Trust, Money, and the Guaranteed Appointment

guaranteedThe United Methodist Church’s Judicial Council just nullified a decision at GC2012 to do away with guaranteed appointment. I’m not going to get into all of the legislative technicalities here. Let’s look at the bigger picture.

The guaranteed appointment issue is about trust – on all sides. Those worried that a Bishop won’t continue a worthy person’s appointment are ultimately saying they don’t trust our Bishops. They believe they need protection from Bishops who might make an ill-informed, prejudiced, or punitive decision.

Some will say this is about a check and balance. The Board of Ordained Ministry determines who will serve; the Bishop determines where they will serve.

Either way, United Methodists commonly hold up the importance of submission in our system. Elders submit to the Bishop’s authority and submit to go where they are sent. Are we saying elders are willing to submit to the Bishop regarding where they go, but not whether they go anywhere or not? This seems backward from the New Testament appointment of elders, which appears to be a submission regarding whether one served as an elder, not where.

If people are willing to submit to where, but not whether they are appointed, I wonder if this is really about a guaranteed income (with benefits), not a guaranteed appointment. We don’t just guarantee appointments to elders. We guarantee them appointments to full-time jobs, where they must be provided a minimum salary, housing, health insurance, and a pension. And as more and more churches face budget crunches in the coming years, there will be concern about whether we can provide all of those guaranteed incomes.

[Major edit: Wesley Sanders notes in the comments that GC2012 passed a petition to allow appointment of elders for less than full-time, and the Judicial Council didn’t nullify that petition. See it here. This is a big deal. It moves everything I’ve said below from hypothetical to realistic. We have effectively done away with guaranteed full-time appointment. In my mind, this is more important than doing away with guaranteed appointment.]

Some will say, “No, I’m concerned about having a place to serve as a pastor, not the income.” That’s a great attitude. I hope it’s true. And what if that’s how we approached guaranteed appointment? What if we stopped guaranteeing a full-time income and benefits to our elders? Guarantee that they’ll have a place to serve, but it might be a part-time position.

Why have we mandated that ordained elders receive a full-time income from the church? Some will claim that ministry requires full-time attention, and that needs to be protected. But then they’ll need to explain all of the part-time local pastor appointments throughout our connection.

Get rid of the guaranteed full-time paid position, and I think many of our other problems go away. I hear concerns over whether to ordain people who don’t speak English fluently. “They can be great in a Hispanic (or Korean, or French-speaking Congolese…) congregation, but we only have four of those in our Conference. What if we have more ordained Spanish-speakers than positions?” That’s only an issue if it’s about a guaranteed full-time income.

But if you thought there was a lot of consternation over removing guaranteed appointments, just wait until you see what happens when guaranteed full-time incomes are threatened. Due to our current financial situation and the further budgetary strains coming, it’s an issue we’ll have to broach sooner or later.

See more United Methodist posts on my UMC posts page.

17 thoughts on “Trust, Money, and the Guaranteed Appointment

  1. I’m pretty new to the UMC so I don’t have a personal stake in Guaranteed appointment. I never had a guarantee previously. But I wanted to point out that there have some what contradicted yourself. As you say the BOM decides if you will serve. It hasn’t been the UMC system in the past for the Bishop to decide “if” but “where.”

    As to appointing Elders to part-time work, is it really fair to ask Elders to earn a BA, an MDiv., spend two years as Provisional Member of the Conference and then being ordained to work part-time? How does the young Elder pay for her/his education and student loans? How does the Elder pay for their own bills or to support their family? It is well and good to suggest that pastors live on manna from heaven or find their own money in the service of God but is it realistic? Is I a fair thing to ask? Are we really then expecting the pastors spouse to pay the church’s way for their pastor? Or are we expecting only part-time attention to the church after all for what the individual felt was a life-time calling? And finally will you get any takers for ministry in the future if you tell them that we have all these requirements, you have to go where you are told, you are going to be deeply in debt, but we won’t give you a full-time job? How many young people will sign up for that deal?

    Also retirements and clergy recruitment aren’t being factored in. I know some conference have a glut of clergy. But the trend is that the average age of the average UMC pastor is 58 and that we are not finding many persons under 35 to serve. In Iowa we had more clergy retire than were ordained last year. It appears to me in another 10 years if the average age is more like 68 we won’t be far from the “average” UMC pastor being retired. So some of what is being suggested about not being able to pay for clergy may be a bit premature.

    1. Teddy and others (like myself) would question portions of your presuppositions. For example, it is not necessary to accumulate a giant student debt to earn an MDiv.

      The Church doesn’t owe anyone wages and people jump through all sorts of hoops and go through major challenges in many lines of work who don’t ultimately get a “guaranteed” income. The Church is responsible for mission and if some pastors serving for less than they’d like aids in that it is not wrong.

      All that said I don’t get any indication that Bishops are itching to suddenly move larger numbers of clergy, though this does give some flexibility including the ability for an Elder to serve smaller churches, if they so wish, at a cost those churches can afford.

      I don’t see many of my classmates all that concerned about the so-called “guaranteed appointment.” That’s not a major reason we’ve chosen to follow God’s call into ordained ministry.

  2. I may be misreading the decision, but it looks to me that the change to ¶338 which allows for appointment to less than full-time service without the clergy person’s consent was not struck down by JC. In the decision, they reference the calendar item that remove it as part of the package, but they don’t list it as one of the calendar items which was declared null, void, and of no effect. So, it seems we may actually have the system you described: you’re guaranteed a place, just not necessarily a full-time with benefits one.

    1. Well Wesley, I think you’re correct. I’d like to do a bit more digging to learn whether there are any benefits guarantees regardless of full-time status. Do you know?

      This is a big deal, and I’m not sure how many realize how broad its effect could be. I’ll need to revise my post to consider this…

      1. Presently, pension benefits are guaranteed regardless of appointment status. That will change in 2014 when each Annual Conference gets to decide whether to allow 1/2 and 3/4 time clergy to receive pension benefits, and 1/4 time and below will be ineligible. Health benefits are up to each Conference. I’m not aware of any Conference which gives health benefits for anything lower than 1/2 time, and most require 3/4 or full-time service for any health benefits.

  3. Also, we are forgetting the other side of the debate. Elders are prohibited from holding another job. It seems to me that if they are going to require Elders to have one job then they should guarantee a full-time job. Now I agree there are ineffective pastors out there, but the Bishops and the cabinets already have the power to dismiss pastors that are ineffective regardless of whether guaranteed appointments exist or not.

    One other thing. The future of the church does not rest on this decision. It rests on the power of the Triune God, so this is not the end of the world. It may be an obstacle in some situations, but we can still do ministry.

    1. I do think it might be wise to revisit the prohibition on outside income, though I’m not sure it’s enforced. It does mean United Methodist Elders are typically cheap as conference speakers! 😉

  4. I want to just point out that less than full-time appointment is available at the bishop’s initiative, but it still requires the agreement of the clergy member. In other words, I don’t believe a person can be appointed less than full-time against their will. (see the second sentence in Par. 338.2)

    To me, the issue is the “bargain” made by clergy to have very little say in where they are sent, in exchange for being assured of a place to be sent. Eliminate one half of the bargain, and the other half needs to fall, as well. The way to get rid of “guaranteed appointment” is to get rid of the bishop’s authority to appoint regardless of the agreement of the clergy person or the congregation.

    There is already in place a process to deal with ineffective pastors. Let’s use it.

  5. Is it just me, or is no one really willing to name the elephant in the room: Itinerant ministry itself. I am more and more convinced that itinerant ministry is unsustainable. It dates from a time when community populations were relatively stable and church membership was a community expectation. This lead to stable lay leadership in the church, and in which the role of the pastor was primarily to preach and lead sacraments, NOT to be the CEO/CFO of the church “corporation”. In our current mobile society that stability is gone (Think about it: how many families with more than one generation of adults do you have in _your_ church? I have three – in almost 100 families). In many churches I’ve served leadership has pretty much been left in the hands of the last generation that stayed put – the “silents”, and they’ve been unable/unwilling to pass it on. And the pastor is relied on more and more for church “business” and seen more as a manager rather then a spiritual leader. We can’t continue this way. We either need to redevelop a culture of true lay leadership (probably in a network model of church that is less centralized and clergy-centric) or abandon itinerancy and work instead to raising up leaders who will commit themselves to long-term ministry to particular communities.

  6. How much is my pension worth again? 😉

    In all seriousness, I’ve often wondered how our system would be different if every church/charge within each annual conference paid their pastor the same amount regardless of church size or pastoral experience. (I’ve heard that this model is how the British Methodist Church functions, but don’t hold me to that.) I would imagine that the whole “guaranteed appointment” debate would go away. As would the desire to get “promoted.” But would it be fair?

  7. Sorry, Parson Carson, but I don’t get your point. I don’t think the level of income has anything to do with guaranteed appointment. Those who would benefit from higher compensation are not in danger of not being appointed. It is those at the minimum salary level who are most in danger of losing their appointments.

    1. Sorry for the confusion. Don’t you think if we took salary/pension/benefits off the table it would eliminate some of the clergy who clearly aren’t called into ministry (i.e. those who are in it for the wrong reasons) and are otherwise ineffective? The assumption on my part is that those who aren’t “called” would also be the ones who are most in danger of losing their appointments. Why else would ineffective clergy stick around if it weren’t for the job security and benefits?

      1. This is a good discussion. Do you believe that reducing all pastors to minimum salary and cutting benefits would winnow out those who are not truly called and effective in ministry? That sounds something like the Catholic vow of poverty for priests approach. Ideally, that might work. But I think you would lose a lot of effective pastors who want to provide more than poverty for their families.
        I think some ineffective pastors may stick around because of the job security and benefits, but taking away salary and benefits for everybody would be like killing a mosquito with a sledgehammer.
        I think one reason ineffective pastors stick around is that nobody has ever told them they are ineffective. They don’t think it is them, they think it is the challenging ministry environment or the uncooperative laity, etc. I also think they are reluctant to leave ministry because they don’t know what else they would do. One positive thing our annual conferences can do is provide career counseling and discernment, along with some funding toward re-training on a different career path.

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