Perspective and Opportunity in United Methodist Appointment-Making

“Boy, do I have an opportunity for you!” are words that most United Methodist clergy have heard or will hear during their ministry. Within the next 6 weeks this phrase will be used a lot! The difficulty is that one person’s definition of “opportunity” may not match someone else’s. It is a statement usually said by district superintendents who are on the front-line of making appointments. They are at the point of the triangle between churches and clergy, matchmakers who have on-site knowledge of their churches and ministers. This knowledge is shared with the bishop’s whole cabinet, and through shared discernment, matches are made.

In the UMC system defining an “opportunity” is always a matter of perspective. It takes conferencing about the perspective of the local church and its perception of desired leadership needs; the perspective of the clergy and where they are in their ministry or the importance of family considerations; and the perspective of the bishop and cabinet who are scanning the needs of the whole annual conference and doing their very best to make disciples of Jesus Christ.

Connectionalism and working together is part and parcel of United Methodism. Therefore, appointments are made by the whole cabinet, though the Bishop alone is given constitutional authority (Par. 54, 2012 Book of Discipline) to do so after “consultation with the district superintendents.” Consultation includes local churches and clergy, too, and that appears in the form of church and clergy profiles. Therefore, everyone takes a hand, not least God, in our system of clergy deployment. Staff-Parish Relations Committees complete Church Profiles that describe the church, and clergy fill out Pastor Profiles that offer insights into their situations. By the way, both need to understand the importance of a well-presented profile. Those profiles will be pored over with microscopic attention when appointments are made. Please at least use spell-check!

A key paragraph from my perspective about appointment-making is found in Par. 428.4 which says, “All appointments shall receive consideration by the bishop, the district superintendent(s), and the cabinet as a whole until a tentative decision is made.” This fleshes out for me that our appointment-making system is a collegial effort, though the final decision indeed belongs to the bishop. As a former district superintendent who maxed out my tenure after 8 years, and one who is absolutely relishing being appointed to a thriving congregation, I think that a key word as we ramp up for the annual anxiety-laden period of possible clergy transitions is “perspective.”

The bishop and cabinet have a perspective about clergy and churches and the needs of the whole conference, and sometimes they have to make decisions about which only they know all the facts. Churches have their own unique perspective and rightly so if they can only count on one hand the number of effective ministers they have had in any given person’s lifetime. Clergy certainly have a unique perspective shaped by their family needs, and their sense of their gifts and graces and how they might be best utilized. So, what we have as we approach “appointment season” in the UMC is an “intriguing dance of perspectives,” a cooperative connectional effort to discern who goes where and who gets whom.

I pray for all those who are feeling the tensions rise in anticipation. Being on a trapeze with one hand letting go of one bar (pastor, church, friend, etc.) and willing to trust God enough to reach out for that the next bar (church, pastor, friend, etc.) is daunting, yet potentially thrilling. Throughout the whole process, as it is bathed in prayer, we absolutely must believe that God is in this enterprise, that Jesus will be glorified, however saddened or distraught we might be. In other words, we need more than a human perspective. We must affirm that a heavenly perspective is of highest importance. In our system we yield ourselves to a scary and vulnerable process not unlike the risk Jesus took in his incarnation.

So the word is “Perspective,” both divine and human. This is the essence of our belief in the system we call “itineracy,” the moving of clergy. John Wesley called itineracy the “apostolic plan of evangelization.” He thought that our “sent,” not “called” system was and is one of God’s best ways of mobilizing and energizing God’s salvific plan for humanity. I agree and have yielded myself to our peculiar process. Trust me, I haven’t always seen the wisdom of the bishop and cabinet, nor have all of my appointments been rosy. I do know this, however, that God has provided for me, my family, the local church, and the community. When we yield to a divine perspective all other perspectives come into focus!

Some people claim that their personal perspective is supreme and that their needs and/or agenda supplants and trumps everyone else’s. That’s not our system. I’ve seen people finagle their way upwards using manipulation and maneuvering, but, sooner or later, their solitary and self-promoting perspective will come to a halting stop. They have elevated what they want over saying “Yes!” and yielding. God help the UMC if that kind of personal aggrandizement ever wins the day.

Let me share a story that illustrates the illusion that getting our way and making what we think are unseen jabs is the way to go in appointment-making, whether by churches, clergy, district superintendents, and even bishops. Good appointment-making values everyone’s perspective, especially God’s. The story goes like this:

“During World War II, a general and his aide, a lieutenant, were traveling from one base to another. They were forced to travel with civilians aboard a passenger train. They found their compartments where two other folks were already seated – an attractive young lady and her grandmother. For most of the trip, they conversed freely. The train entered a long and rather dark tunnel. Once inside the tunnel, the passengers in this particular car heard two distinct sounds – the first was the smack of a kiss; the second was the loud sound of a slap.

Now, although these four people were in the same compartment aboard the passenger train, they came to four differing perspectives. The young lady thought how glad she was that the young lieutenant got up the courage to kiss her, but she was somewhat disappointed at her grandmother for slapping him for doing it; the general thought to himself how proud he was of his young lieutenant for being enterprising enough to find this opportunity to kiss the attractive young lady but was flabbergasted that she slapped him instead of the lieutenant; the grandmother was flabbergasted to think that the young lieutenant would have the gall to kiss her granddaughter, but was proud of her granddaughter for slapping him for doing it; and the young lieutenant was trying to hold back the laughter, for he found the perfect opportunity to kiss an attractive young girl and slap his superior officer all at the same time!”

Perhaps our so-called “opportunities” are not at all what they seem, or they are fleeting chances for us to “work” the system and “slap” the “Man” by bucking authority. We better be careful not to be so creative in our massaging the system that God’s video cam doesn’t catch us and we end up as our own worst enemy. I would rather trust the communal perspective of our appointment-making system than end up getting what I finagled for and be absolutely miserable. So, let’s trust everyone’s perspective, especially God’s! Everyone’s input insures a better opportunity for fruitful ministry.

Me, Narcie, and Josh at Josh's Ordination

Narcie, Josh, and I at Josh’s Ordination

The red Stoles represent the Yoke of Christ saying that We YIELD to where we are SENT!

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Clergy as Family Reunion Facilitators

Last week I attended a Dr. Ken Callahan Seminar where he effectively reminded us that churches are active mission outposts, pastors are shepherd leaders, and the community is a family. Three months from today on June 25, 2014 I will be the new pastor of a vibrant and exciting church. How will the transition go? Will I be ready? I have high expectations that everything will be absolutely great, but I am reminded of Loren Mead’s description of pastoral transition as “running through thistles.” Ouch!

I want to avoid as many “ouches” as I can! In preparation I have been rereading some familiar material about starting well in a new parish. One of the best and concise books is The First 100 Days: A Pastor’s Guide by T. Scott Daniels. It is a book that challenges me to pay attention to God, my family, and my next parish.

We have all heard mentors and advisors say, “Just love the people!” But every church is different and so is every pastor. Some congregations are in the throes of separation anxiety because they love their current pastor so much. Every mentor I’ve had has expressed how much better it is to follow someone who is loved than a clergyperson who is disliked. Following a beloved pastor may make things a bit rough at first but early on the family lovingly absorbs you into its fabric. That’s their pattern! To follow someone ineffective or disliked makes you the quick hero, but the angst and anger toward that pastor is just as quickly transferred to you as the love was in the first scenario. The challenge is to do well in either case.

The good news is that whether you follow a beloved longtime pastor, a divisive church splitter, or a middle of the road maintenance minder has little consequence because you control you, not the circumstances. The best approach then is to do a lot of observation at first while repeating the mantra under your breath: “Listen, listen; Love, love!”

I need to get to know the church by becoming a keen sociologist and historian, by working hard to understand the church’s current reality and its processes from vision to finances; and by falling deeply in love with the community. “How do they do things here?” can be answered through bulletins or orders of worship – videos of high Sundays and the ones in between would be extremely helpful. However, from a sociological point of view, how is this church a family? What is its unwritten but very real ethos and set of family rules?

How do they talk and do I have the capacity to speak the same language? Learning what “funeralizing” someone meant became extremely important when I moved from seminary in Boston to a three-point charge in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina! I specifically remember being asked to go visit someone and given a country store and a “colyum” as landmarks. I was supposed to go past the store and take a right at the “colyum.” I found the store but I had no idea what a “colyum” was. When I went back to the store and asked where the person’s house was and they said, “Take a right at the ‘colyum.’” My response was, “Could you spell that for me?” They answered: “C-O-L-U-M-N!” Oh….. I got it and made it to my destination. I had to learn the lingo, the church and community’s history, the expectations of the pastor, the lay leadership, the flow of the worship services, the people who needed immediate pastoral care, the vision and plans of the church, and all the mundane but IMPORTANT idiosyncrasies of that unique family.

The greatest challenge was joining the family! One of the metaphors that The First 100 Days uses is that a new pastor is someone who has been invited to become a “facilitator at someone else’s family reunion.” A new minister isn’t a member of the family automatically any more than a new son-in-law or daughter-in-law is. Newbies have “positional authority” by virtue of their legal or titular standing; i.e., “This is my ____ ___ ______.” However, they don’t have real authority until it’s earned or, I daresay, a grandchild comes along! Some clergy try to get by as long as they can by the “reputational authority” they’re given by their predecessor, the inquisitive detectives in the church who check them out ahead of time, the Bishop, or their bio. I am firmly convinced that pastors don’t really get an invitation to join the family until they acquire “relational authority” through significant interactions with people.

Please note that the word “authority” does NOT carry its usual heavy-handed meaning. Since “authority” comes from the word “author,” it really means doing something creative and productive rather than destructive; as Hebrews 12:2 describes Jesus as “the author and perfecter of our faith.” Authority built through relationships with people and communities isn’t engendered through titles and degrees. It comes through an incarnational presence with people at their most important life events: illnesses, births, deaths, marriages, crises – whenever and wherever the clergyperson is invited to be a part of the new family.

According to author Scott Daniels the notion of “The First 100 Days” was originated by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt after his inauguration in 1933. In the midst of the Great Depression he and Congress paved the way for the main components of the New Deal to be enacted in his first 100 days in office. It wouldn’t have happened unless he had the political capital to get it done. FDR had almost two years of campaigning under his belt before the clock started on his presidency. During those two years FDR articulated and garnered support for what was accomplished in his first 100 days! New pastors don’t have that luxury or capital!

In quick-step time we must gain capital through relational leadership with careful attention to avoid rushing. It sounds like an oxymoron to hit the ground running while going slow enough to really get to know the lay of the land. Relational authority has to be earned and that takes time, skill, and observation. It also requires the support of a new church family that is willing to be helpful, supportive, and patient. The most important key for all concerned is to trust in Jesus and follow His example. Then the rest will take care of itself!

Truth or Consequences in the Church

I was driving into work this morning with a lot on my mind. A lot of my thinking was about this Friday’s deadline. Advisory Response Forms are due. They indicate what pastors and churches might be experiencing a move this year. This is that time of year when clergy and S/PPRC’s advise the Bishop and DS’ if they want a change in pastors or parishes. Everybody’s anxiety is way up and not in good ways. Some folks are freaking out because they don’t want their clergyperson to leave. Others are thinking they can’t leave soon enough and that goes for both laity and clergy. I have even mused over how interesting it would be if we moved all the church members and kept the clergy where they are! Would that be the best Call to Action ever? If Wesley believed itinerancy was “God’s apostolic plan of evangelization,” then wholesale itinerancy with the laity just might help us as a denomination! Ha, but interesting at least. Anyway, appointment-making season in the UMC is a time of high stress. One of my primary tasks is not to get reactive, and, as you can tell, I’m feeling it today.

 I did try to exhibit a non-anxious presence last Sunday. I worshipped in one of the Columbia District UMC’s, met with a Staff-Parish Committee having some issues with a clergyperson, and then led training for all clergy and their Staff-Parish Committees late into the afternoon. As usual there were people who came with semi-hidden agendas. This time of year makes it quite apparent that the good will of Christmas is long gone and United Methodists are feeling the nervous stirring of pastoral change. It would all go so much better if preacher and people would just be honest with each other along the way. Too often I’ve seen both sides skate over shortcomings until they hit a critical mass of general dissatisfaction from which there is no turning back. It is absolutely uncanny that December 1 was the deadline for pastoral evaluations and most all of them were absolutely glowing. Could things have changed that much in two months?

There are no perfect pastors and no perfect churches. If that were so we wouldn’t need Jesus, would we? A District Superintendent’s responsibilities are complicated and complex, a mixture of pastoral care and supervisory oversight. A huge challenge for all of us is how to create Christian community by speaking the truth in love. I find it quite ironic that we care enough to tell a perfect stranger who has miffed us exactly what we think and don’t do the same as Christians. There’s something wrong with that!

Sure, we don’t want to hurt people’s feelings, but we have to care enough to confront. My Dad had a great saying. He would say, “Son, Sometimes you have to hit the nail on the head, but be careful not to split the wood!” That’s our challenge isn’t it? We need to tell it like it is, but in a way that is helpful, not hurtful. I am challenged today to get this right for the Kingdom’s sake. I am praying fervently that the right clergy will be sent to the right churches. If I don’t have people tell me honestly what their needs are, whether they’re church members or pastors, then it isn’t going to happen. Consultation has to be honest and helpful!

Women Clergy and “Stained Glass Ceiling”

I have been traveling for the last 3 months to all the churches in the Columbia district presiding over charge conferences. Unfortunately, even in this day and age, I continue to hear gender bias and the dreaded phrase, “Some of our people won’t accept a woman as their pastor.” The church has long caused clergywomen to hit the “stained glass ceiling” of serving smaller parishes with lower salaries. As a justice issue, we should all agree that equal work should result in equal pay. I have two children who are Elders in the United Methodist Church, one daughter and one son. Narcie and Josh are both unique and are great! Of course, I’m prejudiced, but let me tell you as objectively as I can that both are better preachers and leaders, pastors and teachers than a lot of the clergy that I know. My daughter should not get short shrift because of her gender! She is excellent and she’s working harder than most male clergy AND she has the prolonged anxiety of a brain tumor on top of everything else. When people talk about women clergy in a disparaging way I want to say, “Give me a break!”

The church hasn’t always been this way about women’s leadership in Chirstianity. In the early church, women earned positions of prominence. During Jesus’ life it was primarily the largesse of working or wealthy women that provided the support that Jesus and the disciples needed (Matthew 27:55-56; Luke 8:2-3). Women were the first to hear the news of the resurrection. Women were there at the prayer session in the Upper Room that led to the birth of the church at Pentecost. Phoebe was a Deacon in the church at Cenchrea that Paul greeted in Romans 16:1 and the four daughters of Philip the Evangelist prophesied/preached (Acts 21:8). And where would the church be without Mary, the mother of Christ? Paul sums up the equality of Christian community in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” It was also Paul who reminded St. Timothy of the source of his faith, “which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice,” and, how “from infancy you have known the holy scriptures (2 Timothy 1:5; 3:15).”

Therefore, if women were so indispensable at the beginning of the church, how can we imagine women being left out today? Unfortunately, the early church acceptance of women dissipated all too rapidly into an enculturated male-dominated entity. We have sadly experienced 2000 years of allowing the secular world shape the sacred. This is all the more reason to celebrate, rather than disparage the influence of women in the church. If it weren’t for the faith of my mother, grandmother, wonderful female Sunday School teachers and mentors (I never had a male teacher in grade school or at church), my faith would have either been nonexistent or desperately inadequate. Women are the core-supporters of many churches. United Methodist Women are invaluable as leaders in ministry and mission. I thank God for what they do in the Columbia District, the Annual Conference, and General church!

We need more women leaders (men, too, for that matter). Thank goodness the United Methodist Church has long supported the call of women into ordained ministry. Still, however, clergywomen are a minority and there are those who wish to keep it that way. Here’s my response to churches that don’t want a female pastor, “Get over it!”

Gender issues and discrimination should be a dead issue in every profession. We have made great strides, but there is room for growth. In 1888 there were only 5 laywomen and no clergywomen at the United Methodist General Conference. After approximately 90 years of almost no representation, in 1976 there were 10 clergywomen and 290 laywomen out of 1000 delegates at General Conference. In 1992, it was 81 clergywomen and 303 laywomen out of 1000. In 1996, it was 107 and 328 respectively. In 2000 the numbers were 112 clergywomen and 212 laywomen. In 2008, of the 996 delegates, 148 were clergywomen and 220 were laywomen. Forty percent of the total delegates were female.

The church certainly has more than 40% women despite the number of those elected. It seems that the gospel hasn’t caught up with us yet in the church. The secular world has laws and changing attitudes in its favor, but we have something even greater – God’s Spirit! The Church should be the leader, as it was in the beginning, in women’s rights!

Waiting for Superman

We had our annual Cabinet Retreat this past week. One night we watched the movie “Waiting for Superman.” It was powerful, sad, riveting, and more. It’s about the school systems in the US and how and why they’re under performing though we’re spending more than ever on public education. As I was watching the movie I couldn’t help but see parallels to the United Methodist Church. Everyone should watch this movie because you might see or experience something very different than me. Do it now! The copy we watched was purchased at Target. I bet it’s online, too!

The gist is that educator Geoffrey Canada (whose brother Dan is a leader in the Columbia District UMC) is a critic of failing public schools. The litany of reasons is long but he targets flunky teachers who get transferred around to different schools in a “turkey trot,” teacher’s unions and tenure systems that don’t reward results, school districts and education silos with their big buildings that are out of touch with what works with real students and their families and are only out to justify and prop up their own existence. I could go on and on. I know the movie offers a simplistic answer: charter schools with excellent teachers and high motivation by all. The sad part is that the only way to get into the few charter schools that are already pretty much full is by lottery. Leaving our children’s future up to chance in a lottery is a shame and disgrace!

There is no way that fixing our schools by charter schools and lottery can be done so easily. In South Carolina education is woefully underfunded and there are no tenured teachers or teacher’s union to blame. School facilities vary from county to county because of school district independence and separate coffers, and a major reason for the lack of money isn’t the big manufacturing plants who pay taxes but the suburbanites who are old or rich enough to send their kids and grand kids to whatever school they want. Their mantra is that they have already paid taxes long enough and it’s time for somebody else to do it. The crime of poorly paid teachers and inadequately taught pupils isn’t their problem, but they’re living in a dream world that will be shattered when their grandchild ends up marrying someone from a failing school or has to go to such a school themselves, or a teenage truant from a school dubbed a “dropout factory” breaks into their home. Then their eyes will open. Yes, the whole situation is more complex than what I’ve written, but this is at least part of the truth.

We all know real life examples. We know that there has been a Nobel Prize winner from the Williamsburg County Schools, one of the poorest school systems in SC. We know that there are bright and exceptional kids in every school, and pray for them to be successful. We know that brave leadership from parents, teachers, administrators, and communities is hugely important. Don’t forget about churches either. There’s a school district in the Columbia District that has been failing. There has been a socioeconomic divide for decades in that town that literally split Main Street into haves and have-nots. The haves built a fine private school. The public school was mostly populated by the have-nots with meager resources. The school district in this poor county was put on probation, lost its accreditation, and was under court-ordered review and investigation. Enter the leadership of key individuals who said, “If I’m going to live here, I want to make a difference;” who said, “If I’m going to live here, everybody will receive a quality education.”

When we’re faced with the reality that Superman isn’t going to come, and that there are no superheroes, then we all become Superwomen or Supermen if we so choose. The newly elected head of the school board  in this poor county did his own heroics and inspired everyone else’s heroics and now the school system is once again accredited. This guy (who recently graduated from the Columbia District’s Lay Empowerment Program called “LeadershipNext”) did what came next in his mind as both a Christian and as a civic leader. He is living the UM mission statement that God doesn’t save us through Jesus to leave us the way that God found us, but transforms us so that we can transform the world. I am so proud of this fine United Methodist layperson!

Now what did the film “Waiting for Superman” make me ponder about the UMC? Well, the similarities abound as I hope you’ve already digested in this commentary. I know, for instance, that the layperson who has taken leadership and turned around a failing school district is inspired by an effective pastor. There is no substitute for good leadership in the UMC. We can have every fix-it program in the world but nothing will happen unless we have laypersons and clergy who exhibit leadership! I appreciate guaranteed appointments when they allow pastors to be prophetic leaders who can speak freely from their pulpits without worrying that they might get “fired.”  Such appointments also offer a safeguard for women and minorities who could otherwise be shortchanged by congregations who only desire white male pastors.  Still, this movie has me wonder if guaranteed appointments don’t also turn out to be United Methodism’s version of tenure, teachers’ unions, and the “turkey trot” where under-performing clergy are transferred from one church to another – all of which breeds mediocrity. United Methodist Churches have become dropout factories because lay leadership is uninspired and self-centered and the quality of preaching, pastoring, and leading by preachers is lacking. We have lost our relevancy because we accept the status quo. No more!

Now the UMC has a Call to Action with data that says what we should do, stuff we’ve known all along but haven’t been doing. I admit that I have been critical of the Call to Action report’s  use of metrics. We all know places where metrics, a fancy word for statistics, is incapable of measuring where the Holy Spirit’s wind has been blowing. Nevertheless, I must admit that if you don’t have a target there’s a 100% chance that you’ll miss. Churches and clergy hope that their next pastor or appointment will be their version of hitting the lottery and winding up with a good education, a ticket to a better future. That’s too chancy and I can count on half a hand the number of good preachers my home church has had in its entire history!

We have to do something now about our decline. Maybe metrics will help all of our churches become magnet or charter churches where people will find excellence. We don’t choose metrics simply because we’ve bought into some  hip business or educational model. Rather, the spiritual underpinning is very Wesleyan: sanctification. The reason we measure everything is that we believe in fruitfulness. We believe that if Jesus is real in some one’s life it will produce something, so we measure everything to see if that’s the case. The UMC rolled out yesterday, July 15, its www.umcvitalcongregations.org website. Wow! There’s a ton of stuff here that can help a local church measure up in vitality. The five areas are average weekly worship attendance, professions of faith, number of small groups, amount of money given to mission, and number of people involved in mission outreach. In SC we’re going to introduce this at charge conferences and invite people to come to a District Celebration in March 2012 to announce their results and make their plans for the next four years as a tangible gift to General Conference 2012. In reality it’s a gift to the local church and its people!

As a denomination we are not silo congregationalists. We’re not private schools. We believe there’s no such thing as private religion. We have religion of the heart and life – no holiness that isn’t both personal and social. We belong to a Connection that believes, “Together We Can Do More!” We are and want to be a better Charter or Magnet church drawing all people to Christ. We’re not waiting for Superman or Superwoman. No need to. We’re either the hero or villain in this story. I pray we are the hero.

Acute Appointment Anxiety

Being a District Superintendent is something that I honestly love being and doing. I just got back to the office after spending several hours with a pastor and spouse walking, talking, and having lunch together. This time of year is when I spend three hours with each clergy doing whatever they want to do. We build relationships and we get to know each other a lot better than we do when we’re having consultations in my office. These times are a blessing. I’ll never forget last year around this time as I was with several of my clergy on a canoeing trip when I got the call about Narcie being in a hospital by herself and finding out she had brain tumor. A few days later I was doing pottery with some clergy when she called to let me know the scary prognosis. We were there for each other. I broke down and cried and they cried and prayed with me. Transparency and vulnerability is a good thing. We need community, especially as clergy who are always giving, giving, giving. I want to say thanks for everyone’s support, and ask that you continue to pray that Narcie’s tumor disappears and/or doesn’t grow. She goes back for her every 3 month MRI next week. This is when the prolonged state of anxiety gets acute. Help!

This is also the time of year when every United Methodist Clergyperson has acute appointment anxiety. Am I moving, or not? It’s the same for local churches. I’m  getting last minute phone calls from churches either lobbying for their pastor to move or stay. We start appointment making this Friday morning and it’s an arduous task bathed in prayer and full of emotion. We want to do what’s best for both churches and clergy, all to the glory of God. Our system is so different from the way average Americans think. It’s my perception that Americans would rather go out and pick their pastor the same way corporations and businesses hire people. The United Methodist system of episcopal supervision and appointments listens to what churches need and tries to match those needs with a particular clergyperson’s gifts and graces.

In our system we believe God calls people to ministry and the Annual Conference through the Board of Ordained Ministry and the Clergy Session validate that call. From then on we are a sent ministry. UM churches don’t send out “pulpit committees” to guage a potential pastor. The SPRC meets with me and the other DS’ to discuss the needs and we try to find the right person. I ask the Staff-Parish Relations Committee to do a secret ballot and vote on what the church/community needs during this season of its life in a pastor. I give them 3 choices that summarize Par. 340 “Duties of a Pastor” in our Book of Discipline. The choices that I think sum up what every pastor should bring to the table are: Leadership, Proclamation, and Pastoral Care.

Anyway, I use this information to guide my thinking about the clergy leadership that a church needs. This is what all DS’ do. We know that clergy exist for local churches, not the other way around! The local church is the primary arena for disciple-making. Please pray for us as we attempt this week to make this happen through the appointments. The church’s relevancy to the world depends on getting this right!

United Methodist Appointment-Making Anxiety

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February 1 is the day that Advisory Response Forms are due to my office declaring that churches and/or clergy want a change in appointment. It’s been like a full moon around here! My phone has been ringing off the hook with people asking, “Can you get us a better pastor?” or clergy asking, “Is this a good year to move?” In other words, this is that time of year that United Methodist laity and preachers get antsy about changing clergy. It is unsettling to think that one might have to move on to a new ministry, or break in a new pastor.
I am glad to report that it appears that I will have very few moves this year in the Columbia District. I don’t say this because it’s a lighter load, but because ministry and partnerships are bearing fruit! Our younger clergy (under 35) aren’t doing ministry for extrinsic reasons, so there’s some built-in reluctance to move. This is according to Dr. Lovett Weems of the Lewis Center for Church Leadership. My impression is that most clergy feel this way. Ministry isn’t an easy ride so the reason to be in it has to more intrinsic than extrinsic. What I’m trying to say is this, whether a clergyperson is young or old, or somewhere in between, moving is no picnic. I often have thought that maybe we should move all the people and leave the pastors so everyone would have a taste of itinerancy. Ha!
The prospect of starting over in a new parish is difficult to ponder, whether one is laiy or clergy, especially if age or infirmity is making box-lifting a problem. I wonder if Abram and Sarai felt some of this age-reluctance when, in their seventies, they were asked by God to leave their home in Ur and travel to an unknown destination? Sounds like United Methodism’s method of deployment, doesn’t it?
I know some clergy with more zip in later life than earlier, and I know others who have already retired and have forgotten to tell the Board of Pensions. But, look at Abram and Sarai and you see a clergy couple ready to do what God wants! Ah, but you might say that their ages weren’t computed the way that ours are today. After all, they both lived well into their 100’s.
Perhaps they enjoyed good health because of the Middle Eastern diet. For instance, Mussa Zoabi of Israel claims to be the oldest person alive. He says he’s 160 years old. His name won’t go down in the record books because he is older than most record-keeping systems and his age can’t be verified. The interesting thing, however, is that Mussa Zoabi can tell you exactly why he’s lived so long. He says it’s his diet. Every day he drinks either a cup of melted butter or olive oil. Yuck!
Diets are the rage, aren’t they? It seems that everyone has some special diet that will do this or that for you. Maybe Abram and Sarai had a special diet. Remember, when they got to the Promised Land, Abram had to pass his seventy-something wife off as his sister because she was so good looking that he was afraid someone would kill him to get her. Wow! Abram and Sarai must have had good genes and a super diet.
Sixty percent of the people in North America say that they’re on a diet. Imagine that! We all want to be modern day Sarai’s and Abraham’s, at least in vitality! A staff person at Weight Watchers once told this story. She said that a new client had begun their diet. The person came in to be weighed after the first stressful week. The person stepped on the scales and had only lost a couple of pounds! The dieter wasn’t too happy, and complained. This is what the dieter said: “My friend comes here to Weight Watchers, and told me they had lost ten pounds. They said I’d lose ten pounds in the first week, too!”
Well, the leader at Weight Watchers was a little disturbed. She knew that you don’t lose weight over night. So she asked the dieter, a little indignantly: “Who told you that? Is this person a doctor?” The dieter said, “No.” The leader asked, “Is this person a nurse?” “No,” again said the dieter. “Well,” continued the leader, “Is this person a nutritionist, or another Weight Watcher’s leader?” Negative again! “Well, who is this person?” asked the leader. “I think,” said the newcomer, “I think this person is a liar!”
Most of us know the truth and the lies about dieting. But what’s the truth about Abram and Sarai? How did they get the courage and gumption at their age to leave Ur of the Chaldees and strike out for Canaan? What made them any different from us and can we have a little bit of what they had? Whatever it was, like the person in the restaurant observing the obvious delight of a nearby couple, I’d like to say, “I want to have what they’re having.” Whether we’re laity or clergy at this anxious time of year and are concerned about moving and United Methodist itinerancy, we know what Abram and Sarai’s main diet was this: FAITH! Trust in God and yielding to His direction will be the best move we will ever make! Trusting and obeying are the only diet that works on a faith journey. May it be so with all of our United Methodist anxiety about appointment-making and moves!

Appointments

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Appointment-making in the UMC is a arduous task. We just finished the process of making the tentative appointments that will take effect June 30. Today I rested. In the morning I will be preaching at St. John, Columbia. Tomorrow afternoon I will call all the church Pastor-Parish Chairpersons and the clergy where a move is projected. One of the things that I will say over and over is how we bathed the whole process in prayer.

I feel extremely good about all of the appointments, and particularly good about the ones for the Columbia District. Monday morning I will meet with the clergy who are projected to move and give them a copy of the church’s profile where they are anticipated to go. Monday afternoon I will give a copy of the pastor’s profile to the S/PPRC chairs. Everyone has until next Friday morning at 10 am to give a written reason why the match won’t work and ask for reconsideration. Then the Cabinet will meet April 5-7 and reconsider the appointments.

I started last week with a lot of anxiety, and feel great peace about each situation tonight. I know all of the churches and pastors are still feeling the uncertainty. My prayers are with them. I’ve been there. I was in my fourth appointment thinking I was staying when I got an unexpected call from the Bishop. It was after appointment-making was finished. Everyone knew who was moving, and I wasn’t one of them, but a pastor died of a sudden heart attack. We loved where we were. Cindy had a great job as a Guidance Counselor in a school she loved. The church was thriving. The kids were great. Narcie was going into her senior year of high school. Josh was a rising junior, and Caleb the next fall would have been a freshman.

Nobody thinks it’s a great idea for their rising senior to move, but Narcie thrived in her senior year at the next school. Josh did great, and Caleb adapted though the move was probably toughest on him. There was no local job for Cindy in education so she ended up as a Guidance Counselor in a North Carolina Elementary School. Such is the price of itineracy. In the UMC, we are a sent ministry, whether lay or clergy. As a District Superintendent one has to look at the big picture, put the needs of the churches first and send our clergy to where they are best needed.

Ordained clergy wear a stole symbolizing this whole process. The stole reminds us that we are under orders as we wear the yoke of Christ. The stole is like the yoke on oxen or the reins on a horse representing God’s tug in one direction or another. I feel this week the whole Cabinet felt that yoke and are being used by God to send our clergy in the best directions possible. That’s my prayer and hope on this tired but exciting Saturday night.

Staff-Parish Committees & Clergy/Well-intentioned Dragons

Ill or Well-intentioned dragons abound in some churches. I have been set up before by a person who said that she was concerned for her church and wanted to come by and talk. Through her tears I unfortunately said “yes” to her request only to be greeted by a group of 8 or more people. I gave them hospitality but quickly said, “You need to take this to your SPRC.” I have a meeting like this coming up.

At first glance I thought let’s have the pastor present, too, so it’s a fair fight and I get to stay out of the triangle, but then I thought better of it by the grace of God. If I pulled the pastor in, it becomes a contest between conflicting sides escalating into a win by the dragons who just want to go back and say to people, “We told the preacher off in front of the DS!” So I’m not going to meet with the people and the pastor. I’ll meet with the people and limit the number, defect in place, show them Jesus, hear their concerns, AND, the biggie, determine what the spiritual issue is.
You have to hear people’s grievances in this office, but you don’t have to empower the naysayers. Paying attention to the emotional process and not submitting to it is the key. Hoping to pay more attention objectively to the content is important, but, nonetheless, a rabbit-chasing fallacy. Anybody can juggle facts to suit their emotional purpose or their agenda. If their agenda isn’t Jesus then the conversation becomes a counseling session of pastoral care thereby defusing the anger not by authoritarian fiat, but by relationship salvaging. I’ll call the pastor later and give that person a heads-up, but I am NOT going to be caught in the triangle of “they said, you said” ad infinitum.
This time of year is anxiety laden for clergy and congregations because of last week’s move or stay deadline. People are taking sides and getting in digs or bribes to try to get the best appointment either for the pastor or the church, often at the expense each other’s expense. Of course, this isn’t the way it always is. Thank God there are churches and clergy who amicably part ways just because it’s time for someone else to take them over Jordan.
I pray that I can avoid the manipulation, the anxiety, the arguments, and the unrealistic expectations of both churches and clergy. I am reminded once again that this whole process is mostly about churches, then preachers; but most of all it’s about Jesus and the Kingdom – not friendships, sucking up, or people making up “bad” stuff about a preacher they have supposedly loved for so long. Rather than face the fact that it’s just time for a change people start the rumor mill of innuendo just to have an excuse to push someone out, or to leave a church. I have even had clergy tell me in my office they want to leave then go home and tell their spouse that I’m making them leave. Then I catch it from the spouse. It’s a strange dance that we move to in this process.
Well I pray that we move people this year like every year based on gifts, graces, needs, and primarily what Jesus wants for the Kingdom. So I’ll be heading to meetings with SPRC’s and consult with pastors, attempt to speak the truth in love, and show them all Jesus, both meek and mild & forthright and faithful. Here goes!

Moon Over Mitchell

Following a moon across the sky on Mt. Mitchell will make you move your head, crane your neck, and wonder at its path. This is going to be a “tough” moving year for pastors, or so people say. We usually have about one third of our clergy moving. This year it’s more like 10%. Moving or not, I feel for all the people who have had to move because of their jobs, age, or downsizing. Moving can be such a stressor. Counting my family of origin through all the parsonages we’ve lived in, I have called 13 different places “home.”

Some of this attitude is very selfish, I admit. I’m not as young as I used to be. The idea of heaving boxes is about as attractive as wanting to catch the flu. I wonder if Abram and Sarai felt some of this age-reluctance when, in their seventies, they were asked by God to leave their home in Ur and travel to an unknown destination?
Maybe their ages weren’t computed the way that ours are. After all, they both lived well into their 100’s. Perhaps they enjoyed good health because of the Middle Eastern diet. For instance, Mussa Zoabi of Israel claims to be the oldest person alive. He says he’s 160 years old. His name won’t go down in the record books because he is older than most record-keeping systems and his age can’t be verified. The interesting thing, however, is that Mussa Zoabi can tell you exactly why he’s lived so long. He says it’s his diet. Every day he drinks either a cup of melted butter or olive oil.
 
Diets are the rage, aren’t they? It seems that everyone has some special diet that will do this or that for you. Maybe Abram and Sarai had a special diet. Remember, when they got to the Promised Land, Abram had to pass his seventy-something wife off as his sister because she was so good looking that he was afraid someone would kill him to get her. Wow! Abram and Sarai must have had good genes and a super diet.
 
Sixty percent of women in North America say that they’re on a diet. Imagine that! We all want to be modern day Sarai’s and Abraham’s. A woman at Weight Watchers once told this story. She said that a new client had begun her diet. She came in to be weighed after the first stressful week. She stepped on the scales and had only lost a couple of pounds! The dieter wasn’t too happy, and complained. This is what she said: “My friend comes here to Weight Watchers, and she told me she lost ten pounds. She said I’d lose ten pounds in the first week, too!”

Well, the leader at Weight Watchers was a little disturbed. She knew that you don’t lose weight over night. So she asked the dieter, a little indignantly: “Who told you that? Is she a doctor?” The woman shook her head. The leader asked, “Is she a nurse?” “No,” said the woman. “Well,” continued the leader, “Is she a nutritionist, or another Weight Watcher’s leader?” Negative again! “Well, who is she?” asked the leader. “I think,” said the newcomer, “I think she’s a liar!”

Most of us know the truth and the lies about dieting. But what’s the truth about Abram and Sarai? How did they get the courage and gumption at their age to leave Ur of the Chaldees and strike out for Canaan? What made them so different from us and can we have a little bit of what they had? I think the answer was Faith! This year we need a lot of it to deal with the economy, itinerancy, and all of the everything-else’s that work on our spirits and bodies. Hang in there and follow the path.