Every Thursday I join about eight other clergy for a text study. Interestingly, they are all Lutheran, with the exception of one other United Methodist and myself. Through the years I have gained a better appreciation for the Lutheran tradition and for my own Wesleyan tradition. I have also had the opportunity to understand more clearly how our respective polities support and promote different things within our communities. One thing I have grown to envy in my Lutheran clergy brothers and sisters is that without the pressure and anxiety that accompanies a year long appointment, they have more influence and more time to focus on mission and vision.
It is very difficult in the United Methodist Church for a clergy person to get a congregation on the visioning train. I mean, after all, the clergy person before tried to get them to to it, but she left in the second year and nothing was resolved. Or, they started a process three years ago with a different approach and a different focus. By the time a United Methodist clergy person has been at a congregation long enough to build the necessary trust, lay the important groundwork, and build strong relationships, more often than not we are moved. This is especially true in small churches which have shorter tenures for clergy.
Our appointment process makes a great deal of sense if we understand the pastor's presence to be primarily priestly and pastoral in nature. If the leadership resides among the laity and the pastor is there to teach, administer the sacraments, tend the flock, and lead worship, short tenures are fine. In theory, it matters not whether we are there one year or thirty years. The congregation itself provides continuity, vision, and leadership. However, if the pastor is going to be the primary visionary and leader, then enough time must be afforded for the pastor to become a trusted leader so that the vision gets shared, embraced, and put into action. And, it seems that pastors are being asked to be just this person - the one who provides the stimulus for and often the core content of the mission/vision of the local church.
It's time to shift our understanding of the appointment process. Clergy, congregations, and conference leadership need to enter into partnerships with one another so that our congregations can fully embrace the idea of being missional. A missional outlook is an intentional orientation to ministry. And, an intentional orientation takes time and risk, which require trust. Let's stop changing appointments every two, three, even four years. Longer appointments are needed... If clergy are being moved because of an inequity in pay, then we need to address that issue and not submit our congregations to continuous clergy turnover that results in leadership vacuums. It isn't far for them and it isn't a way to spread the gospel.
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