Ah, appointments. It’s that time of year for itinerant systems of clergy like the United Methodist Church. So the blogs are talking a bit about it. This post is no exception.
How about a six-year appointment at a church? Whether that terrifies you or inspires you, read on for more discussion on what that might look like.
First, katie m ladd writes about the theological rationale behind the appointment system in the UMC:
Our appointment process makes a great deal of sense if we understand the pastor’s presence to be primarily priestly and pastoral in nature. If the leadership resides among the laity and the pastor is there to teach, administer the sacraments, tend the flock, and lead worship, short tenures are fine. In theory, it matters not whether we are there one year or thirty years. The congregation itself provides continuity, vision, and leadership.
I uphold our appointment system because I agree with the theology behind it: we are not the leaders of our churches, the laity are. By moving us clergy around, that keeps churches from becoming cults of personality and instead they are to rely on their own gifts and graces for ministry. Beautiful. And fits perfectly within a grassroots bottom-up model of ministry so valued here at HX.net.
As sound as the theology is, more and more the pastoral gift of visioning is being emphasized as crucial to moving churches from maintenance to mission. How can we nurture vision and mission-building in short appointments? Research shows that it is usually by year four that ministers really start seeing the fruits of their labors in concentric circles, ripple effects that no longer silence themselves because “the previous pastor didn’t do that” or “we aren’t there yet as a congregation.” It is at the four-year mark that pastors see what is working well…and we move UM clergy usually every three years. Frustrating, I’m sure!
Katie writes further about the appointment system and congregation visioning:
By the time a United Methodist clergy person has been at a congregation long enough to build the necessary trust, lay the important groundwork, and build strong relationships, more often than not we are moved. This is especially true in small churches which have shorter tenures for clergy…A missional outlook is an intentional orientation to ministry. And, an intentional orientation takes time and risk, which require trust.
As we move our brick-and-mortar churches to move their ministries outside their walls, perhaps the way appointments are done can help facilitate that? The UMC can test-drive a few districts or even conferences a new way of appointments. What would it look like?
In the spirit of ecumenism, my Roman Catholic friends inform me of the 6 + 4 system that some dioceses operate under.
- A priest is appointed to a parish for six years.
- At the six-year mark, their ministry is evaluated by the diocese.
- If all is well, then the priest serves another four years.
- After those four years, the priest is moved to another church or given another four year extension based on ministry viability.
Thus this means often ten-year appointments. Ugh…Ten years is a long time for Methodists.
I would propose a 4 + 2 system that is similar to the above to achieve six-year appointments.
- Appoint a clergyperson to a parish for four years.
- At the four-year mark, when ministry and visioning is truly beginning, evaluate their ministry by the DS and the congregation.
- If there are seeds of missional context that need further growth by the pastor, then the pastor serves another two years.
- After those two years, the pastor is moved to another church or given another two-year extension based on ministry viability.
So, 4 + 2 = 6 year appointments.
I like this idea because then at any time, a maximum of half the churches in a district could possibly have a appointment change. This gives overworked DSes more time to make better appointments and make congregations feel truly present in appointment deliberations.
Your thoughts? Would appointments of four years minimum (barring extreme circumstances, not set in stone) give clergy the time and contentment necessary to move congregations to missional outlooks?
If any present or past bishops or DSes have spare time enough to read this blog (hahahahaha, I made a funny), perhaps some feedback based on being on the other side of the appointment process?
Thanks for your comments, they are always cherished!