leadership united methodist church

What to Do with Ineffective United Methodist Clergy

I recognize there is debate about how to determine what makes a clergy person effective.

Whatever criteria is used, when a clergy person is determined to be ineffective she or he should find another job before the end of the appointive year.

This doesn’t mean being kicked out of the church or Christian community.

It means helping people find a different path for their employment. That’s all.

As a newly ordained elder (clergy) in the UMC, this is what I want for myself. If I am not effective, help me to recognize that and find some other way to support myself and my family.

By Andrew Conard

Christian, husband, son, brother, homeowner

12 replies on “What to Do with Ineffective United Methodist Clergy”

You are hitting on a really important idea here. We are rethinking church – more than just Sunday morning, more than buildings, more than old hymns and pipe organs and pancake breakfasts. Now how to rethink the role of clergy who aren’t good at running a church?

Besides running a church and trying to attract people to drop money in a plate, what could these highly-educated and trained folks do to fulfill the mission of the church and pay their way?

handyperson: retrofit existing churches with energy efficiency, manage property
writer: write grants for other churches, write books, write music
counselors/teachers: have some kind of transition process to order of deacon, to keep credentials but not run a church

Effective….Ineffective….. man’s words, not GOD’s. Isn’t the farmer who sows the seed JUST AS effective as the farmer who reaps the harvest?!? I’ve personally been told by someone that faith and witness I had shown over 20 years ago help lead them to CHRIST. I think better words are constructive and destructive. Is this clergy doing anything overtly to destroy the Kingdom of Heaven? If not, then maybe all they need is a renewal of purpose. Just the 2 cents worth from a COR online member.

And we already have processes outlines in the BOD, along with processes outlines by the Board of Ordained Ministries in most conferences, to handle this. In Wisconsin, we even have a “Clergy Transition Fund” for which we receive an offering at Annual Conference each year. This fund is to be used for just the thing that you’re talking about.

There shouldn’t be a need to “rethink” this area – except for one factor —-

it’s a difficult task to tell someone that they don’t cut it.

I’m a member of the Wisconsin Board of Ordained Ministry and we struggle with each and every candidate prior to ordination as a deacon or as an elder. We have recognized God’s hand on some, but do not believe they are meant for Ordained Elder. We have assisted them in making a different, but more often than not, beneficial shift. Sometimes that has meant merely to the Licensed Local Pastor level. For some, it means that they consider Deacon’s work rather than Elder’s work. It’s never easy.

Fast forward. A person has been ordained, made friends in the conference, is respected by some and has had fruitful, effective ministry. They are currently in a situation where their effectiveness is in question (whatever the mode of measurement may be). How much more difficult is it to help such an individual exit the ordained ministry, leaving the UMC pastorate for good? I’m not suggesting that this should not happen. I merely want to help us think about why the current system isn’t working!

We’re working hard in Wisconsin to front load the situation. In other words, if a person isn’t effective in ministry, let’s not ordain them in the first place! Let’s find this out and help them make the transition prior to ordination so that their resources (time, money, psych, etc.) will be used fruitfully. The desired outcome is that we will be raising up effective clergy leaders from the start. Then the job of the BOM and Cabinet can be to support and encourage rather than remove.

It’s also easy to say that it doesn’t mean being kicked out of the church, but the reality is often different. If one is talking about the denomination as a whole, that statement is very true. But if a person has been serving a congregation, is deemed ineffective, and is released, they may not be able to stay in that local congregation for a number of reasons.

If they were well-liked, their presence could cause tremendous harm for the incoming pastor. They may be sought out for pastoral responsibilities. Some who have transitioned out find this to be a boost to their ego and will not leave the opportunities alone.

If they weren’t well-liked, the congregational turmoil that can arise because of their continuing presence can also be a difficult situation for an incoming pastor.

So the best thing, much like for retired pastors, is to leave that local congregation. If that person is then angry, they may also find that they cannot stay in the UMC.

Just some more thoughts on the issue… thanks for continuing the conversation.

You make it sound simple, and perhaps it is, that people ineffective at their job should have a different job. But the incredible mess comes when we try to nail down the measurements used and who has the authority to decide.

In KS west we too have a policy to transform or tranisition ineffective clergy (in this case people who have been asked by SPRC to leave two consecutive churches) but I don’t know how or when it has been used.

Trouble is calling someone ineffective means questioning 1. the call of God they have interpreted (unless God can call people into and then later out of ministry) and also the ways congregation members have felt someone’s ministry as effective (and everyone has created fruit somewhere). All that leads up to really mad people, and the chance for wounds that are hard to heal.

I’ve had to be a part of some BOOM processess that stunk (I would use a stronger word, but this is a family friendly blog) and the problem in those cases was much clearer than a lack of church growth or professions of faith.

I don’t know the way forward, Andrew, but I fear the wreckage that could come if the appointive system changes significantly

What is the problem we are trying to solve?

Do we have a lot of ineffective clergy now? How many? We don’t know, of course, because we don’t have a metric for clergy effectiveness. So, how do we devise solutions when we have not yet clearly defined the problem?

Jack Welch, former GE CEO, said that every organization could be divided up 20/70/10. The top 20% are high performers – stars – who should be treated as such and let loose to do great things. The bottom 10% were dead weight who should be removed. The middle 70% are competent and necessary. They need to be challenged, supported, and given opportunities to grow, but they will never be stars.

If Welch’s numbers are correct, are we aiming at the bottom 10%? How do we know who those are?

Regular COR attender, wildly overeducated layperson here and I just found this blog by accident (I googled 3 simple rules…) and I am really enjoying it! This group of four posts on unhealthy congregations and ineffective clergy (and the comments that followed) are just fascinating and excellent. The way churches work, the interaction of our planning and God’s Holy Spirit, is an area that I’ve thought about regularly. We are about the business of building God’s Kingdom and telling a world that is woefully short on grace and love about the source of abundant grace and love–our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ–and I am always wanting to know how we can do this better and better. May God bless you richly in the internet ministry.

If this comment is a duplicate, I apologize. Unexpected warp and woof in the WiFi!

For me the most complicated issue is that “effective” means different things in different places. Granted I am older (and wiser?) now than earlier in my ministry, but I know that I was much more effective in the last church I served with 200 in attendance than an earlier church I served with 35 in attendance. Others have the opposite experience. I’d be lousy at COR, but so far I’m doing OK where I am. The only way I would change the appointment system is to let go of the outdated concept that any elder can serve any church. I’d like to develop some system of putting candidates on a track for the kind of appointment they are called to – larger, small, midsize, rural, urban, suburban, associate, “conservative”, “liberal”, etc. Each one takes a different kind of pastor. When possible we should make those matches.


I corrected the post by editing the year of the General Conference letter to 2004 and changing a few mis-spellings. I also corrected my email to the right one (billrichards47 instead of 46).



By most common standards I am an under-achieving and ineffective pastor.

One church wanted to get rid of me (too many changes, made without the support of the church leadership) and another had several families leave when I made some unwelcome comments from the pulpit. That is two angry congregations, consecutively.

The first doubled their attendance during my pastorate, developed a viable youth group from un-churched youth, a new youth praise choir and increased their financial stability before I left but they were angry that the old system was being changed. The second church was conservative by all standards and held me responsible for being actively pro-homosexual in their church when I simply read my Bishop’s letter after the 2004 General Conference upsets, and that at the Bishop’s request. Several families left as a result of that reading. I was bringing people into the church in one location, and explaining the denomination’s actions in another… and my DS measured good ministry by “no complaints” and “happy churches”. A church mediator was assigned to the mix, I was mandated into counseling and my ordination was delayed. When I went to my next appointment the youth left, the praise chorus ceased, the pacifying pastor healed the frustrations of the conservatives and both congregations declined, but were much happier. I learned that good ministry and happy congregations are the goal in my Conference. I put that into practice and received my ordination with no further problems.

I have pastored eight small congregations, most as two-point charge experiences. Six of them were larger when I left than when I began. I helped start two youth groups, two Vacation Bible School programs, two Sunday School programs and led two successful capital campaigns (one that bought a new house as a much improved parsonage). I helped one small congregation close with good feelings and fond memories leaving their investments to continue as the endowment for a district camping scholarship.

I have two graduate degrees, 11 years in elected public office before ministry, national certification as a counselor and am now working on my DMin. None of this seems of interest to my Conference. I have volunteered to serve in ministry roles, trained for ministry teams, attended specialty seminars and have yet to be used as a resource in any capacity I have not initiated on my own. I suspect the reason has been that I have only a few years in ministry, relative to the current ordained leadership profile of our Conference.

I am 56, a second career pastor serving in one of the smallest appointments at barely above minimum compensation. With 14 years of ministry time behind me I’m hoping to serve a full 25 before my health or my wife’s health gives out. Honestly, I have little hope of ever serving above minimum compensation anywhere but the smallest of appointments.

Most larger churches in my Conference are already served by my generation, but by men and women who started in ministry long before I did. Their tenure and compensation packages guarantee a higher place on the appointment ladder simply because of their larger compensation levels. Younger pastors with a full career ahead of them are already being placed into those few openings, obviously to prepare them for longer careers of service and eventually filling Conference leadership positions. If I were on the Cabinet I would likely do the same thing.

I fully expect to be appointed to at least two more congregations before I retire 11 years from now. The financial increases of the compensation packages necessitate these moves if nothing more. Most smaller congregations cannot maintain their pastors long term even at minimums because of the years of service increases and the ordinary effects of inflation. My current appointment is an absolute joy but the relationship is unsustainable because of the financial challenges of their small size.

I am pleased to be able to help these small congregations fulfill their potential and blessed to be able to serve God and my neighbors in this way. But I felt my Call and my investment in education and professional preparation (Ordination as Elder) might have brought me a bit farther by now and that I might have been used in more ways.

I struggle to pay my educational loans, have increasing health care costs, a marginal income level in a one-income home and am approaching a retirement that will leave me essentially homeless. I have lived only in parsonages. My pension would be larger if I moved to any of several other Conferences where the minimums are at least higher. Many congregations of this size are not being served by Elders unless they are retired and have been called back into part-time service.

I am under-performing in ministry, not by choice, but by lack of opportunity, challenge and invitation by my District and Conference leadership. I am enlarging my pastoral work to include volunteer chaplaincy in local health care facilities, participation on community boards and support to neighboring small congregations.

My dreams of serving our wonderful United Methodist Church have been tempered by my experiences. My hopes of leading a mid-sized congregation with an active set of programs and ministries has been down-sized. After fifteen years of this I have been formed into a maintenance pastor, rather than a growth-oriented leader.

I am an example of many of our second career pastors, the competencies that are available and the inability of our church to fully utilize the resources we bring to the table. But I would also have been out on my ear at one point if proposed competency standards had been in place in my past.

My record would argue that I am effective, regardless the opinions of those two churches. I may be an unhealthy clergy person but feel more disappointed and frustrated than anything else

This issue has been forced because we have lost so many millions of members since 1964. As one person who had two churches in a row who asked him to leave, one following a building campaign, which did succeed by the way, and another, because I did not bring the right attitude to that appointment, I was deemed unappointable at one point. That was hard to hear. All of the folks on that cabinet triad were longtime colleagues. Taking an incapacity leave was difficult, too. But, after a second bout with major depression, the last time after the building campaign, the leave was the right thing to do. When I was deemed healthy enough to return to ministry a year and a half later, and I looked at the needs of my family, and took at hard look at myself, I decided to retire. The cabinet had helped me see some pretty significant deficiencies in myself. But, the cabinet did not take a look at the systemic issues, which have been created for decades. There are ineffective clergy. I do not believe I was one or am one. I do know where I need to grow. I also know we have congregations which are not easy to serve. And leadership is not a simple matter of “do these things and your church will prosper.” Its not about a neat formula. There are toxic churches. And there are toxic clergy. And judicatory officials make mistakes. I grieve for my denomination. But, I am trying to find my way forward and to live out my call. I was called by God, and still am. Some folks deemed me ineffective. But, the real jury is still out on that. The truth is that ministry has never been easy, and is not today. I am doing a year of CPE in order to pursue a form of chaplaincy. I am enjoying it mostly. CPE isn’t always a picnic, either. But, I love caring for people in Jesus’ name. And, I still love to preach, teach Bible, and a lot of the other aspects of parish ministry. I suspect, now, as I sit on the sidelines, focusing on another area of ministry, that there will be no neat answers as annual conferences transition people out of parish ministry. But, I do have to day, that a lot of this looks like business and management, and really lacks the covenantal attitude that I began with in the 1970’s. In the end, God will sort all of this out.

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