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Guaranteed Appointments: Discrimination and Prophetic Voice

A few of the key points in favor of continuing guaranteed appointments include:

  • Guaranteed appointments prevents a congregation from hiring or firing a clergy person based on her or his race, color, national origin, or sex.
  • Guaranteed appointments prevents a congregation from hiring or firing a clergy person in response to their prophetic voice in the pulpit or pushing the congregations in directions that they do not wish to go.

Guaranteed appointments don’t make a difference in these areas of potential influence of the congregation. It is still up to the Bishop with the guidance of the cabinet to appoint clergy to churches. I trust the bishop and cabinet to be responsible and faithful in the appointment process. An open communication channel between the District Superintendent and the clergy person will prevent trouble in these areas.

If clergy are not guaranteed appointments, will churches be guaranteed to have clergy assigned to them?

18 replies on “Guaranteed Appointments: Discrimination and Prophetic Voice”

“If clergy are not guaranteed appointments, will churches be guaranteed to have clergy assigned to them?”

Aaah, now that’s a great question! Right now, the practice in many conferences is to appoint clergy to the churches that have paid apportionments in full first. Hasn’t mattered if the congregation was unhealthy and full of clergy-killers, etc. As long as apportionments were paid, they would get a pastor. I’ve watched in some conferences as pastors were “recruited” from outside the Annual Conference. These churches acted more like a “call” system than our UMC system. They were able to do so because they were paying above 100% of their apportionments.

In our conference, we have four District Superintendents to serve eight Districts. We have an Assistant to the Bishop so these five persons make up the appointive cabinet. These five are to know all of the churches and pastors in our conference. Theoretically, this should be possible if everyone would tell the full truth and give an honest picture of where the church is and where the pastor is at any given time. In practice, this has not been the case. And, with DS attention being given to those congregations who have issues and problems large enough to warrant action, they rely on the paperwork they have to match the pastors and churches. With the costs of appointing an elder to a charge continuing to rise, it will become more and more difficult to appoint elders to single charges keeping all current churches open.

A number of years ago, our conference adopted a “Circuit” ministry plan where the pastor is appointed not only to the church and community but also the circuit. In some areas, this has worked well to develop shared ministries in a region. Most often, it has been dependent upon the pastors in that circuit and what they were willing to invest in in terms of time and even money. Recruiting of laity to do shared work is great in some areas and poor in others.

One of the questions I asked when we adopted this plan, and a question I think is fruitful for consideration as we discuss “guaranteed” appointments is whether we will act to close those churches that refuse to participate in the circuit ministry, who are not paying apportionments, and/or who are in areas where viability is not reasonable and the only reason to “keep the doors open” is to make the current members happy until they have all died… you see where I’m heading?

Populations shift. If we are serious about clergy effectiveness and growing our denomination, will we focus the appointments of those clergy who are serious about reaching people for Christ and appoint to population areas or will we continue to appoint our “best and brightest” to areas where viable ministry is no longer the best use of our time and resources? There’s a reason why the country schools have closed. The population of children is not there at a level to sustain a school. Can we seriously consider such an option for our conferences?

I hope you understand that I’m pushing your initial question further. I do so because I seriously think that this is part of the necessary system change we need. I continue to believe that removing the clergy guaranteed appointment alone will not produce the results we seek. But if we do that along with rethinking how we currently appoint pastors, wipe away the requirement of an appointment being technically a year at a time to an open end, give pastors all the support they need in training and other areas to produce needed change, we may just have a chance.

In some cases, I believe we may need a “Hail Mary” approach such as Bill Easum outlined in a recent article on Church Central.Com: In some cases, this may be the only way to reverse their death. If they aren’t willing to at least attempt this, perhaps they shouldn’t receive a pastoral appointment.

Thanks for continuing the conversation!

I think your trust in the bishops and cabinets is something many if not the overwhelming number of Clergy simply do not share.

The comparison between a guaranteed appointment for ordained clergy and a “guarantee” of a pastor for every church is simply a red herring. There is NO guarantee that a local church will receive a full-time ordained elder. There are thousands of local churches that do not.

Some also try to make a comparison between the processes to remove clergy for ineffectiveness and closing a church. Is there a Conference anywhere in the US that has removed more clergy for ineffectiveness compared to the number of churches that have been closed? We close far, far more churches than we remove clergy for any type of reason.

You can’t discriminate on the basis of race, color, national origin or sex anyway. Those are all against Federal law which does apply to churches. Article IV of the UM Constitution would also prohibit those types of discrimination.

Guaranteed appointment doesn’t mean that a pastor will stay at a church where the relationship has totally disintegrated. There are a number of pastors who are moved from church to church despite a consistent record of poor performance.

I do agree that trying to pass a change in guaranteed appointment in a General Conference that is 50% ordained elders is going to be difficult. It would be smarter to eliminate guaranteed appointment for newly ordained clergy.

I do agree that trying to pass a change in guaranteed appointment in a General Conference that is 50% ordained elders is going to be difficult. It would be smarter to eliminate guaranteed appointment for newly ordained clergy.

I think such a move would be a travesty. If ordained elders cannot tolerate life without guaranteed appointment, they have no standing to endorse such a decision for others. Where is the leadership in that?

I’m not saying it is my preferred approach, but I’d rather achieve something now rather than nothing.

As I understand it, the guaranteed appointment was created precisely because it was felt to be the best way to combat the first issue you raise.

Do you think the people who created guaranteed appointment were wrong?

Or do you think the conditions have changed that make that concern no longer relevant?

Since I’m a white male, I’ve never really felt qualified to judge the arguments about the challenges faced by women and minorities. It is interesting to note – for instance – that none of the largest churches in the United Methodist Church have senior pastors who are women. Do you think that might indicate a bias? The churches big enough to choose pastors – or resist itinerancy – are run almost entirely by white males.

Depending on what your threshold is for “largest,” that statement is not true. When COSROW talks about the low numbers in the largest congregations, they neglect to distinguish between those who still have their founding pastor (like COR, etc.) and those who do not.

Creed, does the failure to distinguish founding pastors, etc. mean that less women have the opportunity or the tenacity or whatever it takes to be a founding pastor? Or does it mean they are given less opportunity to do so?

John – I do not think that the people who created guaranteed appointments were wrong. I believe that the conditions have changed so that it is no longer relevant.


Your question seems to be one of the chicken or the egg. My point is simply that COSROW shouldn’t be proclaiming gender bias when the number of female pastors in our largest churches is about proportional to the overall proportion of female elders and that founding pastors are founding pastors. We shouldn’t shuffle pastors around just to allow everyone to get their ticket punched.

Probably the most productive thing we can do to increase the number of very large successful church plants is to study the stories of those founding pastors. A large part of the story is going to be the gifts and graces those pastors brought to that starting plant. I do not believe those gifts and graces are only present in those of us with a Y chromosome, however. We are in such desperate need for successful church planters that we should make those decisions SOLELY on merit.

My question may be “chicken and the egg” to some if women planters are given the same opportunity to plant churches as male counterparts. In one conference I served this would not have been the case. I hope that conference has changed since it has since had women serving as District Superintendents. But my question goes further as well. I’m wondering how many women have entrepreneurial mindsets and are then able to plant churches. I’m also wondering if the amount of successful male planters is because there have been more males who have expressed the desire and acted upon that desire, and/or if the males were given more opportunities to try.

Obviously, we wouldn’t want to make someone a church planter if they didn’t want to do it or didn’t possess the gifts and graces to do it.

Should we replace a founding pastor just to give someone else an opportunity to be pastor at a very large church?

No, I do not believe that “founding pastor” is a lifetime appointment. But, we shouldn’t change pastors “just because” when the pastor wants to stay, the church wants the pastor to stay and the church is effective.

That’s part of the “trade-off” for the guaranteed appointment as told to me when I entered the ministry of the UMC in 1981. The District Superintendent I met with to begin the process directly said that I would not have the ability to decide where I should live or how long I stay other than making the request. He said that sometimes, even when neither I nor the church made the request, the Bishop could make the request and I would have to move. But, as long as I was in good standing in the conference, I would have a job. That’s the promise I was made, and that’s the system I entered.

I’m not against changing the system. I’m in great favor of longer appointments. Donald Haynes has a recent article in the UM Reporter that suggests a system-wide change that make work – but, like him, I doubt it would receive favorable discussion, let alone votes, at General Conference. The system won’t change, however, with merely changing the appointment guarantee.

That is why I think that eliminating the guaranteed appointment for newly ordained clergy is a good first step. Bishops are moving toward leaving pastors in place for a longer period. It would be a good idea to amend the Discipline to provide for the flexibility to make appointments for two, three or four years at the bishop’s discretion.

But, Creed, this is not in the discussions as they have been publicized… The only change thus far hitting the press is to change the word “shall” to the word “may.” That’s it. Nothing more. What your most recent statement suggests that we do more than merely change the status for “guaranteed” appointments.

Eliminating the “guaranteed appointment” probably isn’t first on my list of preferred changes to our polity. I do understand the reality that at least thirty percent of the delegates to Tampa will be ordained elders who are not likely to support a change to a relationship that has worked for them for a long time. So, I am suggesting a compromise of having it apply only to newly ordained elders. I also believe that there are other things that should be done. I am expressing agreement with you about longer appointments.

Maybe I’ve missed it, but I really haven’t seen many suggested changes from Andrew which I would have expected after 6 Questions.

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