Poor listening has been called “selective hearing.” With about a week to go before we make appointments, I have been duly described and resemble the remark! Do I listen selectively to the S/PPRC or to the clergy? Do we as a Cabinet value the input of clergy over churches, churches over clergy, or give a fair hearing to all? These are tough questions, and starting March 3 we will find out the answers.
In my mind, clergy exist for churches, not the other way around. There are, however, special circumstances that may warrant extra consideration in terms of clergy assignments. Children’s education, proximity to doctors, and spousal employment come to mind. All that being said, in the United Methodist Church, clergy gave up their right to preferential treatment when they committed to the itinerancy.
We go where we’re sent and I personally know the ramifications. We found out that we were going to move just before annual conference one year. A clergyperson died suddenly and the Bishop called. The difficulty was that Narcie was going into her high school senior year, Cindy loved her job, and on top of those considerations the raise I was to receive was $300 annualized. Not a lot considering the sacrifice my family was going to make, but everything worked out! We stayed there 9 years and Narcie must not have been too affected by it since she’s a UM clergyperson now. I have taken a big cut since then, too, but fruitful ministry has resulted in spite of my reservations!
I guess the point is that fruitfulness always trumps personal prerogative. The Cabinet will do everything that we can to make churches and clergy happy. I know that this is a tense time for clergy and churches because I have had last ditch efforts thrown my way for several weeks now. There are clergy who a month ago wanted to move that now want to renege. There are churches who would rather keep their known pastor rather than risk receiving the unknown. Why? I think that the answer is quite evident. We have all been burned by bad matches.
I remember several years ago when we had a pastor that was low on about everybody’s list, and a DS took an educated chance. It ended up as a great match! I have seen pastors whose DS oversold them and it hasn’t worked out at all. I had a preacher come in here the other day who blatantly stated that they felt like they deserved a promotion. After a lengthy discussion of this person’s track record, I attempted to speak the truth in love that this person’s fruitfulness had been spotty at best. Of course, as usual, I got plenty of valid and not-so-valid excuses.
We have all heard them, whatever the profession or avocation: “It was my predecessor’s fault; the church didn’t want to grow; the church didn’t serve the community; they were dysfunctional; a family chapel; too liberal, too conservative, too conflicted; they wanted a white male, a female (wish I heard that one more), and on and on.” I have heard churches voice the usual: “We want someone with experience who’s 25.” Good luck with that!
There comes a point in time when the reality adds up to mediocrity and a person’s portfolio of ministry simply falls short of everyone’s expectations. Sure, they did good things, people’s lives were touched, but they either didn’t light up the scoreboard or outkicked their coverage. Maybe they could thrive in a greater work, but the facts seem to dictate that they would be better off serving a lesser one. Since gauging what’s greater and lesser is often theologically and empirically impossible, maybe they need to do something entirely different with their life which gets to a key point for me.
What if a lot of our mediocrity in the pew and the pulpit is due to people’s high expectations and low performance? What if our clergy problem is because people went searching for God by going to seminary and came out with a degree in hand and ended up looking for a career? We must recapture the theology and language of call over career. I honestly think that most clergy feel called, but I am afraid that along the way the call for many has dissipated into a career.
We don’t have time as the church in a hurting world to dither between play acting as either church members or as clergy. It’s time to get real! Church members who don’t take discipleship seriously should NOT serve as church council members. Put those nominal Christians and a pastor who is career minded together and the certain result is a lack of fruitfulness.
One of the biggest myths for United Methodist clergy is that your ministry track will be this long ever-climbing straight line from the bottom at the beginning to the top at the end with an ever increasing salary. The reality is that the ministry track for many persons should look like a bell curve which is low in the beginning, peaks in the middle, then concludes with a tapering and diminishing end.
There are some clergy who do keep rising until they retire but they are few and far between, and they aren’t into comparing themselves with other clergy. They bloom where they’re planted and go where they are sent! Their fruitfulness hasn’t diminished and won’t!
I have seen S/PPRC’s buy into mythology when they think that if they cut the salary they’ll get a young preacher, or if they raise the salary they’ll get a better one. Myths abound for clergy and laity alike! Unfortunately, sometimes myth becomes reality. Regardless, any clergyperson who thinks that their worth is determined by salary is bound to be disappointed. Any church that worships their pastor and/or puts restrictions on their pastor’s preferred gender, race, age, family size, or marital status is limiting what the Holy Spirit can possibly do in their parish.
The truth as I see it is that we go as clergy where we’re sent and churches receive whomever they are sent. Sounds simple, and I thought it was 8 years ago when I came on the Cabinet. I know better now. Matching clergy and churches is unbelievably difficult. Cabinets try to listen carefully to your needs with a primary focus on local church fruitfulness. We try to avoid stereotypes about age, race, gender, location, and where someone went to seminary. I am firmly convinced now that teaching each clergyperson and church how to complete a pastor/church profile would go a long way in helping everyone involved start off on the right foot. That profile is a welcome mat to your soul as a person or as a church. Get it right because selective hearing is hard to correct if what you’re saying is garbled!