Monday, June 11, 2012

No Guarantees

Guaranteed Appointments in the United Methodist Church have gone by the wayside as of this January.  The General Conference did this in response to the shrinking of the denomination in the United States.  A way to trim the fat so to speak.

As we see resources diminishing, we have this hypothesized number of clergy who are deemed ineffective.  Until the end of the year, clergy are guaranteed to be appointed full-time as long as they don't do anything considered drastic.  There are some who seem to shrink their churches at a much faster rate than the majority of the clergy experiencing the same thing (around 2/3 of the Oklahoma churches have declined over the past five years). But unless they actually do something chargeable, the annual conference where their membership is located must continue to appoint them.

Now all this has changed.  A bishop can appoint to less than full time status or not at all.

For years, our anxiety around the shrinking numbers across the United States has been targeted at the clergy.  We've shifted the sieve further and further up the process of becoming clergy.

It used to be the fault of the Board of Ordained Ministry for letting in all these lazy malcontents.

Then it was the District Committee on Ministry's fault: "They never should have been sent to the Board of Ministry in the first place!"

Then it was the Local Church: "Don't recommend anyone for ministry that you wouldn't want coming back to serve your church!"

And so we've made the process more and more labyrinthine due to the fact that once they were in, we couldn't really get rid of them.

Now that the guarantee is gone, it seems that we should begin to look to ease up on our requirements.  I still believe that an educated clergy group is the best pool from which we can pick to serve our churches.  But I also know that there is a lot (and I mean a lot) of paperwork our candidates are required to do on the front end.  My cred: I've served as the Vice-Chairperson for the Board of Ordained Ministry and I currently chair our District Committee on Ministry.

I think about how much I learned in my first year of appointment.  It seems that we might begin to shape the process to allow people to try out the ministry at a quicker pace.  As we see the fruits of their labor, we can move them along through the process toward ordination.  If we discern that this may not be the way God is calling them to serve the church, we can gently move them into a different direction.

All of this could be done at the candidacy end.  People could become certified as candidates for ordained ministry much quicker than they are now.  This would allow them to attend Local Pastor's Licensing School and serve as either full time or part-time local pastors before going on to ordination.

Interestingly enough, local pastors were never guaranteed an appointment in the first place.

What can we do to attract young people to a position that is being asked to grow a church in a system that is shrinking overall?  We've taken away their guarantee to an appointment.  We've cut pension benefits in order to be more fiscally responsible.  Our health benefits seem to be less benefit for more cost each year.  The best answer may be letting them try it out to see if this really is their call.

I actually believe that this would be beneficial because of the God factor.  I am called to be a pastor by God.  I am called to do so regardless of the benefits or even the guarantee.  In this vocation, I have found not only joy and peace but my very identity.  An ordained Elder is who I am.  My hunch is that there are plenty of others who feel the same way.

Allow people to experience the ministry and if they are called to do it, they may also discover that this is fundamental to their being.  Regardless of the guarantee.

Here I am posing with Bryan and Angela Tener at Bryan's ordination this year.
They are obviously impressed with getting to take a picture with me.  I first met Bryan when
he was starting the process - about the same time that Q was being written down.  I guarantee that
Bryan is a minister with a bright future in the Oklahoma Conference!

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