Too many UM Pastors? A good problem to have.

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.”

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10 Comments

Filed under Thoughts on Life with God, United Methodism

10 responses to “Too many UM Pastors? A good problem to have.

  1. John Meunier

    I agree with your conclusion, but have little idea about the means as well.

  2. May God strengthen and empower you for your interviews. I remember that day as though it were branded on my mind! Reading your stuff here over time, I’m confident you’ll do great. Blessings!

  3. Greg

    I just graduated from that seminary a year ago and remember the numbers of highly capable who were being deferred. We had people from other conferences visiting all the time to recruit people. I would also like to point out that the conference in question is North Georgia, not Georgia as I am a provisional elder in the South Georgia conference. We need more clergy down here but often those that are put out by the aforementioned seminary would be put off by a rural appointment.

  4. aarontiger

    @John Thanks. I think it is critical that there is a lot of thought about this problem, especially by people (i.e. not seminary bloggers) who have a say in the matter.
    @Matt Thanks for the good word. I was encouraged reading your good experience with the Board. Look forward to meeting you at Annual Conference in the real world.
    @Gregg Good clarification about the conferences. I undersand that there would be some who don’t feel called to rural ministry, but I guess my question would be, how is that need being communicated to the available pastors in the N. Georgia conference.

  5. Jerad

    Completely agree on eliminating guaranteed appointments, but it’s important to do so with open eyes–while pastors who struggle to be fruitful may not be appointed, likewise pastors who haven’t had a chance to be fruitful could still be left in the cold. But the UMC in the US right now doesn’t need a bunch of people with the sense of entitlement that, because they jumped through the right hopes and scored 90 on a regional orthodoxy test, they are owed a job.

    Tony Campolo preaches that ministers will be in ministry regardless of whether they are professionals or not. If you’re waiting for an institution to prepare a building and community for you to be get a job in, then I’m sorry but this institution already has too many of you. If you get a job in the secular world, meet your neighbors, pray with them, host worship in your living room, bible study in the office, and a kids education Sundays in the park, then you are what the UMC needs.

    Is the debt embarrassing and a burden? Yes. Is it scary to not have health insurance? Yes. Are there a whole lot of people in the US in deep debt with insufficient health insurance? Yes. Get out there and be incarnational! When you’ve demonstrated that you aren’t waiting for a paycheck from the church to do God’s work, THEN I would be honored to approve you.

    I realize this sounds harsh, but as a denomination in decline we have the opportunity, and the NEED, to be highly selective about our pastors. Did these new people in North Georgia have an expectation that, sure, we’re losing membership, but there will have to be room for me*?

    As Tiger wrote, this problem is a good thing. Many are called, but…

  6. RE: Your post and Greg’s comment above. If we were truly a “connection” some of those North Georgia who are deferred could be sent to South Georgia. But perhaps i’m being too simplistic.

  7. aarontiger

    @ Jared I hear your heart and agree with you. We cannot have the form of religion without the power. I appreciate your quote from Campolo. It is a powerful reminder that we rejoice first and foremost when the kingdom is expanded not when the UM church is expanded. I hear what you are saying about a sense of entitlement, but I guess that I as one who have been authentically called by God to be a minister and peculiarly called to be a United Methodist minister do feel a sense of responsbility and some entitlement to have an opportunity to live out my call.
    @ Questing The simpliest answer can sometimes be the right one. I knw that there are complex issues with this one though, especially with the nature of our church to be set up as conferences. It is to a specific Annual Conference to which candidates come through, so there is something affirming and nurturing about nurturing a person from someone who is both served by the conference for nurturing and also called to serve that same conference. But again, we know the Kingdom is much bigger than an Annual Conference. Praise God for that!

  8. Jerad

    @aaron I don’t mean to imply that you should live out your call in any fashion other than UM. What I am saying is that, IMO, the institution of the UMC is failing in large part because its members’ eyes aren’t open to the reality of being a UM minister in a nation where fewer people by proportion AND by absolute numbers self-identify as UMs. The organization with decreasing members and donations cannot keep hiring the same number of people every year.

    You have been called by God to UM ministry, and you feel that there have been implicit covenants made between God, you, and the institution that asks you to fulfill all sorts of prerequisites. The institution has been blind to its changing needs and might be blind to its current needs, so it may have made commitments out of ignorance. Now it faces the reality that, if it implied you would have an appointment by jumping through these hoops, it cannot do anything for you.

    Really what the institution of the UMC needs, if it is to carry Wesley and Arminius’ ideas forward in a time of “New Calvinism,” is people who answer God’s call to be in ministry as UMs, but follow Paul’s tent-making model of doing so. I think it is unfair to ask this of people who go into $60k+ of debt in hopes of a $20k salary in the first place, but I think this is the reality UMs face, when we face reality.

    Ideally seminaries and annual conferences would prepare our future clergy for this kingdomscape, finding ways to provide health insurance and maybe even secular job placement to talented pastors, with continued support contingent on the fruitfulness of their ministry plans. Making this change in time to meet the expectations of your North Georgia cohorts would require a good, hard look at reality and quick action from an institution built for neither.

  9. Shannon

    Aaron,

    I believe you are speaking of the situation in the Western North Carolina conference. I’m sure the North Carolina Conference has the same issues as well having Duke in its backyard.

    I would like to see how removing guarantee appointments would work. You do have the situation if you take away guaranteed appointments of giving more influence to local churches and making the denomination more congregationalist. Does that put the pastor more under the potential of being terminated because of an upset family member because the pastor didn’t say the right thing? Or is too challenging?

    I do believe the problem is a short term problem because of the economy. Pastors have been expected to retire at huge numbers, but with retirements less now its understandable why they are not. Yet, for those pastors who need a place to serve, why not send someone, who is willing, to a temporary transfer to another conference in the jurisdiction.

    It’s not a perfect system. You are dealing with more family moving situations there. But it is an answer to something.

  10. aarontiger

    @Jared Interesting idea and for some it will probably work. The biggest thing we need to do is to look at the system with new eyes and their original purpose. In some ways, it is like what conferences have done with appointments and the moving to longer times of service as opposed to moving people every 2 or 3 years. The changing dynamic of the culture has caused us to live out our itinerancy in a different way. In the same way, we need to look at the heart of guaranteed appointments and get the point of their existence, not the letter of the law.
    @Shannon Thanks for the clarification about the conferences. I think your point about us moving to a congregational mindset is one to be concerned, but the major difference is that it would not be the congregation that has ultimate say, but the Bishop and the cabinet, a significant difference.

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