A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Guaranteed Appointments for Ordained Clergy-- Is This Really the Problem?

Here is an excerpt from an article written by Joseph R. Stains, posted in today's UM portal. What do you think?
The Call to Action Report asks the UMC to terminate guaranteed appointment to ordained pastors, effectively leaving appointive status in the hands of the appointers, the bishops. In this way, the rationale goes, ineffective pastors may be more quickly weeded out, and effective service affirmed. Underlying assumptions seem to include:

1) Ineffective clergy in the parish are a/the major reason for malaise in our denomination.

2) There is not currently a sound way of addressing clergy ineffectiveness.

3) Our bishops are better-suited than any other available entity to assume the right/responsibility of deciding who among our clergy merit continued active service.

This approach deserves very serious scrutiny. It seems, as do many reports from our church’s general bodies, to derive its inspiration from the collective wisdom of the corporate world, with an emphasis on the point of view of secular, upper-level management, whose track record in the last half decade of American business is not consistently reassuring, nor famous for its Christian view of justice or concern for the dignity of the less endowed. It is, after all, the upper management of our church, the Council of Bishops, which has led bringing this striking report to the table. The present essay questions the validity of all three of the above assumptions.

No doubt some clergy are more gifted, dedicated, resourceful—even faithful—than others. So are many officers, agencies, laity and yes, episcopal leaders. The malaise is American mainline, however. It cuts across denominational lines, hierarchies and polities. Meanwhile, the same Book of Discipline guides the United Methodist Church in parts of the world where there is no malaise. Whatever is wrong with clergy in America may be just as wrong with episcopal leaders, boards, agencies, officers and laity. None are above binding scrutiny, and none has earned the right to decide by itself the validity of ministry among the others.

The Discipline does provide means for weeding out ineffectiveness. Every year, the Clergy Session at Annual Conference receives the recommendations of its Board of Ordained Ministry, including candidates for administrative location, involuntary retirement and involuntary leave. Presumably all considered for such status have been under review by the board of their peers for at least a year, by recommendation of any of an assortment of eligible folk, including those in superintendency. Resident bishops can make their own recommendations for the board’s agenda, and those concerns are received seriously.

What the bishops do not currently have is the authority to override the wisdom of the board, and that seems an appropriate check on concentrated power in our church. It provides a healthy tension, and a scope of peer review that most consider vital to reaching difficult decisions with due process.

A mechanism is in place which, astutely applied, has served conferences well, and which keeps the power to suspend clergy service spread among more than one entity. There is plenty of room for discretionary use of these tools by the bishop and cabinet without restructuring discretionary power into their hands alone.
You can read Stains' entire article, "Job security shouldn't just be for UM bishops," here.

1 comment:

Pastor John said...

Regardless of which 'side' you are on (and there are many) it isn't difficult to imagine how overzealous bishops might set out to "purify" their annual conference; with liberal bishops removing conservative clergy as 'ineffective' or with conservative bishops doing the same with liberal pastors or using some other criteria over which people sometimes take sides.

Any power given can be abused.

Perhaps change is needed but we must give careful thought before plunging ahead.