Monday, March 03, 2008

Arguments Against Itinerancy

BUMPED TO THE TOP: This Saturday comment thread is starting to get active, so I'm bumping it up.

Donald W. Haynes has a list of arguments against clergy itinerancy:

* Clergy do not and cannot escape the realities of culture—we live in a two-income world. The plaintive cry I hear most often is, “My spouse cannot move or our family budget will be devastated.” Itineracy is creating “weekend marriages” where the spouse in secular employment stays behind during the week.

* Itineracy harms innocent victims. It separates patients with precarious diseases from access to their doctors, increases the burden of caring for aging parents, interrupts institutional care for children with physical or emotional handicaps and uproots people who provide childcare for grandchildren.

* Local churches no longer reflect the old pattern of cookie-cutter uniformity that used to make it easy for bishops to move pastors around. Because of today’s varying worship styles, demographics and church size, what works in one parish will be foreign to another, resulting in great frustration and conflict.

* Church analysts recognize that effective parish ministry calls for the transformation of congregational culture. This takes time—a long time. Researcher Lovett Weems defines culture as, “The way we do things here.” The pastor who is never in one place long enough to understand the culture cannot be a visionary leader.

* Americans are rallying around the word “change” in this election year, but what is the content of this change? In the itineracy model, change for laity means, “Just send us a new preacher,” and for clergy, “Just move me to a different charge.” But revolving-door itineracy never gets to the heart of church dysfunctionality. The old comic strip “Pogo” said it best: “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Real change often requires not medicinal salve but major surgery.

* Baby Boomers and Millennials increasingly resist models of authoritarianism. Even the corporate world today has few models of itineracy: management-level leaders change jobs rather than move.

* Local pastors are often used to fill the demand for pastors today. They are not forced to itinerate and many have compelling reasons for not doing so.

* Ordained deacons have neither guaranteed appointment nor required itineracy. The parallel “rails” of the two orders are indeed no longer parallel.

What do you think? Should the itinerancy system be phased out or modified?


TN Rambler said...

Are there things wrong with Itineracy? Yes. Does it need to be scrapped? No, I don't think so. In Holston, we are heading toward longer appointments, and that is a good thing. No matter what happens, it would be foolish to move to a call dosen't work any better.

Stresspenguin said...

I agree with tn rambler. I like the appointment system and the itinerancy that goes with it. The idea of being in a call system...well, I don't like it.

Anyway, I remember growing up in my home church in Missouri that we could assume that we'd get a new pastor more frequently than we'd have the opportunity to get a new President. Three years was standard, four was the rare exception. I never felt like our pastor was our pastor; just a kindly stranger passing through.

Bishop Schnase has made it a point to lengthen appointments to a five year minimum. I'm happy that I'll be returning to that kind of environment when I go back home.

Will said...

A lot in the critiques makes sense, though I agree with the others in doubting that these constitute reasons for scrapping it. We are asking many of the same questions in the British Connexion as well (I spent an all too short two hour meeting over various proposals, partly about the itinerancy). One critique that night said itinerant system as developed appears to assume a male pastor with a wife as home-maker or 'traditional' job. As one clergy husband said that night, 'I couldn't make a home if it came in a kit from Ikea.' I wondered when I was in the UMC and now wonder in the British system if the church is truly ready to look at the changing culture and look to help clergy couples and clergy with spouses in careers that don't suit the system.

Also, one has to keep in mind regarding the US system is that the only way to get a pay rise is to move up the system. I realise that we don't go into ministry to get rich, but I am pained by the stories of people who struggle to make ends meet when at small churches that can't afford to pay them. What would it do to keep pastors in those long term without thinking about their specific situation? (We have a socialised pay scale in Britain).

DannyG said...

Being on the pew side of this, I think that conference and district structure would be a possible solution. Within easy driving distance of my church there are at least 20 UMC churches of various sizes. I would hope that a Bishop would take this into account when making an appointment if there are special needs in the family. Of course, I've lived in New Mexico and, outside of Albuquerque and Santa Fe it can be 100 miles between settlements. That would make coverage of some postings difficult. I grew up in a military family and am used to the idea of packing up ever 4 yrs, so I guess that it doesn't seem as off putting to me as it would be to somebody who grew up in one community their whole life. Perhaps there should be a two track system: Settled for those who don't want to move and Itenerant for those who want to move, and move up the system. I do think that if you aspire to DS and Bishop that w wide variety of churches should be personally experienced.

Michael said...

I think there at least needs to be some consistency to the appointment system. There have been some pastors who have stayed 20+ years in a single appointment while others have moved every 3-5 years.

I can understand some of the arguments against itineracy system, and many have some level of validity; however, all these posted arguments fail to take the congregations' needs into account. The pastors deserve some consideration, of course, but it cannot be only about them. There is more than one factor involved. Besides, they all knew what was involved when they signed up.

John said...

The pastors deserve some consideration, of course, but it cannot be only about them. There is more than one factor involved. Besides, they all knew what was involved when they signed up.

Yeah, I've head waaay too much whining from pastors who knew about iterinancy when they signed up.

At any rate, as the author writes, itinerancy is protected by the Restrictive Rules. It's a permanent fixture, to be respected by all United Methodist pastors. Just like the Doctine of the Virgin Birth.

RERC said...

In addition to the points made in the original post, I would add the following:

Itinerancy/guaranteed appointments keeps problem pastors circulating and problem congregations supplied with fresh meat to grind up and spit out. Neither has any incentive to change.

Certain churches are always the "starter" churches. Others are always the "too small to get quality" churches. Others are seen as the training ground for pastors "on the rise." And then there are the "trophy" churches.

The churches themselves are just rungs on the ladder for the talented and promising, or dumping grounds for those not deemed as gifted.

After your first years in the ministry, you pretty much can figure out where your place is in the caste system.

I dream of a day when the UMC sheds this version of the itinerancy in favor of something, anything, that reflects more of the Kingdom.

Anonymous said...

Our bishop has made a comment before about the itinerant system. He said if we did away with "guaranteed" appointments the itinerant system would fix itself. Pastors who do well and are effective will be rewarded. Pastors who don't...won't.

The problem I see rising in the itinerant system is regarding local pastors. In some areas we have created a system of pastors who are not subject to itinerancy and are never planning on moving. Which is ok for rural appointments for stability, but what about our "mega" churches that create a position because a church member now wants to be a pastor?

Anonymous said...

Itinerancy is definitely a mixed bag of good points and bad points.

While I certainly applaud the efforts of bishops and cabinets to extend appointments that are "working." I find myself in an appointment that is working but I would nevertheless like to move out of consideration for my wife and her family (and other reasons as well), although I would have been serving this particular church for only 4 years come next July.

I followed someone that the system couldn't handle in terms of ineffectiveness, and he unfortunately did a great deal of irreversible damage to the congregation I serve now; I hope I would have the strength and integrity to just hang it up if I saw that I was not being effective.

On the other hand, staying too long even in a good match can be detrimental as well. My home church saw really explosive growth for about the first 10 years under a certain pastor, who is now in his 18th year or so; the growth has stopped, but he remains, I think just kind of riding out until retirement. The church made his salary so high that effectively he could not be appointed anywhere else, thus basically removing him from the itinerancy. I worry that when he does retire, the church will totally fall apart.

I don't know the solution, but part of me thinks doing away with the gauranteed part of the appointment wouldn't be a bad idea.

Don Yeager said...

I have often though that making appointments for four or five years at a time rather than 1 year would be better. That way the pastor and congregation would know going in that it was for the long(er) haul.

Changes could still be made in emergencies, but I think the 1-year-at-a-time appointment creates undue anxiety in churches and preachers.

klh said...

It's funny - I just had lunch with some clergy families from other denominations complaining over the call system. They talked about the loneliness of the decision-making process - When do you move? When things are going well? When things are going poorly? In the UMC, we have a whole host of people involved in the decision - District Superintendents, Bishops, PPRC - and while that feels like a negative in some ways, there is comfort in that in others ways. Right now my husband and I are considering moving, and it is really, really comforting not to be alone in this decision.

Also, because our system is what it is, pastors and cabinets can challenge the congregations in ways they might not choose but might need - like an all-white church getting an African American pastor, or a pastor speaking out about an issue that he or she knows will not be popular with the congregation - in such cases the question of "Will I get fired?" need not come into play. Pastors are suppose to lead the church, and I think in a call system it can be too easy for this situation to be reversed, because, in effect, the PPRC committee has ALL the real power of appointment. And so the need to maintain one's job at one's particular ministry site because of spouse needs, health causes, etc. - these do not disappear, there just isn't someone with real power outside of the particular local church involved in making such decisions.

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

It needs to be modified. Longer appointments should become the standard (perhaps quadrinnial appointments?) except in cases where there is some reason to pull the pastor after 1 year.

Anonymous said...

Wesley thought itinerant system was part of God’s call to go preach the Gospel to all the lands. What did he know - he would probably think a bishop should get out of the office and into the churches and ask at annual conference what have we done with the Lord’s gifts and thank and invite those with poor fruit out of the communion. Now that would mess with pension fund planning!

rev-ed said...

I could go on for pages about how the itineracy hurts churches, let alone pastors and their families. But I'll leave it at this, coming from a denomination that has modified the itineracy out of existance: It is nearly impossible for a church to grow while changing leadership every three years. It takes time for trust to grow. The only successful churches we had were the ones which in some manner escaped the three-year swap routine.

jimmorrow said...

I like tn ramblers comment.

This is an issue that must be tackled in each annual conference and, if possible, in the local church to some degree.

Anonymous said...

from the hybrid pastor:
I am in a unique situation to speak on this issue, having served during two decades in the UMC appointment system, then in an extension ministry appointment until about two years ago. As our extension ministry assignment was winding down, my wife and I began to explore ministry possibilities in a variety of settings.

I ultimately received a call to a pastorate in another mainline denomination, which my UMC bishop graciously agreed to appoint me to.

Reflecting back on that transition period, it was nice to have a guaranteed appointment to fall back on, in the event that God did not call me to this or another situation. I know firsthand what it feels like to have a guaranteed job; a benefit of being a "union member" as it were.

My current pastorate is a great fit. As I get to know the call system, looking over the several dozen churches and pastors in our regional body, it seems to work a lot better here than the appointment system did back in my annual conference. The called pastors here seem to be of a more consistent quality, with many fewer "disasters" (the bad fruit of the guaranteed appointment) than I saw back in my home conference. The churches here seem healthier overall. I love the smaller judicatories and the quarterly meetings, in contrast with the huge annual conference. For the size of our judicatory, a lot of creative and effective mission happens. The sense of connectionalism is real - not just a mantra. Regional leadership does not seem so distant and preoccupied.

Churches in this version of the call system take an average of two years in an interim period after a pastor leaves to do a mission study and search for a new pastor. The interim period can stagnate growth and ministry in the short term, but can be very rewarding long-term.

The heavy investment of the congregation in the study and call process helps foster a bond between the "searched-for pastor" and the congregation, which I did not experience as the norm in the UMC.

In the UMC, lay leaders know that they really did not help to choose you in a significant way, and that ultimately whether you stay or not is not a decision for the church or the pastor to make. So the bonding tends not to be that strong, at least at first, which may be a factor in why it takes several years for a UM pastor to be really productive.

As I was being called to this congregation, I was closely examined at several denominational levels, as well as by the search committee. I was voted in with a 98.5% majority of the congregation. These first two years have been highly productive. I think the system and the resulting initial bond was a factor.

On the flip side, there seem to be fewer opportunities for ethnic minorities and women in the call system. Yet since women and minorities have found a home in the UMC, I think they would be treated more fairly if the UMC went to a hybrid call/appointment system, which is what I would recommend.

The call system tends to weed out the least productive pastors, and to reward the most productive pastors, but certainly along the way some potentially good pastors will have periods without employment, and surely there is sexism, racism and age-ism.

There is a lower percentage of parsonages in the call system, enabling a pastor to build home equity towards retirement, a good thing.

HS said...

I stumbled across this conversation quite by accident (if there is such a thing).
I'm serving in The Salvation Army, with an appointment system that has no local input, and very little consultation with the pastor (officer), leaving the determination of the appointment squarely on the shoulders of the administrative leaders, with the explanation that they know the needs of the organization, and those needs take precedence over other considerations. It's a tough place to be in when their view of God's direction doesn't line up with an individual's sense of God's direction. But very little possibility of change, for it works for the denomination, at least at the present time.

Anonymous said...

Amen to rev-ed, Amen! Having developed a personal friendship with 3 of five pastors' in a 13 year period, then see them pack and leave, the itinerancy system is debilitating to the Methodist Church. It seem lost on the bishops that new folks join a Church because of a pastor, and long term members and visitors quit because of replacement pastors where were,,,,,,,,,inefective elsewhere.