For those of you not in the know, part of the UM clergy covenant is that we itinerate. Well, we elders -- fully ordained members of the union -- itinerate. Which is to say, we go where we're sent. While we might quibble, grovel, or even beg, in the last resort, we have given our "Yes" in advance to wherever the bishop wants to send us, whenever he wants us to go there. In return, we are guaranteed an appointment every year; we cannot be "laid off," so to speak, without cause.
The received wisdom is that this gives rise to mediocrity in the clergy. We have people who ought not to be pastoring churches whom we must give an appointment to, and we can't get rid of them; they have "tenure." So on they go, the havoc-wreakers and the time-servers and the won't-get-with-the-program types. This is a source of deep frustration to the bishops and superintendents who have to put these people someplace.
The clergy defend the guaranteed annual appointment about the way any other union members defend a time-honored perk they've always enjoyed. But there's more to this than just the desire of pampered pastors to keep control of the goodie basket. Many of the same clergy suffer from low morale and low self-esteem brought on by constant criticism and exhaustion; in their weary and fearful worldview, losing the guaranteed annual appointment is just the first step in getting rid of anybody "we" (the Powers That Be) don't like. If your view of the Powers That Be is jaundiced enough, you automatically assume that the elimination of the guaranteed annual appointment is aimed directly at YOU.
Two things need to be noted to give a clearer view of this issue.
1) Many clergy -- in my District, nearly two-thirds -- do NOT have a guaranteed annual appointment, and they do just fine. We aren't sacking them right and left, and we appreciate the good job that they do. These are the part-timers and the unordained "Local Pastors," who are not permanent Members of the Annual Conference. So, many of the fears of the elders are misplaced.
2) But let's also remember that the guaranteed annual appointment is a two-pronged promise. Every elder is guaranteed a church, yes; but every church is also guaranteed a pastor. Which means that when the bishop and cabinet go to make appointments, they're not just wondering which unsuspecting congregation to fob Rev. Doofus or Dr. Crazoid off on this year; they're also wondering whom can we send to Soulkiller UMC, whose last six pastors have had two major health collapses, a nervous breakdown, a resignation, three divorces, and a drinking problem amongst them and their families since setting foot in the place?
Friends, I'm fine with eliminating the guaranteed annual appointment for clergy, so long as we also eliminate the guaranteed annual appointment for congregations. And I'm fine with stepping up efforts to counsel ineffective pastors into other lines of work, so long as we also tell the clergy-killer churches that they either shape up or we'll close their doors. I am the survivor of two clergy-killer churches in this Conference, and I know whereof I speak. The fact that I still believe in Jesus and can talk in a hopeful manner about the church is a testimony to the healing power of God. And I've seen some of our best pastors thrown into situations which damaged them and their families, ruined their effectiveness, or simply drove them out of our connection.
Bad pastors? Bad churches? You can't solve one problem without solving the other. Eliminating the guaranteed annual appointment for clergy while letting dysfunctional congregations go on hurting people (laypersons as well as clergy) is simply enabling abuse.
More on the clergy, per se, in Part III.