May 26, 2010

Let's Talk Appointments: Part I

There has been a lot of talk over the past few weeks about the topic of "guaranteed appointments" within the United Methodist Church as the result of a recent commission group study. You can read two of the articles here and here. You can also see a couple blog posts from: Mark Beeson, John Meunier, Bandits No More, Overstatement.

The main issue revolves around the understanding that while "All elders who are in good standing and continue to fulfill their professional responsibilities (¶340) shall be continued under appointment unless they are on leave and are assured equitable compensation for their ministry (¶342)" (online source), this commission is recommending the word shall be changed to may. What this does in effect, is remove the "guarantee" of an appointment for an ordained elder in good standing.

The main argument against this change seems to be around the idea that if an individual is willing to go through the lengthy (and I would suggest convoluted) ordination process, be willing to be itinerant (which is a model I still struggle with for today) and remain in good standing, the denomination should take care of the individual by always providing an appointment.

One of the problems I see with this is how "good standing" is defined. Is this measured by the number of baptisms or confessions of faith? The reach of a pastor's discipling ministry? Or the fact that s/he didn't steal any money or failed to run worship attendance down to zero? If we have a hard time understanding what "good standing" really means, then changing one word might not make that much of a difference.

Being a 31yr old full-time licensed local pastor and certified candidate I can only begin to understand the impact of may on an individual yet I am also beginning to see the impact shall has had on the Church. I am certainly not naive enough to think that job security is not important or cannot provide a sense of security for one's family but I also wonder how it impacts the ministries of the Church, and the UMC in particular when ineffectiveness is simply moved from one appointment to another.

I'm anticipating this will be an ongoing conversation, feel free to join in. Look for Part II of the discussion in the next few days.


Steve and Andrea LaMotte said...

This is certainly an issue that needs to be discussed. "Good standing" certainly has to have something to do with effectiveness in ministry. The problem is how the church creates a metric to measure effectiveness...and how to remove someone for ineffectiveness when the process is difficult (from my understanding).

This is definately a issue worth pursuing. As 31 yr old, full-time student pastor heading to a new appointment and hoping to be commission next summer- it's one I will be watching closely!

Jay Miklovic said...

This should be a good convo. As another young local pastor (29yo), this could have significant impact on my future as well.

My thoughts are that lifetime appointments need to go the way of the dodo bird, they really do. At the same time there should probably be some sort of grandfathering of their removal.

The ethical issue is that many pastors signed up with the understanding of lifetime appointment (shouldn't have been a factor, but nonetheless they did.) The issue with pulling that out altogether is that it has the appearance of broken promises and not upholding our word.

The other issue is that of 'good standing' - what does that mean? It is pretty vague. I know of one pastor who lost good standing b/c consecutive congregations didn't like him. It was a right decision as I saw it, but are other conferences making those decisions?

Also, the removal of lifetime appointments is possibly the first step in the collapse of the itinerant system altogether. Let's face it, if a young man or woman has experienced a number of denominations and is trying to discern which they are called to serve there is little reason to serve the UMC unless you are utterly convinced that its theology, and system are superior to the rest. As far as a career without life time appointment guaranteed there is frankly a lot more stability among most if not all other denominations.

That was a ramble, but those are my thoughts.

Matt Lipan said...

Steve and Andrea LaMotte: i agree. the metric by which effectiveness is measured will be crucial, at least in my opinion.

sounds like we both have some interest in how this might play out in the near future.

Matt Lipan said...

Jay Miklovic: thanks for the read and comment. you bring up some good points...

i like the idea of incorporating some sort of "grandfathering" concept, not sure exactly how but not a bad thought.

the ethical issue of "broken promises" is a tough one, which maybe the "grandfathering" could address in some way. which leads to your next point of 'good standing'...

unless districts/conferences are willing to define 'good standing' as effectiveness than it almost seems a moot point.

i don't think i would be sad if the itinerant system collapsed or at least got a complete overhaul. like you mentioned, the stability offered by other denominations, even w/o "guarantees" will continue to make it difficult for the UMC to attract solid young clergy.

good stuff, thanks for sharing.