Friday, March 30, 2007

Appointing vs. Hiring Pastors

In a recent comment thread, Baptist reader Dan Trabue asked:

You know, there's a lot of things I appreciate about Methodists, but I never did get this whole appointment-of-pastors thing. Is it the case that churches don't have a say, or just not ultimate say on who their pastor is and how long he or she stays?

There are excellent responses to his query in the thread. I don't have time to lay out a complete argument for episcopal church government, but I would like to bring up a few points:
  • Episcopal government (hypothetically) has greater capacity for church discipline. If, for example, a pastor is popular but abusing his office (e.g. theft, immoral behavior) or is teaching false doctrine, then a presiding bishop can yank him out regardless of his local authority. For example, within hours of a UMC pastor getting arrested, the District Superintendent will suspend him from office and have a qualified interim pastor installed until the next appointment cycle.
  • Churches that hire the pastor that they want may not get the pastor that they need. Let us say that a local church has greatly bought into consumerist/health & wealth Christianity. If they have the power to choose their pastor, are they likely to hire what they need -- a pastor who will teach against this worldview? No.
  • A pastor in an episcopal governing church is not vulnerable to a 51% vote of members to remove him. In a congregational government, the authority in the church is a board of deacons or elders, or 51% of members at a business meeting. In an episcopal government, the pastor is sent to the church representing the authority of the bishop. Although a United Methodist pastor can be driven out of a church if enough members make enough noise, an overnight coup d'etat that leaves the pastor unemployed in the morning cannot happen in the UMC.
  • Episcopal government was how the early church, dating back to the Apostolic church, was led.

It is true that denominational authorities can abuse their power. Good ol' boys networks exist in some corners that protect immoral pastors or false teachers from their failure to uphold clergy standards. And congregational church governments have considerable advantages. But whatever system rules a denomination, it will become corrupt unless saturated with humble prayer and led by the Holy Spirit. That is an inevitability.


Keith Taylor said...

Excellent points, John. I am greatful to your for reminding me of these points. I often find myself questioning our Episcopal government and leaning in favor of a congregational form. These are but a very good few of why our UM system works well for us.

DannyG said...

As a layperson who had to explain the Methodist system to a wife born and bread Baptist (I related it to the military: every 4 yrs pastors move, whether or not they want to.) An additional observation that I've had is that many of the "congregational" churches seem to almost have a cult of personality built around the preacher. Look at the Saturday church listings. Where I live, the Methodist churches list name, address, contact info, service times, etc. where as many of the others feature a big pix. of the pastor. Look at how many of the Mega-churches have imploded when a pastor has a problem. I think that the iterinant system helps prevent this from happening.

Tim said...

When I was a Baptist preacher, the average tenure for Southern Baptist preachers was less than two years. I think Methodists have the reputation of moving a lot because it is a question visited every year.

When you consider how disruptive a pastoral change can be for a Baptist congregation (sometimes it can take up to two years to "call" a pastor), I have to think that our appointive system is far more stable and less traumatic and disruptive for congregations.

However, that feeds a potential weakness: sometimes change doesn't occur in congregations because Methodist ministers and congregations know when the going gets rough, we can make a change. Or wait out pastors/congregations until the move day comes.

Tim Sisk