Ending Guaranteed Appointment

The elimination of guaranteed appointment for United Methodist clergy came as a surprise to many Tuesday morning when the proposal as approved on a consent calendar. (Items are included in consent calendars when they pass committee with fewer than ten dissenting votes.)

Guaranteed appointment, a term that many point out does not officially exist in United Methodist legislation, refers to a tenure-type agreement that promises full time pastoral employment to ordained elders. The practice was instituted in 1956 as a way to protect female and minority clergy, who some churches might have been reluctant to accept as pastor. Many debate whether enough progress has been made to drop these protections.

Fans of the decision to end guaranteed appointment say it helps conferences get rid of ineffective pastors. An amendment to the proposal in committee added a provision for an eight-member team independent of the cabinet and bishop that would help guide the process when an elder’s effectiveness in a full-time appointment is being questioned.

When delegates realized what had happened, a motion to reconsider was brought up but failed. Read the full UMNS story.

Twitter erupted with many concerns and questions from pastors:

  • What will be the criteria for “effective ministry”?
  • Would bishops or district superintendents wield this power to end pastors’ careers if they disagree politically or theologically?
  • Will this limit pastors’ ability to speak prophetically in the pulpit?
  • What if a church tries to get rid of me?
  • Will pastors feel able to say “no” to bad appointments?
  • Will pastors be reluctant to take on a challenging congregation out of fear it could end his or her career if it goes poorly?
  • Will conferences become more polarized as liberal pastors feel “safer” with a liberal cabinet and conservatives with a conservative cabinet?

By the end of the day, however, many clergy bloggers seemed to feel comfortable with the decision.

From Andy Bryan:

Look, it’s all going to be fine. It will require pastors to effectively describe the fruitfulness within their particular context, and continue to maintain a healthy relationship with their DS. That’s all. No need to panic, everybody.

From Amy Lippolt:

My hope is that this removal of security will help elders realize they are not permanently entitled to a job and a good pension just because they were ordained. I also hope it will help cabinets have the hard conversations they need to with our brothers and sisters who are no longer leading effectively in the church.

From RevMomma:

I believe it is and will be possible to ensure justice with regard to race, gender, etc and still have missional effectiveness. Losing this does not lose our integrity with regard to appointment making, rather, to me, it increases our integrity and ability to do effective ministry. 

As many point out, pastors are not really facing more risk than they were before. Bishops and cabinets had avenues to transition an ineffective pastor out of ministry, and they could always find a way to “punish” a pastor they disliked. My personal hope is that this change affects the process in such a way to make appointment less of a contractual obligation “to go where sent,” and more of a collaborative, consultative process where bishops, pastors, and congregations have more equal voices as we determine compatible leadership that will lead to more vital congregations.

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