Monday, April 23, 2012

General Conference 2012: Ministry Study Commission- Part 1- Guaranteed Appointments

Over the next few weeks the United Methodist Church will gather in Tampa, Florida.  Over 1000 delegates from the whole world will pray, worship, discuss and vote on change in the UMC.  There are many areas of change, such as: structure, finance, leadership, size of agencies, ordination, guaranteed appointments, etc.

I am not a delegate to General Conference from Missouri.  We have a great delegation led by the Rev. Dr. Cody Collier and Brian Hammons.  I was elected to go to Jurisdictional Conference in July 2012.

One of the major issues GC will address this year is the idea of eliminating the Guaranteed Appointment.

The reasons given to do away with Guaranteed Appointments, as I have personally heard them, are as follows:

a) We are unable to exit unfruitful and ineffective clergy from pastoral leadership.
b) Historically this was to ensure diversity of leadership.
c) We have too many elders and not enough full time appointments to place them.
d) Historically Itinerancy and the Guarantee are NOT linked
e) Our system has produced ineffective clergy because of the guarantee

There are many other reasons shared, but these seemed to be the ones that stuck out to me.

Here is one quote from an article from a pastor on our delegation.

“We decided that the system of guaranteed appointments has created mediocrity, an expectation that clergy will have a job no matter how effective they are and that churches will get a pastor even if they are not functioning in a healthy way or participating in living missionally,” said the Rev. Amy Gearhart, an elder in the Missouri Annual Conference and a commission member." UMNS

So this is what I have read and heard as the reasons behind the change.  I will be honest here- I'm indifferent to this change.  If it happens, ok.  If not, ok.  I'm not sure what to think at this point.

What I will say is that in discussing this with several younger clergy members, and potential clergy members, they are strongly against the change.  Their arguments are as follows.

a) There is a process already in place to exit ineffective clergy from pastoral leadership.
b) Historically and in the future, this will protect and ensure diversity of leadership.
c) Let's be creative in appointments, instead of proposing radical change.
d) Itinerancy and the Guarantee may not have been intended to be linked, but practically and personally for many pastors, it's become part of our covenantal life.
e) Clergy are not ineffective because of the guarantee.  There are many other reasons for ineffective or unfruitfulness in leadership.

There were many other reasons for this group too, but these stuck out to me.

Here is a quote from another article.

"The Rev. Pam Estes has led a charge of three tiny churches in rural southern Arkansas and a small city church in Little Rock. Altogether, she has served Arkansas United Methodists in ordained ministry for 21 years, always going where her bishop sends her.
That is the covenant the church has had with its ordained elders: Serve where you are assigned and you always will have an appointment. Now that promise could be threatened: The denomination’s 2008-2012 Commission to Study the Ministry has made a preliminary recommendation of doing away with clergy job guarantees.
Estes worries about the uncertainty that she and other pastors will face if such a proposal is approved by the 2012 General Conference, the denomination’s top legislative body.
“What will happen if my next appointment doesn’t work out?” she said. “Would I just be let go? By 2012, I would be 60-plus years old, and I’m a single woman.” UMNS
Of course, what are unintended consequences of this change?  The younger clergy I talked with said you will see an rash of retirements, and less young clergy coming into ministry.  Could their be abuses?
Or, could this help drive fruitfulness and effectiveness to such an extent as to stop the drop in membership in attendance because we've added a new level of accountability?

Our Bishop Robert Schnase shared it in a way that makes a great deal of sense.

Imagine that you chair the History Department of a university, and three tenured professors announce their retirement. Student enrollment has declined and finances are tight, so you close one position and announce openings for two new people. You forward search criteria to the Human Resources Department, defining what qualities the positions require—educational credentials, professional associations, publishing history, teaching experience, and references. Some weeks later, the Search Committee reports that they’ve had 16 people apply. Five did not have requisite credentials, one had a record of improper conduct, and two did not interview well. Eight persons met every criterion and did fine with interviews. Therefore, the Search Committee has contracted for tenured positions with the eight applicants who met all the requirements and these have all been assigned to your department!

I can't imagine how conferences can put forth more ordinands than they have appointments, but it is happening and will only get worse unless something changes soon.

Basically, the guaranteed appointment is like Tenure.  And it only takes 2 years from your Master of Divinity degree to receive it.

Our Bishop also shared this on his blog.

The real issue surrounding guaranteed appointment is not the 3% of ineffective clergy. It’s the disconnection between the numbers of people credentialed and the numbers we need to maximize our mission. It takes an average attendance of 125 or more to support a full-time elder without strangling vital ministry. Each year we have fewer churches that can afford full-time pastors. Some conferences have one elder in a pastoral role per 70 people in attendance. This is unsustainable, and we need mechanisms to regulate the numbers to fit the mission. Frankly, we need to move from credentialing processes with a default of “as long as you complete the assignments and we find nothing egregious, you are approved,” to a default of “you are not likely to be approved unless you’ve demonstrated exemplary fruitfulness in ministry.”  

And it the next ten years, it might be 150 or 175 due to health insurance.

The guaranteed appointment has caused us to really focus on fruitfulness in the church.  The great struggle is how will we and how do we define fruitfulness.  Depending on the context fruitfulness might look significantly different.

Again, I'm not sure how I feel about all of this.  Is this something that needs to be changed immediately to help the church?  Does there need to be a grandmother clause for those who are already ordained?
I hope and pray that the discussions for and against will yield some great wisdom and clarity so that all may see which path to take.

Overall, both sides have well thought out and faithful views of our present situation.  Here are some if's.

If we reached more people for Christ, this would not be an issue.
If our churches were growing, this would not be an issue.
If we were all growing deeper and closer to who we are called to be, this would not be an issue.

The UMC in the United States is on a serious decline of 500,000 members every decade.  That does not sound very fruitful.

As our delegates attend General Conference, let us pray for the now and future United Methodist Church.  Let us all be a faithful witness so that other will know us and Jesus Christ by our love.

UPDATE** It passed.  There is no longer a guaranteed appointment for Elders in the United Methodist Church.  

In Part 2, I plan on discussing ordination directly after seminary, which is one of the proposals that will be lifted up this GC.

Go in peace and go with God.

Here is a link to our Bishop's blog


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