The Pastor and the Itinerant (pt. I)

It is dangerous to view particular structures as being of the essence of the church. When this happens, structure becomes sacred and may cease to be serviceable. Denominational and all other organizational structures periodically need to be renewed or re-formed in order to be thoroughly missional.

From Howard Snyder with Daniel Runyon in Decoding the Church

Snyder’s warnings are especially important for the declining American church today. In the changing American landscape, we need to re-visit our organizational structures to ask if we have too fully associated any of these structures with the essence of the church.

Have any structures become sacred and unserviceable?

Are there any that don’t best lend themselves to the mission at hand?

The UMC has several of these structures to evaluate. Foremost in my mind is the itineracy. Itineracy has evolved considerably in the past 200 years. How should it evolve for United Methodism to thrive in twenty-first century America?

Have Methodists deemed itineracy a part of the very essence of the church, or have we continued to use this structure because it best enables our mission? In a post-Christian American culture, what can we learn from the frontier evangelism of early American circuit riders?

Over the next several posts, I’ll survey some prominent recent changes in the American landscape affecting the church. These changes, along with significant recent declines in American UMC membership, suggest that a change is necessary.

After that, I’ll explore pastoral ministry and itineracy as they are presented in the New Testament and then explore their practice in early Methodist history.

At the end, I’m going to risk being presumptuous and make a proposal for significant revision to the ways Methodists are handling pastoral ministry and itineracy. I believe what I’m suggesting is faithful to Scripture and the key tenets of Methodism. I believe it would enable the Methodist movement to become more functional, more vital, and in many ways, more genuinely connectional.

In short, the next several posts will show that United Methodism’s best way forward is to untether pastoral ministry and itineracy from one another. The pastor and the itinerant, as two distinct roles within the church, will provide the church with many benefits that have been lost as Methodism has blended these two roles into a hybrid role that is neither local pastor nor true itinerant.

I hope you’ll join me in some discussion on this!

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