The end of guaranteed appointments (I hope)

October 26, 2012

This week, the Wall Street Journal, of all things, had an article on possible end of guaranteed appointments for us elders-in-full-connection in the United Methodist Church. I say “possible” because, while General Conference passed the measure to end lifelong tenure last May, its constitutionality is being deliberated by our denomination’s supreme court, the Judicial Council, as I write this. According to the article, the Judicial Council might rule on it as early as today.

For all I know, the Judicial Council might wimp out and rule that the measure is unconstitutional. I hope not. Ending guaranteed appointments is an idea whose time has come. The following seems obviously true to me:

Church leaders say that as they try to re-energize churches and draw more people into the pews, in part by recruiting new, enthusiastic pastors, they are constrained by longstanding tenure rules that give each ordained pastor a place to preach until mandatory retirement at age 72.

“You’ll have someone who is not fully effective, yet they have to have a church,” said Bishop Gary Mueller, a regional leader in Arkansas. “If everyone needs to be placed…that ends up driving the system more than who is the best person to serve a church.”

One counterargument, as the article points out, is that guaranteed appointments are the necessary trade-off for our church’s itinerant system, in which pastors frequently uproot their families and move from one place to another at the will of the bishop. That sounds good, except that tenure wasn’t introduced until the 1950s. John Wesley, Francis Asbury, and Thomas Coke never imagined that the “hardship” of itinerancy needed to be ameliorated by guaranteed appointments. Why do we?

Not to mention the fact that itinerancy today isn’t what it used to be. It simply isn’t the case that pastors automatically move every two or three years. The denomination gives more consideration to the needs of the pastor, his or her family, and the local church than it used to.

Besides, isn’t it a matter of trust? Do I trust the Lord to take care of me, or do I trust the institution of the UMC? Who’s really in charge here? Do I believe the words of the Covenant Prayer that Wesley taught us—”Let me be employed for thee or laid aside for thee”—or are these just pretty words to say?

Or am I hopelessly naive?

I’m going to strive to be faithful to my calling and let the chips fall where they may.

One Response to “The end of guaranteed appointments (I hope)”

  1. revdrtaylor Says:


    I stand with you on this opinion.

    In addition to the objection about requiring full-elders to itinerate, the other objection I often hear is that doing away with guaranteed appointments will also mean that women and minorities who are full-elders will not have equal opportunities to appointments.

    Wesley was a practical, progressive theologian. He had women preaching and teaching and he held his pastors/preachers accountable through “real”–not just in name only–holy conferencing/conversation. After his death, it wasn’t too long before women were excluded as preachers.

    As Will Willimon has said, (my paraphrase), “The UM system is not broken. Systems produce what the systems’ leadership want it to produce.” The current problem with ineffective and low-performing UM ministers is not because of the guaranteed appointment system. The current problem with ineffective and low-performing UM ministers exists because the UM leadership (clergy/DS’/Bishops and laity leaders) do not hold ministers accountable. Why should we believe that doing away with guaranteed appointments is going to solve this problem? It will not solve the problem because the UM system does not have a real and effective system for holding ministers and churches accountable.

    In addition to holding ministers accountable, we must also hold local churches accountable to being the church–we have way too many churches that are not “vital” congregations to use the current “buzz word/jargon” of today. These churches aren’t vital because they don’t want to be vital–regardless of the pastoral leadership many churches simply want to be “family owned social chapels” regardless of the pastor appointed to serve. As long as these churches can pay their apportionments, even though they are not vital congregations, they will continue to exist. Even when they cannot pay their apportionments, larger, more affluent churches often step in and pay their apportionments for them. The system produces what the leadership allows and encourages it to produce.

    Wesley would not recognize the UMC today, and he would be appalled and shocked at the system/institution we have created that calls itself Methodist based on his life, ministry and practices.

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