Top 8 Reasons to End Guaranteed Appointments in the UMC

If I could change one thing in the United Methodist Church today, I would end guaranteed clergy appointments. Here are the top 10 reasons to end this practice:

8. Ineffective clergy will be more easily removed from leading a United Methodist church.

7. Effective clergy will be responsible for a increasing number of churches.

6. The circumstances that called for guaranteed appointments have changed.

5. A guaranteed job can foster complacency.

4. Provisional clergy would not be refused ordination based on availability of an appointment.

3. Continuing to do things the same way will not bring different results.

2. It would put an end to the advice to “Be a pastor only if you can’t imagine yourself doing anything else.”

1. Over time, the overall effectiveness and competency of clergy in the United Methodist Church will increase thereby aiding the church in making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

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33 thoughts on “Top 8 Reasons to End Guaranteed Appointments in the UMC

  1. Andrew,
    I couldn’t agree with you more.
    I think #5 is more prominent than anyone would like to mention.
    I feel like a lot of times, we end up being paycheck takers than difference makers.

    I find that many younger clergy feel this way than older clergy.
    Do you see that too?

    • Joseph – I do have some anecdotal evidence that younger clergy are less attached to guaranteed appointments, however I am not comfortable saying that this is a general rule. It may be true. I don’t have enough evidence to suggest it. Thanks for your response.

  2. Thank you for starting conversation on this topic. It is great food for thought and it needs to be on the discussion table. What pros and cons have you found in other denominations?

    I have heard clergy from other denominations say they were switching to UM ministry because of the guaranteed appointment system.” For me, that raises a red flag concerning his or her appointability.

    On the flip side, a pastor of another denomination said he envied our system because he thought we had more freedom of thought and speech in dealing with our congregations without so much risk of being “fired” or terminated on short notice.

    • Nancy – Clergy switching from other denominations to the UMC because of guaranteed appointments would seem to appreciate the job security. What red flags would that raise for you about her or his appointability?
      Getting rid of guaranteed appointments would not end the ability to press a congregation in areas that are necessary. The congregation would still not be able to hire and fire a clergy person based on her or his leadership or preaching.

      • Andrew, in answer to your question about “red flags,” here is what I have experienced.

        During 8 years of doing interviews with candidates for ministry as well as being the Psychological Testing Registrar (with a degree Marriage and Family Therapy as well as clinical practice) on the Board of Ministry, I checked out my gut feeling that the person being interviewed may not be presenting him or herself as a person who was growing in excellence but instead wanted a safety net due to the person’s own lack of skills or the persons continuing negative experiences pastoring and or ineffective pastoring. The testing results backed up the red flag indicator. The appointment system has at times ignored clear indication that a certain pastor could be one to harm a church, be harmed by a church or ineffective, even when test results were given. The new system that KW has in place to do background checks has been an eye opener in one case I remember. However, the results were ignored.

        I think it is critical to look at the effectiveness/readiness of a church as well as a pastor in terms of being healthy and free of enough dysfunction to grow. I don’t know how it is going but KW has an effective pastor appointed to a dysfunctional church with the express purpose of working a plan to get the church healthy again. The cabinet and the appointed pastor were very clear about the purpose and plan for the church and the church clearly knew that change was necessary for healing and growth. That church couldn’t hire and fire but it could make life hell for several pastors before an intervention was made. With the intervention demanded by the cabinet, the pastor could press the congregation on the factors limiting their growth and mission.

        Also, just 5 years ago a member of the SPRC went to another UM pastor in KW and said he didn’t want a woman pastor after my introductory. He changed his mind after the first year I was there but it has happened at every appointment. I always ignored it and being effective changed attitudes. However people left the church before I arrived because they didn’t want a woman pastor, effective or not! They are not always happy to get an effective woman. I ignored it and concentrated on being the best I could be and let the chips fall where they fell. I have been the 1st woman clergy in all appointments but one.

        .

  3. It continues to amaze me that many folks seem to think that merely removing guaranteed appointments is going to solve all of our issues. I have some questions if all we are going to do to change the system is take away the appointment guarantee. You can read them:
    http://jeffs-journeys.blogspot.com/2010/06/job-guarantee-gone.html

    The base for my concern lies primarily in two areas, although I ask four questions concerning this issue. Who is going to determine what makes a pastor effective? In other words, what are the measurements? and how do you keep the appointment process honest and fair, rather than allowing politics to enter in? (See #2)

    While I was part of the those who were told directly by the District Superintendent upon entering candidacy that as long as I was a “good” pastor, I’d have a job, I’d certainly be willing to give up the guarantee if I could be assured that my prophetic voice would not be silenced, that I would have the ability to change a church’s DNA when it’s needed with the support of the Cabinet and D.S. (there are a multitude of “ineffective” churches, you know), and that I would be able to make a real commitment to a long-term pastorate.

    Bill Easum speaks to my heart in two recent articles on his blog: http://www.billeasum.com/
    The first is “A Hail Mary Strategy for Turnaround” and the other is “A Quick Word for United Methodists and Others.”

    If we really want to see our denomination turn around, a complete system overhaul is needed, not just one area of focus.

    • Jeff – Do you feel that you have the ability to change a church’s DNA today? That is a difficult thing that can’t be accomplished by the pastor alone. Do you effectively use your prophetic voice in your congregation or are there times when you decide to just keep quiet?
      While there is more than one step necessary for denominational revival, this is one that I believe would make a big difference.

      • I have done such, and that church is growing today, although I am no longer serving as their pastor. But it came with a cost. My children wondered why “everyone” hated their dad. During the process, we lost some friends. But I could not have done it without a core group of lay persons in the church and the support of the cabinet and Bishop. My voice was able to be prophetic because I had that support.

        That hasn’t always been the case. In a different church, different conference – even different jurisdiction – I changed the perception of the church from “that’s the coldest church in the area” to one that was welcoming younger families in one year. But I didn’t have a core group, nor did I have the support of the cabinet. The older members in power felt their power threatened and they were going to remove their money if the D.S. didn’t move me – after only one year. The D.S. sided with the money and was going to move me. I moved alright – out of the conference! The D.S. determined that I was ineffective in that charge. But if you ask the younger families, they would tell you a different story.

        As I shared in my blog, I’ve also watched a colleague who by all current standards was successful and effective, well loved by the congregation, get moved simply because he questioned a decision of the Bishop at Annual Conference. He was moved to a church with a lower salary and eventually left the UMC. He was determined to be ineffective by a Bishop who didn’t like the question he asked. But in the church he was very effective.

        If all we do is remove the appointment guarantee, we won’t even come close to solving the perceived problem of pastoral effectiveness and turn around the decline in our denomination.

      • Jeff – You are absolutely right that changing the DNA of a church takes the pastor and a core group of lay persons as well as the support of the cabinet and Bishop. This is possible with or without a guaranteed appointment. The church isn’t hiring or firing you in either case.
        Your second example doesn’t provide any additional evidence to support continuing guaranteed appointments as a guarantee wouldn’t make any difference in the support that you did or did not receive from the DS.
        What were the “current standards” by which your colleague was determined to be successful and effective? Does moving someone to a church with a lower salary mean that they are ineffective? I don’t believe that it does. I hope to be appointed to the best possible match between the gifts that I have and the needs of the church. Believing that this will always be a move up in salary is simply not feasible.

  4. As a clergywoman serving in the South Eastern Jurisdiction where some churches explicitly write in their church profiles that they will NOT allow a female pastor to serve their church/charge I can not whole-heartedly embrace the dissolution of guaranteed appointments. We want ineffective pastors out, yes, but is this the only way?

    • Clergywoman – Is this the only way? No. Is it a path with clear outcomes that could be relatively easily implemented? Yes. Will you please say more about your perspective on serving churches that may or may not want a female pastor? Surely there are not any churches that would welcome an effective female pastor. Also, it’s not a matter of whether you would be able to be appointed or not…

      • Andrew, I know from a DS that there are churches in my conference who explicitly write that they will not accept female pastors (there are also some who indicate race preference as well…such is life in a state where one drives through historic battlefields from the Civil War on a regular basis…)

        I actually have a good friend serving in the town next to me who has been a very effective female pastor in the past – in her last appointment her church had professions of faith from adults after many years of stagnation and a new children’s program after she served there for 3 years. She led that church in outreach and planted many seeds still bearing fruit today.

        However, at her current church – where she has just completed her first year – worship attendance dropped from 100 weekly to less than 50. Why? Because of her “communication style” – which is what I hear from the people who have left the church – what does that really mean? She is Korean and they can’t understand her accent. I have also had people be more direct and complain to me that her preaching simply isn’t understandable. (She came here as a child and does have a slightly difference cadence of speech but doesn’t have a thick accent.)

        She was told last week that she “must hate America” because she objected to some of their 4th of July celebration requests (which included singing the national anthem during worship). This church initially resisted her appointment because they previously had a bad experience with a female pastor and this seems to have strengthened their resolve to demand a male pastor. I know that this clergywoman is gifted with reaching out to the marginalized and this church really resists welcoming “outsiders” into their community. Maybe if she could stay another year her gifts for outreach would start to show fruit? Alas, she is worn down and anticipates leaving. Would she then be deemed an ineffective pastor by the conference since statistically speaking worship and giving has greatly diminished and therefore under this changed system should she not be guaranteed an appointment next year since since she in ineffective?

  5. Andrew, I am a full time licensed local pastor serving in the Holston Conference. My appointment can be removed at any time practically at the whim of the Bishop (or DS) so my perspective is a little different from some of the others that have posted in reply. I can’t help but believe that ending the guaranteed appointment is just the latest horse to beat upon as we try to find the reason for the decline in our denomination. The argument that guaranteed appointment prevents ineffective clergy from being given the boot is as fallacious as the argument that tenure keeps bad teachers in the classroom. In both cases, there are procedures that may be used to remove the offender while ensuring that due process is followed. The greater question becomes what criteria do we use to determine the effectiveness of a clergy person. How do we account for the unhealthy churches that are out there and do we hold clergy accountable for a congregation that has been unhealthy for years?

    Unfortunately, the situation described by clergywoman regarding female clergy IS a continuing problem whether we want to admit it or not and so is the idea of cross racial appointments. However, both of these situations could be solved in short order if our Bishops would tell these churches that they will accept whoever is sent and then have the fortitude to stick to their guns if the situation warrants.

    • Wayne – Thank you for providing your perspective as one that “can be removed at any time practically at the whim of the Bishop (or DS).” Will you help me understand why you believe that guaranteed appointments is still the best practice, when you are serving the same role without a similar guarantee?

      • I don’t know that I believe that guaranteed appointment is the best practice. What I believe is that ending guaranteed appointment is just the latest knee jerk “solution” to our problems. Ineffective clergy can be weeded out using the Administrative Complaint process found in the Discipline.

  6. Andrew,

    Those are some pretty powerful, convincing reasons!

    It’s kind of like in big business; people get promoted because of their work skill & they’re working w/ people skills are totally overlooked or not even considered. They don’t end up getting that far!

    It’d be nice if businesses would follow your train of thought, also!

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  9. I think “ineffective clergy” is a bit of a misnomer. If the pastor is preaching and trying to live by the “faith once delivered,” then everything else is up to God (actually the first bit is up to God as well, but you know what I mean). Fruit is a vague term which often, sadly, means little more than “butts in the pews.” Give me a small congregation that passionately loves God and they’ll do more for the Kingdom of God than any mega-church.

  10. Andrew,
    Thanks for the questions – but, again, I reiterate – if ALL we do is remove the guaranteed appointments, we won’t solve the problem. I don’t believe we’ll even come close.

    Current standards are the numbers – people and money. There is an assumption being made in much of what I’ve been reading that effective pastors will ALWAY grow the church and raise the needed funds to pay apportionments and go above and beyond. Many clergy of my age were not trained in leadership nor fund raising. We were trained to be managers. We were often told just to keep the people happy. That simply isn’t possible, either.

    As for increasing salaries with a move, I agree that it isn’t sustainable – although that’s what our denomination in the three conferences I’ve served placed before us until recently. I believe that this is also an area that needs changing – a huge area! And I took a cut in salary last year with a move to my current appointment.

    I am not opposed to removing guaranteed appointments, but I do not see how this alone will get rid of ineffective pastors and turn our denominational decline around. I also want to see the local church effectiveness along with the effectiveness of the District Superintendents and Bishops brought to the table. All of these factors interact with each other – but it seems like we want to only identify the appointed local pastor.

  11. Effective pastors will show a pattern of attendance growth over the long term. The mission of the church is to seek and save the lost, its deepest calling is to increase the number of those being saved…from the earliest days of the church the growth reports were an essential harbinger of the truthfullness of the message. The first numerical report was in Acts – 3,000 were saved that day, and the phrase “were adding daily to the number being saved” indicates that a primary concern of the early church was in fact numbers. I would suggest that pastors who don’t understand this are perhpaps at the top of the list of ineffectiveness

    And to the notion that the fruit is simply “Up to God” it begs the question, was this person every in fact called by God in the first place. I have experienced, and witnessed way to many pastors who clearly were not to believe that such a naive notion of “God is in control” is rational. What are we to say then, God just picks some people to bless and others he does not – come on we are Wesleyan not Calvinists. And the notion that a small church can do more good than a mega church is just ridiculous. I’m not saying that a mega church is the be all and end all, but the notion that a small church can “Do more for the kingdom of God than any mega-church” seems to just be bitter ranting. Its categorically untrue… I grew up in a small church, I know for a fact that its not true…..it sets up small ineffective churches as somehow superior to large growing churches… come on we are smarter than that….

    • Carlos, you paint with a broad brush. One of the congregations that I serve has 44 in worship. They operate a food pantry (more like a food warehouse) that is currently feeding over 1500 people per month. Last year over 120 tons of food were distributed by this congregation that takes seriously the example in Matthew 25. Numerical growth in the congregation is currently stagnant, but nearly half of the congregation has hands on involvement in this outreach ministry to the community. I dare say that the impact that this church has on its rural community is just as great as a mega-church in its suburban or urban community.

    • Carlos, I’m not sure you can make the case biblically that the numbers were the concern of the early church. The passage says “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.” (Acts 2:47b) The people were obedient to do certain other things – worship, fellowship, study, prayer… but it was God who added the numbers. In some places, however, numerical growth is not a rational possibility. Three United Methodist Churches are within 8 miles of each other. One is in a city with a population of 5000, another in a community of 196 and the third is located three miles out in the country. The one in the country has no programs for children or anything beyond a periodic adult bible study just to say they did it. The other two have growing children and youth programs. If you’re a newcomer in this area, which church would you attend? Is this the pastor’s ineffectiveness? The pastor serves one of the other two as a two-point charge. The other church is growing. What do you do with the one that refuses to grow? Blame the pastor?

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  13. Jeff,

    See my post on Andrews latest question about G. Appointments. I don’t disagree, the Churches re the issue as well… my suggestion there is to give them a period of time to either produce numerical fruit or be closed, thus freeing up said pastor in your example to focus on those churches that are growing and producing fruit… but make no mistake Jesus was clear, our mission is to make disciples, our mission is to seek and save the lost, our mission is always outwardly focused – so a church that has become insular and is not growing, is failing at its most basic purpose… I have no sympathy whatsoever for churches or pastors who refuse to recognize this reality, and yet wonder why the church we all love is in numerical free-fall…..

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