guaranteed appointments. The biggest problem I have is with elders who shirk the authority of the Bible and/or the Discipline, and who reject the Wesleyan theologicla heritage. As Wesley said, "I am not afraid that the people called Methodists should ever cease to exist either in Europe or America. But I am afraid lest they should only exist as a dead sect, having the form of religion without the power. And this undoubtedly will be the case unless they hold fast both the doctrine, spirit, and discipline with which they first set out." Is this not what is happening to United Methodism in the West? How can we claim the name "Methodist" if we disreguard Wesley's teaching? How can we be faithful to Wesley if we allow elders who teach contradictory to Wesley? Guaranteed appointments is not the problem, it is the lack of Weslean theology in our elders that is the problem. Wesley also said, "Where Christian perfection is not strongly and explicitly preached, there is seldom any remarkable blessing from God.... Till you press the believers to expect full salvation now you must not look for any revival." How can this be preached if elders do not believe it? To fix the problem we must dismiss elders who do not agree with the essentials of Weslean theology. Wesley booted many people who did not teach in accord with him, why are we afraid to do so? I agree with Augustine's dictum:
In essentials-unity, In nonessentials-liberality, In all things charity. However, salvation by grace through faith in Jesus is not a non-essential!

One last thought. Stratigies and goals are just masks to cover the fact that we do not believe that God will do any supernatural work in helping the Church spread the Gospel. Looking at Wesley's ministry, God worked alongside Wesley by confirming Wesley's message with signs following. People fell down under great conviction of sin, and with the prayers of the believers, people were converted. That is how the Gospel spread in NT times. We, however, do not ask, seek, or expect that in our ministry. Human strategies will never suffice in winning people to Christ when there must be a revelatory action of God for someone to see the Truth of the Gospel. Without a revelation, the message we proclaim is just foolishness to those that are perishing. We need, not only, to weed out elders with unscriptural theology in the essentials, but to also ask God to confirm His Word with signs following, just like Wesley did. Otherwise, we're not Methodists at all, we just carry the name.

John Beavers - 33
Former Certified Candidate for Ministry
Pastor's Spouse - Shattuck, OK

Dave

I think first we need to determine what an 'effective' pastor is. Is it entirely connected to numerical growth? If so, it is easy to determine who to keep and who to cut. In fact, someone could probably create a spreadsheet to do the job.

If the criteria are more complex, well, that seems to be where the problems arise and where fear of abuse creeps in. Would it be possible a pastor could be 'let go' because of personality conflicts with the 'powers that be'?

I'm sure there are pastors who should not be pastoring a church, so there should be a way to deal with it. However, in many ways the UMC seems like a pretty impersonal system in the way we deal with this issue. How much contact do the Superintendents and/or the Bishop have with the pastors (or even the churches) in their care? How does one assess effectiveness without contact and understanding of the ministry context? We rely on reports and statistics and getting rid of guaranteed appointments is not, in my opinion, that radical.

What would be radical is if we could find ways (other than statistically) to determine who we are, what we are about, and what in the world our goals are. After all, does our membership statistic really = the number of disciples in our congregations? Does it really matter if we have 200 people who show up an hour a week if that is all they end up doing? Our mission is to make disciples for the transformation of the world, but do we really even know what a disciple is or looks like? How does one measure discipleship? Are all those serving in the nursery, or on the praise team, or on administrative boards disciples because they are serving within the church walls? We might have a pastor problem, but I think our biggest problem is the issue of true discipleship and living under the kingdom of God. How do we measure that? How do we know if the pastor is an effective part of the discipleship process?

It seems to me our real mission isn't to make disciples but rather to continue to exist.

Ed

If we do away with guaranteed appointment to eliminate ineffective clergy we also need to eliminate the guarantee of a pastor for churches that will not engage in ministry. I am an elder currently appointed to a charge that will not engage in ministry beyond their walls. It is frustrating as anything, nothing I do seems to move them. Also the decision no not reappoint an elder must be one made by more than a single person.

John Meunier

If I understand the final bit of the post correctly, I agree. I think getting the clergy - guaranteed or not - passionate about the kingdom of God would take care of a lot of problems.

If we had a passionate break out of the Holy Spirit among us - I write this on Aldersgate day - then we would have a lot fewer arguments about systems, structures, and other things that block effectiveness.

This is my take anyway.

Abril

There is available to us a system for removing ineffective pastors, and it is called "involuntary leave of absence." I am a provisional elder in a conference with a bishop who takes advantage of that system. We have several elders who have caused harm to churches or who have been ineffective in a number of ways who have been asked to take a voluntary leave or be put on leave. Most of them have chosen the former. It is my feeling, as someone else stated, that to completely remove the guaranteed appointment makes ordination almost meaningless. (I believe the phrase was "cheapens the meaning of ordination.") I serve in a conference where it is EXTRAORDINARILY difficult to be ordained. People have left our conference for others because they couldn't make it through our requirements. There have been many times where I have been angry about this. If you're called, you're called. You shouldn't be punished for being called; your call should be celebrated. We're supposed to be covenental, aren't we? But we also have a lot of very effective clergy. And we have what is at times an unhealthy competitive spirit. (We have our share of "maintainers" too, but they are aging and will eventually all be retired.) I am a second career female who, in addition to having served on staff at several large and medium-size churches, is now serving in my second appointment as the senior pastor of a rural, cranky church who doesn't want a female and who doesn't want to change in any way, shape, or form. They are soooo happy being stuck in a rut. Have you ever tried to convince sixty five 70 year olds who love the Cokesbury hymnal that worship needs to be a little more lively if we want young families (or even 50 year olds) to come? When he sent me to this church (remember - second time to go to a rural church as a first female pastor), the DS said, "They say they want to grow. Let's see if they really mean it." They didn't, of course. But the DS said, "If anyone can do this, you can." Do you know what kind of foundation I had to build before I could even begin to talk to them about looking beyond their own desires and self-serving attitudes? We are taking baby steps. Itty bitty baby steps. And each one is agonizing. And slow. This is not the church I dreamed of serving when I was called to ministry or in my (so far) 8 year journey toward ordination. (I am a PE beginning my 2nd year of residency.) But it's where I was sent. This congregation is learning a new way of being and gradually getting healthier (I pray). They may die before they grow, but if they do grow it is going to be because they learned what it means to be the body of Christ in the world. And it will be change that lasts. But in the meantime, how do we measure that??

It's not that I necessarily have a problem doing away with the guaranteed appointment, but the reality is that there is only so much a clergy person can do. We have so many unhealthy churches - but WE MADE THEM THAT WAY. Us. The United Methodist system created churches that are more social clubs than they are places of transformation. We lived through an era where it was assumed everyone was a Christian. We taught people to be superficial in their faith. And now we need to blame somebody, I guess. (Don't look at me; I just got here.) This is not something we can fix overnight.

Just tell me how we're going to measure. Make it real. Make it about the Kingdom of God, not about numbers. Tell me that the next pastor my little church eats alive isn't going to be the one the Bishop says, "Sorry Joe. You didn't baptize 5 converts this year. Maybe you should try the grocery store down the street; I hear they're hiring."

Dave

It will be interesting to see the report once it is finished. If they do recommend doing away with guaranteed appointments I also hope they take a look at the whole system. After all, why are certain clergy 'ineffective'? We are the ones who voted them in right? They went through a lengthy process (job interview?) in order to be ordained. At one point we believed they would be effective. What changed? Were we wrong to vote them in? Are we partially responsible for their ineffectiveness? Wouldn't it be better to find means of redemption for their calling rather than turning them away?

Is it possible for someone to be effective in their first few appointments and then become ineffective? Why might that happen? Could the pressure of the pulpit crush some who have a legitimate call?

The biggest question in my mind is, what do we do about all this? It sounds like the commission's idea is we should cut them loose. Sounds like the easy way out in the midst of so much complexity (just see Abril's post for some of the complexity). Could there be another, perhaps more redemptive way, to deal with ineffective clergy? (I just started wondering how we deal with ineffective churches (if there is such a thing), "may" we cut them loose too?)

If we do end guaranteed appointments I also hope we end the whole church parsonage concept too. I say this because I think it is very uncaring to put people through a process that says "We are approving you for ministry..." and then put them in a system where they become dependent on that system for basic needs such as shelter and then later tell them, "Well...it just isn't working out...we'll try to help you find a new career. Blessings..." That leaves someone who thought they were giving their lives in service with basically nothing. No job. No home. No equity. Nothing. It is literally starting from scratch. It also seems to me (from the report) that it might be older clergy who will be let go. I can't imagine trying to start over in my 50's or 60's. (I mention the older clergy because in the UMNews article it said something about making room for younger clergy.)

I don't think you can change one aspect of a system like ours without looking at the whole system. Why don't we have apprenticeship or mentoring relationships for clergy? Why do even the clergy who want to leave feel like they are stuck in this system? If it is declared the clergy are the problem...I think we, as UMs, should admit that we are the ones who had a hand in creating them...or at least created the system that created the problem. How in the world can we stand by and not feel a bit responsible for their ineffectiveness? Is this a covenant or is everyone on his or her own?

Ethan

If guaranteed appointments are taken away, it must be on both sides, from the clergy and the church itself. However, I think that instead of not giving an ineffective clergy, we should offer them help and guidance. I think we should add to the discipline some sort of ineffectiveness clauses that apply to clergy and local churches, rather than take away guranteed appointments.

Randy Willis

Good discussion.

A couple people have expressed concern that removing guaranteed appointments would lessen the value of ordination. I don't follow. How so?

Regarding the concern about how effectiveness would be determined/measured (which I understand), it might depend on the conference, but I wouldn't be too concerned in my conference. I wouldn't see the removal of guaranteed appointments as an opportunity for the Bishop/Cabinet to immediately fire a bunch of ineffective pastors. In other words, I don't see it as a quick-fix, but rather, a long-term way of dealing with *one* of the problems of our church's ineffectiveness.

Pastor R

Some things that would clear the air before the "covenant" is changed:
1. Increase trust in the church. As it is, there is deep distrust between pastors and the church hierarchy, congregations and the hierarchy, and pastors and churches. This fundamental pathology is part of what is dragging us down. As long as we are fundamentally a top-down authoritarian system - which the current proposal regarding elders exacerbates - trust will continue to be lacking.
2. Find a shared vision for ministry and a shared theological vision. We have the Book of Discipline with our "official doctrine," but this is "official" more than it is operational (to use George Lindbeck's helpful terms), or "not to be taken literally and juridically" (in the Discipline's language). We have Bishop Schnase's 5 practices, but these are flexible and institutional enough that they can be interpreted so many ways that they allow too much wiggle room. We have our mission statement - "To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world," but lacking a shared understanding of who Jesus is and what transformation he seeks, "disciple" remains a fuzzy, feel-good term for many. We have our marketing mantra, "Open hearts, Open minds, Open doors," but that is the gospel of inclusivism, not the gospel of Jesus.
3. We need to address the theological and ecclesial vision being inculcated in our seminaries. Is what they teach our future elders compatible with our vision for reaching people? If not, are we willing to hold them accountable, or do we bow before the gods of "academic freedom," "theological pluralism," and "we've always done it this way?"

Ben McGehee

I completely agree that the UMC should do away with guaranteed appointments. I am a little concerned with just making a change from "shall" to "may" in the Discipline, because it opens the door for arbitrary decisions by the Cabinet or Bishop. Maybe if there is an accompanying provision that each Annual Conference (possibly just the Clergy session) set up guidelines that they will use for decision-making - just so people know what they are going to be held accountable to. I also like the suggesstion to guarantee clergy at least two different appointments before making a decision.

I completely agree with Bishop Hagiya that guaranteed appointments breeds a culture of medicrity. I wonder what my Bishop thinks about that - maybe he'll say something at Annual Conference in a couple of weeks - or maybe I should just ask him...

Jamie Westlake

Yes, we should do away with the guaranteed appointment system, and I believe the measure would pass at General Conference. Why? Because lay people are fed up and the pastors that get elected to serve as General Conference delegates tend to be at churches that are more healthy than unhealthy. It would definitely pass in Annual Conference sessions as well; that is, as long as only those elders in full connection who served churches that had at least 1 profession of faith the previous year (that's not exactly setting the bar too high!) got to vote! I'm not too worried about our ability to come up with agreed upon goals and standards based on "the Methodist way," which is more than the "A-B-C's"- attendance, buildings, and cash. We call them missional vital signs in the FL Conf. I don't think it's rocket science to determine whether or not positive, Kingdom growth is occurring in a given local church.

John

Abril,

Serving in the same Conference as you, I understand where you are coming from. I'm not as far along in my process as you are,and I share your frustration. On the other hand, I'm glad we have high standards around here, even if the process isn't perfect.

Here is my question regarding your comments on effectiveness: if we don't measure success by numbers, how shall we measure it? How do we know who is effective and who needs a leave of absence?

Personally, I would like us to measure effectiveness my how well a pastor teaches and preaches the Gospel as defined in part two of the Discipline; but I know that some in our conference would find a doctrinal litmus test even less appealing than counting nickles and noses.

Ben- your suggestion of letting a pastor have a few chances seems wise and moderate. Glad to see you are still the level-headed guy I met at Asbury.

BT Gilligan

As one of the youngest clergy in my conference I will be directly impacted by this. While I intend to never be mediocre I see a lot of it among my co-workers in the faith. I wouldn't be opposed to not being guaranteed an appointment but some other things need to change, like the vows, and the appointment system.

Randy Willis

Abril and John, I'd be interested in knowing what the ordination process looks like in your conference, specifically, what makes it more challenging than others? I'm curious.

Thanks!

Brett

As a second career person, the guaranteed appointment has never been that attractive to me. I've worked most of my life with no guarantee. I think the discussion here is excellent. Lots more to this than meets the eye.

I have worked on staff at a large church and at two small, dying churches. My goals have been different at all three. That's why it is hard to have a hard and tight criteria for effectiveness. The big church was attractional, all the bells and whistles. The two small churches (the last one in a neighborhood that flipped demographically) have been more about getting out and engaging/loving the community missionally which doesn't always mean statistical success back at the home base (especially when the home base doesn't match the community in race, age, income or style).

As a change agent, I do wonder how the loss of the guaranteed appointment will affect the confidence of pastors who need to shake things up in dying churches. Will we be labeled trouble makers, ineffective because we did what needed to be done?

All that being said, I have a feeling that practically this can be determined by the smell-test. We aren't talking about running off half the pastors here. We all know the 5% that need to be helped in finding a new "ministry."

We also need to find a way to get tough with ineffective, never-gonna-change churches. No guarantees of a pastor for them. The UMC needs to have some minimum requirements for putting the brand name out on the front sign. McDonald's doesn't allow its franchisees to consistently fail without shutting them down or getting new franchisees. The Bishops need to throw their weight around more and get these churches in line, even if it means making a few folks mad and losing a few apportionment dollars.

Matt

Guaranteed appointments are nice. It's an element of job security; however, they can also be a problem. People can get lazy and coast, but at the same time, if they are just coasting, are they fulfilling their call to ministry in the first place?

I don't think God calls pastors into ministry just so they can have job security and skate by. Those who are called and are fulfilling their call do not need to worry about guaranteed appointments because they will be doing what they are supposed to be doing in the first place. The ones that need to worry about losing guaranteed appointments are the ones who are holding on to that as a reason to stay in the ministry.

Steveheyduck

Just a quick point: hopefully I am restating what others have mentioned.

As an elder, I tend to support moving away from the guaranteed appointment as ONE step toward renewal. I must admit, however, that I cannot help but wonder if LIFETIME election to the Episcopacy has led to similar mediocrity and ineffectiveness at that level, or if the security of tenure only affects all the elders who are not elected Bishop.

Jonathan Boltz

Wow, seems like a big, corporate bureaucracy rather than the body/family of Christ.

Diana Clark

The United Methodist church has become very close to becoming the picture of the Church of Thyatira. And from what I can tell the corruption is in the beaurocracy and governing of the church. Satan is crippling the body from the top down. Many an unsuspecting local congregation has no idea why the church is so unproductive and stifled on the local level. Many remain in "their" methodist church because they are unaware of the graying of clear Biblical lines in the Book of Discipline. Our church had a study group that read through the Book of Discipline and our local conservative congregation was mortified. Our distraught pastor had the DS come to "talk" to us. My only comment to our DS was that as soon as the study was over, I would be trashing my copy so that my descendants might never fing that book in my belongings. That was ten years ago. Our family finally left the Methodist church one month ago. That's how loyal your "born-n-bred" Methodists are. We don't want to leave, we want things to be different, we understand the global impact and good that the UMC is capable of. But locally, evangelism is stifled. Nothing is happening despite our best efforts. Strong pastoral leadership is definitely a problem. But the song and dance routine that leads to final persecution is ridiculuous. How can a pastor effectively lead a "fickle, this is our church, and you are only here for a time" congregation. They don't stand a chance. We finally came to the realization that doctinally the UMC is on a bad path and locally the Great Commission is not being accomplished through the UMC, but it is being accomplished by the unencumbered, non-denominational churches. I just finished re-reading the Left Behind series. It is scary how the Methodist church already reflects the One World Religion portrayed in the books.

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