Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Question of the Day

¶ 337.1 of The Book of Discipline 2004 reads (in part):

All elders in full connection who are in good standing in an annual conference shall be continued under appointment by the bishop....

Should the United Methodist Church continue the practice of "guaranteed appointment"?


Rev. J said...

I'll start things off...My main concern is keeping ministers doing good ministry. I think there are some who get into the UMC appointment system and love the 'guaranteed job for life' aspect. I think some ministers get complacent and lazy and some of it revolves around this guaranteed appointment and of course other things. I wonder if we were not guaranteed an appointment if people would work harder and not be as lackadaisical about their ministry.

Ken L. Hagler said...

I concur with rev.j to a point. I think the crack in the guaranteed appointment system is accountability. It happens when the process succumbs to the "Peter Principal." And we struggle when the measure of success is building retirement rather than building the Kingdom.

From my time interviewing as a youth minister and my friends in other traditions, I do not see "the call" system as a better way. There are other issues which arise.

Maybe we should ask further, if we dropped the guaranteed appointment, what would we replace it with?

Ontario Emperor said...

My perspective on this is as an ex-Methodist, now LCMS, with a wife who was a called teacher in the Lutheran school system.

In one respect, I believe that the church owes its pastors the means to earn a livelihood. They have to obtain a pricey education, and then they serve in positions that do not pay that high of a salary. To kick them to the curb before retirement age seems somehow un-Christian.

I am assuming that "appointment" does not necessarily mean appointment in a congregation. If a pastor is in good standing but ineffective, one could send to headquarters to do something or another, I guess.

Elizabeth said...

I have mixed feelings. I like the guaranteed appointment system, but only if we also have other ways of encouraging/requiring clergy to be effective leaders. I think that for many churches who will still never want a person of color or a woman as a pastor, the guaranteed appointment system is still crucial.

jimmorrow said...

...who are in good standing ...

I may be unclear as to the BOD definition of "good standing," but this appears to have the answers written into it already. The idea would be to follow up on accountability and then define what is to be done with elders who are not in good standing.

Don Yeager said...

If a pastor is incompetent or ineffective, there should be ways to deal with him/her. Most should be "weeded out" in the candidacy and/or probationary processes. But if they make it through that, they should be given ample opportunity to improve their performance.

I believe itineracy and guaranteed appointment are a trade-off. As an alder, I agree to go wherever and whenever the bishop sends me, sometimes at significant cost to myself and my family. In exchange, I am guaranteed a place of ministry as long as I am meeting standards of performance.

I'm not, however, guaranteed a certain salary (except at minimum or above), a "promotion" every time I move, or a church in the area or of the type I prefer or in a place where my spouse can be employed.

I believe this is a fair balance.

Wesley Sanders said...

I think guaranteed appointment is good if we maintain systems of accountability so that being in "good standing" is more than sending the statistical tables on time. As someone going into the ministry, considering the high cost involved with going to seminary, having some job security is important for me.

David said...

I do. However, I think that the limits of who should receive guaranteed appointments should be more heavily monitored - which at this time resides in the power of the Boards of Ordained Ministry. I think they would need to dedicate an entire segment of their Orders to this task, year round.

Nate Loucks said...

This is a great question and I've appreciated reading the responses. (I read this blog often but rarely comment) As someone not too familiar with all the UMC practices, I can see this issue being a necessary means to the ordination ends. If we require our elders to go through such a rigorous ordination process and spend the money/time, I can see why we would reward them with a guaranteed appointment/pay check. In one sense, it has shades of a labor union. Rev. J is correct, though about his/her concerns, I think.

On the flip side, if the requirements of ordination are made not as stringent, I can see the guaranteed appointment method not being as necessary.

But those are just my preliminary, uneducated, ill-thought feelings at the moment.

Anonymous said...

Ivan Walters says Yes, if the system is modified so that every year the number of ministers needed [due to deaths, retirements, transfers]in each district are tallied and only that number of canidates for ministry are allowed. That way the supply will be close to demand.

Larry B said...

I think most of the arguments used here for keeping the guaranteed appointment could be used for a lot of secular professions as well and it's hard to justify keeping a guaranteed appointment on those grounds because the rest of the country doesn't have this kind of guarantee.

I think the guaranteed appointment is a good idea only if you are going to have an itinerant system that is enforced and used fairly. I see too many abuses of this system where pastors are allowed to avoid itinerancy and this makes the system unfair for those who participate. I recently moved away from a church where the associate pastor had served her first appointment at that church and had been there for 9 years as an associate. The senior pastor had also been at the church for the same 9 years. This is in a region where they have a hard time getting ministers out to the smaller churches because there aren't enough candidates available.

Daniel McLain Hixon said...

no. Competence should be factored in to any decision to continue deploying an elder. Maybe a review every 3 or 5 years could give a thumbs up/down on any elder. This should not be particularly rigorous event, save for those who clearly lack competence or are in some other way unqualified (at the time) to continue serving. They could be suspended for a period maybe 1-3 years or permanently. Otherwise they may bring their incompetence to administrative jobs!

Andy B. said...

Would we feel differently about the "guaranteed" part of the intenerancy if clergy salaries were uniform throughout the conference?

John B said...

Yes, but for different reasons than anyone has mentioned.

An important "unofficial doctrine" among UM clergy is the freedom of the pulpit. UM pastors are much freer to speak prophetically because their congregations can't fire them. Knowing that I will have the means to provide for my family because of I have a guaranteed appointment, allows me to say what needs to be said, and not simply what the congregation may want to hear.

I think this is one of the reasons that the UM church has been on the leading edge of many societal changes.

doodlebugmom said...

Right now we have a pastor I wish would move on, but then again, I wouldn't wish him on another congregation. We have over 400 members and average less than 50 in church each Sunday. (so it seems I am not the only one who had enough).

John said...

I agree with Don Yeager. Guaranteed appointment is a fair tradeoff for the rigors of the candidacy process and itinerancy. And John B makes an important point. A pastor could be less effective if his/her employment was contingent upon a simple congregational vote.

Pastor Blue Jeans said...

I have many differing views on this.
The guarantee of an appointment is one of the benefits of traveling through this LONG process and going into ridiculous debt at times.

I also have seen some pastors who continue on and start to "coast" because of this guarantee.

I also see some who don't participate in the itineracy part of the process but enjoy the benefits of the guarantee and beyond anything else this bothers me to no end.

I believe as jimmorrow states that the phrase in good standing is all that is really needed to make sure the system works as it is designed.

We need people to be held accountable to each other and to the system and to God.

the system as laid out I think works

RERC said...

The guaranteed appointment has its problems, which I believe are similar to those faced in other systems where appointment is used (e.g. the RC church).

In the church where I grew up we were appointed--in succession--a pastor who hit on our women, followed by a pastor struggling with his sexual identity (he finally decided he was gay) and a pastor with severe alcohol problems (DUIs, etc.).

Our various DSes over the years knew of these problems. They had surfaced at previous appointments. Yet these troubled men were sent to us anyway--and our PPR leaders were not told of their histories in advance.

In each case, we had to go back to the conference when crises arose. That's when we found out about the histories.

In two of the cases, the pastors got desk jobs with the conference. (That happens much more often than you'd think. And it certainly doesn't do anythning for conference leadership.

In the case of the alcoholic pastor, he was reassigned again, after several bouts in and out of rehab over a period of years with us.

When there's just a revolving door and a guaranteed appointment, these kinds of things happen. I can certainly see how the RC church gets itself in trouble.

Andrew C. Thompson said...

I may not be 100% correct on this, but I believe the guaranteed appointment clause was inserted in the 1960s, and it was done largely to protect pastors who spoke out prophetically on issues of race that could be extremely unpopular in their local settings. In that sense, the guaranteed appointment served an extremely important function.

But we should also recognize the historical context of that time period. Race relations have been our country's single most contentious social issue throughout its history. A fairly dramatic protective measure for the clergy was necessary at the time.

Beyond that, we should also realize that guaranteed appointments are not only un-Wesleyan; they are fairly anti-Wesleyan. If we are to remain true to our roots as an evangelical renewal movement in the church catholic, then we will remain dependent on clergy who are alive with the Holy Spirit and calling sinners to repentance and new life. Giving pastors a free pass once they get past the gate of ordination does nothing for the connection as a whole. There should be some kind of mechanism for accountability throughout one's career.

I'm not talking about anything draconian here. But anyone who has been in ministry for any length of time knows pastors who get shuttled around from church to church, never serving anywhere longer than a year or two. The notion that an annual conference should have to continue putting up with such people is excessive.