The United Methodist Church Should Give Up Its Game of Musical Chairs

The United Methodist Church Should Give Up Its Game of Musical Chairs

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The past few weeks have been trying ones for many communities.  Martyrs were mourned.  A holy and ancient institution was redefined by judicial fiat.  And many United Methodist pastors showed their faces to new congregations for the first time.  Much ink has been spilled over the first two (and rightly so), but allow this layman some thoughts on the latter.  The UM appointment system may not be as violent or dramatic as recent headlines, but it is one of the cuts slowly bleeding to death a once vigorous spiritual and cultural bulwark.

I was raised and my faith confirmed in a small town First United Methodist Church in the South.  As a numerically weak congregation we cycled from breaking in the fresh from seminary, to finishing off the all but retired, and occasionally serving as a step down the pastoral ladder for the newly divorced or otherwise scandalized.  The game produced the occasional winners, who because of their successes would soon be rewarded with a “better” position and whose legendary exploits would grow in the memories of the congregation over time.  Pastor So-And-So is nice, but he’s no Brother Bubba.  Mostly, though, it was a mediocre lot.  We hadn’t chosen them and they hadn’t chosen us.  Three years counted as a long appointment, and then it was time to roll the dice again.

After years away from the UM pastoral carousel, I now find myself worshiping at another small rural FUMC congregation and am again shaking my head at the logic of the situation.  After three years that had produced some noticeable improvement on a number of ministerial fronts, a beloved pastor and his family were uprooted and moved elsewhere.  They will likely take root and flourish, as may well the young tender shoot put in their place.  I hope and pray that will be the case, but the one certainty with any transplant is a time of shock.  Neither the pastor nor the congregation saw this one coming, and it all seems more the result of harried bishops and district superintendents moving dwindling armies around a Risk board than any sort of prayerful or careful plan.  Who will cover Kamchatka!

If anyone thinks this is a good system, please then tell me why the goal of pastors and churches (unstated though it may be) seems to be reaching a level where you no longer have to play by these rules.  A few years removed from my small town days, I was a member at a historic big city FUMC.  The church would regularly host its annual conference gathering but was never on pins and needles over who their pastor would be at the end of the week.  This stained glass mega-church recruited who they wanted and told the bishop, not the other way around.  Pulpit tenures were measured in decades.  Their pastors were mighty oaks, rooted and secure, no longer stunted saplings forever adapting to new soils.

One could write another article on the ethics of this two tiered system.  However, since an inclination towards the urban and wealthy is not as unique to United Methodism as is the rapidly rotating appointment system, I will content myself here with briefly noting Wendell Berry’s essay “God and Country” (available in What Are People For?) as worthwhile reading on the matter.  As Berry notes, plenty of denominations use the “rural ministry as a training ground for young ministers and as a means of subsidizing their education.”  The message sent is clear:  “As country people, they do not matter  much and do not deserve much consideration.”  Or, as Berry quotes a friend, “The soul of the plowboy ain’t worth as much as the soul of the delivery boy.”

But back to the topic at hand.  Does anyone really think the ecclesial equivalent of musical chairs is the best way to build vibrant congregations and a vital denomination?  If so, why does no other church emulate this master plan?  Roman Catholics along with various Lutherans, Anglicans, and others all have hierarchical systems with bishops and bureaucracies that can provide oversight and step in to address problematic situations, but the turnover rate is far less and ministers often find themselves in long term positions at all levels of the population pecking order.  Incidents of mutually agreeable pastor/parish combos being split up are much lower.

Defenders of the system might argue that in exchange for installing the revolving door, small congregations at least get the near guarantee that somebody will be walking through it.  Similarly, pastors who sign up for this itinerant system may not know where they are going, but they will know they are going somewhere.  Whether this is a true benefit or a habit forming crutch is open to debate.  Floundering congregations need not change to attract a pastor, and the ministers assigned to them may well decide that the best course is simply to not rock the current boat and just wait for their next ship to sail in a year or two.  This system may keep the doors to some borderline churches open a decade or two longer than they would be otherwise, but is nursing dying congregations like a kind of hospice really the best way to advance the Gospel?

Of course, the primary sickness afflicting the United Methodist Church is its own institutional schizophrenia about just what sort of “good news” it is peddling.  Nevertheless, the appointment system is a bit like pneumonia on top of cancer—it is certainly not making the chances of survival any better.

The system also means that spiritually anemic congregations are unlikely to be fed the meat they need to recover their full strength.  Take this past Sunday for example.  Big issues like race and marriage were in the air but were any newly arriving pastors—still unpacking boxes, learning the name of the church secretary, and trying to remember where the post office was in their new town—going to have the courage or the personal bandwidth to tackle those topics?
That timing was a bit of a fluke but it highlights a broader reality.  Many pastors take a year or so just to feel out the new church before beginning to slowly work in any needed changes or exhortations.  Over the life of a UM congregation, that can add up to decades of place holder platitudes and innocuous skim milk sermons.  And should a pastor actually begin to make some real headway, a sudden move throws a giant monkey-wrench into the works.  The chances of the next pastor having the interest or the laity keeping the topic alive without support at the top are slim.

I have been blessed to be a part of some wonderful congregations in my lifetime, some in the UM system but most outside of it.  One thing that the good ones had in common was stable long-term vision at the top.  Yes, there is always a risk that a congregation becomes too focused on a personality, but I believe the risks of unstable and weak leadership are far greater.  Additionally, while the communication skills of a preacher may transfer from town to town, true pastoring is a relational enterprise.  It takes time to build trust through shared experiences, and such trust is even less likely to develop if everyone knows in the back of their minds that they are dealing with the equivalent of an extended interim pastor.  In effect, that’s what the average small to mid-size United Methodist Church’s minister has become.  Such a system is hard on their families and it is hard on the families they are trying to serve.  It is well past time for true full-time pastors.

Do you share the author’s opinion? We are inviting responses in the comments section and in formal article responses.


32 Responses

  1. A view from another life long Methodist:

    Do I agree? Yes and No.

    Yes, if the UMC is not going to nail down its beliefs and Priority #1; currently there is no consensus when it comes to either of these. Why, the church can not even agree what role General Conference and the Discipline play in the life of the church! After three successive pastors who could not have been more different form each other passed through the local UMC, I experienced what Tom Lambrecht correctly called “theological whiplash”. I felt like I had been thrown from here to there to over yonder. I found myself wishing that the local church would stand still long enough so that I could get a bead on who they are and whatever it is they think they need to be doing! I realized that I did not have to go church hopping; if I sat in the pew long enough, another church would appear before my very eyes! Bottom line: itinerancy in the current atmosphere of theological diversity is absolutely ludicrous.

    Before I address the “No”, a little bit about the “rest of my story”: Because of the above described events, I eventually had to distance myself from all things church and started on a massive reading journey in which I familiarized myself with what all was going on within the UMC, the overall state of Christianity in America, and learned about John Wesley and early Methodism. I am stunned at what I learned: The level of messiness within the UMC exceeds my expectations of messiness that should be present in any institution. The church I thought I could respect and trust has feet of clay larger than I could ever imagine. But the most stunning of all was when I found myself engaging the Calvinist leaning Heidelberg Catechism and three modern books about it and discovered what all I did not know/understand about basic orthodox Christianity. Through them, I had finally discovered the existence of a God worth worshiping; the triune God of holy love who is most definitely way more verb than noun; the unfathomable God of mystery who is determined to love all of us, even me, more than I could ever think about loving myself. At age 59, I finally found myself standing in the wide open space of God’s amazing grace wondering, “Why hasn’t anybody told me these things before now?” All the random pieces to the puzzle of Christianity I had been collecting finally had a home in a much larger understanding. It was like I had been staring at something in very poor lighting and all of a sudden somebody started throwing on bank after bank of high intensity lights! It was an overwhelming experience. As Wesley put it, I was “amazed and humbled into the dust at the love of God as shown in Christ Jesus” for even me.

    And now for the No. Today, much is made about our connectionalism; but like so much else. there is a serious misunderstanding what that is truly about. It is true that in early Methodism people connected themselves to John Wesley. However, in doing that, they were connecting themselves to a specific set of beliefs and understandings. At the core of those beliefs and understandings was Wesley’s Priority #1 from which he never ever wavered: connecting individuals to the triune God of holy love and then to each other. Doing away with itinerancy within the UMC would not fix its core problem which is that it has long drifted from its amazing message and method! As a denomination, it truly does not believe in anything in particular. The acrimonious nature of the same gender relationship “discussion” proves that: orthodox/traditionalists state their case and progressive/liberals see it as foolishness; they literally do not “get it”! I would prefer that the UMC embrace the reason she is in existence. If she did that, she would have a wonderful and unique contribution to make to the Christian landscape and itinerancy would then become a positive. The focus would then be about the message and method and not the the pastor; the different gifts each of the pastors had to contribute would result in a well-rounded local faith community.

    1. I agree with John and Orter wholeheartedly. I grew up in one of those small churches on a 3-point circuit. However we actually welcomed those young local pastors who had not been to seminary. They were usually so humble and easy to get along with. Those newly geaduated seminary pastors though… that was something else entirely! I grew up thinking that ALL churches operated as we did – 3 years and out. What a surprise and disappointment to learn about the “system” and “politics”.

      As for theology, I too, in discouragement turned to reading and listening to Christian radio teachers. Wow! How much I did not know! I also found my growth in Reformed Theology. Now, let me hasten to say that I remain Wesleyian, but I certainly understand both sides of Arminianisn and Calvinism, and believe that BOTH are correct (the whole chapter of John 3 teaches this very clearly).

      The UMC is hobbling along, continuing to shoot itself in BOTH feet (I think) because of the desire to keep “the institution” in place. We often talk about young people “being in love with the idea of being in love”. Well, the UMC (as it stands) is in love with being the UMC.

      Great article!

      1. This is the voice of the voiceless families of pastors. I have been in ministry with my husband, a pastor for 20years now. We are posted to rural churches where opportunities are very limited for our children to have stable and sound education and I’ve lost many admissions to further my education due to constant move. I have come to the conclusion too, that if churches are not willing to work with their pastors, they should not be given one. Many women unfortunately these days are ruling and dominating the affairs of churches and they come to church only to give orders that they cannot give to their husbands (that is if they have one). The cabinet need to identify the havoc being done to innocent children and spouses that follows pastors around when they are moved too frequently.

    2. I so appreciate your comments. I too sat in a UM church (and before that a PCUSA church) for years and never realized that I didn’t know what the gospel is really all about. You described it perfectly when you said “all the random pieces to the puzzle of Christianity I had been collecting.” I had been spiritually starving at church and turned to radio programs and books to learn on my own what the church was neglecting to teach. Then I discovered the Perspectives on the World Christian Movement course, and in the first 3-hour class my little box of Christianity was split wide open. How did I spend all those years in church and Bible study and not know this stuff? It was exhilarating to now read the Bible with this new perspective. But so disappointing to know my brothers and sisters were still being fed milk, and often sour milk at that. I ultimately left the UMC for many reasons, but not the least of which was the “drift from its amazing message.” I hope the UMC can reclaim that someday. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Amen Mr. Murdock! You said what a lot of people in the UMC think…myself included. Life change happens in the context of relationships but the UMC pastor hasn’t got a chance to be an effective leader in that area.

  3. What a great article, John! At root, our system seems to promote a traveling chaplaincy. That’s neither what we see of the elders in the New Testament (who all seem locally rooted), nor the circuit riders of early Methodism (whom Wesley distinguished as preachers, not to be confused with pastors). Your article requires us to ask just how we understand the pastoral office –– and why we treat our large and small churches so differently.

  4. I want to add a perspective that I personally disagree with, and have never lived, but have found to be very real among some of my friends. When a person is appointed to a small rural setting that has little opportunity for growth (due to a low population density), there are economic realities for the pastor and his family that become a consideration. Such churches can only offer a limited compensation package and often the communities offer limited educational opportunities. When a young pastor has a growing family, that pastor has an obligation and responsibility to feed, clothe, and educate his/her children. Often the only way to get a raise in pay and to offer adequate educational opportunities for their children is to move to the next larger setting–this is a very real fact of life. While I have never found myself in such a situation (I am currently in my 16th year as the pastor of a growing church), I feel for friends who do find themselves in such circumstances. Of course part of the answer is for churches to adequately pay their pastors, but this does not always happen. I do not know the answer to any of this, and I am fully aware of the benefits of long tenures, nonetheless, often it is the pastor who asks to move, not so much because they desire a move, but because of a desire to care for their family.
    One more thing. Current American church culture does not value the good work of small parish pastors. Many of them do incredible work for the Kingdom, but such ministry is seldom extolled. Our current church culture values the pastors of exciting, dynamic, and growing congregations, but gives scant notice to the faithful work of small town pastors. We should not be surprised that many desire to be in a place where opportunities for growth are greater and their efforts will be at least somewhat appreciated.
    All that said, I appreciate the article, and agree with it wholeheartedly, yet I think there are other aspects of the situation that need consideration.

    1. This is exactly what I’ve lived as a young, fresh-out-of-seminary, female (I’ll add), UM pastor with small children. Exactly. It’s about broken me. Thank you.

    2. Some years ago, I was in the candidacy process and was interviewed by a UMC church in Texas and was offered the assc pastor position while I would be attending seminary at Perkins. Somehow the “salary” arrangement was “misinterpreted” or “misrepresented”, I still haven’t decided, but there was no way I could in good conscience take such a position with a wife and three daughters. The UMC loses some very bright prospects, because lets face it, Perkins at SMU isn’t cheap and pay for starting pastors in small towns is low. Extremely low. Not a good trade off. I spoke to my then Sr. Pastor who told me, quote: “following God sometimes requires sacrifice”. My response, quote: “There is a huge difference between sacrifice and financial suicide”. So I remained in the private sector making five times as much money to provide for my family, and I do ministry work within my job and my area of influence.

  5. I would be interested in the source for your turnover statistics. I don’t disagree that many times new seminary grads end up in smaller less economically advantaged appointments. Usually due to a variety of reasons these tend to be small rural churches. In addition there is certainly a bit of political gamesmanship in the appointment process.

    Yet it feels like you are putting the success or failure of the church entirely on the pastor. This is not fair as it is contingent upon a willing congregation to embrace the Will of God not merely to sit in the pews. I assume that this is not what you intended to imply but it came across a bit that way to me.

    I know churches that sat without a pastor for up to 2 years due to search committees. That can’t be healthy either with interim after interim pastor serving.

    This is not the issue that will take down the Methodist church. A lack of passionate authenticity and willingness to serve instead of being served will do that.

    Someone else mentioned the reality of affording a family in a less affluent church. Conferences can’t even afford ree to pay enough in health insurance and churches can’t afford to pay pastors because they are too small or they don’t tithe for a variety of complex issues. This is a bigger issue though.

  6. I am the Annual Conference delegate from my small church. The problem is, as was stated in this article, the General Conference and the Annual Conferences aren’t concerned with the small membership churches. I don’t think it’s that they don’t care, but more that they have no conception of how things really are in a small church, the struggle we face every month to pay the pastor’s salary, insurance and pension plus the expenses of keeping the doors open. They pay lip service to the small churches, but every decision made at the General and Annual Conference level is by and for the benefit of large, big city churches. The small churches are basically told, “Take what you get and be glad you got it.” In my Annual Conference, 60% of the churches have less than 100 in average
    worship attendance, while less than 10% have more than 200. Yet the large churches get what they want at the expense of the small churches. Until this mindset is changed within the United Methodist Church as a whole, things will not get better.

  7. As a UM Pastor I have always embraced the itinerant system. It has been a blessing to me and hopefully the churches I have served. In order to get past those using the system to get a pay raise or gain status, there needs to be a centralized equitable pay system. Detractors would say this would make us a corporation and subject us to federal and state guidelines. If churches would pay into a system a percentage of their basic maintenance budget(not including monies spent for missions and outreach because this would penalize churches for doing good works), we could get past the stair stepping that some clergy do. The salary system we have is unfair to all as the larger churches make it more attractive for salary seeking pastors and plays into the “good-ol boy” way of rewarding friends of the cabinet. Of course some churches would get around this by offering bonuses above the compensation package. The church would make this “illegal” on ethical grounds and punishable by termination of those who accept them. Oh wait, we have our union card, we can’t be terminated for that type of thing. And that is a sermon for another day.

    1. Perhaps requiring local charges to be responsible for say 40% of base compensation and 100% of benefits while allowing churches to give bonuses not to exceed 20% of base compensation would be a fair compromise but conference wide pay schedules based in part on performance as well as education and experience would be essential if we want to do justice while abolishing guaranteed appointments and minimizing itineracy.

  8. I’m not a pastor, and came to the UMC after 42 years as a Lutheran. I love the Methodist quadilateral and the focus on lay leadership that the constant change of pastors has necessitated. But when a new pastor rides roughshod over that lay leadership and dictates changes (regardless of or contrary to active committee decisions; saying the pastor’s decision trumps committee action), it shreds the fabric of the community of faith. I am shocked at the damage an inappropriate appointment can inflict. I understand that I am not an authority, not being of a theological background, but I believe that we are known by the fruit we produce, and I can recognize when a mismatch produces deformed fruit.

  9. Thank you for naming the elephant in the room, i.e., the two-tiered system of itinerancy. No question about it: the big guys (and they are almost invariably men) do not get moved, ever, once they have worked their way up the career/salary ladder to a large church setting. The ones who do, particularly older female pastors, serve faithfully those smaller, often rural congregations (most of which don’t want female pastors and often treat them terribly) with starvation wages.

    The disparity of pay within one conference can be ten-fold or more. This disparity then also leads to a two-tiered retirement, with the big church pastors having been able to purchase expensive homes with their generous housing allowances, while the small church pastors move from one aging and inadequate parsonage to another, never being able to build equity in a house for retirement purposes. And that doesn’t even touch on the disruption in the local charges from the frequent change in pastors, as you have ably described.

    As others here have stated, this system is far, far from what Wesley began: traveling preachers, not traveling pastors, who could and did offer the best of God’s word to the local charges, while the local pastors did the work of overseeing the flock and encouraging their faithfulness to the demands of kingdom of heaven living.

    There are many reasons the UMC is declining, and our structure plays a big part of it. The current method of top down itinerancy (unless a big church is involved because when it is time for a pastoral change there, they effectively form pulpit committees and then tell the Bishop who to appoint) has become woefully out of touch with a society that thrives on personal choice–and will make it freely.

    As have many other bloggers who have commented here, I have written about the itinerancy. After reading this, I just reposted one I wrote five years ago when still in active ministry. My concerns have not changed.

  10. Mr. Murdock, your article and the other commentaries on the thread are very enlightening. A former UMC minister I served rural charges with as many as 5 churches on a charge holding services at one point four times on Sunday mornings. Frankly, I loved it. I was a single seminary student for all but one year of the rural assignments. I was poor as Job’s turkey but I can swear I never missed a meal or went hungry. I was probably the worst homiletician in the Conference. I knew little to nothing about Christian Education and Youth Fellowship beyond my experience as member of a strong small city Methodist Church. I utilized the DCE at my former church who helped with finding literature and she suggested I organize circuit wide Youth Fellowships which we did and were fun for leaders and youth. That was done on week days when I was away at Divinity School. The circuit adults would eventually have meetings while students were engaged and that was a strong by-product. An Eagle Scout and lover of outdoors the majority of pastoral contacts were done at dove shoots, quail hunting, catfish ponds, fish fries, pitching hay and shaking peanuts during the summer. Church meals, family dinners and funerals were the times I visited with the women of the parish. We rarely increased membership roles, because when I say it was rural, I mean it was rural nearest small town was 35 miles away. Some of the Baptist kids would join the youth group and that was good. When I objected to being moved my District Superintendent who explained that it was for my own good because I needed to go as an associate pastor and learn how to preach from a “master” and besides I was told I had earned a step up, every church on the circuit had paid fully conference and district assessments for the first time the circuit had been formed. I think he was telling me he had not expected much from the beginning. He was kind and was doing his job and I really loved the man. The new appointment wasn’t my cup of tea. I never really learned the homiletics because as the “master” in exasperation apprised me, “you just shell the corn too quick.” I knew what he meant and it was true. He was being very Christian with me. He helped me find ministry opportunities in the broader church which were very fulfilling and that’s where I went. The point to this babble is this – if ministers are not happy in the United Methodist Church, they need to find pastorates where they can be happy. You have to choose. There are circumstances with ill family members which complicate assignments and Bishops and District Superintendents can help. In our Conference lay pastors and part time ministers who work at other jobs are used to serve the smaller rural churches and from my perspective that is working. Some churches should not be kept open particularly if they can’t pay salaries, bills and conference askings. Merge the congregations and combine circuit activities. There’s no reason to nuance the church’s problems which are real. One thing I note is the UMC is admitting more and more ministers from the poorly educated Christian traditions outside of the Wesleyan quadrilateral concept. I think the UMC needs to step up education with the pastors and I think the churches need to be included more in the assignment of ministers. If we through the itinerancy system completely out the window we better be able to handle the fallout. I’m not against the change, I just want to know what it will be. I do agree the Cabinet system of administration needs to be improved. Mr. Murdock’s comments are wise and UMC needs to seriously engage the issues now! BTW – The other subjects you mentioned but didn’t address make for some exciting times in the next few years for UMC. Remember the words that saved the effort to re-unite the Methodist Episcopal Church , South and the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1939 – ” We agree to disagree but we resolve to love.”

  11. As a UMC PK in my 70s, I grew up understanding that our family would moved when sent. The concept of every church will have a pastor and every pastor will have a church is alive and well in the UMC. Not so in a different denomination we wandered off into for a number of years. Our congregation went without a senior or associate pastor for well over a year. The same thing is happening in our daughter and son-in-law’s congregation right now. We came back to the Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors of the UMC about five years ago. This year both our beloved senior pastor and associate pastor were sent to different churches and our new senior and associate are in place without skipping a beat. UMC pastors sign on for itinerancy and are ready to do two things: preach and move. Count me as one who disagrees with Mr. Murdock while respecting his thoughtful critique of the system.

  12. As a UMC PK in my 70s, I understood growing up that our family would move when sent. The concept of every church will have a pastor and every pastor will have a church is alive and well in the UMC. Not so in a different denomination we wandered off into for a number of years. There, our congregation was without a senior pastor for more than a year, and without both a senior and associate for more than a year another time. We came back to the Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors of the UMC several years ago. This year both our beloved senior pastor and his equally beloved associate were sent to other churches. Our new senior and associate were in place without missing a beat. UMC pastors sign up for itinerancy and are always ready to do two things: preach and move. Count me as one who disagrees with Mr. Murdock while respecting his critique of the system.

  13. As a layman I was a bit surprised when I came to VA and went thru the first Pastor change. In CT our church was one of the “rich” churches-also Evangelical in a Liberal Conference-so there the Pastor stayed until he retired.

    I think we need to go back to the start. Classes, Societies etc. with the preachers often being laymen/women who exhorted their Societies and the Pastor/Circuit Rider coming to check on them and make sure the groups were well disciplined and orthodox. I completed the basic Lay Servant class last year and have yet to be put to any use in my congregation. It is in deep trouble and I have ideas that could help but, being “new” here (only in church 2.5 years, not 3 generations), I’m not well received.

    I was raised Lutheran but changed when wife wanted to go back to church after our first daughter was born. Came to Christ in that CT church. Saddened and sickened to see where we are going.

  14. My UMC has been through 20+ Pastoral changes in 39 years. Doesn’t sound like much, but the founding pastor was here for 10 years. We left for 11 years when I was transferred out of state, but now we’re back since 2007. In the last 8 years, we’ve been through 5 and are now on our 6th, not to mention the fact that we no longer have 2 pastors, but only 1. All this might be acceptable if our church was small, but it’s 1100 people. Also since we’ve been back, we’ve lost 3 youth directors and are on our 3rd interim. It’s not so much the directors as it is the church is too cheap to pay for a career youth director. I’m really angry.

  15. If long term appointments are to become the norm and connectionalism maintained, there has to be conference wide pay schedules. Otherwise the two tiered system becomes only worse.

  16. When I was growing up in the (then) Methodist Church (before the merger), my father was a pastor. He and my mother had as friends a clergy couple. I gather he was not a very effective and he was moved EVERY year. I remember my mother said of his wife: “She finally put her foot down.” She demanded that he get out of the ministry. Very likely he should not have been in the pastorate to begin with. Instead of lovingly counseling him and supporting him into becoming an effective lay person, the Conference just moved him every year. That is an extreme example of institutional malpractice in our denomination. It is not always that bad, but the itinerant system can certainly be abused in a number of ways. I think that it fosters bad habits in pastors and churches–habits that center around waiting for the next appointment. The church can wait the pastor out as he or she tries to lead the congregation into change. And the pastor can bide his time and not face the hard issues. Yet, I am not sure what system I would substitute for what we have. I do not think the “call” system works any better. I do think that we could make some modifications. We could appoint for a minimum of three years and a maximum of twelve. We could create a deeper and more complex “matching” process. I think that the Cabinet tends to hold its information about churches and pastors as though they are military secrets. Why not have sort of a “job fair” in which a pastor will have the opportunity to sit down with PPR’s from several churches and pastors and churches see profiles of one another (including a video of a sermon)? Then, the churches and pastors can discuss with DS’s their preferences and the cabinet and bishop can make a more informed decision about who matches with whom. It won’t be perfect, but it seems like it would be better than the secret horse trading that goes on at Cabinet meeting these days. As to whether this system is what is slowly bleeding the church to death, I would say it is a contributing factor, but not nearly so important as the radical/liberal theology that undermines the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

  17. Well said! Compounding the difficulties in the UMC is the demographic fact of aging clergy, with guaranteed incomes well above what small congregations can afford. Thousands of congregations find that their total pastoral ministry expense far exceeds the healthy 50% of total annual revenues, which means that resources for ministry to the people we are called by the Gospel to serve are simply not there.

    We are in the situation where we rob Peter to pay Pastor. I recently told our DS that it seemed like we, as a small, rural congregation, don’t have much choice or say. “Of course you do!” he exclaimed, “You can always have a part-time pastor.” Our church has been serving for 220 years. Let that soak in a bit: Two centuries and one score years of service. But as your article points out, the larger churches are the ones who dictate the way things are.

    One of the staff ministers at a local large UMC church said of the “itinerant” system and the Bishop’s ability to post whom she wants where she wants “She can just leave us the hell alone!”.

    “That”, as we said in my Air Force days, “is a clue”.

  18. Your focus will be on the personal relationship with Christ not preacher. Most importantly is we mature our positions as givers not takers of his message. There are several boards that you can join and follow if you want to make a stronger position with the church body. This is like saying you want to control who your postmaster or your post mail deliverer is. It’s foolishness. It’s like saying you want the same teacher throughout school. It does not work that way. Focus on your studies not your stubbornness.

    1. Sounds like Quaker or Jehovah’s witnesses. As motivated adults, do we really need a professional, paid clergy?

  19. I haven’t read all of the comments, and someone may have already made these points. I see a couple of reasons for the itinerant pastors. First, most churches have a family or small group of families that try to run the show. They ingratiate themselves to the pastor to maintain control. By moving pastors around, it makes it more difficult for these power players to keep control. Second, really good ministers are rare. If those top notch ones all got snapped up by the big, wealthy churches, the smaller ones would wither quickly under a revolving door of incompetence. If the smaller churches can get a good one every once in a while, the thinking goes that this would keep them alive, if not thriving. Of course, if a small church gets a really good one, the church gets spoiled, and when he is reassigned, the new minister can’t live up to that level. The church then changes ministers even more frequently, trying to find what they had with that really good one. This happened in my wife’s home church. It is time for the UMC, and really all institutional churches, to face reality. Numbers and dollars are shrinking. Instead of trying to hold on to every single church, it is time to consolidate congregations so they can maintain a viable presence.

  20. Amen! As the daughter of a Methodist Minister I have come to very much dislike the Methodist Church. By the time I was 18 I had moved 15 times. It is devastating on the families and the the harm to children being moved often is well documented. I and my siblings grew up as outsiders to society. It is a very detrimental system to all involved. I hope the Methodist Church continues to decline and fades out of existence. It’s system is the most insidious crap I have ever known.

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