The 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.