How Does the Appointment Process in the United Methodist Church work?

I have been appointed to serve as the lead pastor at First United Methodist Church in El Dorado, KS beginning July 1. This is a series of posts about this transition.

When I have the chance to talk with someone more than briefly about the move one of the most common questions that comes up is about how pastors in the United Methodist Church get moved around in the first place. This question seems to be evenly distributed among those that have just started and long time attenders in United Methodist Churches. First a few of the key players

  • Bishop – oversees all the churches in an annual conference, which is nearly always a particular geographic area.
  • District Superintendents – oversee the churches in a particular area of the annual conference.
  • Cabinet – The Bishop, District Superintendents and a few other key staff

Here is the low down on the process:

United Methodist pastors are appointed to a church or churches on a yearly basis. In theory, a pastor could be appointed to a different location each year. In practice, an average would be that a pastor would serve 5 to 7 years at one location. It seems that the amount of time that a pastor serves at a particular place has trended longer more recently. Longer tenures tend to work out better for both pastors and congregations.

In the fall each year, the church makes a request as to whether their current pastor continues to be a great fit or if they would prefer that they serve elsewhere. This request is put together by the Staff Parish Committee, one of the governing bodies of the local church. As a pastor, I also complete an appointive request about whether I feel the congregation is a good fit for my gifts or if I might serve more effectively elsewhere. In addition to these forms, the District Superintendent has a conversation with both the pastor and the church about what might be next.

In January the appointive cabinet takes an inventory of all the churches and pastors is completed, taking in to account who will be retiring, who is graduating from seminary and will be ready for an appointment, what church / pastor combinations are working great and which are falling apart. Then they begin the discernment process using all this data, prayer and seeking God’s guidance to make appointments for the year ahead.

Ultimately it is the Bishop who makes the appointments with the advisement of the rest of the Cabinet. Bishop Scott Jones of Kansas has shared that the goal of the appointment process is “to maximize the missional effectiveness of every church in Kansas.”

Pastors and churches are notified of the appointments in the spring and they are fixed in the early summer at the annual meeting of all the pastors in the Annual Conference.

Does that make sense? What could be more clear? What did I get wrong? What else would be helpful to know?

Living in the Resurrection Bubble

Last week, I suggested that if a church is not growing, it is dying and I wanted to take a moment to respond to a comment from my friend, Jimmy Taylor. He pointed out that I am a young pastor serving at a high energy church with significant leadership.

He is absolutely right. My pastoral identity and understanding about how churches operate has been significantly shaped by serving at Resurrection. In fact, this was my first appointment out of seminary and I continue to be appointed here. I have no other appointment context against which to gauge my experience here. It is certain that in many ways that Resurrection is an anomaly among United Methodist Churches.

I am aware that in some ways I live in a “Resurrection bubble.” There are both good and bad aspects to this reality.

I strive to pay attention to the best practices of ministry at Resurrection that have nothing to do with numbers or dollars. I do my best to maintain connection with the annual conference where I was ordained and where my membership resides.

Do pastors live in a bubble of their own context? Can you help me normalize my experience? Or provide some perspective and commentary?