There has to be a better way. That’s my conclusion. I don’t know if you are supposed to start a blog post with your conclusion, and plus if you are going to start it with a conclusion, then you probably should have a better one than this, but this is my conclusion, “There has to be a better way.” If this was Jeopardy, there would be a lot of possible correct questions: What do we do about our economic situation? What about a new design for Caprisun’s that don’t cause holes in both sides of the drink? And this question: What do we do when a United Methodist Annual Conference have a substantial inflow of new clergy without the matching outflow needed to fill all the spots? This is the situation of North Georgia and in North Carolina. To read about the situation in North Carolina click here, where there are over 2 dozen clergy who are appointmentless.
For the record, I’m in the Oklahoma Conference and going for commissioning next week (fingers are crossing as I type). I do not know the inner workings nor the time and the effort that folks in Georgia have spent answering this question. Here is the situation in the North Georgia conference, they are had over 60 potential clergy who will have finished their entire seminary education by May, up for commissioning to fill 6 spots vacated by retirement or other means. This 60+ does not include the backlog of ministers who were “deferred pending appointment” last year who are still “pending appointment.” So, what are the current problems of this good problem to have?
1. Simply put, there are people who have a MDiv, who have spent their time and money (and probably in debt), and are being faithful to God’s call, who have no place to live out the fullness of their call. Imagine hearing about the need for clergy and the dying UM church, your entire life and then having to wait a year or two because you, apparently, are not meeting a need. What do you do? Do you move from your seminary back to Georgia and work some job as you wait? Do you stay where you went to seminary and find a secular job there? There has to be a better way.
2. There is a difference in standards from N. Georgia to other conferences. In speaking to one of my friends, he was relaying the difference in meetings between N. Georgia and one of our friends in another conference. While he was grilled ruthlessly at time about deep theological matters by seminary professors, his friend in another conference said his toughest question had nothing to do with the Trinity or the Sacraments, but had to do with how was he going to taking care of himself. I think of it like this, for someone in N. Georgia to get commissioned, they need to get a 94 or above on the “commissioning test,” while in other conferences that need ministers, you need to get an 80 or above. So, someone who scores a “91” who would be commissioned in almost every other conferences (with some fine theological tuning) is deferred because of deficiency. Somewhere there is a balance. There has to be a better way.
3. There is an unfair advantage to those who either went to a local seminary or are well-connected to the Conference. As the son of a Pastor, if I was in the North Georgia conference, I would have a decided advantage over other candidates because I would be a known commodity. Or if I was going to our new seminary in Oklahoma and had been around the conference for a few years, I would have networked better than say someone who went to Asbury Seminary in Kentucky. God leading you to a seminary should not be cause for not getting an appointment. Is this human nature, appointing people one knows and trust, of course. But it leaves some out because they are not connected but have spent the past 4 years too busy going to classes, managing a family, and working 2 jobs, to travel home and shake hands and look pretty. There has to be a better way.
So, what is the better way? I don’t have all the answers, but here are a few ideas to through out there.
1. Get rid of Guaranteed Appointments. I do not have any idea how many ineffective clergy there are in North Georgia. (I’m sure the vast majority of them are sincere in their calling and devoted in their ministry) There is something wrong about a system that guarantees an appointment for those who have served somewhere, but for those who are commissioned, but have never had an appointment are left out in the cold. Getting rid of Guaranteed Appointments will allow people who are not faithful to their call or called in a different direction, to exit so that God’s purposes can be fulfilled by someone new.
2. As a connectional church, the N. Georgia Conference could work jurisdictionally to help provide ministers for other conferences. Do South Carolina or Kentucky need ministers? By working together, not only will Elders have pulpits, but pulpits will have Elders. In fact, by working together the specific gifts of the minister can be matched to the needs of a congregation two states away. While not everyone would want to move conferences, there would be some who would willingly move to another conference for the opportunity to live out their call.
3. I don’t have a three, but maybe Bishop Goodpaster has the right idea, “We have now returned to our homes and offices to continue our work, committed to prayer and fasting, and to consultations with clergy and churches as we seek a way forward together.”